The path to delusion — redux

Several readers have asked me about the purported new evidence for multiple universes, and what truth there is in the claim:

Have scientists discovered a parallel universe? Bright spots from after Big Bang may be another universe bumping into our own

In response, I’m reposting this article from last year. It links to a must-read interview with physicist, George F. R. Ellis, who offers sobering commentary on a growing tendency to mistake good theory for reality.

Update: A friend of mine encapsulates the goofiness this way:

Yesterday I was eating my Wheaties, and I noticed that my cereal pieces were smaller on average than than the Wheaties I’d eaten the day before. Now, there are alternative explanations that some have given, like maybe my Wheaties box is almost empty now so I’m getting down to the crumbs at the bottom, but my experience is also consistent with the possibility that my Wheaties box switched places with a Wheaties box from a parallel universe where Wheaties are smaller. If so, this would be the first time we’ve directly observed Wheaties from another universe. We can’t rule this out at this time.

In this excellent interview, eminent physicist George F. R. Ellis discusses the ill-advised direction in which some scientists are going:

Horgan: Physicist Sean Carroll has argued that falsifiability is overrated as a criterion for judging whether theories should be taken seriously. Do you agree?

Ellis: This is a major step backwards to before the evidence-based scientific revolution initiated by Galileo and Newton. The basic idea is that our speculative theories, extrapolating into the unknown and into untestable areas from well-tested areas of physics, are so good they have to be true. History proves that is the path to delusion: just because you have a good theory does not prove it is true. The other defence is that there is no other game in town. But there may not be any such game.

Scientists should strongly resist such an attack on the very foundations of its own success. Luckily it is a very small subset of scientists who are making this proposal.

It is indeed a very small subset, but it is also a very vocal and visible subset–many of these scientists are in the popular media as representatives of science. Ellis also takes them to task for formally rejecting philosophy while unwittingly engaging in a weak form of it.

The great irony here is that any atheists who claim to champion evidence and reason are abandoning both if they claim that the multiverse hypothesis, or any other fundamentally untestable idea put forth by scientists, is very likely true, because it’s elegant or the math is convincing or it’s beautifully consistent with what we believe, and so on. I have to check myself here, too, because I find some of these untestable ideas compelling for the same reasons. But, in terms of the irony, as Ellis points out, it was Galileo and Newton—both Christians—who revolutionized science by making it primarily an experimental, evidence-based endeavor, and now this is being dismissed by those who also ostensibly dismiss faith; they have abandoned evidence and reason in favor of what may only be a beautiful delusion.

I strongly encourage you to read the entire interview with Ellis (who is himself a Christian, incidentally) for an engaging discussion of what’s going awry on the modern scientific landscape.

2 thoughts on “The path to delusion — redux

  1. “The great irony here is that many of the atheists who are self-styled champions of evidence and reason are abandoning both when they claim that the multiverse hypothesis” This is a bit misleading as there are many physicists that are atheists that have serious problems with the multiverse as there is no credible experimental evidence for it, see e.g. well know multiverse skeptic Peter Woit http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/ (although I don’t know if he is an atheist, but his occasional comments on religion would suggest he is). I’m a physicist and an atheist and I’m not one bit convinced of the multiverse. Why? Insufficient evidence. However, I will agree that multiverse proponents are doing a serious disservice to science in general based on their over-hyped claims.

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