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By Jonathan Witt
It’s reasonable to conclude that the universe seems purposely fine-tuned because it was. What’s unreasonable are these two counterarguments.
This month’s blockbuster Marvel comic book movie Dr. Strange will serve as many people’s introduction to the exotic idea of the multiverse, the notion that besides our universe there are a host — maybe an infinity — of unseen other universes, some radically different from our own, some highly similar but distinct in crucial ways.
The film is a worthy and thought-provoking entertainment, but an idea that serves as a good plot device for imaginative counterfactual play in the realm of fiction becomes something very different when taken as an article of faith and used as an explanatory tool in science.
You see, there’s a big divide running through physics, astronomy and cosmology, and the idea of a multiverse is at the center of the controversy, serving as a crucial means of explaining away some powerful evidence for intelligent design.
The Fine-Tuning Problem
On one side of the controversy are scientists who see powerful evidence for purpose in the way the laws and constants of physics and chemistry are finely tuned to allow for life — finely tuned to a mindboggling degree of precision.
Change gravity or the strong nuclear force or any of dozens of other constants even the tiniest bit, and no stars, no planets, no life. Why are the constants just so? Here’s what Nobel Laureate Arno Penzias concluded: “Astronomy leads us to a unique event, a universe which was created out of nothing, one with the very delicate balance needed to provide exactly the conditions required to permit life, and one which has an underlying (one might say ‘supernatural’) plan.”
Nobel Laureate George Smoot is another, commenting that “the big bang, the most cataclysmic event we can imagine, on closer inspection appears finely orchestrated.” Elsewhere Smoot describes the ripples in the cosmic background radiation as the “fingerprints from the Maker.”
On the other side of the divide are those who insist with Harvard’s Richard Lewontin that they simply cannot “let a divine foot in the door.” In the case of the fine-tuning problem, they keep “the divine foot” out with a pair of curious arguments. Each involves a fallacy, and one of them the idea of a multiverse…
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