A Minimalist Position
Why I remain Agnostic, Even Increasingly So.
by: John Tyrrell
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As I'm going to be away for a couple of weeks, I thought I'd produce a quick-and-dirty bonus update just to leave something behind that might create a discussion
This is a personal statement of why I remain an agnostic - I'd even suggest that I am increasingly an agnostic in the light of current scientific thought. What I'm saying here is not anything I ask anyone else to buy into - those of us who self-identify as agnostics each have their own stories. But this is where I am today. And have been for most of the time I've been keeping up the web site. But the current direction of science seems to me to provide increasing support for my own views.
Let me first get rid of the extraneous stuff.
- I disbelieve in the existence of the Christian god;
- I disbelieve in the existence of the Jewish god;
- I disbelieve in the existence of the god of Islam;
- I disbelieve in the existence of any version of a monotheistic creator god meddling in the events of the world, whether that version is part of a past, present or future religion;
- I disbelieve in the existence of any god or pantheon of gods meddling in the events of the world, regardless of whether those gods existed prior to the universe, or arose subsequent to it;
- I disbelieve in the existence of supernatural powers, supernatural activities, and supernatural entities;
- I disbelieve in the existence of the soul;
- I thoroughly disbelieve in New Age woo woo;
- I do not believe in spirituality other than as an alternate term for our sense of awe at the natural wonders of the universe.
I may have left something out that I actively disbelieve in, or more passively, do not believe in, but I think I've pretty well covered the field.
And that's a harder line than many of the leading atheist writers of the day, at least one of whom has started embracing "spirituality." Yet, I still call myself an agnostic. I see the door as still open.
Let's take a peek through that door and see why I won't - indeed I cannot - close it.
In the current issue of Skeptic (volume 19, number 3, 2014) the late Victor J. Stenger uses the concept of the multiverse to argue against fine-tuning - the claim by certain theologians that "the parameters of physics are so finely tuned that if any one of these parameters were just slightly different in value, then life would not be possible anywhere in the universe" and therefore God did the fine tuning.
Frankly, I think fine-tuning has already been thoroughly debunked and Stenger's article is probably an unnecessary extra nail in the coffin. But still it is an interesting read.
However, Stenger states "Our universe is just one of an infinite number of individual, uncreated universes collectively called the multiverse that extend for an unlimited distance in all directions and for an unlimited time in the past an future." Here, Stenger has assumed his conclusion. By tossing in the adjective "uncreated" he has assumed that every single one of the infinite number of universes, including our own was "uncreated." That is an unwarranted leap not necessitated by the theory of the multiverse.
There's no question that the multiverse theory involves a continual production of new universes - universes that come into existence on their own - and in accordance with the theory there indeed would be an infinite number of such uncreated universes if the theory is true. But that still does not rule out the additional possibility of "created universes". And I'll suggest that if just one created universe is possible, then there is no real limit on the number of created universes. Possibly also an infinite number.
Which class, created or uncreated, ours would fit into is as yet undetermined.
In his discussion of the multiverse, Stenger refers to the work of both Andrei Linde and to Alan Guth. I quoted Linde back in May 2004 in Meditation 227 as follows:
"When I invented chaotic inflation theory, I found that the only thing you need to get a universe like ours started is a hundred-thousandth gram of matter. That's enough to create a small chunk of vacuum that blows up into the billions and billions of galaxies we see around us. It looks like cheating, but that's how the inflation theory works - all the matter in the universe gets created from the negative effects of the gravitational field."
"What my theoretical argument shows - and Alan Guth and others who have looked at this matter have come to the same conclusion - is that we cannot rule out the possibility that our own universe was created in a lab by someone in another universe who just felt like doing it." (emphasis added)
One of the consequences of an infinite number of universes is that if something can happen, it will happen in one or more of those universes.
If at a certain level of technological and scientific knowledge it becomes possible to knowingly create a universe, then creation of one or more universes is bound to happen in some of the societies that achieve that level. If creation of a universe is technologically possible, then it is practically certain that created universes would exist in the multiverse. If that is the case, then it is possible possible our universe is one of the created ones. And still very possible it is not.
I don't really like the idea of a multiverse, but in general science is moving towards the idea of a multiple universe meta-universe with the multiverse model currently in the forefront. And the more universes there are in that meta-universe, the more probable it is that one or more contain intelligent life advanced enough to achieve the ability to produce new universes.
As far as deism goes, all that is required of a god is the capacity to deliberately create a universe. There is not even a necessity for supernatural powers. A scientist fills the bill. I cannot shut the door on the possibility our universe was created. And as ideas such as the multiverse gain ground, then the door to such a possibility opens wider.
I've said in the past on this site, I am an agnostic rather than an atheist because of a lingering sense of the remote possibility of deism. That has not changed in years. However, the current scientific consideration of of the likelihood of multiple universes, including the multiverse, make makes that possibility substantially less remote.
This is perhaps about as minimal as it can get to justify identifying myself as an agnostic. But, at the current state of knowledge, it is an absolutely irreducible minimum.
Like it or not, the possibility of a creator exists for our universe. But I'll say this - she has not been been poking around her creation anytime since she let us loose. So it still does not really matter whether such a deity exists or not.
ADDENDUM - ELIMINATING THAT IRREDUCABLE MINIMUM
How could that lingering sense of deism be eliminated?
- Prove definitively our universe is all there is, was, and ever will be. While Christians theologians like a single universe as it supposedly supports their fine-tuning argument (I don't think it does), in my view a single universe eliminates the possibility of an external creator - there is no "exterior" for the creator to exist in - and deism is eliminated; or,
- Prove that there is absolutely no way to turn the hypothetical ability to create universes into practice. If it cannot be done, then it could not have happened to our universe; or
- Identify some "signature" in the parameters of a universe that clearly distinguishes between created universes and those that arise simply out of the inflation of the multiverse, and then show that our universe has the unmistakable signature of natural production rather than creation.
Any one of those three will do. I don't foresee that happening for a while.
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