Saturday, December 10, 2005

Paul Mirecki

Many have been blogging about Mirecki, but Jim Davila's post says it all. I agree with every sentence, phrase, and comma.

14 Comments:

Anonymous steph said...

I agree absolutely.

12/11/2005  
Blogger Christopher Heard said...

How can you agree with a comma? ;-)

12/11/2005  
Blogger Bilbo Bloggins said...

I agree with much of what is said. But his comments on anthropic design arguments betray what is one of the major problems in this debate -- outsiders getting involved in what are somewhat technical issues that they simply don't comprehend. Jim betrays his ignorance of the teleological argument as well as the "Many Worlds" interpretation of quantum mechanics. A short erroneous rebuttal does not lay to rest what is a very live topic in physics and philosophy (and not really even discussed much by members of the Intelligent Design movement). And if Loren is indeed agreeing with his critique there, then the charge of dilettante must be aimed in his direction as well.

12/11/2005  
Anonymous steph said...

I take commas far more seriously than hobbits. Hobbits on the other hand are much funnier than commas.

12/11/2005  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Well, Steph, I would never want to slight hobbits, but maybe they're a lot like commas after all -- small, underrated in what they accomplish, tending to go unnoticed.

12/12/2005  
Blogger Jim Davila said...

I'm not inclined to take seriously criticisms from people who don't actually present any arguments against what I've said and who don't have enough confidence in what they say to sign their own name to it. If you want to debate with me, then engage with what I say and do it under your real name.

12/12/2005  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

I feel much the same as Jim regarding the use of nicknames. While anonymous (or quasi-anonymous) comments are welcome on this blog, the authors shouldn't be surprised if I (and others) don't waste time responding to them.

12/12/2005  
Anonymous steph said...

Sorry Loren - I have been feeling a bit guilty in case I offended the REAL hobbits (although I must be the only Kiwi not drooling over Tolkein).

12/12/2005  
Anonymous steph said...

eek - Tolkien!

12/12/2005  
Blogger Bilbo Bloggins said...

Firstly, I apologize for not going into more detail, Jim. I really intended to find out if Loren agreed with your presentation on the teleological argument and I thought it best to find that out before I waste a bunch of time arguing against a position he did not hold.

Secondly, for personal reasons I prefer to use this tag. If for whatever reason that means you don't want to interact with me, I understand. There's no hard feelings there at all. I'm personally not interested in personalities. I am interested in arguments and information. That's what I am on the web for -- not politics, the promotion of my scholarship, honor or shame, etc. Now onto the meatier matters....

Jim tells us "Intelligent design" arguments don't "hold up to anyone who knows anything about serious metaphysics or scientific cosmology."

Is Jim claiming that he knows something about serious metaphysics or scientific cosmology? And if not, I'm wondering whose word he's taking this on. There are *quite* a few physicists who take the anthropic design arguments very seriously. And there are more than quite a few philosophers. Indeed, Anthony Flew, one of the greatest atheist philosphers of our century, accepts certain versions of the modern design argument -- particularly those from Schroeder's _The Hidden Face of God_ which are very similar to ID arguments.

Anyway, Jim attempts to refute the teleological argument by stating that it is "is based on the assumption that all of reality is contained in the visible universe".

This of course is completely false. This is not an *assumption* of those who argue for anthropic design but it is of course something some of them argue *against* as an explanatory rival to a design hypothesis (see Robin Colins' essays: http://home.messiah.edu/~rcollins/home.htm or Koons' treatment: http://www.leaderu.com/offices/koons/docs/lec18.html ). Were Jim actually familiar with the work of philosophers who advocate this modern form of teleological argument, he would know this. But by his language, we're led to believe that teleologists blithely assume that we are not living in a multiverse. Further -- many, like Leslie, even argue for design, granting that the multiverse exists. Has Jim read the absolutely essential work of John Leslie on the multiverse vs. design hypotheses? Have you read _Universes_, Jim? If not, you ought to pick it up before you speak on the anthropic design argument.

Jim further tells us that there are "plenty of reasons to doubt" that all of reality is contained within our observable universe. Why? Because we haven't observed or measured the entire universe yet. Well, there's a no-brainer, Jim. True, all of reality probably isn't contained within the *observable* universe, if we *know* we haven't observed the entire universe yet. But this trivial statement, as a counter to ID arguments, misses the point entirely. The fundamental laws and boundary conditions that are cited in anthropic argumentation are not believed to vary anywhere in the particular space-time envelope of "our" universe and for the argumentation as to why, see Swinburne's essay in _Modern Cosmology and Philosophy_ ed. by Leslie. Does Jim believe that gravity, or the strong and weak nuclear forces, or electromagnetism just *stop* working once we get further enough away from planet earth? Quite a flagrant disregard for the Copernican Principle, and quite arbitrary!

