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Possibilities – theoretical and practical

In a private forum I recently stated: “It is possible for Darwinian processes to generate life of any order of complexity.”

In response I was asked: Where is the demonstration that “It’s possible for Darwinian processes to generate life of any order of complexity”?

I composed the following in reply:

In order to understand this we have be clear of a distinction between theoretically possible and practically possible. I’ll illustrate the meanings in clear context as follows.

Theoretically possible: I buy one ticket in each of the next ten Texas state lotteries. In each lottery I have a one in ten million fair chance of winning. It’s theoretically possible I could win all ten.

Practically possible: It’s not practically possible within my lifetime to win the Texas state lottery ten times in a row buying one ticket in each lottery.

The laws of physics inform us of what is theoretically possible. We are informed of what is practically possible by a study of those laws called “statistical mechanics” which combines physical mechanics with probability theory. It’s theoretically possible for a stochastic process to produce a living organism. There is a finite chance an adult human with a lifetime of memories could materialize out of nothing in a single quantum fluctuation of a huge number of particles. In an infinite universe it isn’t just possible that will happen, it’s inevitable. Everything mechanically possible has 100% probability of happening in an infinite universe. Bill Dembski understands this very well as do many others. Mike Behe, in Edge of Evolution (pp. 224, Brain In A Vat) pokes fun at theoretical possibilities by describing Boltzman Brains which is essentially a brain full of false memories popping into existence in a quantum fluctuation. Bill seriously demonstrates this understanding in the definition and construction of the unversal probability bound (UPB).

To XXXXXX’s essential question: Where is the demonstration that “It’s possible for Darwinian processes to generate life of any order of complexity”?

A demonstration would show a practical possibility. If the science of intelligent design is correct such a demonstration is not practically possible. But it’s still theoretically possible and the science of intelligent design acknowledges the theoretic possibility. ID refutes, or attempts to refute, the practical possibility. The science of ID is all about distinguishing the practically possible from the theoretically possible and it appropriately boils down to math & physics operating in a bounded universe. Intelligent agency, as demonstrated by human intelligent agency, has the unique capacity of turning the theoretically possible into the practically possible. For instance, it’s theoretically possible but not practically possible for stochastic physical processes to produce a laptop computer. Intelligent agency makes it practically possible and thus there are hundreds of millions of laptop computers. We believe that the origin of life is a similar situation – absent intelligent agency it’s not practically possible.

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36 Responses to Possibilities – theoretical and practical

  1. It’s funny how most physicists can understand the difference in regards to, say, perpetual motion machines and the second law of thermodynamics; but not when it comes to design and randomness in nature.

    As we always like to say here on UD: We’ve already got pretty good evidence that nature did, in fact, produce minds. We’ve also got pretty good evidence that, well, the origin of life isn’t very probable. Heck, why do you think scientists are so anxious about finding life on other planets?

    But, if Gonzalez and Richards are right, which we have some good reasons to believe so as expounded in their book (http://www.privilegedplanet.com/) and another book called Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe(http://www.amazon.com/Rare-Ear.....038;sr=8-3), those scientists need to keep worrying.

  2. Agreed. There is some (extremely low) probability that the next time I walk into my living room all of the air molecules will have through strictly random fluctuations coalesced into one corner of the room, and I will drop to the floor gasping for air and die. Yet, even in the face of this ghastly and very real possibility (in the “theoretical” sense DaveScot discusses), I feel no need to carry a spare tank of air into my living room.

  3. “There is a finite chance an adult human with a lifetime of memories could materialize out of nothing in a single quantum fluctuation of a huge number of particles. In an infinite universe it isn’t just possible that will happen, it’s inevitable.”

    I’ve never been one to buy in to that kind of logic, however commonly accepted it might be. Who says that in an infinite number of universes every possibility has to be addressed? Perhaps all the universes would be pretty much the same, full of nothing or not very much. In any universe, seven will always be more than five, and some things must happen in sequence to occur, and the sequence requires outside manipulation. In my view, some things are just impossible, even with an infinite amount of time and resources.

