Sunday, January 9, 2011

Philosopher responds to Hawking's "philosophy is dead" claim"

Here (John Haldane, "Philosophy Lives", First Things, January 2011)
What is meant by talking about many universes? It might mean unobservable regions of the universe—the one spatio-temporal-causal continuum—or, although this is much harder to make sense of, entirely distinct cosmic setups, wholly discontinuous with the universe we inhabit. The first possibility fails to serve Hawking and Mlodinow’s purpose. Any evidence we could have for these distant regions would necessarily be evidence for situations exhibiting the same orderliness whose existence seemed to call for explanation.

The second possibility—that there are many universes, entirely distinct realities, wholly discontinuous and sharing no common elements—fails also. There can be no empirical evidence in support of the hypothesis, nor could it be derived as a necessary condition of the possible existence and character of the only universe of which we have or could have scientific knowledge.

Hawking and Mlodinow write that the “multiverse idea is not a notion invented to account for the miracle of fine tuning.” Whether or not it was invented as such, its deployment in this context appears ad hoc, introduced only to avoid the conclusion that the general regularities and particular fine-tuning are due to the agency of a creator.

The basic components of the material universe and the forces operating on them exhibit properties of stability and regularity that invite explanation—the more so given the narrow band within which they have to lie in order for there to be intelligent animals able to investigate and reflect on the conditions of their own existence. Science cannot provide an ultimate explanation of order.

As Hawking and Mlodinow occasionally seem to recognize, far from philosophy being dead, having been killed by science, the deepest arguments in this area are not scientific but philosophical. And if the philosophical reasoning runs in the direction I have suggested, it is not only philosophy but also natural theology that is alive and ready to bury its latest would-be undertakers.