News Media Icon News Media
Physics, Earth & Space Icon Physics, Earth & Space

Newsweek‘s Trojan Horse: Sharon Begley Muffles the Cosmic Design Inference and Forces Her Philosophical Blinders on Newsweek Readers

Casey Luskin

In a recent ID the Future podcast interview, Dr. Scott Chambers discusses the fact that the expansion rate of the universe implies an incredibly high degree of cosmic fine-tuning to allow for the existence of life. Just a few weeks ago, Newsweek columnist Sharon Begley also discussed the universe’s expansion rate. This issue has huge implications for the debate over cosmic design, but you wouldn’t know it from reading Begley’s article. Begley tries to steer the reader into believing the wildly speculative multiverse hypothesis–a pet philosophical favorite of materialists–while barely even hinting that the alternative, and much more elegant explanation, is intelligent design of the cosmos. For those who are informed on this subject, her article comes off as if she is trying to hide the design inference from the reader as a reasonable conclusion to explain the incredible fine-tuning of the universe. Begley writes:

If Einstein’s cosmological constant truly is the source of dark energy, then something else cancels out all but a smidgen of the energy from the popping particles. That something else is anyone’s guess. Worse, the precision of the required cancellation–erase the ink on every magazine ever printed except for exactly one comma, here,–strains credulity.

(Sharon Begley, “In ‘Dark Energy,’ Cosmic Humility,” Newsweek, October 1, 2007, pg. 43.)

Here, Begley is simply editorializing. For her, what “strains credulity” is the view that our life-friendly universe has the required “precision” for life’s existence embedded within its laws, because this implies cosmic design. Designers regularly fine-tune their products to precisely required design specifications, and highly improbable and specified events normally trigger a design inference. And of course, the fine-tuning of the expansion rate is just the beginning. There are other instances to fine-tuning in addition to the dark energy (which is causing the universe to accelerate, not merely expand). Indeed, the most impressive example of fine-tuning was discovered by Roger Penrose: the initial entropy of the universe had to be within one part in 10 to the 10123 (i.e. 1010exp(123))! The fact that the universe exhibits such incredibly improbable fine-tuning for life regarding its expansion rate naturally implies a design inference, if one is philosophically open to the design inference (which Begley isn’t). Such improbability does not “strain credulity” if one is willing to consider cosmic design.

But Begley doesn’t even mention the design inference as one possible explanation. Rather, she forces the unknowing reader to wear her own philosophical blinders by encouraging them to consider methods of improving the odds of getting such an improbable universe. In fact, we know that she is trying to steer the reader away from the design inference because she immediately launches into a 3-paragraph promotion of the “multiverse hypothesis,” a favorite escape-pod for materialists seeking to avoid the conclusion of cosmic design. Thus Begley writes, “Unless ‘the’ universe is actually only one out of many universes.”

Here, Begley begins to explicitly promote materialism, stating that if we have such multiverses then “there is no deeper explanation,” and that ultimate answers to inquiries about cosmic fine-tuning reveal the answer “just because.” Unfortunately, she tries to make this sound scientifically reasonable by writing, “Cosmologists are seriously entertaining this possibility.” But consider how Nature dealt with this issue last year when it admitted that this isn’t a testable concept:

Since the early 1980s, some cosmologists have argued that multiple universes could have formed during a period of cosmic inflation that preceded the Big Bang. More recently, string theorists have calculated that there could be 10500 universes, which is more than the number of atoms in our observable Universe. Under these circumstances, it becomes more reasonable to assume that several would turn out like ours. It’s like getting zillions and zillions of darts to throw at the dart board, Susskind says. “Surely, a large number of them are going to wind up in the target zone.” And of course, we exist in our particular Universe because we couldn’t exist anywhere else. It’s an intriguing idea with just one problem, says Gross: “It’s impossible to disprove.” Because our Universe is, almost by definition, everything we can observe, there are no apparent measurements that would confirm whether we exist within a cosmic landscape of multiple universes, or if ours is the only one. And because we can’t falsify the idea, Gross says, it isn’t science.

(Geoff Brumfiel, “Outrageous Fortune,” Nature, Vol 439:10-12 (January 5, 2006).)

Thus not only is the multiverse hypothesis untestable, but even string theory dramatically lacks the probablistic resources to explain the fine-tuning in light of Penrose’s discovery about the fine-tuning of the initial cosmic entropy. Based upon current scientific observations, our sample size for the number of universes that exist is 1, and we have every reason to believe that our universe is exceedingly improbable and finely-tuned to allow for the existence of advanced life. As Dr. Scott Chambers says in his recent ID the Future Podcast:

There are really two fundamental problems with [the multiverse hypothesis].
One, we don’t have any observational evidence for any universe other than our own.
And secondly, if you think about the implications of the multiverse model, the universe that we have ought to be just barely adequate to support life. And so things like good-stating food and bright colors and so forth ought not to happen. And yet the world that we live in is a fabulous place to live and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. I think that the obvious conclusion, the one that first comes to mind, is that of design and the multiverse is a way of squirming around that.

But Sharon Begley gives the reader no hint that design is a reasonable interpretation; no hint that her alternative position — the multiverse hypothesis — is entirely untestable and possibly inadequate to explain the observed degree of fine-tuning; no hint that it’s a philosophical position crafted to avoid concluding cosmic design; and she gives no hint that the alternative, straightforward explanation for the fine-tuning of the universe is intelligent design.

It’s sad that Newsweek is allowing its science editorials to blatantly promote materialist philosophy without recognizing it as such, and without recognizing the alternative position. But one thing is for sure: the evidence for fine-tuning is driving materialists to make extreme proposals — and to hide the alternative explanations — implicitly admitting that there is something about our universe needing explanation by an external cause.


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



NewsweekSharon Begley