    I’m just a layman, but I think you guys outsmart yourselves some of the time.

    By the way, to assume that the origination of a person with memory out of a random assembly of particles is possible is to assume a materialist view of humanity, is it not?

  4. “…statistical mechanics” … combines physical mechanics with probability theory.

    Well– I’m puzzled over a distinction between physical and non-physical mechanics. This is new to me.

    For readers who may be confused, statistical mechanics is the extension of quantum mechanics to the realm of 6-dimensional space. A particle in this space is constrained by the Hiesenberg uncertainty principal to a “cube” of a particular minimum volume. This cube is of 6 dimensions, 3 of position and 3 of momentum. Since quantum mechanics is all about probabilities, it follows that the same is true of statistical mechanics.

    distinctions between branches of mechanics can be roughly divided into:

    1- Classical (Newtonian, including kinetics, kinematics, fluid)
    2- Relativistic
    3- Quantum

    There are other branches of mechanics, some only theoretical, others which categorically fall under the above 3, and some that don’t. Many of these bear the name of certain mathematicians who dreamed them up.

  5. prhean

    I’ve never been one to buy in to that kind of logic, however commonly accepted it might be.

    It isn’t logic. It’s law.

    The fundamental laws of physics are aren’t derived from logical necessity and neither will they rearrange themselves via logical necessity. They are what they are and are derived by observation and experiment. Observation and experiment provide us with facts. Neither math nor logic trumps fact. Math and logic can explain facts and often predict facts but never do they create facts.

  6. groovamos

    Well– I’m puzzled over a distinction between physical and non-physical mechanics. This is new to me.

    “Physical mechanics” is redundant. It should be simply “mechanics” in the context of physics. I was trying to make it clearly distinguished from a secondary meaning: “The technical aspects of doing something.”

    Your definition of statistical mechanics is narrower than I intended. Statistical mechanics incorporates both quantum and classical statistical mechanics. Mibad for not making that more clear. Pretend I wrote “statistical physics“.

    Granville Sewell wrote a good article for UD on this topic you might be interested in The Schrodinger Equation.

  7. #5 DaveScot

    “prhean …

    It isn’t logic. It’s law.
    The fundamental laws of physics are aren’t derived from logical necessity and neither will they rearrange themselves via logical necessity. They are what they are and are derived by observation and experiment. Observation and experiment provide us with facts. Neither math nor logic trumps fact. Math and logic can explain facts and often predict facts but never do they create facts.”

    Dave, it’s possible that I’ve misunderstood what prhean wrote, but it seems to me that he did simply argue that it’s not automatically granted that with an infinite multiverse everithing could happen. And I personally have the same doubt about

  8. Kairos

    Infinities are funny things. Probability leaves the building when the infinity card is played. Theoretical physicists are almost forced to play the infinity card to explain how the physical constants of the universe came to rest on the values they did. Of course in an infinity of universes a smaller infinity of them will have laws like ours and a smaller infinity of those will have the order in them at the beginning to produce the earth and all the people on it, and smaller infinity of those will have earth histories that vary by infinitely small degree, and so on.

    Perhaps the best way to put it is that infinite universes are infinitely absurd. Check out the article on Boltzmann Brains and check out the references. Serious stuff… :shock:

  9. We’ve also got to remember, as Nietzsche and Pascal allude to often; our time on earth, at least, is not infinite. Therefore, we must sometimes put faith in one thing or another…as Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga likes to say in some words: we can’t live our lives in skeptical doubt all the time; to take just one example, only a fool would really take the time to worry for hours and hours whether or not the map he has is right regarding some destination that is only 10 minutes away.

    But I digress. The relevancy here is meant to be that, even if ID isn’t science yet, which I don’t have the authority to judge, we have good reason to suppose it might pan out in the future and should not give up on it.

