A new age of quantum madness
You and I helped shape the universe’s physical laws? The physical world is only real because we create it? Ideas that owe more to anti-God eastern religion than science are increasingly being taken seriously by top scientists.
Published: 14 August 2007 (GMT+10)
The fundamental assumption of modern science has long been that there are unchanging, universal laws. But to avoid the obvious conclusion that there must be a transcendent Lawgiver, some thinkers are prepared to abandon this and even propose that people helped shape the universe, in effect.
The fact that the universe is ‘just right’ for life is well known to physical scientists. In particular, the physical laws and constants appear to be exquisitely and uniquely fine-tuned to permit not only stars planets and galaxies to exist, but ourselves, too. It’s been called the universe’s ‘Goldilocks factor’, because it is all astonishingly ‘just right’ (see The universe is finely tuned for life).
This makes perfect sense to those who trust the Bible’s message in Genesis. The universe was indeed put in place for a purpose, by the ultimate Designer. So why don’t these widely known facts cause most scientists to concede the truth of the Bible? It’s not hard to understand. Genesis (in Chapter 3, dealing with the Fall) also tells us why all people today begin life with a natural tendency to reject God and His rule over their lives. Romans 1 highlights humanity in its rebellion by describing those who, professing themselves to be wise, foolishly abandoned the worship of the true Creator God for manmade systems (vv. 22–23). These are those who ‘did not like to retain God in their knowledge’ (v. 28).
So for someone who, untouched by the Spirit of God, wants to reject God as Creator (and thus Lawgiver and Judge) in their thinking, the news that the laws of physics are ‘designed for us’ is unwelcome. It has to be explained in some other way.
A common manifestation of this is the so-called ‘anthropic principle’ (from Greek anthrōpos ἄνθρωπος = man). This basically states that the reason the universe appears to be designed for us is that otherwise we wouldn’t be here to draw that conclusion.
This sounds profound but it’s actually no explanation at all. As Christian apologists have pointed out:
If you were dragged before a trained firing squad, and they fired and missed:
- it is true that you should not be surprised to observe that you are not dead, but
- it is equally true that you should be surprised to observe that you are alive.
If you were asked, ‘How did you survive?’, it would be inadequate to answer, ‘If I didn’t, I would not be here to answer you.’
If antitheists actually deign to offer an explanation, it is often on the lines of, ‘Yes, it is highly unlikely for one universe to have these properties. But if there are, or were, lots of other universes, with the laws of physics a little bit different in each one, then it would become probable that at least one would happen to have the properties required for intelligent observers to exist. In this ‘grand lottery of universes’, only those where the laws were hospitable to life would produce observers, so the theory goes, in a sort of ‘natural selection competition among universes’.
This is really special pleading, i.e. an explanation these atheists accept for the universe but would not tolerate for a second to explain anything else. Consider if we found a pattern of markings on a beach which spelt your name. Naturally you would conclude that an intelligence had written it. This is more plausible than thinking that wind and wave erosion eroded that pattern by chance, even though there is a definite but extremely tiny probability of this happening.
But under multiverse reasoning, there are an infinite number of parallel universes containing every possible quantum state, ‘In infinite space, even the most unlikely events must take place somewhere.’1
Photo by Effy Alexakis, Macquarie University
So if a person had an a priori bias that no one could have written your name, he could argue that we just happen to be in one of the tiny fraction of universes where this improbable erosion pattern arose naturally. If this sounds totally unreasonable, then by the same logic, so is the atheistic preference for an infinite number of universes over a Creator.2
Well-known physicist Paul Davies recently acknowledged that, quite apart from the difficulty of ever proving such a thing with observational science, this ‘multiverse’ idea leaves a lot unexplained. It not only requires a mechanism to generate universes, but there has to be some set of ‘higher’ laws that in turn ‘govern the creation of law-driven universes’.3
However, in the proposal he puts forward as to why the laws are as they are, Davies seems to confirm Romans 1 in a stunning display of man shaking his fist at God. He suggests, in perhaps the ultimate demonstration of humanistic hubris, that we ourselves are responsible. Yes, that’s right—Davies (and the others he cites) effectively gives people, not the Creator God, the credit for the universe’s fine tuning.
Laws require a Lawgiver.
He says that the ‘traditional’ way most scientists still regard the laws is as ‘immutable, universal, eternal relationships’, that are ‘strangely independent of the universe’. Davies correctly points out that this means that there is some external source of the laws. In other words, a source that is ‘greater than’ the universe and independent of it. Though he doesn’t mention the Bible’s Creator God, it’s not hard to see that such an infinite-personal, immanent-yet-transcendent being is really the ‘only game in town’ as a candidate for such a source.
