This is the the twenty-second post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. In the last post, I looked at the fine-tuning design argument for the existence of God, along with an initial look at the many-worlds conjecture as a response to the argument. This post will spend some more time comparing that conjecture with the designer explanation for the fine-tuning of constants in physics.
Is this objection decisive? It's an alternative explanation, and we need just one alternative explanation to show that the argument original designer explanation isn't the only one. So we have two explanations to consider. Which should we prefer? Which is more reasonable, theism or all these myriads of cosmoi? Both explanations do seem to explain the surprising fact about the constants of physics, and they seem to account for this fact equally well, but how do you weigh the simplicity of each theory? It's not as if both agree on the core that everyone agrees on, and then one goes beyond that to postulate all this excess baggage. Both scenarios contain something that in their theory about ultimate reality beyond what a naturalist might want to say.
Theism, even the minimal sort necessary if you accept this argument, involves a designer or creator, which certainly goes beyond naturalism. Simplicity might nudge us to discount theism in favor of the many-worlds conjecture, since those worlds all seem to be additional parts of nature -- the kind of thing a naturalist already believes in. There are just lots more of them than the one we originally believed in. However, the many-worlds conjecture may require going beyond naturalism as well. Why do all the possible cosmoi (i.e. all the possible sets of constants) get generated? Is there some mechanism that generates these different universes, maybe all at once in different universes or maybe one after the other? What would this mechanism be? It's certainly not something you can just read off physics. There's no explanation offered why there would be such a mechanism. So it's not clear if this response really fits the naturalistic picture either. The many universes would be more of what we already believe in (though many, many more things), but the mechanism to get many universes is beyond the core theory. Yet theism involves a wholly different kind of thing, a designer, though just one thing and not very, very many. A theory can be simpler in terms of how many things it requires, and a theory could be simpler in terms of what kinds of things it requires. We have two theories. Each one is more complex than the other but in a different way.
Also, the many-worlds conjecture gives us a chance to pull the argument into a fourth step of the cycle, asking why the cosmos-generating mechanism exists. Maybe a designer is needed for that. Or is it necessary that all the possibilities occur (parallel to the necessary universe objection)? If so, why? We have no reason from science to think it would be. So questions remain for the many-worlds conjecture. Still, it does serve as an alternative hypothesis. It's just not clear if it should be accepted as the better one.
One argument has been presented that might lean us one way on this. Consider the following case. [I learned of this case from Roger White, but he got it from John Leslie's "Anthropic Principle, World Ensemble, Design" American Philosophical Quarterly 18 (1982): p. 150.] Suppose you're in front of a firing squad. They appear to be well-trained shooters with real guns, shooting at point blank range. They shoot. If you find yourself still standing afterward, you should be surprised. If you discovered that there were millions of firing squads, with just one person happening to survive, it might not be as surprising. But if you know about no other firing squads, does your survival give you any reason to think these other firing squads exist? Or is it better to think someone put blanks in the guns or told the shooters to miss? The many-worlds conjecture would explain why there's a universe allowing rational life, but does that give us reason to believe that explanation? It seems bad to conclude that the other firing squads exist. Why would it be better here to conclude that there are other universes? It's possible that this is a bad analogy. If so, some crucial element of this case must not apply to the design argument case. It's not clear what crucial element that would be.
One final thing to be aware of is that for many people a designer explains a meaning or purpose to the universe. There are some theists who find it intuitively obvious that there is such meaning to life, and thus they will be more inclined to believe in a designer. This argument parallels the moral argument (on which see the next several posts in this series), because this meaning or purpose basically amounts to believing in moral value of a particular sort. The universe itself (and our existence) has moral value, and some people don't think that's possible without a creator who created with that value in mind. Some people think this is merely wishful thinking. Some think we can assign value, but it's not there before we come along to do it. Some, finally, don't think the universe has that kind of value but don't want it to.
This, of course, might be subject to the same wishful thinking charge as wanting the universe to have value and thus believing it does. The question here is whether (1) we have some intuitive ability to discern such things, in which case we should expect our general intuitions to be right or (2) such values are merely our own projections. The answer to that seems to depend at least in part on whether the universe was designed, because if it was then perhaps the designer built such an ability into our very nature. So again this isn't a conclusive argument, but it's an issue worth thinking through, because people will sometimes use considerations like this as arguments.
In the next post I will move on to the moral argument for the existence of God.