Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Groothuis on Multiverses and Intelligent Design

Why is the multiverse theory science, and ID not science? Can we appeal to the unobserved and unobservable, so long as it's not personal? Can one, with a straight face, reject theism because of Ockham's razor, and then believe in the multiverse?


Anonymous said...


I imagine one brand of a skeptic's response to be something like, anything natural is more probable than one instance of the supernatural.

Anonymous said...


Have you read Palonen's paper that's somewhat along these lines? Here's a link to a PDF [188KB]:


That argument [anything natural is more probable than one instance of the supernatural] relies on a false dichotomy between natural and supernatural. There are no such categories. When I look closely, it seems to me that atheists and skeptics use natural as a covert synonym for godless. They assume that ability to explain rainfall somehow removes God from the process. It's fallacious reasoning, through and through.

Matt K said...

I suppose (to play the devil's advocate) one could argue that God is more ad hoc because we can invent a being with these properties while a multiverse relies on properties we already have just with different constants. This would only hold up if you can reject the inductive case for a being like God.

One Brow said...

" ... but fails to realize that the bizarre and baroque theories in physics which he rightly criticizes—those appealing to multiple universes in various forms—are invoked precisely to avoid the conclusion that our universe, given its exquisite and multi-dimensional fine-tuning, is designed."

I think he's confused with why physicists extrapolate and why people who discuss ID bring up the notion of multi-verses. It's not like a physicist stayed one night trying to find a way to combat fine-tuning and went 'A-ha! Multiversers can defeat fine-tuning!'.

I think multiverses, like string theory, is more properly classified as a hypothesis. I don't rank it as being "probable" in meaningful sense, they are either there or not. I certainly don't see them as an answer to fine-tuning. Of course, I don't find the fine-tuning argument to be particularly sensible either.

Anthony Fleming said...

I've always had trouble with this too. People I debate with like to use this as a replacement for God yet there is no greater probability.

Chris said...

One rather significant difference is that the multiverse hypothesis has a mathematical basis. And the math fits with our current understanding of physics, apparently.

Anonymous said...

Intelligent Design and Multiverses aren't incompatible. In fact, in some versions of the multiverse ID is more or less automatic (see Martin Rees or Paul Davies on simulated universes, for example.)

Steve Lovell said...

I remember some of my contemporaries trying to say that Occam's razor didn't apply here because that relates to the number of kinds of entity not the number of entities. Since these other worlds are not different in kind to our own they do not expand our ontology to include new kinds and are therefore still more parsimonous than theism.

That's what they said, anyway.


Chris said...

As to the parsimonious issue, from what I've read (and poorly understood, I'm sure), the math is actually much simpler – more parsimonious – if there is a multiverse.

mpg said...

To echo what others have said: the multiverse hypothesis:

1. The multiverse is the logical conclusion of what we know, not an ad hoc answer to what we don't know. God might exist, but the scientist would still have good grounds for believing the MV hypothesis true, because it has its own logic.
2. As such, MV is very parsimonious. It requires little more than the supposition that if a quantum fluctuation happened once, it almost surely would have happened again. It is in fact a very simple hypothesis.
3. MV doesn't solve fine-tuning (though like another poster, I am not impressed by the fine-tuning argument either). As if there are near infinite universes, while the probability of a universe such as ours is 1, the probability of us being in this universe is one over infinity (and I am not sure that is any kind of chance at all).

Anonymous said...

The multiverse is the logical conclusion of what we know, not an ad hoc answer to what we don't know.

There is no single "the multiverse". There's a collection of them. Nor are they "logical conclusions", but "logical possibilities" - a very different, lower bar. And yes, they're ad hoc at least in a scientific context. What happens in a "quantum fluctuation" is itself rife with metaphysical speculation at this time, and possibly for all time.

The suppositions involved with the multiverse may be inspired by looking at empirical data, but mere inspiration is a low bar.

uchitrakar said...

If total energy of the universe is zero, then it can be shown that multiverse theory cannot be true. This is because total energy being zero, total mass will also be zero due to mass-energy equivalence. Scientists have shown that anything having mass will always occupy some space. So anything that fails to occupy any space cannot have any mass. Our universe perhaps fails to occupy any space, and that is why its mass is zero. But if multiverse theory is true, then our universe will definitely occupy some space within the multiverse, and thus its mass cannot be zero. But as this mass is zero, therefore multiverse theory cannot be true.
Here it may be argued that radiation occupies space but its mass is zero. So here is an example that something occupying space can still be without mass. So our universe also can be without mass even if it occupies some space within the multiverse. In reply we will say that the example cited here is a bad example, because our universe is not any kind of radiation. So if it is without mass, then that can only be due to its not occupying any space, and not due to its being some sort of radiation.