Demise of Intelligent Design

Nikhil Kashyap By Nikhil Kashyap, 15th Aug 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL http://nut.bz/42int8w8/
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Science>Astronomy

A discussion on the scientific evidence showing that reality can be explained without a creator

Intro

Since time immemorial, humankind has always had an insatiable desire to unravel the mysteries of the cosmos. This desire partly stems from the need to attach a purpose to our own existence. An extension of this desire has led us to the notion that the universe is part of a grand scheme; a master plan. I would like to shed light on scientific discovery that indicates that the idea behind an intelligently designed universe might simply be a fantasy we cling to.

Evolution

If you take a step back and observe the world we live in, there is an unmistakable sense that everything around us is designed. For how else can we explain the elegance of the bird’s wing, or the complexity of the human eye? These entities appear to be engineered from a very cleverly crafted blueprint (a.k.a. God). In the early 19th century, Charles Darwin proposed perhaps the most dangerous idea in scientific history, which challenged the perception of an intentionally designed world. The Theory of Evolution elegantly described how complexity is derived incrementally, over millions of years, via natural selection, i.e. without the requirement of a designer.

Planetary Habitability

However, evolution only describes the process of how life forms change and evolve into different species; it does not pertain to how life on earth began in the first place. Planetary habitability is dependent on a plethora of improbable conditions. The distance from the parent star must lie within a “Goldilocks Region”, the radiation levels of the solar system should not exceed upper thresholds, the gravitational effect of neighboring celestial bodies should not cause excess interference etc. Somehow, all of these improbabilities seem to mysteriously converge to “allow” life on our planet. The explanation is much simpler than natural selection – “The Anthropic Principle”. Reality is a quite simply a function of probability. No matter how low the improbability of an event, given a sufficiently large set of permutations the event will occur; the improbable event in this case is conditions for sustainable life. The universe as we know it is an enormously complex network, with billions of galaxies and varied diverse conditions in each. Considering all of these factors, the germination of life on our planet should come as no surprise. In fact, all of the evidence indicates that these conditions should arise multiple times over, i.e. it is unlikely that we are alone.

The Laws of Physics

Evolution and statistical probability dispose of the illusion of design at two different levels, and are now accepted as scientific fact. However, there is still one final nail that needs to be hammered into the coffin of creationism. The universe itself works within certain frameworks – the laws of physics. Even in these laws, an unexplained sense of design is undeniable. For example, consider the strong nuclear force, which is the force which binds protons and neutrons. Variations in the strong force of as little as ±1% would have drastically affected the breakdown of naturally occurring elements in the universe, prohibiting the formation of stars. Such “fine tuning” cannot possibly be attributed to random chance; but what if there were multiple universes, each with a unique configuration of fundamental constants. This brings the anthropic principle into full effect – out of the many universes some are bound to be tuned in a manner capable of supporting life. This is exactly what the multiverse theory proposes.

Inflation

The multiverse theory was first proposed as a by-product of a completely different area of inquiry. In the early 80s, Alan Guth proposed a theory that described the state and behaviour of the universe in its infant stages. In these extreme conditions, repulsive gravitational forces created by vacuum energy, caused space to expand at a rate much faster than the speed of light creating most of the space-time continuum we observe today; this phenomenon was called “Inflation”.

The Multiverse

One of the assumptions made by Inflation is that the inflationary epoch encompassed the entire space fabric of the early universe. A few years after the theory was proposed, Alexander Vilenkin and Andrei Linde challenged this assumption by proposing a different model of the Inflation Theory, wherein the inflation phase does not end simultaneously in all regions of space. Furthermore, the mathematics of the inflation theory pointed to regions of space where inflation continues indefinitely – “Eternal Chaotic Inflation”. In these regions, quantum fluctuations in the vacuum energy can result in, you guessed it, subsequent Big Bangs! Essentially the theory proposed that the Big Bang is a continuous eternal process, spawning new universes with each bang. The multiverse – a profound implication of Eternal Chaotic Inflation.

Dark Energy and String Theory

Unfortunately, the scientific community did not share the Soviet duo’s enthusiasm for this radical new explanation of the cosmos. The theory had an innate problem built into it – it could not be proved experimentally. All signs indicated that the promise of Eternal Inflation would meet a premature end. Once again, two completely unrelated areas of investigation came to the aid of multiverse – Dark Energy and String Theory.

