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In Harper's Magazine, Contrasting Intelligent Design and the Multiverse

Hubble Peeks Inside a Stellar Cloud.jpg

Writing in Harper's Magazine, MIT physicist Alan P. Lightman is refreshingly candid in giving readers the two basic choices in accounting for cosmic fine-tuning. One explanation is ID:

Does the universe care about life? Intelligent design is one answer. Indeed, a fair number of theologians, philosophers, and even some scientists have used fine-tuning and the anthropic principle as evidence of the existence of God.
As Lightman observes, this remains a minority view; the only current alternative on offer is the multiverse.
Intelligent design, however, is an answer to fine-tuning that does not appeal to most scientists. The multiverse offers another explanation. If there are countless different universes with different properties--for example, some with nuclear forces much stronger than in our universe and some with nuclear forces much weaker--then some of those universes will allow the emergence of life and some will not. Some of those universes will be dead, lifeless hulks of matter and energy, and others will permit the emergence of cells, plants and animals, minds. From the huge range of possible universes predicted by the theories, the fraction of universes with life is undoubtedly small. But that doesn't matter. We live in one of the universes that permits life because otherwise we wouldn't be here to ask the question.
The "uncertainty" of this, to put it mildly, is obviously a problem: the other universes may be out there but we have no opportunity of observing or inferring their existence. This
disturbs many physicists who are adjusting to the idea of the multiverse. Not only must we accept that basic properties of our universe are accidental and uncalculable. In addition, we must believe in the existence of many other universes. But we have no conceivable way of observing these other universes and cannot prove their existence. Thus, to explain what we see in the world and in our mental deductions, we must believe in what we cannot prove.

Sound familiar? Theologians are accustomed to taking some beliefs on faith. Scientists are not. All we can do is hope that the same theories that predict the multiverse also produce many other predictions that we can test here in our own universe. But the other universes themselves will almost certainly remain a conjecture.

The evidence for intelligent design is up for debate, of course. While new lines of evidence and argument open up by the month, you may find them convincing or not. But in this respect the difference between ID and the multiverse is clear. One has evidence and argument. The other has none: It is strictly a gambit to avoid the implication of design.

Image Credit: "Hubble Peeks Inside a Stellar Cloud," ESA/Hubble, NASA and D. A Gouliermis.