God vs The Multiverse

Click here for God vs The Multiverse: a rational argument for the Existence of One God who intelligently designed one universe.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

God vs The Multiverse (Part 5: The Origin of Life)

We are going to make a short digression into biology and the problem (and attempted solution) of the origin of life.  We want to make it very clear that we are not using the problem of the origin of life in our proof of God.  We are relying upon the fine tuning of the constants of nature and the initial conditions of the big bang.  The reason we are introducing the proposed solution to the origin of life is because multiverse physicists attempt to extend this type of solution to explain the phenomenon of fine tuning in the universe.

The 'origin of life' problem can be roughly expressed as an 'origin of something as complex and special as DNA' problem.  A short historical and scientific background on the theory of evolution will help explain why the unsupplemented theory of evolution cannot explain the origin of life itself.

The key development which enabled the theory of evolution to emerge, was the discovery that the age of the Earth was much greater than scientists historically had evidence for.  The expansion of the known age of Earth based upon geological evidence in 1785 by James Hutton, and then further developed by Sir Charles Lyell in his book, Principles of Geology (1830), opened up the possibility for a much deeper understanding of the complexity of life.

Charles Darwin's supplied this understanding with the theory of evolution, in his famous book On The Origin of Species (1859).  The modern version of Darwin's theory which includes genetics, called Neo-Darwinism, was developed around 1950.  It is a very elegant, simple theory that explains the wonderful diversity of life, and gives you an appreciation for how an amazingly complex cell can emerge from the information encoded in DNA.  (We are not taking a stance on whether or not Neo-Darwinism is entirely sufficient and complete to explain all the facts about life.  That being said, there is definitely something right about it.)

The essential element of biological evolution is the self replicator (DNA), which is something that makes near perfect copies of itself.  The replicated copy is the next generation of replicator, which continues the process of nearly perfect replication. 

It is necessary for the functioning of natural selection, that the process of replication not be perfect.  Slight variations in each generation which arise from the "failure" to reproduce an exact replica (because of the occurrence of a mutation), are what allow the process of natural selection to act on those differences and select the fittest organisms for survival.

The key point is that it is intrinsically impossible to explain the existence of the first replicator itself (the first DNA molecule) through the theory of evolution.  This is because evolution and natural selection only operate once  a replicator exists.  In a sense, the science of biology begins after the first replicating molecule comes about (given the proper properties of the environment.  See the first comment below for an elaboration of this point.)

Many biologists speculate that there was another, long forgotten, yet simpler replicator that was the ancestor to the first DNA.  This pushes the problem back to how the first replicator emerged, as any replicator which is sufficient for evolution to operate on, would probably be a highly complex entity.

This problem is known as the origin of life problem.  Any solution to it bridges the gap between chemistry and biology (between the inanimate and the animate).  The biological theory of evolution cannot solve this problem.  Where did the first replicator come from?


The main approach to resolving this problem is by invoking luck (chance).  Since you only need to get lucky once (after you have the first replicator, biological evolution takes over), it becomes more reasonable to speculate that perhaps it all started by a lucky break.  While this might initially sound like a very forced answer, the weak anthropic principle (which we'll explain) elucidates why it might be a fairly reasonable solution.

It is important to clearly understand the difference between the strong anthropic principle, which we used to refer to a teleological explanation (in post 3), and the weak anthropic principle, which is a very different type of causal explanation.  Once again, labels are not as important as concepts.

It is speculated that perhaps there is some way that some inanimate thing should accidentally combine with some other inanimate thing, and produce the first living replicator (an ancestor of DNA).  Once we have DNA, the theory of evolution claims that the rest is just details. While the emergence of DNA by chance might seem highly improbable to occur, since there are many, many planets in the universe which are in theory hospitable to life, even something very unlikely may become probable given such a large number of possible tries.

A simple analogy makes this reasoning clear.  If your odds of winning a lottery are one in a million assuming that you buy only one ticket, then your odds increase dramatically if you buy trillions of tickets.  In fact, given enough tickets, your odds of winning become highly likely.  If you win, you're not really as lucky as you may feel.  The law of probabilities operates very efficiently when big numbers are involved.

Should someone ask, "maybe it is likely for life to randomly occur once, but what are the odds that it would be here on Earth?"  To that, the weak anthropic principle is invoked.  Essentially, it says that there is an easily overlooked, causal relationship between an intelligent observer and the development of life.  Namely, life is a necessary condition in order to have an observer even ask the question about why life is here on Earth.  Only on those planets that life exists, is it even possible to have observers, and therefore we should not be surprised to find ourselves on a planet with life.  There aren't any intelligent beings on planets without life.  By this line of reasoning, it is superfluous to invoke a teleological explanation (i.e., the Earth was designed in order to produce the first DNA) in order to explain life on Earth.