    Taking the example of the infinite universe hypothesis, for example, the Jewish philosopher Saadia gave some seemingly sound and strong arguments against the possibility of an infinite amount of time in the past. Those have been attacked and defended since as well.

  10. …Who says that in an infinite number of universes every possibility has to be addressed?…In my view, some things are just impossible, even with an infinite amount of time and resources.

    Once infinity is posited — either an infinity of time or an infinity of universes — any potential occurrence for which the probability is not absolutely zero would come to pass by necessity.

    With infinity, anything that is theoretically possible becomes practically probable.

  11. kairos:

    “it seems to me that he did simply argue that it’s not automatically granted that with an infinite multiverse everithing could happen. And I personally have the same doubt about.”

    Me too. I am not a mathematician, but I understand that the treatment of infinite sets is not always so intuitive. There are also different levels of infinities in mathemathics (countable, continuous). The “anything possible” concept is rather challenging, both scientifically and philosophically, and I would probably try to reflect more deeply about it, if only I really thought that it is important for our issues of ID. But I don’t.

  12. Just as an example, what is the difficulty of conceiving an infinite set of universes, all of them designed? They would be infinite in number, but not anything possible would happen in them: only those things definitely willed, or at least allowed, by the designer. Such a conception is definitely possible, and I would not be too ready to label it as unlikely…

  13. gpaccio, well that’s just it isn’t it. When the Darwinist plays the infinite universe card to prop up the absurd conclusions he must swallow if he were to concede we live in a single finite universe, that same card trumps his conclusion. A designed universe is not logically impossible. Therefore, if there are infinite universes, it is 100% certain that some smaller infinity of those infinite universes will be designed universes. Who is to say we do not live in one of them?

  14. Hi Dave,

    “Theoretically possible: I buy one ticket in each of the next ten Texas state lotteries. In each lottery I have a one in ten million fair chance of winning. It’s theoretically possible I could win all ten.

    While I do agree that this is theoretically possible (due to this finite system’s residual order), the universe is not a finite system in this regard (according to the relativity of Frank Tipler {Nature 1979} and others). In an infinite phase-space system the possibility of such order by “chance” (residual finite-system level order) is zero. The Texas lottery system has a residual, our universe (according to modern relativity) does not.

  15. BarryA wrote:

    “Therefore, if there are infinite universes, it is 100% certain that some smaller infinity of those infinite universes will be designed universes. Who is to say we do not live in one of them?”

    It seems to me that a designed universe needs a designer — and that designer needs to transcend and preexist his design. So unless the multiverse generator was also a designer generator, producing a designed universe would be a zero probability event, and would not occur even within infinite universes.

    However a designer of life, who is merely the product of a generated universe, would occur an infinite number of times — if such a thing is not impossible. If this is the case we’re allowed to attribute the creation of the universe to material causes, but life itself must be a product of an intelligent designer. If not in this universe, then the next one.

    The multiverse hypothesis is absurd, but I’m not sure it’s self-refuting in this context.

  16. In an infinite number of universes a smaller infinity of them will have a God who is everywhere at once composed of homogenously distributed dark matter and who has total dominion over the normal matter and energy in the universe.

    Maybe we’re in that one…

    Or maybe dark energy pervades the multiverse itself and envelopes all the pocket universes too giving a dark matter God the ability to craft any kind of universe he wants within his larger domain.

    An infinite multiverse doesn’t offer any comfort for atheists that’s for sure.

  17. Apollos writes: It seems to me that a designed universe needs a designer — and that designer needs to transcend and preexist his design. So unless the multiverse generator was also a designer generator, producing a designed universe would be a zero probability event, and would not occur even within infinite universes.

    I stand by my statement. Imagine a universe that is nothing but a designer. That designer/universe could then compose subsets of itself into matter, energy, living things. In that designer the living things would live and move and have their very being. Not logically impossible I say; therefore, in an infinite multiverse, 100% certain.

