Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Occam's Razor

The debate (if it can be called that) about Intelligent Design is raging through cyberspace, but I can't find many people who are willing to look past this discussion to the next one. Buried deep within today's controversy is a bigger one that nobody wants to deal with. It is the clash between one invisible God and many invisible universes.

If today's materialists were willing to examine the evidence, they would have to admit that there are "gaps" in the materialistic explanation of what we see. These gaps include the following:
  • Why is there something rather than nothing?
  • Why is the universe as orderly as it is, instead of a chaotic fog of particles?
  • Why do the fundamental physical constants make carbon-based life possible?
  • How did the first self-replicating molecule take shape?
If we could find a satisfactory answer for each of those questions, materialism as we know it today might be intellectually satisfying. As it is, however, today's materialists must skip over the really big questions to get to the ones they have answers for.

The most satisfying materialistic answer that I have found is in the notion of a "multiverse." This theory proposes that there are countless alternate and/or parallel universes that we cannot detect, and that the sheer number of such universes overwhelms the improbability of life in a materialist monoverse.

But the notion of countless invisible universes forces us to take a good hard look at Occam's Razor, the rule of thumb that leads us to choose the simpler of any two competing theories. One should not "multiply the essences" needlessly, William of Ockham insisted, and so should choose the theory with less moving parts, so to speak.

But which theory is simpler: a materialistic multiverse, with countless invisible universes, or a theistic monoverse, with one invisible God?

2 comments:

Steve said...

"The most satisfying materialistic answer that I have found is in the notion of a 'multiverse'. This theory proposes that there are countless alternate and/or parallel universes that we cannot detect, and that the sheer number of such universes overwhelms the improbability of life in a materialist monoverse.
...
But which theory is simpler: a materialistic multiverse, with countless invisible universes, or a theistic monoverse, with one invisible God?"


Are these the only two alternative possibilities? Do you really need a multiverse to overwhelm the small probability of life within each separate monoverse? This assumes that the probability of life in each monoverse is small in the first place. Isn't another solution to use evolution? Does evolution need a multiverse? Wouldn't evolution work in a monoverse? If so, it could eventually lead to behaviours that were sufficiently "organised" that we would call them "life". Or maybe "organised" and "life" are not the same thing for you.

I apologise for having questions rather than answers. It is not obvious to me that we have to have a (quantum mechanical) multiverse to explain the existence of life. Wouldn't a very large monoverse suffice, especially if it had different regions with different physical laws, thus covering all the options in different way from the QM approach?

00Mark said...

1/ Occam's Razor itself is itself a bit of an enigma. Why should the simplest explanation be correct? Is there a parsimonious god of logic who dictates it thus? Or is it more a limitation of our minds, that we are unable to process the mushrooming possibilities which would unfold if we didn't apply the Razor?

2/ The anthropic principle doesn't hold water, despite its superficial attraction.

Suppose you won the lottery, despite the infinitesimally small odds of doing so. Would you therefore conclude that, after all, the odds against you doing so were not small - that actually the fact of winning proved that it was inevitable all along, that the universe was designed to ensure that you won the lottery? If you were ignorant of all the other actual lottery outcomes except your own, you'd have to assume that everybody who enters wins - that there are no losers (or barren universes)!

We only have one example universe to go on. It would be very bad statistics to generalise from such a small sample. We'd need to somehow see whether there aren't the expected vast numbers of universes without life, due to having the wrong physical constants, before we could meaningfully draw any conclusions.

FWIW I agree with Steve, that if organised processes can arise, then sooner or later they will, spreading as they can. If not as compounds of carbon and water, then in whatever form is available.