I have been blogging through Steven Hawking’s new book. It’s stretching me a bit to get exactly where he is coming from and why he is saying what he is saying but its certainly not boring. Now he gets to a point I remember thinking about a lot before I was a Christian. The position of our planet and the size of our sun are well suited to support life. In one sense, of course they are. If it wasn’t we would not be hear remarking on how amazing it is that the conditions are just right for us. This is called the “weak anthropic principle”. Hawking remarks that is would be better named the “selection principle” because our presence selects for the right conditions for life.
Now, it would be odd, and might even be evidence for a creator if it turned out that there were no other planets in the universe and only ours just happened to be in the right place at the right time to support life. However it is estimated that there are millions of other planets and some of those would be expected to be in a suitable place for life to occur. In fact a few weeks ago I read in the papers that a planet (Gliese 581g) was found 20 light years away from earth in the Goldilocks region of its sun; That is, it is near enough for water not to freeze and far enough away for it not to boil. One side is always facing the sun and the other is always in darkness but there is a thin band where day and night meet and here the temperature might be capable of supporting life. The planet, which is only slightly bigger than our earth, is also capable of holding an atmosphere which could shield any emerging life from harmful ultraviolet rays. In the light of this sort of discovery the UN office of outer space affairs is even considering appointing a Malaysian astrophysicist called Mazlan Othman to coordinate any extra terrestrial encounters.
Hawking then argues for the more controversial “strong anthropic principle” by noting that the very laws of nature, with their specific constants, seem set up for the existence of life and us. Again this would seem odd, but not if there were millions of universes each with different laws and constants. Some of them would statistically be capable of supporting life so again, it would be no wonder that ours exists and that we are in it.
That’s all fine but I can’t help wondering how the multiple universe set up came to exist in the first place. Can’t you keep going back and saying “but why is that there? “ I feel like I’ve missed a key step in the argument. Why doesn’t it regress? Is there a “very strong anthropic principle” and then a “very very strong one” etc?
Anyway, back to his argument. He says that evidence for the existence of multiple universes comes from the photon knowing about all possible paths to a point, plus I think, M-theory and the development of a unification theory of the known forces (“and other theories of modern cosmology”). Other things I have read or watched talk about universes being membranes floating in an 11 differential space. When membranes (usually shortened to branes) collide new universes are formed. One of the strengths of M-theory is that the laws of physicals can now be carried back through the singularity of the big bang.
“just as Darwin and Wallace explained how the apparent design of living forms could appear without intervention by a supreme being, the multi-verse concept can explain the fine-tuning of physical laws without the need for a benevolent creator who made the universe for our benefit.” p 165
As I say, the problem is, as far as I can see, that knowing how it got from X to Y does not help you know how it got from W to X. Evolution may tell us how things developed over time from a cell but what about the first cell. Of course we may work that out and see how the stuff of the universe comes together in that way, then we ask how the universe is the way it is and answer in this book is “multi universes“, but don’t we then ask “why does a system of multiple universes exist?” and “isn’t it odd that just the right sort of 11 dimensional space exists that gives rise to multiple universes?”. The problem will always be what about ‘A’. How did that get there? Surely something “just is“. Now you could say “why not stop at the 11 dimensional space rather than make God the cause of it”.
Well, the reason is we live in a universe of more than just physical forces. If we are to search for a theory of everything I think it is a mistake to think we have all the pieces of the jigsaw in just the electro-magnetic, gravitation, weak and strong forces. There is consciousness and personhood , morality, love, beauty, etc. I think it is jumping the gun a bit to say they are all reducible to physical laws operating in an 11 dimensional space. That’s why putting God as ‘A’ makes a lot of sense (that and the fact that Jesus actually called himself the “alpha”!). He is personal, loving, moral, rational, beautiful, truth etc and brings mater and energy and all these forces into being to display these things. Just as it’s helpful to see if we can take the laws of physics back through the big bang, we also need to see if in fact things like consciousness and morality can be traced back through it to something or someone else.
Another problem with this “no need for God now we know how things work” business is that knowing the mechanism doesn’t squeeze out God. God isn’t just the A, the thing that starts everything else off – He sustains all things and sovereignly works out his will through all things. It’s not just being A, or crating A, its underwriting, sustaining, holding together, enabling, superintending, B to Y and in fact being Z (Jesus claims to be not only the alpha but the omega as well. The bible says that through him all things where made, that he sustains all things, and that all things are for him) .
One final point. I would like to know if M-theory and philosophies spawned from it assume that a mathematical description can actually be the thing described. Hawking’s subscription to Model Dependent Reality seems to suggest he is not bothered about what is really there but then why make comments about objective reality. Why not just limit yourself to the realm of “description” and “how” rather than the “nature of reality” and “why”.
Mathematical concepts and theories don’t exist in themselves do they? Or if they do you are making a philosophical statement not a physical, scientific one. I’m not a philosopher but I’ve got a feeling Plato believed that perfect things existed and that all we see is shadows of those perfect forms. There is a perfect square that just exists, and all squares are imperfect shadows of that ground for all squares. I suppose it’s like having lots of little gods, one for squares, one for triangles, one for circles (I am imagining the Mr. Men right now are you?!). I guess it’s not quite like that because platonic forms are impersonal. Platonism begins to look to me a lot like the worship and deifying of ideas, concepts, models and dare I say M-theory. I guess it’s not that odd that very bright physicists should begin to see mathematical description as the source and ground of all things (Einstein once said “If my theory is wrong God should correct the Universe, so beautiful it is” – He may not have meant it but it points in the direction of deifying mathematics) but would that be so different from worshiping the sun?
A few years ago I went to the zoo. I was really excited and looking forward to seeing all the animals but it rained and they all hid indoors. We went on a train that took us round the zoo and a voice over the speakers kept saying “here is such and such and animal” but it wasn’t. It was sheltering in its house out of the rain. I feel a bit like that at the moment. It’s like I’ve been to the zoo and missed seeing the animals. They may be there but I need them pointing out! There is one more chapter to go and Hawking feels like he’s winding down. I have passed the heart of the argument and not got it. Where was the answer to “life the universe and everything?” Where was the legitimacy of going from “how” to “why“. I guess I will need to re-read it all again when the sun is out.
PS. I know it’s a bit geeky but I think there is a typo on page 162, 2nd para, line 3 “called included it” or have I read it wrong. It makes more sense if the word “included” is taken out.