Saturday, February 5, 2011

Thank God for Luck

I have been reading Stephen Hawkings latest book. “The Grand Design”. The take-away theme from the book: the latest understandings science has accumulated in the recent decade point strongly to the case that god is not necessary to have created the universe.

Last year I had attended a debate between theologian Dr. William Lane Craig (philosopher) and Dr. Victor Stenger (physicist) where the existence of God was debated. One of several “proofs” Craig offered for the existence of a god (from a philosophical standpoint) was the argument that even within the overwhelming life-hostile conditions, our universe is so “finely tuned” that it could not possibly be due to “luck” that we exist. Therefore our existence in this universe is thus proof of a creator god.

This position, that the vast number of variables of constants, physical properties and conditions are so statistically overwhelming against the existence of life in our universe, is called the Anthropic Principle. The recent physics should indeed bear this out – as Hawkings and others have suggested – if the number of dimensions in our universe varied only slightly, as they likely do in other universes [Multiverses 1], atoms could not combine to form molecules, stars could not form, matter would not coalesce into planets and life could not evolve. How is it we ended up so incredibly lucky?

I got to thinking about this recently one evening as I tried to sleep. I suffer from horrible insomnia and pondering the origins of the universe or mentally balancing my checkbook do not serve me well in my pursuit of sleep. Nevertheless I got to thinking about a post I had written last month about the odds of winning the lottery.

The odds of holding the winning lottery ticket are 1 in 5,000,000,000. Actually those odds are substantially better than the postulated number of Multiverses which is calculated to be 10500. (I don’t have enough space here to post all the required “zeros”). But, the fact remains that occasionally people DO actually win the lottery and become multi-millionaires.

Now if you happen to be one of those lucky lottery millionaire winners, you have two distinct options from which to conclude regarding your goof fortune: you were either simply the recipient of luck or god smiled down upon you and intentionally chose to make you a millionaire. It’s one or the other; it can’t be both.

Then in this larger sense, all of us are “cosmic millionaires” – we can either conclude that we are the lucky recipient holders of the winning Universe Lottery Ticket, -OR- that we were intentionally placed here by a benevolent god.

I have seen interviews of lottery winners who seem more than eager to profess their fortune to a benevolent deity. But is there another explanation; does one need a god to win the lottery, or does one simply need to happen to be holding the winning ticket?

1. The concept of multiverses -- an ensemble of universes -- the outcome of the originating process that generated our own universe, and as an explanation for why our universe appears to be fine-tuned for life and consciousness.


DJan said...

How will we ever know the answer to this question? Does it even matter? Most of us who believe in God live our lives "as if" and if God does not exist, then it doesn't matter anyway.

I know this is probably something you are aware of, but I found that melatonin helps me immeasurably when I can't sleep.

Kay Dennison said...

Sometimes I know there is a God; other times I'm convinced there isn't. Either way, I'm here and we ordinary mortals really can't control too much of our lives and just muddle through the best we can with what we have to work with.

billy pilgrim said...

cosmic millionaires! i like that.

40 years ago i declared myself a religious free agent. so far none of the major religions have offered me a contract and having passed my peak earning years i've probably fallen off their radar.

Robert the Skeptic said...

DJan Toward the end of my belief the most difficult concept to let go of was the desire to believe in something "bigger than ourselves". But I realized that the joy and love I received in my life came from the people around me who I care about and who cared about me - not a silent god.

I have come to appreciated how much more remarkable the physical world is as we learn more every day about it's workings, how much more "miraculous " it's origins are than the simple myths we have created to explain it.

You ask does it matter? I think it does; in practical terms when religions profess to know the mind of god and tell us how we should conduct our lives, what we can or cannot do with our bodies, or who we can or cannot marry. God is both unnecessary for explaining our origins but also unnecessary for living full, rewarding and moral lives. It matters to me.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Kay I was of a similar mind, sometimes god, sometimes no. Over time, belief has become increasingly less necessary for me to appreciate life and it's meaning. It is true that we can't control much of what happens in our lives, but we can still control our responses to what happens to us, how we react, and how we choose to conduct ourselves. As you say, "the best we can with what we have to work with". You have your finger on it!!

