Questions for non-Christians #8
I have a crucial question about the universe which I have never heard nor read anyone address. I used to wonder about it even as a young girl and hope that someday I’d have the answer. But in the eight or so years I’ve been studying evidences for God, among which the universe and all its qualities, constants, and quantities are primary, not to mention the
many years before that, I’m no closer to an answer than I was then.
But how can anyone who has ever looked up into the clouds or the stars not have puzzled over this obvious conundrum? Here’s what has me flummoxed: Though it’s physically and logistically impossible, conceptually one could imagine launching a rocket into space on a straight trajectory aiming for the furthest reaches of the universe. Would it just keep going on forever and ever, or would it eventually make it to an edge…a barrier…a wall? And if there is a wall of some sort, what’s on the other side? If not, how can a concrete entity be infinite in size? How could “size” even be applied to it?
Do you get my quandary? Do you have an answer for me? I didn’t think so.
The universe, as I’ve always understood it anyway, is the totality of all matter, space, and time. Though the puzzle presented by the size and limits of the universe may not be solvable, surely its scope is plain enough. Imagine my befuddlement then when I first encountered the concept of multiple universes. No…it can’t be, I thought. What is this ridiculousness?
Multiple universes or “multiverse” theories suggest that the universe we are a part of and have evidence for is in fact NOT the totality of all that is. There are alternate or parallel ones that actually exist in another dimension, or something. I don’t and never will understand the science behind the theories so cannot argue against their validity, except when it comes to the likely motivation for proposing such an elaborate and unprovable concept.
The only universe that’s more than merely theoretical exhibits a feature which is so mathematically improbable as to be virtually impossible if it was not designed to be that way. Multiple, measurable values pertaining to it are so finely-tuned within an extraordinarily small range that the odds of them all resulting by chance are beyond the realm of possibility.
This short video from William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith ministry concisely yet thoroughly explains this incredible feature of our universe.
So the fine-tuning of the universe is a phenomenon well-accepted as factual among both theist and non-theist scientists. Its obvious implication of the involvement of a Designer, though, has the non-theist physicists resorting to metaphysics to account for it. They would rather put their money on a logically untenable infinite number of things to avoid having to accept the logical conclusion that this one fantastically ordered, observable universe was created by a fantastically powerful, unobservable God.
So I’ll end with this question #8 for the non-Christian:
Are you willing to believe in an infinite number of universes to account for the indescribably precise fine-tuning for the existence of life of the only universe we have evidence for?
Actually, I do.
We don’t know the particular shape of the universe for certain. However, there are some distinct possibilities, and we do know what these possibilities would mean in terms of your questions.
One possibility is that the universe is spatially infinite in all directions. In such a case, there would be no boundary, no end, no stopping point to space. There does not seem to be any good, logical reason to think that a concrete entity cannot be infinite in size; and mathematics provides some very interesting and clear ideas on just what “size” could mean in such an instance. If you are interested, I have written a few articles on my own blog aimed at introducing the notion of “size” for infinite quantities to beginners.
Another possibility is that the universe is spatially finite, but has a closed geometry. For an example of what I mean by this, think of the surface of a globe. You can travel East, West, North, South, or any direction in between those cardinal orientations, and the surface of that globe IS definitely finite; however, you’ll never hit a wall. You’ll simply loop back to where you started, eventually. It’s possible that the universe has an analogous, three-dimensional shape and that traveling far enough in any direction would just loop you back around to where you began.
The final possibility is that space is finitely bounded in certain directions. This would indicate that there is only so far that one could possibly travel in those directions, but it is not quite right to think of it as a wall. To think of it as a wall immediately raises the nonsensical question of “what is on the other side?” Such a question is nonsensical, in this case, because there literally is no other side. Space would simply end at that point. While a possibility, this seems the least likely of the three options, as it would necessitate some extremely strange physics at the boundaries of space which would likely have repercussions very far from those boundaries. Those repercussions are not evident in any of our observed data.
Multiverse models arose long before they were applied to the question of fine-tuning. Despite intimations from people like Dr. Craig, it is not at all the case that these were proposed as ad hoc solutions to the question of fine-tuning. Rather, these models were proposed as answers to other questions unrelated to fine-tuning, and a CONSEQUENCE of these models is that they supply a possible answer to the fine-tuning question.