  18. BarryA,

    Does this mean then, that God, or a designer, must exist?

    Just a thought.

    BTW, I believe in God myself, and am all for him, I was just wondering if you could conclude this from your argument. I’m guessing it would really depend on whether or not there are an infinite amount of universes. But if there isn’t an infinite amount, I would guess that would mean there was a reason for our universe’s existence anyway. God seems to be coming into the equation all over the place!

  19. Domoman:

    “God seems to be coming into the equation all over the place!”

    I agree. And yet, I do think that we really don’t need any ontological argument for His existence, once we have such a strong cosmological-biological one.

    It could be useful to remember that, while biological ID in itself is not technically an argument for the existence of God, but only of a designer, cosmological ID is both. Cosmological ID is the modern form of the old cosmological argument.

  20. BarryA,

    “Imagine a universe that is nothing but a designer. That designer/universe could then compose subsets of itself into matter, energy, living things. In that designer the living things would live and move and have their very being. Not logically impossible I say; therefore, in an infinite multiverse, 100% certain.”

    I don’t necessarily disagree with this. My main point is that the multiverse view is not self-refuting because it can’t produce an uncaused, transcendent, eternal god. This is an impossibility — its god must be an effect, having a marked beginning. If the multiverse were capable, we’d have no reason to prefer Yeshua.

    The multiverse god must be smaller, inferior — a designer of life but not a transcendent creator. The multiverse can only create little gods who cannot rival a God outside of space and time, so it could never produce the reality present in this, our universe.

  21. #8 Dave Scott

    Infinities are funny things. Probability leaves the building when the infinity card is played. Theoretical physicists are almost forced to play the infinity card to explain how the physical constants of the universe came to rest on the values they did.

    … without any need for a creator, I add.
    But, independently on what wishful materialist scientists do think by faith, what I’m arguing is that an infinite multiverse does not *automatically* grant for infinitesimal facts to happen.

    Let me provide the classical example of coin tossing (0 and 1 for simplicity): is it *practically* possible that an ordered given sequence with 1 billion binary digits such as 01010101…01 occurs?
    Certainly in our actual time constrained universe (some 10^17 seconds) the answer is a clear no; there’s no possibility that an event with a 2^-1,000,000,000 chance will occur.

    But, are we sure that this could instead occur even having an infinity of time constrained universes?
    After all we can argue that in each single universe the coin has to be tossed, and *in each* universe that event is not possible having its strictly finite available resources. This could imply that, within each universe, there is a sort of “saturation” of the probability of that event from 2^-1,000,000,000 to a pretty stable 0.
    And, we know that:

    1. N times 0 gives always 0 for any N;

    2. it’s true that 0 times \inf is an undefined expression but in this aca 0 is an *actual 0*, whereas \inf is only a *potential \inf*.

    In other words, I don’t see any theoretical reason to give for granted that *everything can happen in an infinite multiverse*
    This could be argued for a hypotetical single and not time constrained universe, but this is not the universe we observe and in which we actually live.

  22. #11,12 gpuccio

    There are also different levels of infinities in mathemathics (countable, continuous).

    That’s correct, but the major question (which has been addressed for more that 2000 years) is:
    “does the actual infinity exist?”
    It is interesting to note that almost all philosophies of the past (from Aristotle and passing for Thomas Auinas) did answer with a clear: “NO, only the potential infinity exists”.
    This was also stated by the most eminent mathematicians, such as Gauss and Poincaré.

    Just as an example, what is the difficulty of conceiving an infinite set of universes, all of them designed? They would be infinite in number, but not anything possible would happen in them: only those things definitely willed, or at least allowed, by the designer. Such a conception is definitely possible, and I would not be too ready to label it as unlikely…

    That’s correct

  23. “Pre-biotic natural selection is a contradiction in terms” T. Dobzhansky

    The point being is that Darwinian processes only apply once there are living organisms.

