Sunday, June 7, 2020

How Science Brought Me To God

This post was inspired by my sister, who has been struggling recently with questions about God, purpose, meaning, and many other big philosophical questions.

Let me start by saying that I’m not a Christian (or a Buddhist or a Muslim or a Jew or a Rastafarian blah blah blah), and never will be.  Christianity is a set of very specific stories and beliefs, of which the belief in a Creator is a tiny subset.  Belief in God does not imply belief in Christianity or any other religion.  It is truly astonishing how many scientists (and physicists in particular) don’t seem to understand that last sentence.  It’s incredible how often physicists will say something like: “When I was in Sunday School, I learned about Jesus walking on water.  But as a scientist, I learned that walking on water violates the laws of physics.  Therefore god does not exist.”  The conclusion simply doesn’t follow from the premises.

In my own progress in physics, I am finding much of the academic literature infested with bad logic and unsound arguments.  One of my more recent posts points to a heavily cited article that claimed to empirically refute the consciousness-causes-consciousness hypothesis (“CCCH”).  The authors started by characterizing CCCH as an if-then statement in the form of AàB (read “A implies B” or “if A, then B”), which was essentially correct.  (The actual statements are irrelevant to the point I’m making in this post, but my actual paper can be found here.)  Then, without explanation, they re-characterized CCCH as AàC, but this would only be true if BàC.  Setting aside the fact that BàC blatantly contradicts quantum mechanics, the authors didn’t even seem to notice the unfounded logical jump they had made.  Simply having taken graduate-level philosophical logic has already provided me a surprising leg-up in the study and analysis of physics.

Why do I take such pains to explain that my belief in God does not imply belief in any particular religion or set of stories?  Because my search for a physical explanation of consciousness, and my pursuit of some of the hard foundational questions in physics, already puts me on potentially thin ice in the physics academy, and mentioning God (with a capital G) may very well put me over the edge into the realm of “crackpot.”  Luckily, I’m in the position of not needing to seek anyone’s approval; having said that, I would ultimately like to collaborate with and influence other like-minded physicists and don’t want to immediately turn them off with any suggestion that I’m a Christian.  I also don’t intend to turn off any Christian readers... my wife and one of my best friends are Christians.  My point is that Christianity includes a very specific set of concepts and stories that far exceed mere theism and may be understandably off-putting to physicists.

With all the caveats in place, here’s the meat of this blog post: Science has in fact brought me to God, in large part via the Goldilocks Enigma, better known as the “fine-tuning” problem in physics.

Paul Davies, a cosmologist at Arizona State, wrote a fascinating book called The Goldilocks Enigma.  Essentially, there are more than a dozen independent parameters, based in part on the Standard Model of particle physics, that had to be “fine-tuned” to within 1% or so in order to create a universe that could create life.  (The phrase “fine-tuned” itself suggests a Creator, but that’s not how Davies means it.)  One example might be the ratio of the gravitational force to the electromagnetic force.  A star produces energy via the fusion of positively charged nuclei, primarily hydrogen nuclei.  Electrostatic repulsion makes it difficult to bring two fusible nuclei sufficiently close, but gravity solves this problem if the object is really massive, like a star.  The core of a star then experiences the quasi-equilibrium condition of gravity squeezing lots of hydrogen nuclei together counterbalanced by the outward pressure of an extremely high-temperature gas, thus producing fusion energy at more-or-less constant rate.  This balance in our Sun gives it a lifetime of something like 10 billion years before its fuel will be mostly spent.

Here’s the problem: if the gravitational force had been 1% higher than it is, then the Sun would have burned up far too quickly for life to evolve, while if the force had been 1% less than it is, the Sun would have produced far too little radiation for life to evolve.  (It is generally thought that liquid water, which exists in the narrow range of 273-373K, is a requirement for life, although this is not necessary for the current argument.)  In other words, the ratio of gravity to electric repulsion had to be in the “Goldilocks” zone: not too big, not too small... just right.

The likelihood of that ratio being “just right” is very small.  And you might think this is just a coincidence.  That’s certainly what a lot of physicists will say.  But remember that there are at least 26 such free parameters in nature that happen to be “just right” in the same way, and (small probability)^26 = (really freaking unbelievably tiny probability).  The probability is so tiny as to be effectively zero.

If you have already dismissed any possibility of a Creator, then one way – perhaps the only way – to explain away such a fantastically tiny probability is to posit the existence of infinitely many universes and then invoke the so-called “Anthropic Principle” to conclude that such an unlikely event must be possible because, if it weren’t, we wouldn’t exist to notice!  After all, if everything that is possible actually exists somewhere, then extremely unlikely events, even events whose probability is actually zero, will occur.  In other words, (infinitesimal) * (infinity) = 1.  Said another way:  0 * ∞ = 1.

For the record, I made the same argument in a book I wrote at age 13, called Knight’s Null Algebra, which claimed to “disprove” algebra.  Just as anything logically follows from a contradiction (“If up is down, then my name is Bob” is a true statement), anything follows from infinity.  Infinity makes the impossible possible.  But this is philosophical nonsense.  Infinity doesn’t exist in nature.  Nevertheless, many physicists and cosmologists with (as far as I know) functioning cerebrums actually believe in the existence of infinitely many universes, although they give it a fancy name: the Multiverse.

Here are my problems with the Multiverse:
·         There is not a shred of empirical evidence that there is such a thing.
·         Because the Multiverse includes universes that are beyond our cosmological horizon and are forever inaccessible to us, no empirical evidence ever can exist to test the concept.
·         Any concept or hypothesis that cannot be tested is not in the realm of science.
·         Any scientist who endorses the Multiverse concept is not speaking scientifically or as a scientist (even though s/he may pretend to).

Setting aside all these problems with the Multiverse concept, it should be pointed out that anyone who dismisses any possibility of a Creator, and thus desperately embraces infinity to dismiss the Goldilocks enigma, is not being scientific anyway.  One can make arguments for or against the existence of God; one can lean toward theism or atheism; but anyone who states with certainty that God does or does not exist is not speaking scientifically.  And that’s OK.  There’s nothing wrong with a scientist having opinions one way or another or with making arguments one way or another, just as I’ve done in this post.  But it is a problem when scientists speak from the academic pulpit, intimidating people with their scientific degrees and credentials, to bully people into accepting their philosophical opinions as if they were scientific facts.  (Richard Dawkins should have lost his membership to the scientific academy long ago, now that he spews untestable pseudoscientific gibberish, but has in fact been celebrated instead of ostracized by the academy.)

My point is this: I believe that the Goldilocks Enigma is a very strong reason to believe in a Creator, while the Multiverse counterargument is an untestable and nonscientific theory usually uttered by people (scientists or otherwise) who are not speaking scientifically.

I am truly and utterly amazed and overwhelmed by the vastness, beauty, and unlikeliness of the Universe.  And the more I learn about physics, the more awed I become.  For instance, if the information in the universe is related to universal entanglement, then every object is entangled with essentially every other object in the universe in ways that correlate their positions and momenta to within quantum uncertainty.  That is absolutely, utterly, incomprehensively amazing.  The more I learn about physics, the closer I come to God.

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