Physics, Earth & Space Icon Physics, Earth & Space

We Don’t Live in a Multiverse Because the Concept Makes No Sense

Photo credit: Daniele Levis Pelusi, via Unsplash.

Cosmic fine-tuning is the observation that many of the values of the variables in the fundamental laws of physics specifically permit the existence of sentient life (life like us) within a very narrow margin of error. The likelihood of this happening by chance seems vanishingly small. It seems as if Someone expected us.

How can we explain this? That God created the universe explains fine-tuning. But for atheists, it’s a real conundrum. As a result, at the blog Neurologica, neurologist Steven Novella and philosopher Philip Goff have been discussing the most popular atheist explanation for fine-tuning, namely the “multiverse.” That is, there are countless universes out there, each with its own parameters, and ours just happens to be one that supports our particular type of life.

So far, they agree on four points. Let’s look at them:

1 — The probability of our universe existing is unaffected by the presence or absence of other universes. To think otherwise is the inverse gambler’s fallacy.

Comment: The proposition that “our universe existing is unaffected by the presence or absence of other universes” is unintelligible. “Universe” means everything, so “other universes” makes no sense. If Novella and Goff mean “other locales in the universe that have different laws of physics,” they should say so. The proposition as it stands is senseless. Ironically, Novella and Goff both agree with it.

Note: Inverse gambler’s fallacy: “the fallacy of concluding, on the basis of an unlikely outcome of a random process, that the process is likely to have occurred many times before.”

2 — The probability that some universe capable of evolving complex life exists (assuming the premises of the fine-tuning problem) is higher if there are multiple universes than if there is only one universe.

Comment: Again, “multiple universes” is senseless. It means “multiple everything.” It’s gibberish. Novella and Goff seem to think that the concept of “probability” has meaning when applied to “multiple everything.” Probability necessarily refers to a range of possible states and presupposes an observer capable of surveying the states. In that case, the observer is in the (only) universe and “multiple universes” is meaningless.

3 — The key to the question of inferring a multiverse from the observation of our universe (again, assuming the fine-tuning problem and that there is no other solution) is therefore asking the right question — do we consider the probability of our universe existing or of some universe existing?

Comment: One cannot infer a “multiverse” from the observation of our universe because inferring “multiple everything” from “everything” is unintelligible. If Novella and Goff mean that the observation of our universe reveals regions that have different laws of physics, they should say so. Their argument to explain fine-tuning would then be: If the universe had a sufficient number of localities with different laws of physics, apparent fine-tuning in one locality could realistically occur by chance. I think that this is in fact what they are claiming. The problem is, to make their claim credible, they must show that there actually are localities in the universe in which the laws of physics differ in a way that would make fine-tuning likely by chance.

They have not shown this, because there is no evidence for it. Their rhetorical sleight of hand here is innovative. Novella and Goff use “multiverse” to expand the probability range while at the same time using “multiverse” to exempt themselves from any requirement to produce actual scientific evidence that this probability range — these “multiverses” (i.e., localities) — actually exist. They are saying in effect that the localities that they need to prove their theory exist but they can’t find them because they are in other universes.

Novella and Goff invoke “multiple everything” while at the same time defining “everything” in a way that precludes observation. Nonsense has its uses, after all.

Read the rest at Mind Matters, published by Discovery Institute’s Walter Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence.

Michael Egnor

Professor of Neurosurgery and Pediatrics, State University of New York, Stony Brook
Michael R. Egnor, MD, is a Professor of Neurosurgery and Pediatrics at State University of New York, Stony Brook, has served as the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery, and is an award-winning brain surgeon. He was named one of New York’s best doctors by the New York Magazine in 2005. He received his medical education at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and completed his residency at Jackson Memorial Hospital. His research on hydrocephalus has been published in journals including Journal of Neurosurgery, Pediatrics, and Cerebrospinal Fluid Research. He is on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Hydrocephalus Association in the United States and has lectured extensively throughout the United States and Europe.



atheistscosmic fine-tuningeverythingevolutioninverse gambler’s fallacylocalitiesmultiverseNeurologicaPhillip GoffprobabilitySteven Novella