Billy I routinely have people stopping by my front door offering me a contract for their particular brand of belief. To me, the ones selling their religion are as charlatan as the ones selling storm doors or aluminum siding.

Infidel753 said...

The answer seems obvious. If there are ten to the 500th power universes, then statistically it's far from surprising that one of them would have all those physical constants right for life to appear. If so, obviously that one universe will be the one we inhabit, since it's the only one that could have generated us in the first place.

Even if that were not the case, saying "God did it" isn't an explanation. It just regresses the problem one step further, since God then needs to be explained.

Rain said...

I wish I had the link or remembered the exact numbers but the latest I read is that they had found 40 or 50 other stars each with a planet the right distance, what the scientist called the Goldilocks Zone on Maher last night. So we probably aren't the only ones living in this universe and thinking we are the lucky ones. We are the ones at the right distance from a star providing light and heat-- for a period of time.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Proving that God does or does not exist seems an impossibility to me. And being, in my opinion, unprovable, we have great freedom as to what we believe. I feel there is a vast difference between religion and an awareness of how all that exists is connected. Again, this is my opinion. The physical world and our ever-expanding understanding of it fascinate me and are a source of continuing wonder. You always give us much to ponder.

KleinsteMotte said...

Well now why can it only be a deity or luck and not both? Have we certain knowledge that deities don't use luck? We aren't even sure that there are deities. As I ponder about religions and faith these days and watch how idols are being created in the entertainment industry, I'm wondering if we just need something outside of ourselves to give a meaning and worth to ourselves. After all our imagination does have a way of playing around with reality. So is the sleeplessness going to improve with luck? Perhaps.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Infidel Precisely.

Rain Hawkings has an excellent graphic in his book illustrating the "Goldilocks Zone" and the size/intensity/distance of the star required to support a stable enough environment for a sufficiently long period of time for life to develop and evolve. Indeed, we are the winners contemplating our lottery ticket.

Marylinn Indeed, I continue to find the unfolding knowledge of the natural world far more compelling than the simplicity of an anthropomorphic deity. I believe it is the pursuit of knowledge that gives us that important "freedom".

Infidel753 said...

Proving that God does or does not exist seems an impossibility to me.

True, in the sense that we can't prove unicorns or dragons or ghosts don't exist. What we can do, though, is to say that all available evidence suggests that it's so unlikely that there's no point in bothering our heads about it.

Hawking's book, like so many previous scientific advances, gives us a natural explanation in an area where the previous lack of one had been used as a pretext to cling to the (non-)explanation of supernatural intervention.

The Mother said...

Of course we live in a finely tuned universe, perfect for the creation of life. Because in no other universe would there be life. Duh.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Infidel When I attend these debates, during the question-and-answer period there is almost always someone who challenges the non-believer to prove god does not exist. One would think that, by now, it would be well understood that one cannot prove a negative. The Believers take it as an affront that the burden is upon them to substantiate what they are claiming to be true.

Dr. Mom Not so "Duh" for the believers in that they point to our existence as "proof"... hence my concept that we are the recipients of the winning Universal Lottery.

Antares Cryptos said...

The earth is not flat. The universe is not geocentric. Most recently we had to archive maps of our solar system. As we chase the meaning of "dark matter" who knows what other beliefs will change?

Mary Witzl said...

I don't think we will ever be able to prove or disprove the existence of a divine creator. One thing I'm sure of is that the people who say they understand God are entirely bogus.

Jon said...


Robert the Skeptic said...

Cryptos Yes.. and also we just had to change the Zodiacal chart due to the earth's precession. Probably god just knocked us accidently with his foot while on his way to the bathroom.

Mary As stated above, one cannot prove a negative. But I agree, most who profess to know are either deluding themselves or deluding others.

Jon Indeed, the Ultimate answer, is it not?

Antares Cryptos said...

His? How do you know? ;)

Anonymous said...

It is the ultimate arrogance to think that this is the only place where life exists. In fact, to assume that this is the only type of life that exists. There could be other types of life which thrive in environments totally different from what we have on earth. We are so blind in our search for life that we limit ourselves to only that with which we have experience. God or no God, this may not be the top of the pyramid of life.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Cryptos Him?If god were a woman, she would have been a bit more careful.