  24. To take seriously the idea of infinite multiple universes is to abandon all rationality. It is just another way of evading the principles of right reason. If we are to engage in any kind of rational discourse, we must all agree on the following: We have rational minds, we live in a rational universe, and there is a correspondence between the two. It is this correspondence that permits comprehensibility in the first place.

    Even if we forget that, it is still ridiculous to propose that a multiverse could “produce” a self-existent God, which, by definition cannot depend on anything for his existence. It is equally obvious that SOMETHING must be self existent, whether it be God or an eternal universe. Given the big bang, the possibility of an eternal universe is no longer on the table, so that leaves us with a self existent God.

    Even if we forget that, some explanation is required for existence of the multiple universes themselves. You can’t start building from the standpoimnt of nothingness.

  25. Anyone, Riddle me this:

    If an infinite number of universes is somehow supposed to allow ‘anything,’ no matter how improbable, to occur; then wouldn’t that be equivalent to first acknowledging that according to the rules of statistical mechanics, all the molecules of oxygen will not rush to one corner of the room and I suffocate as I sleep. But, then postulate an infinite number of rooms. Does that change anything? Just because we have an infinite number of rooms, will any of them at any time be in a state where all the molecules of oxygen will rush to one corner of the room and suffocate the inhabitant of the room if he doesn’t quickly find the correct oxygen filled corner? But, let’s not even deal with infinities quite yet. How many rooms or room like conditions have existed on our planet? Probably ‘quite a few.’ Do we have any reason to believe that the above scenario has ever played itself out in any room like condition?

    Now, let’s just say that the necessary conditions for our universe to even allow life is on a scale of probability (complexity) and specificity out of all possible conditions similar to the scale of probability associated with the aforementioned scenario. Why would we change our mind and state that all of a sudden we can allow a drastic and arbitrary change in the rules so that an infinite number of rooms (universes) can produce exceedingly complex and improbable results that actually run against known and foundational law (such as statistical mechanics)?

    Wouldn’t postulating an underlying law (possibly telic in nature, since telic [foresighted] processes are observed to be required to produce such complex specified patterns) be more rational and in accordance with scientific explanation than giving up and summoning infinities?

  26. As far as I understand, according to the rules of statistical mechanics, the answer to the above “multi-room” query is “no! postulating infinities does not cause law to cease, and thus there will never practically be a room where all the molecules of oxygen all rush to one corner of the room.” We would merely be stuck with an infinite number of close to statistically random molecule filled rooms.

    But where are the edges to statistical randomness, so that we know what type of molecule organization we wouldn’t expect to find in the room? It seems to me that Dr. Dembski’s UPB would come into play here (taking into account the number of actually statistically random arrangements of molecules, vs. the much smaller number of ordered arrangements).

    Could someone with the math expertise tell me if I’m right or wrong?

  27. #25,26 CJYman

    As far as I understand, according to the rules of statistical mechanics, the answer to the above “multi-room” query is “no! postulating infinities does not cause law to cease, and thus there will never practically be a room where all the molecules of oxygen all rush to one corner of the room.” We would merely be stuck with an infinite number of close to statistically random molecule filled rooms.

    It’s just what I’ve tried to state in my previous message. If the (hypotetical) infinite multiverse is actually constituted by a countable infinity of time-finite universes we can reasonably argue that for *each* of them the actual probability of these events does saturate to 0.

    Concerning the examples, I like the room full of molecules one, However, I think that it’s better to look at a more simple examples, which don’t involve a complex arrangement of parts. This in order to better evaluate if the statement “everything could happen in an infinie multiverse”
    So, I would suggest to look at a simpler example, involving the real possibility that a baseball ball (or a soccer one) could by tunnel effect pass through a concrete wall, 1 Km high and 100 metres wide.

    According to Schroedinger equation this would be theoretically possible, but we know that the real Prob. in a time-finite universe is saturated to 0.
    So, there’s no theoetical reason to argue that within a countable infinity of time-finite universes even a single ball could actually pass through the wall by tunnel effect.

