The internationally acclaimed physicist, and cosmologist, Paul Davies, wrote a book called The Goldilocks Enigma (Why our Universe is Just Right for Life). In his book, he writes about the fine-tuning of the universe. There are about twenty parameters in the Standard Model of physics and about another ten in astrophysics. The magnitude of many of these, and their relationships to one another, must be nearly exact for our bio-friendly universe to exist. The chance-odds of variable (free) parameters coming together in such a way is near zero. One particular parameter being just right by chance is less likely than winning an average state lottery – more than a dozen times in a row! I won’t go into the details here (you can read all about it in the book), but the bottom line is; most cosmologists, regardless of their worldview, recognize this as a highly confirmed observation of contemporary science. For nontheists, this recognition leads to much cognitive dissonance. To resolve this enigma, Davies points to several models:
The Absurd Universe
The universe is just a brute fact, so accept it. The infinitesimal probability of it being life-permitting is irrelevant as we wouldn’t be here to discuss it otherwise. This view is called the Weak Anthropic Principle (WAP), and Davies says this may be the majority view among scientists. But he goes on to say, this view is the easy way out “to the point of being a cop-out.” If the universe is absurd, cosmologists need not look any further for deeper meaning. Now I find WAP to be a disingenuous position. To illustrate using a popular analogy: Take a WAP-proponent and put him up in front of a dozen expert sharpshooters. If, after the rifles go off, and he finds himself still standing, what thoughts do you think will go through his mind? Will they favor chance: “Gee, even though it seems too unlikely to be true, the sharpshooters must have all missed; otherwise, I wouldn’t be here to ponder my surprise. “Or will his thoughts favor purpose: “They either missed me intentionally, or the weapons were all loaded with blanks for a reason.” Which seems more plausible? You be the judge.[i]
The Unique Universe
The universe has to be the way it is, including its bio-friendliness. This view is called the Strong Anthropic Principle (SAP). It says all of the thirty-some-odd parameters are part of an unknown unifying principle. Proponents of this view are typically the ones looking for a theory-of-everything (TOE). They believe the TOE will, by its very nature, reveal why the parameters are as such and why life is a necessary byproduct. Bio-friendliness, as part of the universe’s landscape, is just a mystery under this model. Despite having more backbone than WAP, this view has several glaring problems. First, to say we will discover a theory of everything where life is a necessary byproduct appears blatantly improvised to circumvent the fine-tuning problem. It is also an appeal to future scientific discovery. It’s not much better than saying scientists will eventually prove the moon consists of green cheese; therefore, we should provisionally hold the moon consists of green cheese.
Furthermore, if there is a TOE, it would have to be either telic or not. If telic, conscious life is the intent, not a random byproduct. But according to SAP, the universe has no intent and no idea of where it is heading–which seems right given material processes do not have ideas! But why should we expect conscious life to be a random byproduct of a material process? On SAP, people are just furniture in the universe. But we are pretty odd furniture indeed! Simpler byproducts seem far more likely. Why not chaotic clouds of atoms, or endless blobs of stuff floating around, or a pure vacuum universe of space-time? There is a potentially infinite number of more plausible alternatives. But complicated, diverse, conscious life? Can someone say “ad hoc”, and “unbelievable”?
Our visible universe is just one of a very large (or infinite) ensemble of parallel or neighboring universes. If these sibling universes are all identical to ours, then the Multiverse does nothing to solve the fine-tuning problem. So cosmologists prefer the idea of variability where the parameters of the sibling universes are freely and randomly distributed across a vast[ii] probability space. If the variation is diverse enough, the Multiverse reduces the incredulity of WAP as there would have to be some configurations with conscious observers. Even though Davies finds the multiverse hypothesis dubious, he says it is a growing minority view among physicists.[iii] It also seems to be a popular view in pop-science and science fiction.
Siblings in the Multiverse are beyond the horizon of our observable universe. They are beyond the range of direct observation. At first, the multiverse hypothesis seems to lack testability. Yet Davies describes an approach to at least falsify the theory.[iv] It works like this: A bio-friendly universe does not require infinitely precise values but satisfactory values within a range (R) for each parameter. Above or below R, you have a life prohibiting universe. Within R, there is an ideal value most suitable for conscious-life (Ri) [v]. If our world is one of many (or infinite) bio-friendly universes in a randomized ensemble, one should expect randomly distributed parameters in our universe. Without any intent or purpose to the Multiverse, it is unreasonable to assume that the values would be all be close to Ri.
What if we observe in our universe, some values are incredibly close to ideal Ri? Or perhaps many are very close? If that is the case, then the appearance of tampering emerges. Tampering would falsify the multiverse hypothesis as an unguided material process. More research is needed to determine the exact ranges of life-permitting values before a test like this will be convincing. Davies does point out the amount of dark matter in the universe is about ten times better for life than what is satisfactory, and this seems to bother him a bit. But a provisional factor of ten hardly demands telos, so it will be interesting to see where this all leads. In my opinion, given ontic vagueness at the quantum level combined with chaotic nonlinearity, God does not appear to create with (what we consider) perfect precision or sharpness. So an eventual find of random distribution might provide little explanation either way. However, a large enough set of very close ideal values should falsify the Multiverse.