Jim further tells us that the Many Worlds interpretation (hereafter MWI) of quantum mechanics gives us good reason to believe that there are other universes out there, citing experimental support. Firstly, even *if* this were relevant to the fine-tuning argument (we'll see shortly that its not), there are other interpretations of QM that one might prefer for evidential and/or philosophical reasons, so that in such cases, this objection wouldn't necessarily affect the fine-tuner at all. If Jim wants to believe in an infinity of parallel universes, he's welcome to do so, but one might prefer the Copenhagen interpretation of QM (which many refer to as the "preferred explanation" of physicists). Or, instead of invoking parallel universes, one might prefer Penrose's new theory (see his _The Road to Reality_) that the *gravitational* warps of objects in the macroworld, and the larger energy deposits required to maintain them (and hence instability), collapses the superposition. This theory has the advantage of taking relativity into account and incorporating gravity, and also better explaining the discrepancy between the world of QM and ordinary reality. But all that aside, the real problem with Jim's suggestion is that in the MWI, even when various components of a quantum superposition decohere from one another, the fundamental laws of physics do not vary. MWI is more of a splitting of the current worlds into ever smaller probability densities. Indeed the Planck-Boltzmann formula tells us that worlds cannot fuse because of the decrease in entropy and violation of the 2nd law of thermo. which is assumed to be absolute. Further the conservation of energy applies within *each* world and across the totality of worlds. Much better to invoke cosmic inflation or string theory for the type of Multiverse Jim is looking for.

But Jim does actually mention quantum vacuum fluctuations as a candidate for his Multiverse. Good job, Jim. But there are several reasons why fine-tuners reject such models. Firstly, the universe, whether interpreted literally as a virtual particle or analogous to one, arbitrarily does not spawn virtual universes of its own withinthe present vacuum of our spacetime, though there's really no reason why it shouldn't if virtual particles are capable of this. Further, given a finite period of time, universes can emerge from the wider vacuum at any given place. The larger the time interval, the greater the probability that a quantum event will occur. Given an infinite time interval, we should expect that universes would arise at every given point in the vacuum. As these universes emerge and expand we should expect them to come into contact with one another and merge. This, however, is not what we see. If an expanding background space is postulated to account for the fact that new universes born from the quantum vacuum do not coalesce, then we are right back where we started having to explain the origin of that expansion. This kind of defeats the purpose of these speculative models in the first place as they are invoked to explain the origin of the expanding universe.

But really, the metaphysical speculations of quantum vacuum models aside, we just cannot invoke an infinity of other things out there to account for what we see in *this* universe -- let alone an *exhaustive* infinity. Why not? Because it would destroy induction and hence science itself. You see, such an explanation can explain ANYTHING and therefore explains nothing. If I come home from work and find "You're a foul little hobbit" spelled out in the rocks in my garden, I ought not be surprised, as the probability of this happening due to a sudden complex localized gust of wind in an infinitely exaustive multiverse is 1. So if Jim wants to put his faith in entities that are by their very nature separate from our spacetime envelope and hence, unfalsiable and unobservable, he may do so, but he loses all ability to reason probabilistically moving forward. That is metaphysical baggage a bit too heavy for this hobbit to lug.

There are several more reasons that fine-tuners reject Multiverse objections to design. We can get deeper into these issues, but this post is getting a bit long.

Bilbo

12/12/2005  
Blogger Jim Davila said...

Bear with me: this is the last week of teaching and I'm swamped with end of semester things and family holiday things. I'll try to comment within the next week or so.

12/14/2005  
Blogger Jim Davila said...

No, I am not a physicist and I haven't read everything on teleology. I've read some of Leslie's work, but not that particular book. Yes, my original post contained some errors. But I stand by its main point and its conclusions.

First, as as aside, it's easy to tell who I am, since I speak under my own name and you can Google me all you like. I stand behind what I say and I correct it when I find that I've gotten it wrong. Mr. "Bloggins" (since he is "Bilbo" and not "Galadriel," I assume he's male), however, is still unwilling to tell us who he is, for "personal reasons." It's hard not to read this to mean that he doesn't want someone to know he holds the views he holds, which isn't the best recommendation for the views themselves. He hasn't told us anything about himself and, if he did, there would be no way to verify it. I don't like debating with people who hide behind anonymity and I'm not going to spend a lot of time on it. But I will respond once in this case.

Next, BB tells me that I have oversimplified the modern teleological argument. Okay, I'll take his word for it. Again, I'm not an expert in that area and I should have phrased some of my objections more cautiously. But his corrections do not affect the central point I was making and which I said explicitly in my original post: the "intelligent design" movement is using the teleological argument to try to bring creationism into schools through the back door and this argument cannot bear that weight. This is obvious even to someone who is not a scientist or a philosopher, but who tries to keep up in a general way with what is going on in both areas. Let me come back to that at the end of this post, but first let me respond to some specific physics-related issues BB raises.

1. On my first point, that the universe is larger than we can observe, it is true that this in itself is not an argument against "intelligent design." But according to the "chaotic inflationary model," which BB mentions, different regions of the universe can have different physical laws, so the fact that we can't see those regions (for various reasons) is relevant. It is also perhaps relevant for point 3, below. I should have spelled this out more.

2. BB is right about the many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics; the physical laws in that sort of multiverse are the same as ours. Apologies: my mistake.