I’m not sure you quite understand the mathematics here. No matter WHAT the particular constants of the universe might have been, ANY particular configuration of those constants would be incredibly mathematically improbable. And yet, it must have had ONE of those configurations.
Here’s an example of what I mean. Imagine somebody used a random number generator to select ten different numbers, each of which was between 1 and 1000. Now, let’s say that person generated the numberse 16, 159, 347, 372, 500, 614, 823, 867, 901, and 958. Now, let’s say another person did the same thing and generated the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10. Which specific sequence is more probable? The actual answer is that both are equally probably. They both have a 1 in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 chance of occuring. Generating that first set of numbers is exactly as rare as is generating the second set.
The word “improbable” actually means the opposite of the word “impossible.” For a thing to be improbable, it MUST, by definition, be possible.
There is absolutely nothing “logically untenable” about positing that an infinite number of things could exist.
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Thank you for your thoughtful answer, BP. I’m not sure I find any of those possibilities satisfying though. I’m inclined to believe the universe is infinite in “size” primarily because conceiving of any kind of boundary and yet “there literally is no other side” just doesn’t make sense to me. But infinity itself is so difficult to comprehend.
Perhaps multiverse models pre-dated the discovery of the fine-tuning of the universe, and I know I should be more circumspect about assuming others’ motivations, but I don’t think it can be denied that many embrace them to avoid the obvious inference of design.
There’s a lot about mathematics I don’t understand, though I am mathematically-inclined and aced college calculus. I sometimes wish I had pursued math as a career. But I do recognize that your argument against the implications of the fine-tuning of the universe for life based on the equal improbability of any configuration of constants and quantities ignores specified complexity, which crucially impacts the conclusion from the evidence. Just as in the film “Contact,” if a random number generator spit out only prime numbers in order, no one, including you, would think that just as probable without intelligence behind it as any meaningless string.
As for an infinite number of things, I see you’ve addressed that on your blog (and I would like to read it when I can), so I’m sure nothing I say in defense of my belief will be new to you…i.e. Hilbert’s Hotel and the absurdities resulting from doing mathematical calculations with infinity.
Indeed, it is. The subject is quite fascinating, though, and is easily one of my favorite areas of mathematics!
Even if that is the case, it would constitute a Genetic Fallacy to simply dismiss them, as a result. That said, I will absolutely agree with anyone who says that multiverse models do not yet have empirical support. I have absolutely no qualms against someone who is not convinced by multiverse models– honestly, I am not myself. I’m simply saying that the models, themselves, were not created as an ad hoc means of addressing the fine-tuning question, despite the intimations of opponents like Dr. Craig.
As I said, it is absolutely just as probable as any other individual string of equal length. However, I will agree that strings of seemingly patterned numbers, in general, are quite less likely to occur than strings of seemingly non-patterned numbers, in general. The former class constitutes a smaller subset of the totality than does the larger class. However, that does not necessarily imply anything regarding an intelligent source. Such an inference would require much more powerful argumentation than simply the improbability. We would need to be able to show that there is a greater probability that the string COULD have been generated by an intelligent source. Using your example from “Contact,” we can demonstrate that an intelligent source can manipulate radio signals in order to send non-random patterns for the purposes of communication.
Yep, I’ve definitely addressed these things on my blog. I do hope you’ll have time to read them, but to make a long story short, these arguments (especially as made by Dr. Craig and those citing his work) do not understand the mathematics which they are discussing and allege that absurdities exist where none actually occur. While there do remain a small number of Philosophers of Mathematics who oppose the idea of actual infinites, they have much different reasoning for that position than does Dr. Craig and even they would recognize that Dr. Craig’s arguments are antiquated, at best, and wholly mistaken, at worst.
Hi Boxing Pythagoras,
You wrote, ” Imagine somebody used a random number generator to select ten different numbers”
What is your definition of ‘random’ ?
In short, chosen in such a manner as to ensure that the selected number cannot have been predicted prior to selection with any greater probability than the other potentially selectable numbers.
Whatever the selected number, it was caused by causes which humans may or may not know. If humans can not predict an event, that does not make the event random. Nothing happens in the universe randomly and probability is only a subjective term and not an objective term. Probability depends on the knowledge of the agency making the prediction.
“Are you willing to believe in an infinite number of universes to account for the indescribably precise fine-tuning for the existence of life of the only universe we have evidence for?”
I’m not sure why I would have to. The universe is the way it is, and I’m afraid I don’t see how the existence of non-existence of a multiverse would affect it.