  28. CJYman:

    “But where are the edges to statistical randomness, so that we know what type of molecule organization we wouldn’t expect to find in the room? It seems to me that Dr. Dembski’s UPB would come into play here (taking into account the number of actually statistically random arrangements of molecules, vs. the much smaller number of ordered arrangements).”

    While nobody probably knows for sue, I do think that there is a specific similarity between the example of the possible arrangement, let’s say, of gas molecules in a room, and the example of possible aminoacid sequences in proteins. In both cases, we have really big search spaces and, at the same time, some very small subset of those search spaces which is in some way “different”. In the case of the second law of thermodynamics, which is pertinent to gas molecules configurations, the subset of “atypical” configurations, like all molecules going to a corner of the room, is really so tiny that, if you start form that “ordered” configuration, you can only keep it or gradually lose it, and once you lose that “order”, you can never retrieve it spontaneously: in other words, the molecules will always remain in the infinitely bigger subset if the “disordered” state, which are practically unrecognizable one from the other.
    I am not a mathematician or a physicist, but I do believe that the ratio between the number of “ordered”, recognizable states, and the total number of states (the whole search space), if it can be calculated (which I am not sure), is certainly by far lower than Dembski’s UPB of 1 : 10^150.

    A very similar situation can be recognized in the protein search space. Here the total search space becomes equal to the UPB space of 10^150 for proteins of about 116 aminoacids, and becomes really, really bigger than that for longer proteins. For an absolutely “normal” protein of, say, 200 aminoacids the search space is of about 10^260. A lot of proteins are longer than 1000 aminoacids, and their search space is well beyond the calculation abilities of my Excel.

    So, the search space is really huge, but the probability of finding an “ordered” state depend critically on the number of “ordered” states. Here, “ordered” means functionally specified. For proteins in livinf beings, that means at least two things:

    a) the protein must be able to fold in a somewhat ordered way (not many are available)

    b) the folded protein must be able to “do” something useful in some biological context (possibly, in the context where it is supposed to arise).

    Only if those two requisites are met, the protein becomes “recognizable” as functional by us (intelligent observers) and, let’s say, by the “blind” natural selection.

    Indeed, a third requisite is necessary for the protein to be “recognizable” by NS (but not for us):

    c) the new function given by the new protein must be important enough to give a “reproductive advantage”, so that it may become expanded and fixed in the population, in a shorter or longer time.

    Now, the fundamental question is: how many are the “functional” protein sequences? For instance, given an arbitrary length, like 200 aminoacids, how many of the 10^260 possible sequences are functional?

    That nobody knows in detail. But we can have some ideas about that. Given the three requisites which have to be met, and given what we already know of protein functionalities, of protein engineering, and of protein mutations, there are IMO very solid reasons to believe that the number of “functional” sequences is extremely tiny in comparison to the total search space, and that the ration is far lower than the UPB. In other words, we are in a situation which is formally very simjilar to that of the second law of thermodynamics. An “ordered” state can only be conserved or lost, but never spontaneously achieved.

    It is important to stress that “tiny” does not mean “small”. For instance, for the proteins of 200 aminoacids, the functional subset could well be as big as 10^100 (which is certainly not a small number), and yet the ratio would still be of 1 : 10^160, that is ten billion times lower than the UPB.

    But you can believe me, the subset of functional proteins of 200 aminoacids, in a specific biological context, is certainly smaller than 10^100. Much, much smaller. OK, nobody really knows how big it is (maybe one day we will know), but only darwinists, with their hunger to believe the unbelievable, can really think it is so big. All the known facts are against that. Logic and reason are against that. Experience is against that.

    Functional proteins are a rarity, a real luxury, which the whole universe can’t afford, exactly as it can’t afford that all gas molecules in a room go into one corner.