Traditional models of the universe predicted that the rate of expansion would decrease with time, due to the pull of gravity between galaxies. However, when the measurements were actually made, the exact opposite was discovered; the galaxies were actually accelerating away from each other, i.e., the rate of expansion was increasing! This indicated that there must be an unobserved force counteracting gravity. This force came to be known as dark energy; ‘dark’ because, as of now, it is completely unexplained. Furthermore, when the magnitude of this energy was measured, the result was astonishing. The value of the energy density in the vacuum of space was measured to be in the order of 10−122(that’s decimal point followed by a 121 zeros and then a one)!! This ridiculously precise value was termed the “Cosmological Constant”. What was even more astonishing is that a variation in the order of three or four decimal points would render life nonexistent. If the cosmological constant were smaller, then the universe would collapse inwards; were it bigger, the universe would exist in a purely particle state as gravity would be too weak to allow matter to coalesce. This bizarre level of fine-tuning points once again to the concept of many universes, each with its own variant of the cosmological constant. In such a scenario, the fact that we find ourselves in a universe with a cosmological constant tuned such that life may exist is not mysterious at all; in fact, it is inevitable.

The atomic model of particle physics views the constituent particles of an atom, such as quarks, hadrons and bosons as indivisible, i.e. as the building blocks of matter. Enter String theory, the grand “theory of everything”. According to string theory, all of these tiny particles are made of the same ingredient – tiny vibrating loops of energy called strings. The vibrations of these tiny strands of energy dictate the behavior and nature of the particle. Furthermore, the mathematics of string theory indicates that the strings vibrate in more than the three familiar dimensions of space. In fact, the theory proposes nine dimensions of space! This is of course impossible for the human mind to visualize, but the principle goes something like this. Consider a thin wire; to the human eye, this appears uni-dimensional. However, from a sufficiently small size another dimension becomes visible – the circular dimension of the wire. Similarly, at the minuscule plank level of measurement, extra curled dimensions of space manifest. The shape of these dimensions dictate string vibrations, and hence the nature of the particles. However, there is a catch, given nine dimensions the possible permutations of vibration are in the order of 10500. Among 10500 possibilities, why does our universe adopt a given configuration of string vibration? This mystery once again becomes less mysterious if multiple universes each with their own configuration existed.

Implications

With no experimental basis to demonstrate proof of concept, the multiverse phenomenon has a long way to go before being established as scientific truth. However, history has shown that mathematics is a fairly accurate predictor of what is later demonstrated experimentally. If it turns out to be true, the implications warp our understanding of reality. Given the infinitely large number of universes possible, it follows that many of these universes are likely to be configured similar to our own. What that means is somewhere out there, you might find copies of yourself with minor variations. In another universe or dimension, perhaps I have blue hair, a pierced nose and I am reading your blog instead of the other way around!! Indeed it alters our entire perception of individuality itself. Science, or science fiction, we may never know.

Conclusion

There is a deep sense of comfort in believing that as our species was fashioned for a specific purpose, that we are more than just a product of statistical chance. It has a certain poetical ring to it; however, that doesn’t make it true. Science can move forward only if we abandon such self-indulgent notions of purpose.

In a sense, a deeper sense of wonder can be found by liberating ourselves from preconceived notions of divine plans. It opens us up to define Meaning and Purpose for ourselves. Our existence might be a cosmic accident; however, that does not diminish its beauty in any way. A mystery doesn’t need to be any less alluring, simply because it has been unravelled.

Check out my other pages!

Science and Religion - Wolf In Sheep's Clothing - A discussion on how religion impacts morality
Travel - Diaries of A Gypsy : The Glowing Cave - Experience a hidden location in New Zealand
Gaming - Mass Moral Crisis - A look back over one of the greatest games of all time

Tags

Cosmological Constant, Dark Energy, Dimension, Fine Tuning, God, Inflation, Intelligent Design, Meaning, Multiverse, Particles, Purpose, Religion, String Theory, Universe, Vibration

Meet the author

author avatar Nikhil Kashyap
If I had to describe myself in three words or phrases, they would be : Explorer, Art and Science Lover, Cynic. That should also give you a good idea about the kind of stuff I'll write about!

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Comments

author avatar AjaySinghChauhan
26th Oct 2014 (#)

good post very useful and informative. Thanks for sharing your ideas with us.

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