Friday, June 29, 2007

Paul Davies: "The Universe Looks Suspiciously Like a Fix"

Paul Davies recently had this to say:

Scientists are slowly waking up to an inconvenient truth - the universe looks suspiciously like a fix. The issue concerns the very laws of nature themselves. For 40 years, physicists and cosmologists have been quietly collecting examples of all too convenient "coincidences" and special features in the underlying laws of the universe that seem to be necessary in order for life, and hence conscious beings, to exist. Change any one of them and the consequences would be lethal. Fred Hoyle, the distinguished cosmologist, once said it was as if "a super- intellect has monkeyed with physics".

To see the problem, imagine playing God with the cosmos. Before you is a designer machine that lets you tinker with the basics of physics. Twiddle this knob and you make all electrons a bit lighter, twiddle that one and you make gravity a bit stronger, and so on. It happens that you need to set thirtysomething knobs to fully describe the world about us. The crucial point is that some of those metaphorical knobs must be tuned very precisely, or the universe would be sterile.

He then goes on to conclude that intelligent design is not the proper explanation. But go read the article to see if you think his alternative explanation is plausible.

Also ask yourself some more questions: Is his explanation a full explanation, or does it just move the big questions back a little bit? Does his explanation just raise new and bigger questions?

Which parts of his essay are "science" and which parts are philosophical speculation? Is his philosophical speculation more scientific than intelligent design? More plausible?

Other posts on Paul Davies can be found here and here and here.


At July 03, 2007 12:09 AM, Blogger Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

Please don't take this wrong, but I find the argument that the universe is tuned to be kind of weak-- if it wasn't tuned for the insanely rare factors that would allow life, we wouldn't be here to know about it. It just seems a rather...round argument.

At July 03, 2007 2:48 PM, Anonymous John said...

Foxfier, your point is well and good up until it's used for the universe as a whole.

The anthropic principle - the argument you're using to dismiss Davies' position - works as an argument only when we can observe other places where conditions are different than the ones that allowed observers to exist.

For instance, the anthropic principle works well against arguments that the Earth must have been placed by God in its orbit because it's just the right distance from the Sun to support life, because we observe other planets and deduce how hostile to life they are.

We only have one universe. Until the 1950s, scientists believed the universe to be infinitely old, which allowed the anthropic principle (among other materialist principles) to have a nice strong foothold. That foothold gave way when the universe was found to have a beginning.

When a time limit (albeit a vast one) was discovered for the universe, scientists could no longer claim that the constants for our universe were eternal and thus not variable. It begged for either multiple universes (allowing for the anthropic principle) or for an Ultimate Dial Tweaker.

We have never observed any other universe. However, some people have supposedly observed some unfathomably intelligent being tweaking a few universal constants... ;-)


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