    But, you can say, we do have functional proteins in biological beings! That’s right, and we can indeed constrain all gas molecules into a corner of one room, if we build the necessary tools (divisions, pumps, etc.), and use them correctly. In other words, what the universe can’t do by itself can often be realized by an intelligent designer. That’s exactly the point of ID.

    Of course, the designer needs at least two things to do that: the appropriate knowledge, and the appropriate tools. But that’s another story.

  29. gpuccio,

    What I find most interesting in reference to the multiverse and its implications, is that if the formal and mathematical definition of the “molecules in a room” scenario is the same as the “fine tuned laws to allow life and the search through protein space” scenario, then if infinite rooms does not help the molecules organize in a corner of the room, then infinite universes (even if they exist) will not help in providing the necessary programing and fine tuning of laws to evolve functional and complex (beyond UPB) information.

    Wouldn’t this be excellent ID research?

  30. One of my favorite quotes re: the misuse of probabilities to create “it’s bound to happen” solutions is by a professor Hassofer:

    “The problem [of falsifiability of a probabilistic statement] has been dealt with in a recent book by G. Matheron, entitled Estimating and Choosing: An Essay on Probability in Practice (Springer-Verlag, 1989). He proposes that a probabilistic model be considered falsifiable if some of its consequences have zero (or in practice very low) probability. If one of these consequences is observed, the model is then rejected.
    ‘The fatal weakness of the monkey argument, which calculates probabilities of events “somewhere, sometime”, is that all events, no matter how unlikely they are, have probability one as long as they are logically possible, so that the suggested model can never be falsified. Accepting the validity of Huxley’s reasoning puts the whole probability theory outside the realm of verifiable science. In particular, it vitiates the whole of quantum theory and statistical mechanics, including thermodynamics, and therefore destroys the foundations of all modern science. For example, as Bertrand Russell once pointed out, if we put a kettle on a fire and the water in the kettle froze, we should argue, following Huxley, that a very unlikely event of statistical mechanics occurred, as it should “somewhere, sometime”, rather than trying to find out what went wrong with the experiment!’”

    So, the point would then be:

    If (and that is a big “if”) multiverses are allowed as explanations, we would need some non-arbitrary rules for when we can invoke them and when there are better explanations based on observation, testing, and mathematics.

  31. CJYMan writes: “If (and that is a big “if”) multiverses are allowed as explanations, we would need some non-arbitrary rules for when we can invoke them and when there are better explanations based on observation, testing, and mathematics.”

    This is exactly right. Otherwise, we are left with the “multiverse of the gaps.”

  32. Is the more common form of the argument that in an infinite multiverse all things ‘can’ come to pass or ‘must’ come to pass?

    If you accept that within an infinite number of universes all things necessarily come to pass, don’t you also have to accept that all things come to pass an infinite number of times, with infinite minute variations branching from infinite derivative scenarios?

    (If so, then I will be having that cocktail with Heidi Klum after all.)

  33. BarryA (31) and CJYman (30)

    Without some way to limit the ability of the concept of infinite universes to explain improbable events, we also completely destroy the scientific critique of miracles.

    Let me explain. Buoyancy is a statistical process, depending on pressure, which (according to standard physical theory) is a statistical phenomenon. If an object is resting on water, there is a finite but very small probability that the pressure on that object is larger than expected, and this increased pressure could theoretically support the weight of a person. The only reason why we cannot walk on water is that this physically possible but statistically extremely improbable event does not happen.

    But, if there are infinite universes, each with its own set of events, some of which (like the origin of life) are extremely improbable, there must be some universes where for one or more people are actually able to walk on water. A priori we can say that it is extremely improbable that we live in one of those universes. But if someone who is otherwise reliable reports that someone actually did walk on water, we have no particular reason to dispute him. Thus we have no valid reason to reject statistically improbable but mechanically possible events, and the scientific critique of historical miracle would collapse.

    I find this conclusion not to be persuasive. It seems to me that if there are miracles, they would be far more likely to be the product of design than the product of infinite universes. I think science, including statistical science, explains 99.9999…% of what we see.