BackRow Quite so, that is why it is so foolish to compare Near Death Experiences to the search for life in the universe - we have WAY more evidence that points to the likelihood of other life. Nada, for NDE's even remotely validating god.

Madame DeFarge said...

I am yet to be convinced by the existence of a god, but would cheerfully do so if it allowed me to win the lottery. Or does that just make me shallow?

John Myste said...

This was a very interesting article. The "Heathen Republican" pointed us to this article from a similar discussion happening here:

He is a good guy, despite the fact that he is a republican. I forgive him because at least he is a Heathen.

John Myste said...

Look people, I won a carton of eggs and I don't know what more proof you need.

I don't eat eggs, but I did win them. I would have thanked God, but I don't think the eggs were a divine gift.

OK, OK, I won eggs and there probably is no God to thank. I was certain there was no god at the time I won the eggs, but now I just don't know.

John Myste said...

... Oh, and one more thing:

alwaysinthebackrow, I totally agree with you, sir.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Madame Shallow, definitely. But then you would be wealthy enough to not care what people think.

John Thanks, I read the whole exchange. Many people get mixed up on the "randomness" hence the mistaken anaology of a tornado whipping up a 747. But atoms and their particales are not like billiard balls resting on a table, instead they have interesting "properties" and can do interesting things when energy is applied to them. IN that sense they are more like people - some attracted to others and combine, others repell into other configurations.

I often hear the "medical miracle" story as proof of god. Someone was very sick (and in the hospital being treated with medications) and above all odds, they suddenly got well. Except the body has evolved to attempt to heal itself wherever it can. Remove the variable of "my wife was in the hospital..." then speculate if the miracle would still have happened. Anyway, thanks for sharing the link!!

T. Paine said...

Fascinating posting, sir.

My only question though, is where is the proof of these other "multi-verses"? Aren't you creating a "god" out of thin air with this completely unsubstantiated argument for the existence of life in our own universe? It would seem to me that there is even less proof of this theory of our creation then there is in Genesis.

In the end, your explanation may very well be correct, then again, my explanation of a God creator might also be the correct one! ;)

T. Paine said...

Oh, and as for my wife's miraculous recovery in the hospital, well when science (even medical science) doesn't have an explanation for something occuring that is counter to every expectation, they call that an "insufficiently caused event". Believers call that a "miracle".

Nevertheless, I appreciate your well-articulated perspectives, sir.

Robert the Skeptic said...

T Paine Welcome and thanks for contributing. I will admit that after reading Hawkings book, I probably understand about 10% of it. Mercifully he didn't include the math which was never my strong suit. Still the prevailing evidence and evolving theories point to the strong probability that multiverses exist. Just like the number of holes I observe in my lawn strongly indicate the existence of a gopher in my yard.

To me, the choice between weighing the "unknowns" of whether god created the universe as we know it or it is explainable by ever-emerging scientific evidence, are not equally probable. I can imagine that 2,000 years ago, the rising of the sun daily (just one of a plethora of natural occurrences) was not as explainable as it is today. Bill O'Reilly has decided that the tides are proof of a god because he is ignorant to explain how the moon got here.

One reason I distrust the assertion that the universe's origin can be attributed to a god is because I see clear bias behind that belief. Believers WANT it to be true very badly; they have a vested interest, there is a quid pro quo for believing. They then also get (false) assurance that their life will continue after death, but without all the "bad" aspects (hunger, disease, pain). They get assurance they will be with all their deceased loved ones. They get the confidence of knowing that all injustices will be squared equitably. And, if you believe while you are still alive, you also get to expect that god will (occasionally) intervene in your earth life curing the apparently incurable disease or otherwise suspend the generally statistically predictable natural risks effecting human existence (miracles)… with the exception of regenerating lost portions of anatomy, of course.

The physicists who come to these theories are not just making them up off the tops of their heads because they can’t come up with any other explanation. But more importantly, science has no bias (though individual scientists can certainly be biased). There is no vested interest to be had in a natural explanation of the universe; there is no payoff, no gain beyond the trust of understanding how things work.