3. Interesting observations on the fluctuating-vacuum scenario, but this is a matter for debate, and BB's objections are not decisive. I won't pretend to have the expertise to debate the fine points, but one possibility physicists are discussing is the generation of bubbles of "false vacuum" in the (infinite) "spacetime foam," and these bubbles produce universes in which symmetries are broken in unpredictable ways. We get an infinite number of these universes with the full possible range of physical laws. Whether they could have contact with one another or be seen or detected by one another and under what circumstances, I leave to physicists to debate. What exactly there is between them and if and how it would transmit information isn't clear to me, but maybe someone does know. I suspect, and perhaps my point in #1 is relevant again, there isn't any obvious way we could detect the spacetime foam or other universes in it from our current vantage point (in our own past-light cone and within the limitations of the red shift) with our current measuring instruments. Maybe someday with better technology ...

In any case, physicists still take this as a real possibility, so it serves my purpose. Indeed, it is served by the fluctuating vacuum, a chaotic inflationary universe, "bubble theory" (universes with different physical laws budding through cosmic wormholes), string theory (I believe "M-Theory" and "string landscape" theory both apply), etc. I hope I have these straight, but if I've glitched some of them, the fact remains that there are a number of serious scenarios which present us with a multiverse that has a wide range of physical laws, many quite different from ours.

All these scenarios are illustrations to make my larger point, one that BB does not seem to take on board.

BB writes:

"Jim further tells us that there are 'plenty of reasons to doubt' that all of reality is contained within our observable universe. Why? Because we haven't observed or measured the entire universe yet. Well, there's a no-brainer, Jim. True, all of reality probably isn't contained within the *observable* universe, if we *know* we haven't observed the entire universe yet. But this trivial statement, as a counter to ID arguments, misses the point entirely."

I don' think so. If we don't know what, if anything, lies outside the reality of the Big Bang (our universe), but we have good reason on various grounds to suspect that there may be quite a lot that is fundamentally different from what we see, the "fine tuning" argument doesn't hold water. We simply can't put our knowledge of the very limited region we can see into any kind of context so as to be able to draw grand metaphysical conclusions from it. It may well be that we are like the ancient Greeks trying to formulate a theory of matter while working from a theory of four elements. It's not a question of these cosmological theories being in principle unfalsifiable, although, granted, we can't falsify them at present. These are deep waters and any explanation is very hard to test, but given sufficient technology in the future, it's reasonable to hope that most of them could be tested. (Lewis's "modal realism" is a multiversal scenario that is probably unfalsifiable, but it's an exception.)

Let me emphasize the following, which comes to the heart of the matter: it is particularly ironic that BB wants to replace multiversal explanations of apparent "fine tuning" with "intelligent design," which is a theistic explanation and which therefore also invokes infinity. Theism is in principle unfalsifiable. I have nothing against theism -- I am a theist, and I've already said that these issues are worth debating in philosophy and theology courses. But invoking theism as a scientific explanation is destructive because it's a complete show stopper, considerably more so than any of the explanations I've noted above. Once you say, "because God did it," there's no point in asking more questions, which leaves us unlikely to find more answers.

All that being the case, let me just bring the discussion back to the larger issue of the use of "intelligent design" by the creationist movement in places like Kansas and Pennsylvania, which was the starting point of my original comments. (I have no idea what BB thinks about these issues, so I don't know if we're still debating. But this is what I was talking about in the post that started the exchange.) Did any of those physicists and philosophers to whom BB alluded who debate teleology (Flew, for example) testify in court on behalf of the Dover School Board in the Pennsylvania case? I think not. Moreover, "intelligent design" as used in this context is particularly pernicious because it is so superficially persuasive. It sounds very impressive to point out that the fundamental forces and constants of physics are all fantastically finely tuned to produce carbon-based intelligent life. Most lay people and certainly most secondary-school students don't have the basic background in scientific cosmology that would allow them to see why the argument is specious. It is irresponsible to the point of dishonesty to suggest that secondary-school students should be exposed to this misleading "intelligent design" package as an alternative to evolutionary theory. The Dover case, not untypically, combined this with the dishonesty of saying that "evolution is a theory, not a fact," giving the impression that there is some other "theory" that is a competitor and neglecting the fact that evolutionary theory is the result of numerous converging lines of evidence which have themselves robustly survived various processes of falsification.

This is as far as I'm willing to have a debate with an anonymous blog-post commenter. "Bilbo" is welcome to the last word.

12/22/2005  
Blogger Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

Commas are very important things. Behold: "No war!" versus "No, war!"

12/22/2005  
Blogger Bartholomew said...

Re Anthony Flew: funny how his repudiation of Schroeder never got as much publicity as his supposed conversion to deism:

"I now realize that I have made a fool of myself by believing that there were no presentable theories of the development of inanimate matter up to the first living creature capable of reproduction...I have been mistaught by Gerald Schroeder...it was precisely because he appeared to be so well qualified as a physicist (which I am not) that I was never inclined to question what he said about physics."

12/23/2005  

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