Since bio-friendliness is highly improbable, the vast majority of siblings in the multiverse ensemble would be life-prohibiting. But if there is an infinite set, then anything goes. There would be an endless number of identical universes with a guy just like me typing this exact sentence right at this moment[vi]. Actual-infinities are problematic. Davies writes that instead, there may be an extensive finite set in the ensemble – roughly 1e500 siblings. Now I find this to be an ad hoc aspect of the hypothesis. An infinite set leads to absurdity, and finite sets, less than a vast number, will not suffice to address the enigma. So proponents of this model come in with a convenient estimate of 1e500. Where is the principle of parsimony here? We know not to multiply entities beyond necessity, but apparently, here 1e500 is okay because that is what it takes to make their theory work! But I’m not sure the count matters that much when anything more than one is extravagant. Why should we believe in the existence of any sibling universes beyond the horizon of our observable one? There are mathematical models for how they might be, but that’s a far cry from a physical interpretation or any visible verification.
Probably the most humorous aspect of the multiverse theory, at least as Davies describes it, is the reality of fake universes. Some cosmologists believe that in a vast multiverse ensemble, the odds are far more significant that life would be simulated rather than real. A simulation of a billion lives in a computer is far more economical than accommodating a billion real lives. Therefore, accordingly, our universe is far more likely to be a simulation than real! So you and I are probably living in something like the movie: The Matrix. You can read more about this if you look up: Boltzmann’s Brain. If you believe reality is not a simulation, then you ought to doubt the multiverse hypothesis, and see the lengths some will go to avoid theism.
The Life Principle (LP)
The universe necessarily produces life. Similar to SAP, this is a theory-of-everything (TOE) describing how life is inevitable. It differs in that there would be an underlying teleology or purpose. Conscious observers are not a coincidental byproduct in this model, but the intention, the end-product. According to Davies, this teleology is not theistic, but an alpha-principle, a brute fact starting point. Davies thinks the LP “builds purpose into the workings of the cosmos at a fundamental (rather than an incidental) level without positing a preexisting agent to inject purpose miraculously.”
Really? I’m not sure how this is any better than the God-hypothesis from a scientific or theistic standpoint. The idea of an alpha-principle intending life seems less plausible than one where God intends life. Intentions are more at home with minds than with matter. Davies also seems to misstep theologically. God did not have to inject purpose into the universe. He created the world with purpose. In the end, how do we differentiate between the LP and God’s creative plan? There is no way.
Davies goes on to conjoin the LP with the Multiverse to suggest “only universes with a life principle get observed.” But I’m not sure why he even bothers to bring in the Multiverse at this point. It adds no explanatory power at the cost of multiplying entities. In other words, the Life-Principle would not be the product of randomizing parameters. To be intentional, it would have to be an antecedent principle in place at the point of inflation when the fine-tuned settings are randomized. Otherwise, the LP is nothing more than a category for lucky bio-friendly siblings in the Multiverse. After considering the Life Principle, I thought, surely, things cannot get more contrived. But I was wrong.
The Self-explaining Universe
Here, the universe explains itself as a causal loop. Davies describes a world evolving towards maximal information density where at some point, it reaches consciousness. This evolution is like Skynet becoming self-aware at 2:14 am Eastern Time on August 29th, 1997, in Terminator II. Then, using some kind of backward-in-time causation, the universe loops back on itself so that it never has a starting point. The need for an explanation supposedly dissolves away into the cosmic-loop.
This idea is Barrow and Tippler’s Final Anthropic Principle (FAP) reheated. There’s just not much to say about it other than it seems desperate, bizarre and barely suitable for science fiction. An appeal to backward-in-time causation is problematic. Perhaps someday I will invent the time machine. I’ll write up the plans and build it. Then I’ll go back in time and give myself the plans to make it. Seriously, how are we to distinguish between a self-created, self-explaining, necessary, cosmic mind and, wait for it, God? In any event, I don’t understand Davies’ affinity for this idea and his comment: “only self-consistent loops capable of understanding themselves can create themselves” makes no sense to me.
The goldilocks enigma is an annoying obstacle for the nontheist, and there remains little consensus after several decades of theorizing. Davies and others are quick to criticize the God-hypothesis and Intelligent Design, but have little to offer as an alternative. Material explanations range from the weak to the bizarre. All in all, this so-called enigma is nothing more than what a Christian theist would expect to see in a designed universe.
[i] Keep in mind; a hypothetical set of twelve sharpshooters all missing by chance is dozens or perhaps hundreds of orders of magnitude more likely than the chance-odds of the Goldilocks enigma.
[ii] One estimate is 1e500 universes
[iii] The mathematical physicist Roger Penrose would concur with Davies the multiverse does not enjoy scientific confirmation and that it resides on the “border of science and metaphysics.”
[iv] It’s great when you come across a novel idea in a book that makes it worth reading. To me, this was such an idea.
[v] Some will argue “life” as used in this discussion is carbon-biased. But it’s important to remember many of the parameters are required to be fine-tuned for our universe to exist at all at this point with stars, galaxies, etc. You need stars and star-death for the bulk of the periodic table to exist.
[vi] In fact there would be an infinite number of universes with two me-clones sitting side by side typing; and three me-clones; and an infinite number of universes where each clone types alternate letters, etc. etc. the absurdness goes on and on ad infinitum