It is not necessary to know the precise numbers of planets vs. the exact odds of a DNA molecule emerging by chance.  You just need to match them to roughly the same order of magnitude (basically, that they're "closely" matched).  Should those odds be close to the number of planets, we would have a good explanation for how life started.  The fact that we are on the one planet in which it did occur is obviously not a question, as the existence of life is a necessary condition for us observing life and asking the very question in the first place.

As of yet, it is still unclear that the number of hospitable planets suffices, given that science does not currently have a well established theory for a chain of progressively more complex replicators that lead to DNA.  The odds of getting a DNA molecule itself seem greater than the number of hospitable planets in the observable universe; but it is conceivable that we may find evidence of a simpler replicator that will allow us to compare its odds against the estimated number of planets, which is known to be a very big number.  (By the way, the multiverse theory solves this problem too, as it posits a nearly infinite number of hospitable planets.)

The key conceptual point to take away from this for the next post is that this type of reasoning only works because there are known to be many planets that are hospitable to life.  Therefore, even though it is highly improbable on any particular planet for life to spontaneously generate by chance alone, it can become likely if there are enough possible planets for it to occur on.

This line of reasoning is inapplicable if there is only one known planet. It is not a good explanation to say that a highly improbable event occurred, given that there was only one try.  Before scientists observed the many, hospitable planets, it was not reasonable to say that life originated from inanimate matter through chance alone.  That is too much of a coincidence to accept!

(This reasoning is also implicitly contingent on the very reasonable assumption that whatever happens on one planet does not affect the results of a different planet.  If the results on all the planets were correlated to each other in a way that whatever happened on one planet also occurred on all the others, it would be equivalent to having a trillion copies of one lottery ticket.  This point is very obvious and we only mention it because it will be important in the next post.)

The next 10 minute video is about the origin of life by biologist Richard Dawkins.  (It is a part 3 of 5.  Click here for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.)  We will only be embedding Part 3, as it nicely transitions into stage two of our posts about the multiverse.  Dawkins first summarizes the contents of this post.  He then distinguishes between the Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics which is not relevant to the fine tuning of the constants, and multiverse theory that is relevant for the fine tuning.  He then discusses how physicists try to explain the fine tuning with the weak anthropic principle and the multiverse, though he acknowledges that it is only a satisfying solution for fine tuning if there are other independent reasons for postulating the multiverse (which Dawkins believes there are).



(We will answer Dawkins' question of "Who designed God?" in stage three of the proof, when we explain the concept that God is One.)

6 comments:

  1. There is another instance of fine tuning that we left out because it's a subtle point that brings in a little quantum mechanics. It has to do with the emergence of one science from another science (Also, we wanted to ground the proof in the fine tuning that major scientist openly discuss and that we could provide sources for. If you don't understand this point, don't worry. It's not essential to the proof.)

    Evolutionary Biology only exists in a universe which has all the right elements for life. Watch the first 2 video's of Dawkins and see just how many things are probably necessary for life. Amino acids, carbon, water, etc. That's the argument you've already heard.

    Evolutionary Biology also only exists in a universe which has a tremendous amount of order and stability. You need many generations that can expect a reasonable continuity in the external environment. If the environment is too unstable relative to the life span of an individual, the theory of evolution simply would not apply.

    Quantum mechanics are the laws that govern the fundamental particles. Quantum is fundamentally probabilistic, which means that even if we know everything we can know about a situation, we still can not predict with certainty what will happen next. Strange things happen in the universe on really small scales.

    The idea of life evolving in an environment obeying the laws of quantum mechanics is almost inconceivable. In order for natural selection to work upon genes, there has to be fairly stable relationship between the gene and the environment. For example, it would not be very useful to select for genes that give rise to fins and scales, if the ocean would be gone by the next generation.

    It is mathematically built into the very equations of quantum mechanics, that as the number of particles involved increases, something very interesting happens. Large objects start following a new set of laws. (This is essentially a statistical phenomenon, as the new laws that emerge deal with the average expectancy values of the underlying probabilities.) These laws are called Newtonian mechanics (classical physics) which are conceptually deterministic. You can make predictions about the future. A baseball player can predict where the fly ball is going to land and run to the spot. Natural selection can select genes based upon the expected environment of the adult organism.

    Why do the the beautiful deterministic laws of Newton (f = ma) emerge from the probabilistic laws of Quantum? We should have no a priori prejudice that this should be so. It very easily could have not been so. (See Niels Bohr's correspondence principle for an elucidation of this point: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Correspondence_principle. Bohr at times conceived of Newtonian Mechanics as actually having a separate existence from Quantum Mechanics. We are not going that far.)