What Davies calls the ‘traditional’ view is really the bedrock assumption upon which modern science, with all its successes, rests. In fact, it was the post-Reformation emphasis on the Bible, with its revelation of a lawful, unchanging Creator, that led to the explosion of science in Western Europe, rather than in Islamic or Buddhist lands.4
But rather than embrace the notion of God,5 Davies attacks the idea of unchanging physical laws. Instead, he proposes that the laws of physics have evolved along with the universe—his term is ‘flexi-laws’. The younger the universe, so goes the theory, the more flexible the laws are; so as the universe ages, the laws become less and less flexible, until they ‘focus’ on today’s. Onto this picture of changing laws, Davies then overlays physicist Freeman Dyson’s famous comment (which assumes the standard evolutionary picture and timescale) about the universe’s fine-tuning: ‘… it seems in some sense the universe knew we were coming.’ So how could the evolutionist’s ‘early universe’ possibly know that people would eventually come? Most would see the question as rhetorical; it’s obvious that it can’t. But Davies answers that it can, thanks to the weirdness of quantum mechanics (QM). He cites the renowned Stephen Hawking who has tried to apply QM to cosmology. Hawking says that it is a mistake to see the universe as having had only one history from its beginning to the present. In short, he says that there were a multiplicity of histories, and which ones ‘are included in the amalgam will depend on what we choose to measure today.’ In other words, the past (including the direction taken by the laws of physics) is up for grabs, and can be influenced by our actions and choices today.
Drawing an ultra-long bow?
In a somewhat feeble attempt at justifying this astonishing claim, Davies cites a particular experiment involving photons (’packets of light’) going through tiny slits. The results have been interpreted as showing that the decision to make a particular observation or not determines the nature of the past. He admits that this apparent ‘reach into the past’ only extends to a few billionths of a second, and ‘cannot be used to change the past, or to send information back in time’. Undeterred, however, he says that ‘in principle it could be extended to billions of years’.
Now there is no doubt that with relativity, and more so QM, modern physics has shown that just because something is laced with counterintuitive weirdness does not mean that it is necessarily unreal. But it’s worth remembering that just because some real things sound like weird ideas, it does not therefore follow that all weird-sounding ideas are real. One needs to step back and contemplate the breathtaking chutzpah that Davies’ reasoning involves—in effect, the universe’s laws seem ‘made for people’ because people ‘made the laws’! And how could one devise an experiment to observe the laws in the universe’s past, especially given the conveniently built-in opt-out in the event of negative results (when we tried to observe the past, it must have changed the past)?
By contrast, the idea of immutable laws governing the universe is consistent with every scientific observation or measurement ever made. It seems that in the rush to abandon anything that might require or even suggest the infinite-personal Creator God of the Bible, science itself is being abandoned.6
Davies is 100% right when he says that it requires an ‘external source’ to explain our universe’s laws. Their existence fits perfectly and consistently with the assumption that the Creator-God of the Bible is real and created this physical universe and its laws. Their fine-tuning for life is to be expected from a God of purpose who created the universe as a home for mankind.
A new age of unreason?
The approach outlined by Davies is clearly not driven by science—there is no unexplained observation concerning the physical laws waiting to be solved by such a proposal—but rather religion, albeit the wrong one. It’s not the only way in which eastern-type anti-god mystical religious philosophies appear to be tainting interpretations of scientific observations. In another recent New Scientist article, it is strongly argued that ‘we now have to face the possibility that there is nothing inherently real about the properties of an object until we measure it.’ A quantum researcher is cited as saying, ‘We in fact create reality’.
All this will sound familiar to those steeped in eastern mystical notions that the world is an illusion, the universe is God, God is the universe, you are God, and so forth.7
The appeal to human pride in our increasingly ‘me-centred’ culture is obvious: ‘Hey, did you know that you create the physical world? You even helped create laws like gravity!’ It’s not hard to hear the hiss of the tempter in Genesis 3:5: ‘You will be like God’.
- Tegmark, M., Parallel universes: Not just a staple of science fiction, other universes are a direct implication of cosmological observations, Scientific American 288:30–41, May 2003. Of course, there is no actual observation of these other universes, just observation of fine-tuning in ours that is explained away by multiverses, as explained in this article. Return to Text.
- This discussion within the article is modified from Sarfati, J, Refuting Compromise, ch. 5. Return to Text.
- Davies, P., ‘Laying down the laws’, New Scientist 30 June 2007 pp 30–34 Return to Text.
- See for example The biblical origins of science. Return to Text.
- Paul Davies has written books with ‘God’ in the title, such as God and the New Physics (1984) and The Mind of God (1993), and has even won the Templeton prize for religion. However, his ‘god’ bears little resemblance to the Bible’s infinite-personal God—see Physicists God Talk about Davies’ use of ‘god’ and Templeton Prize goes to panentheistic Darwinist about the antibiblical religion promoted by Templeton. Return to Text.
- Note that these ‘laws’ are really descriptions of the way God upholds the universe (Col. 1:15 ff) in an orderly way (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:33—see Creationist contributions to science. Return to Text.
- I.e. pantheism—see also ‘Mission not impossible: changing the worldview of Eastern mystics’ by Russell Grigg in the June 2007 Creation magazine. Return to Text.