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Chaos & Quantum: Religions of Science?


Christopher Q
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Christopher Q wrote:

: I don't know much about Quantum Mechanics other than it has something

: to do with parallel universes where every decision that a person could

: had made has been made.

I'm no expert, but I believe the 'many worlds' aspect of quantum theory (which I first came across back in high school via James P. Hogan's excellent novel The Proteus Operation) is a tangential aspect of quantum mechanics and not the main idea behind that field of research.

Still, since you bring it up, I believe the idea behind the 'many worlds' branch of quantum mechanics has something to do with a desire to make predictable that which, according to Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, is unpredictable. On those quantum levels where A or B can happen and there is no way to predict which it will be -- on those levels where A and B are equally likely outcomes -- the 'many worlds' theory, as I understand it, proposes that BOTH of these things happen, but in separate, parallel universes.

Interestingly, there are OTHER reasons why people have proposed the existence of more than one universe, one of the biggest being that the existence of other universes would make it less surprising that our universe turned out to be so amenable to life, to be so full of apparent design. In other words, the Anthropic Principle, and the idea that this universe seems designed to support life, loses much of its thrust if you suppose that there are an infinite number of universes out there -- obviously, at SOME point, there would have to be a universe like ours! (Kind of like how an infinite number of monkeys typing for an infinite length of time would eventually produce the works of Shakespeare.)

Consider this profile of Martin Rees from Discover magazine a few years back:

Faced with such overwhelming improbability, cosmologists have offered up several possible explanations. The simplest is the so-called brute fact argument. "A person can just say: 'That's the way the numbers are. If they were not that way, we would not be here to wonder about it,'" says Rees. "Many scientists are satisfied with that." Typical of this breed is Theodore Drange, a professor of philosophy at the University of West Virginia, who claims it is nonsensical to get worked up about the idea that our life-friendly universe is "one of a kind." As Drange puts it, "Whatever combination of physical constants may exist, it would be one of a kind."

Rees objects, drawing from an analogy given by philosopher John Leslie. "Suppose you are in front of a firing squad, and they all miss. You could say, 'Well, if they hadn't all missed, I wouldn't be here to worry about it.' But it is still something surprising, something that can't be easily explained. I think there is something there that needs explaining."

Meanwhile, the numbers' uncanny precision has driven some scientists, humbled, into the arms of the theologians. "The exquisite order displayed by our scientific understanding of the physical world calls for the divine," contends Vera Kistiakowsky, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But Rees offers yet another explanation, one that smacks of neither resignation nor theology. Drawing on recent cosmology -- especially the research of Stanford University physicist Andrei Linde and his own theories about the nature of the six numbers -- Rees proposes that our universe is a tiny, isolated corner of what he terms the multiverse.

In other words, as Steve Sailer points out, science is now engaged in theology whether it wants to be or not:

Then in 1974 cosmologist Brandon Carter revived the ancient Argument from Design for the existence of God. This had held that the existence of a well-designed item like a sword or a bird's wing implies the existence of a designer. Darwin's theory of natural selection had seemingly disposed of that chestnut by demonstrating that the differential reproduction rates of competing variations could eventually produce superbly engineered organisms without a designer. Carter, however, showed that our universe appears to be fine-tuned to support the evolution of intelligent life. A host of seemingly arbitrary physical parameters such as the strength of gravity, coincide superbly well to foster a stable, long-lived universe. The odds against such a coincidence happening by chance appear, well, astronomical.

Once again, a quasi-religious notion did wonders for the fecundity of cosmological theory. To avoid admitting a Designer, cosmologists had to postulate that beyond our natural world, there must exist a, shall we say, "supernatural" world. Rather than a hairy thunderer shouting "Let there be light," maybe, they say, there is a "superuniverse" comprising an infinite number of universes, all with different natural laws. And maybe life only emerges in the universes with the right law, like ours. And maybe, to make the Darwinian metaphor complete, universes compete somehow against each other.

This infinite universes concept is a sensationally creative idea. Of course, in its utter untestability, it's not exactly science. In truth, it is theological speculation at its most grandiose. Philosopher Robert C. Koons notes, "Originally, atheists prided themselves on being no-nonsense empiricists, who limited their beliefs to what could be seen and measured. Now, we find ourselves in a situation in which the only alternative to belief in God is belief in an infinite number of unobservable parallel universes! You've come a long way, baby!" At minimum, we now know that our natural world cannot account for its own existence. To do that, we need to assume the existence of some sort of supernatural word. And even if some enormous breakthrough let us validate the existence of this superuniverse, we'd probably end up having to assume that it was brought about by some sort of hyperuniverse beyond that, and on and on.

So, make of that what you will.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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A book I'll be starting on fairly soon is The Luminous Web by Barbara Brown Taylor. It's a look at the ways science and religion relate through such things as quantum and chaos and strings. I'll be doing well to keep up in the book.

A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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  • 2 weeks later...

In chapter one of The Luminous Web, as she is laying out the problem of having two ways of looking at a single reality (and if God is God of all things, there must be a single reality), she makes passing reference to string theory, which I've heard of, but it's far to esoteric for my mind to comprehend. She says there are actually about 5 varieties of string theory, each which understand that there are various strings passing through space-time in 10 dimensions. I understand all those words, but . . .. Apparently, string theory seems to be the only way to have both general relativity and quantum machanics both work. (Not that I'd know.)

It will be a challenge.

A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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