Hopefully devices like the Large Hadron Collider will edge us even closer to our understanding of how it is we got here.

Robert the Skeptic said...

T Paine I am, of course, very pleased that your wife recovered from her illness. I share your joy.

I have friends and relatives who close to me who have apparently been denied that miracle and I grieve for them.

Again, thanks for visiting and commenting.

T. Paine said...

Robert T.S. writes, "... science has no bias (though individual scientists can certainly be biased). There is no vested interest to be had in a natural explanation of the universe; there is no payoff, no gain beyond the trust of understanding how things work."

I would agree with you that TRUE science does not have a bias, unfortunately I can see plenty of evidence of biased "science" based on the agenda of what some scientists want to be true every day. (The science involved with global warming is one example.)

Also, I would humbly disagree that most scientists don’t have a vaunted interest in explaining the origins of the universe and life, after all, they are subject to ego also. Indeed the understanding behind such a discovery as the origins of life and our universe would be paramount, but can you imagine the world’s reaction towards the scientist that was able to explain with proof his findings?

As a past nuclear engineer and current RF engineer, I am not unfamiliar with physics and quantum mechanics in particular. I can typically grasp most of the what Steven Hawkings presents in regards to the multiverse theory, and indeed I am fascinated by it.

To my limited mind, and perhaps as a failure of my imagination, this is a theory very much in its infancy with little corroborating evidence in support of it. It is largely conjecture and derivative theoretical work.

Again, it may very well prove to be the correct answer to the question of why our universe has life within it, but I am not ready yet to disregard my faith based on this theory when there are gargantuan amounts of tangible scientific evidence that supports our universe as being so exact as to have incalculable googols of factors come into complete life-giving alignment.

It is not just a matter of “winning the lottery”. The very tuning of the big bang itself is such that if the amount of energy varied by more than 1 in 10 to the 120th power, life as we know it would not exist in the universe. This, along with quadrillions upon quadrillions of other factors coming into being precisely in alignment to support life is so infinitesimally small in its likelihood as to approach scientific impossibility.

Now that doesn’t mean that the creation of our universe was done by a Christian God, or Odin, or Cthulhu, but the inarguable precision required certainly suggests a creator to me, sir. It makes more scientific sense, to me, than does a multiverse theory that has no meat on its bones on which to chew.

Lastly, I appreciate your well-wishes for my recovering wife, by the way. Fortunately she did recover this time, as there has been far too much misery and death amongst my family and friends in recent years. I am sincerely sorry for your past losses too, Robert. I realize this probably means little to you, but my prayers are with them and you, sir.

Robert the Skeptic said...

T.Paine I see no reason why (climate) scientists would “want” global warming to be true, any more than they would want plate tectonics or nuclear fission to be true. Conversely, I see very clear reasons why people with economic interests (profit motive) would want Global Climate Change to NOT to be true. (This is much too long to get into here and now, but whether one denies it or not, if its gonna happen, it likely will.)

I think to paint scientists with a broad brush as motivated by ego is disingenuous.

The “randomness” issue, our universal “lottery” luck seems daunting until one considered the Feynman formulation that particles don’t take a single path but that they take all possible paths simultaneously. Again to use an analogy, that would be like not buying one lottery ticket but buying all possible lottery tickets. Again, with your background you likely understand this better than I.

But you are correct, this work is in its infancy; much of it developed within the last decade. We continue to dig!

For me it is difficult to both accept a creator deity that set all this complexity in motion BUT ALSO is interested in my personal soul and health on earth and steps in to suspend the laws of nature (miracles) occasionally when he/she/it sees fit.

Lastly, I am never offended when my believer friends pray for me or others; I accept that gesture as being their expression of concern, empathy and hopefulness for my, or others, well being. I graciously accept the sentiment.

Paul said...

How can one prove that luck exists ?

secret agent woman said...

I've grown weary of the god-no god debate. God is, in my mind, a primitive way of explaining the Universe.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Paul Flip a coin, I guess.

SecretAgent It has been on my mind as of late - I guess it is my yearning to "know".