Science Gone Wild: Brian Greene’s Wall Street Journal Interview
Brian Greene is undoubtedly one of the finest science writers at work today. His books, The Elegant Universe and The Fabric of the Cosmos, are both well written and provide, for the most part, clear and entertaining accounts of modern cosmology’s cutting-edge theories. Many of these theories may, in fact, turn out to be wrong, but Professor Greene keeps the reader in mind as he makes his way through the confounding theories of modern cosmology, including quantum theory, the inflationary Big Bang, and Greene’s personal favorite, string theory.
Professor Greene has recently published a new book, entitled, “The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos” (for which a longer comment will be forthcoming), and to promote the book, agreed to an interview with David Gelernter in today’s (Jan. 31, 2011) Wall Street Journal.
This interview (along with the book) will, with luck, mark the end of the road for scientific theorizing within a materialistic framework. The interview is appropriately titled, “If You Don’t Like This Universe …..” In the interview, Professor Greene proceeds as if our current universe — spanning roughly 300 billion light years and containing give or take 10 septillion stars — is not quite big or diverse enough to account for all of life’s mysteries. In fact, Mr. Greene muses, “our most refined cosmological theories indicate . . . that the big bang, which created our universe, may not have been a unique event. There may have been (and may still be) various big bangs at far-flung locations, each one creating its own universe.” One miraculous universe is not enough for modern cosmologists. They now want an infinity of miracles to make their theories come out all right. Why is the Earth positioned so precisely to the sun to allow life to prosper? Easy. We live in the one of an infinite number of universes where the Earth is 93 million miles from the Sun as opposed to the one 92.9 million miles away. Why does our universe have just the right amount of dark energy to allow this universe to be hospitable? Again, we live in the one universe that has an earth 93 million miles from the sun and with the right amount of dark energy. Why are the constants of nature programmed to allow life to exist? Same answer. Well, if there is an infinity of universes, then there must be another copy of this one, where we are merrily doing the same thing right now. (Yes, he says this too.) See where this is going? Any odd coincidence we can come up with to show the harmony of nature, Mr. Greene can explain by waving his magical cloak and unveiling another hidden universe. Is this science? Or is this science gone wild?
Mr. Greene gives an answer to this question, that must be considered a classic in twisted reasoning. When asked whether the multiverse notion is testable he answers: “Remember, too, that a theory can be testable even if we don’t have access to everything it describes. If a theory offers the most accruate and complete predictions about our own universe and also requires the existence of other universes, then confirmation of its predictions gives us confidence that other universes are out there.”
Right. In one sentence, Mr. Greene has demonstrated the vacuous nature of the multiverse theory. He says (a) if you have a theory; (b) this theory has no other current competing theories; and (c) this theory requires the postulation of an infinite number of other universes, then (d) the infinite number of other universes exist. Is this convincing — at all?
Here’s another idea: why not first try to explain the current universe with a different theory before resorting to an infinite number of other unexplainable universes? Occam’s razor (simple theories are better) has power in scientific reasoning because simple is better, and fewer assumptions mean a better theory. Perhaps the problem is not the imaginative ability of scientists, but the materialistic framework within which scientists currently exercise their imagination.
At the end of the interview, Mr. Greene takes the obligatory stab at religion and God, by saying that although religion can provide meaning to some (presumably the small-minded among us), only science can be “our trustworthy guide to explaining physical processes.” This may be partly true, but if Mr. Greene took the time to examine the world carefully, he might find that there is a place for both science and religion in the one universe we know exists, a place large enough to hold both — with room to spare.