Science vs. Religion seems to be a running theme for the 21st century. Yet, the two sides of the debate have much in common. Not being willing to consider other's perspective is a common occurrence in both worlds.
Why does the universe seem so fine-tuned for the emergence of life, including intelligent life capable of asking that "why" question? "Believers," says theoretical physicist and astrobiologist, Paul Davies, in a recent interview with Cosmic Log, "simply say that God did it, while scientists are trying to come up with complicated extradimensional multiverse theories to explain our lucky break."
Many scientists cling to their theories as faithfully as the devout cling to their religious texts. In both realms, to point out that an underlying concept does not appear to make sense can be taken as blasphemy. In both camps there are sharp internal divides as to what should be accepted as "truth."
In his new book, Cosmic Jackpot, Davies end runs the religious question by taking a completely different tack. He argues that the cosmos has made itself the way it is, stretching backward in time to the very beginning to focus in on a biological universe of what he calls "bio-friendliness."
The concept of a biological universe requires as profound a revision in our thinking about the cosmos as the Copernican and Dawrinian revolutions. It is a worldview that states that planetary systems are common, that life originates wherever conditions are favorable, and that evolution culminates with intelligence.
The most eloquent description of the bio-friendly universe came from Nobel laurate Christian de Duve who wrote that "The universe is not the inert cosmos of the phyicist, with a little added life for good measure. The universe is life, with the necessary infrastructure around it; it consists foremost of trillions of bioshperes generated and sustained by the rest of the universe."
According to Davies there are three popular responses to the fact that the universe does seem to be weirdly fine-tuned for life: the intelligent-design argument; the idea that if we had a final theory of physics, then all of the undetermined parameters in the laws would be fixed by that theory; and the third is the multiverse or the notion that there is a multiplicity of universes, with laws that vary from one to the other.
All three of these explanations are found wanting, writes Davies, who's view is that the universe has engineered its own bio-friendliness through a sort of feedback loop that operates in both directions in time.
For most people, the first interpretation is, 'Well, God did it.' "The problem with saying God did it," says Davies, "is that God is unexplained, so you are appealing to an unexplained designer. It doesn't actually explain anything; it just shoves the problem off. But to say that the laws of physics just happen to permit life is no explanation either."
The true and ultimate debate clincher might belong to the Michael Shermer, author of the "Skeptic" column for Scientific Amerian, who played on Arthur C. Clarke's famous Third Law: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" to coin Shermer's Last Law:
"Any sufficiently advanced extraterrestrial intelligence is indistinguishable from God."
But, perhaps it's best if we end with thoughts of the greatest scientic mind in human history: When he turned 50, Einstein granted an interview in which he was asked point-blank, whether he believed in God.
"I am not an atheist," he began. "The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn't know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws."
Posted by Casey Kazan with Rebecca Sato
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