    The same Intelligent Designer who chose the constants such that there should be stars, carbon, water, etc. also made Quantum Mechanics. And He designed it so that classical physics should naturally emerge. One of the results of classical deterministic physics is Evolutionary Biology and life.

    The Design we currently see from Biology is so much greater than was originally supposed. God did not simply make chickens. He made Quantum in a way that Newtonian physics should emerge and allow for Evolutionary Biology. He chose the constants so there should be a structured universe, carbon, DNA, and life. Through DNA and evolution, God made chickens.

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    1. We wanted to elaborate on a point here that we referenced in post 3 where we wrote that the laws of chemistry and biology emerge from the fundamental laws of physics, only because the fundamental constants of physics are fine tuned.

      The easiest example to see is the fine structure constant. If it wasn't tuned properly, there would be no stable atoms and molecules (chemistry), and certainly no life (biology). Physics would be fine, but the whole hierarchy of existences that build upon the fundamental particles would not exists.

      What the fine tuning of the constants has shown, is that the design that is obvious in complex living organisms is much greater and deeper than mankind originally believed. It is due to the constants of nature being chosen in a way that allows complex life to evolve.

      To say it metaphorically: The complex, ordered, and fine tuned blind watchmaker was designed by an Intelligent Agent in an incredibly beautiful way.

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  2. Very nice point. I am loving this discussion so far. --Rafi

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  3. Over the past few centuries, scientific discoveries have rendered unlikely many of the God of the Gaps arguments. Wherever Intelligent Design (ID) was proposed, other mechanisms have been shown to be good possibilities not requiring the intercession of ID. Probably the most famous is human evolution. Several hundred years ago a “reasonable” person would have concluded that evolution was ID, in view of the absence of an alternative explanation for the complexity of man. The blind watchmaker argument fell apart, though, when there was actual evidence for evolution. While it would be unthinkable that natural forces by chance would have created a watch (or spaceship on Mars), evidence accumulated to support natural selection in the evolution of the species. Claims were made, and still are, that the complexity of animals couldn’t have arisen by evolution, using an argument such as the complexity of the human eye, which would not function if any of its components were missing. This claim has been countered, however, by the knowledge that there are simple organisms with simple chemical light-sensitive spots in their cells, and more progressive species, without lenses or irises, but who still have useful vision. Of course all this evidence does not prove that ID is not involved in evolution, because ID might have been responsible for the starting the sequence of evolution and perhaps help it along. Whatever the case, a reasonable God-fearing person today may well consider evolution as very real, and that if there is ID, God did not simply go “Poof” and suddenly cause a man to appear, with a woman created out of his rib. The ID belief would be modified to include the possibility that God operated in evolution by contributing to the start of the process and possibly helping it along. At this point, we just don’t know if ID is involved in evolution.

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    1. That is a good question.

      We discussed this point in posts 5 and 7, but we will elaborate here. We agree that evolution is a far better explanation of how God created life than just "poofing" it into existence. However, the essence of the theory of evolution is inapplicable as an explanation for the fundamental constants of physics without first establishing the existence of multiple universes with different constants. We deal with the theory of the multiverse in Stage 2.

      As an interesting aside, Lee Smolin in his 1992 book "Life of the Cosmos, actually presents a version of the multiverse which mimics evolution that he calls cosmic natural selection. His theory has many difficulties, including not explaining how his first universe got the correct cosmological constant, as well as an incorrect prediction that no neutron star should exist with a mass of more than 1.6 times the mass of the sun. A pulsar of about twice the solar mass was discovered in 2010. (http://arxiv.org/abs/1010.5788)

      Our main point in this post is that the blind watchmaker (natural selection) argument does not explain the existence of DNA itself, which allows evolution to occur in the first place. The existence of DNA is only reasonable to suggest by chance alone (without ID) because there are known to be many, many planets which are consistent with life. Thus, even if DNA developing by chance is very, very unlikely, it may occur by chance given a very, very large number of planets to work with.

      This whole line of reasoning does not apply to the fundamental constants of nature because there is only one known universe. It is not reasonable to posit a multiverse because there is no other way to explain the unlikely value of the constants, without considering the possibility of ID. (See the videos by Richard Dawkins where he himself makes this point.) Thus, the validity of this argument rests on the existence of a multiverse which we thoroughly discuss in Stage 2.

      In short, the blind watchmaker does not show that design does not point to a designer, especially in light of the fact that the blind watchmaker itself is designed (see the first few comments on this post). A spaceship on Mars still points to an intelligent agent. The hypothesis that DNA originated by a chance event only suffices if there are many, many chances. When there is no evidence for the many, many chances (i.e., a spaceship on Mars, the constants in our universe, etc.), design still implies a designer. The burden of proof is on the Martian-denier or the atheist to show that there in fact many, many tries and thereby extend the DNA argument to reasonably deny Martians or God.

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