    I think that DaveScot’s distinction between the theoretically possible and the practically possible is foundational for science, especially the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and that violations of the practically possible should strongly suggest intelligent intervention. The alternative is to give up on science explaining history, but with nothing taking its place. To me, that is not rational.

  34. #33 Paul Giem

    Without some way to limit the ability of the concept of infinite universes to explain improbable events, we also completely destroy the scientific critique of miracles.

    Please excuse me, but parhaps it’s just the opposite; in my opinion the wishful thinking that a hypotetical infinite multiverse could possible explain the occurrence of almost improbable events does instead sustain the scientific critique of miracles. In the sense that, even in presence of overwhelming evidence that something of physically impossible is actually occured, one could argue that after all it could be simply a high improbable event.

    Buoyancy is a statistical process, depending on pressure, which (according to standard physical theory) is a statistical phenomenon. If an object is resting on water, there is a finite but very small probability that the pressure on that object is larger than expected, and this increased pressure could theoretically support the weight of a person. The only reason why we cannot walk on water is that this physically possible but statistically extremely improbable event does not happen.

    But, if there are infinite universes, each with its own set of events, some of which (like the origin of life) are extremely improbable, there must be some universes where for one or more people are actually able to walk on water.

    I think that this kind of examples (also comprising the air molecules in a room) is anyway out of any possible explication even with a multiverse.
    Please follow my argument. The situation you have described, i.e. someone who is actually walking on the water for a given amount of time, let’s say 1 minute, is NOT a *single* event but a *very long* sequence of simple events. In order to be able to sustain the weight of a human body for as long as sixty seconds it would be necessary that the highly improbable condition for buoyancy be *continouously* maintained along all the period in which the peron is actively walking on the water. I don’t know for how muct time a buoyancy condition can be maintained in a dynamically changing environment; let us suppose for 1 msec. This implies that, if Pb is the minimal probability that tha buoyancy condition arises, the compund event of walking on the water for 1 minute would have a total probability of Pt=Pb^60,000
    For example, if Pb would be 10^-1000 we would have P=10^60,000,000
    But please note that we have not any lower bound to this Pt; simply more time means exponentially lower Pt.

    This is the reason why I proposed to focus on more simple examples (such as the baseball ball passing through e thick wall by tunnel effect) and arguing about the fact that already in this simpler cases even a multiverse wouldn’t be able to explain the fact.

  35. Oops, obviously I forgot a – sign in the Pb and Pt expressions:

    Pt=Pb^-60,000
    P=10^-60,000,000

  36. kairos (34 and 35),

    You have a point. A multiverse hypothesis would do away with the ability to use miracles as evidence for supernatural activity. For if all we needed to do to explain a physically “impossible” event like someone walking on water for a prolonged period of time, or a baseball quantum tunnelling through a 100 meter thick wall (I believe that is what you meant), was the sheer fact that it was not physically impossible, and that therefore in some sets of universes it was instantiated, then you’re right; intelligence is not needed, and there is no reason to infer it.

    What I had in mind was more basic. The claim that is commonly made in science is that miracles are physically impossible. For most, if not all, miracles, that is not strictly true. The Second Law of Thermodynamics is all that stands between us and practically all miracles. Once one dismisses probability as an obstacle to a naturalistic scenario for the origin of life, or the emergence of novel complexity in living organisms, one gives up on, AFAICT, the only rational criticism of virtually any fantastical event that may be reported. One is left with simply whether one believes or disbelieves the storyteller. Can we call this postmodernism?

    Once upon a time it was thought that one could roll the dice, pick the correct numbers out, and then repeat the process and get from algae to humans, parrots, and roses. It was hoped that the same process could get from carbon dioxide, methane, ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and various phosphates to life itself. If those gradual, not too improbable pathways do not exist, we have two choices: Design, or the death of science as an accurate description of reality. It appears that some would rather trash science itself than admit to the possibility of design.

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