Monday, March 30, 2015

A New Creation Story (A Guest Blog)

The debate on this blog about the fine-tuning argument continues. Here's a contribution from friend, fellow scholar, and philosopher Ric Machuga.

In the beginning there were ten gazillion Possible Universes floating about in absolutely nothing. The vast, overwhelming majority, however, were very uninteresting, even ugly, because hidden deep within their inter workings were the “Laws of Nature.” These Laws were even more abstract and ethereal than the ten gazillion Possible Universes, yet the Law’s hegemony was complete. They reigned omnipotently over all the mere “possibilities.” Nor was their reign a benevolent reign. You see, these Laws dictated that in all but one or two cases, any of these Possible Universes which ever saw the light of day would either collapse in a tiny, fraction of a second after their birth or they would expand endlessly and mindlessly without forming anything even so interesting as a single star, much less galaxies, supernovas, or elements other than hydrogen. Nonetheless, all these Possible Universes hoped and prayed that they would be picked by that Something or Someone who confers existence upon their mere possibly.
13.7 billion years after “Possibility 3,456,784,890,231,567” was chosen by the mysterious Something or Someone, scientists discovered what the Laws of Nature had timelessly dictated: of all the ten gazillion Possible Universes that could have been selected by the mysterious Conferer of Existence, only “Possibility 3,456,784,890,231,567” had hidden deep in its bowels the mathematical ratios that would allow it to create Stars, and then, iron, then stable solar systems, and finally scientists themselves.
Yet, this so called “fine-tuning” of their own universe came as a big surprise to many of these scientists. Ever since Copernicus and Galileo, scientists had adopted the metaphysical principle that there could be nothing special about the place where they lived. So when they discovered that there were ten gazillion other “possible universes,” all which would have been either totally boring or a mere flash in the pan, a heated debate began. Some scientists were bold enough to say that the fine-tuning of our universe strongly suggested that the “Conferer of Existence” must have been an extremely Intelligent Selector, elsewise how could she or he have known which of the ten gazillion possible universes would be able to produce them?
Other physicists and cosmologists were not willing to give up their metaphysical principle of non-specialness, and argued that in some strange place and way all these ten gazillion Possible Universes actually existed, so the fact that we happen to exist in this possible universe does not violate the supreme metaphysical principle of non-specialness. After all, if Possibility 3,456,784,890,231,567 had not been selected, then no scientist would exist to be surprised!
When St. Thomas Aquinas first heard this new creation story he was struck by its audacity. He had thought that the old story was sufficiently audacious—to be told that God literally spoke the universe into existence using nothing more than his own Word is not an easy concept to grasp! And even when we consider our mundane corner of the universe where we have direct experience, the intricate functionality of its organisms makes “our knowledge is so incomplete,” as he used to say, “that no one has ever been able to completely understand the nature of a single fly.”
Sure, Aquinas was willing to grant that since his time scientists had learned much about how things worked in our universe. But what new discovery permitted these physicists and cosmologists to speak with such confidence about what must happen in every conceivable universe? Doesn’t our understanding of the “laws of nature” derive from experience? So how could we have a clue about what “laws of nature” operate in merely “possible universes,” which by definition don’t even exist?
Besides, physicists and cosmologists are not the only kind of scientists. Biologists have also learned much, one of which is that the hegemonic “Laws of Nature” physicists and cosmologists so revere don’t reign unchallenged in the world of evolutionary biology. There “stochastic processes” (what Aquinas called accidental causes) also play a significant role. So are physicists and cosmologists really claiming to have figured out how these “stochastic process” work in the ten gazillion “other” (non-existent!) universes?

The more Aquinas thought about the developments in physics and cosmology over the last twenty years, the more audacious they appeared. Then he read a popular piece by Alan Lightman, himself a physicists, explaining that “Theoretical physicists are Platonists” whose hope and goal is to one day demonstrate that the entire universe is “generated from a few mathematical truths and principles of symmetry, perhaps throwing in a handful of parameters like the mass of the electron.” With a twinkle in his eye, Aquinas then exclaimed, “Now I understand. Today’s physicists and cosmologists prefer Plato’s world of ideal forms to Aristotle’s world of actual things and organisms!”

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