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Nov 22 2011

If you wish to bake an apple pie from scratch, you must first postulate another universe

A gentleman by the name of Clay Farris Naff wrote up an anti-Gnu piece providing apologetics for creation myths by inventing one of his own. I use the term gentleman rather loosely, given his “with me or against me” stances in comments defending this piece. His stated purpose?

The claim I aim to rebut is that science forces us to conclude that life is accidental, purposeless, and doomed. It’s a stance with quite a claque.

As this was a post in Scientific American, and Bora Zivkovic (the blogosphere’s Clock King, editor of Scientific American, and all-around stand-up guy) likes to get both sides of hot debates like that New Atheists vs Accommodationists rift, he asked Stephanie Zvan to provide the counterpoint. And provide she did.

Naff built a case for the potential of an intentional creation event, wherein this universe was built as an attempt to preserve life — by the Darwinian “imperative” built into all life, no less — via denizens of a universe “one level up” from us. This is one of those wholly unfalsifiable hypotheses predicated solely on the person proffering the hypothesis’ own psychological need to slice out a wedge of this universe to accommodate the potential for a “purpose to it all”. He apparently thinks he’s done all us atheists a solid by doing so without also conferring on that creature that performed the creation the requisite deity-like powers. And yet he’s offended when people point out that the only reason to wedge that particular possibility open without any supporting evidence, is out of a personal need for a purpose to this universe beyond what purpose you make. And the side-effect of that personal need to wedge that door open, is that people then have an ability to unnecessarily jam a person’s creator deity into that role of “intentional creator”.

Naff believes this hypothesis to be falsifiable in one of two ways: a) that we as a species get swamped out by the human dross when the scientifically-minded among us use contraception to limit our reproduction, while the fundies spawn like bunnies (meaning, I guess, that because WE didn’t do it, we’ve somehow falsified the idea); or b) that science somehow proves a negative — which is impossible — by disproving that a baby universe could be created. The part of the hypothesis that needs falsification is the intentionality in the creation event. Which is, in itself, wholly unfalsifiable. He’s offered two ways he thinks his own hypothesis could be falsified, but they’re both wrong because they target the wrong thing, and fail to falsify that wrong thing regardless.

What’s fun about Stephanie’s rebuttal is that Naff failed to adequately respond to Stephanie’s (or Torbjörn Larsson OM, or peterrrr’s) charges, mostly by handwaving them away as ideological, or as accusing him of being a Sekrit Theist ZOMG, or as simply far too rude to merit a real response. And yet, in Stephanie’s rebuttal, she explicitly out-science-fictioned him:

I could write you a story about accidental creation of the universe, rather than intentional. I could posit a grand orgy of energy beings creating so much tension that its release cannot be contained in a single universe and creates a new one. I could also write you a story about a universe that is collapsing, with a single strain of life that tragically views events backward and doesn’t understand that it’s actually in decline. I could write about a petulant child who creates a universe because no one else wants to spend time with it.

I can write all the stories I want (though they’re not likely to get published, as creation is a hoary old science fiction trope). That doesn’t make any of them true. It doesn’t make any of them worth paying particular attention to, except as artistic endeavours that tell us more about us than about the nature of the world. It doesn’t give us any means to choose between them. The only thing that can do that is our observations of the real world, which is where we come back to Naff’s irritation with us New Atheists.

Emphasis mine.

There’s absolutely no reason to postulate universes spawning as child processes of universes in this case except your own personal distaste for the possibility that this universe was not intentionally created. No matter how you dress up your creation myth with the fact that “it’s evolutionarily sound” as long as you beg the question of whether the “Darwinian imperative” is an actual drive, or a simple side-effect of the fact that some creatures die, simply being “evolutionarily sound” for a creature to create a universe in order to propagate life past the heat death of their own universe does not elevate that act to plausibility. First, before considering the empty postulate, one has to have a reason to believe that this universe was not a mere accident — it is the null hypothesis, after all, no matter how bleak some people might think that fact to be.

The only reason I can see Naff has in jamming his pseudoscientific creation story down New Atheists’ throats is because he doesn’t like their preference for demonstrable reality, and doesn’t like that the null hypothesis happens to sound bleak and damning to his accomodationist ears.

8 comments

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  1. 1
    Ramel

    Naff’s ideas seem a little, well, naff.

  2. 2
    Graham Martin-Royle

    Fine, so these creatures from another universe created ours for a reason. Just one little question, what was the purpose of their universe? It’s the same old question of infinite regress, if you say goddidit, then who did god etc.

  3. 3
    SAWells

    I particularly like Naff’s insistence that he isn’t saying anything to do with religion: he’s just postulating that our universe was intentionally created by entities which are kind of like us, but far more knowledgeable and powerful, and which want us to exist.

    There aren’t enough facepalms in this universe, I’ll have to create a new one.

  4. 4
    DuWayne

    Personally, I like the idea wherein we accidentally create a universe – and in studying the universe we “accidentally” created, we learn that it is likely how our own universe was created. Then we learn that this is likely how all universes were/are being created and that it is not an accident. And on each “level” the universes are smaller than the progenitor universe – running a similarly smaller time scale. Then of course, there are millions of planets in each universe where life evolved to the point where said universe creation is possible – weaving a complex web of parallel and linear universes.

    Then said story would culminate with the discovery (while trying to work out how it all started off) that the whole shebang was initiated by alien beings who are actually outside the whole of the multiverse we inhabit. It could become even more exciting – or confusing, if we were to then learn that said aliens are really from our multiverse, in some farflung future – or past – or both, who learned to transcend time and space as we know it, to create the multiverse.

    My point being, I am all for science fiction – even science fiction accounting for the existence of our universe. But for fucks sake, if you’re going to write a creation story – whether trying to pass it off as truth or not, do it with some fucking panache. Don’t be all ho hum about it, don’t be fucking dull. My creation story (though completely unfleshed) is just as likely as Naff’s and a hell of a lot more elegant and exciting. Especially when you get to the part where we “meet our makers” as it were, because what are such strange and beautiful creatures?

    Well, because we are such an ethnocentric bunch, they would be white guys with the token black scientist and token couple of female scientists – one of whom is obviously of Asian descent. And the black scientist would be more of a subservient engineer, while the women would essentially be glorified technicians. Because everyone knows that in the aforementioned creation story, all science savvy races in the multiverse would be human…I should totally write a movie…

  5. 5
    Blondin

    Oh, I know how to settle this – let’s vote.

  6. 6
    Jason Thibeault

    I vote for DuWayne’s “multicultural” aliens.

  7. 7
    Don Cates

    Riffing off DuWayne.
    The short story: Future scientist in our universe creates baby universe which turns out to be our universe. Subsequent baby universes all loop back to the first 10^-34 seconds of ours. (favourite SF short stories – “All You Zombies” & “By His Bootstraps)

    The novelization: More characters, love interest, aliens, maybe add one or more other universes to the loop.

    DuWayne has written the screen addaptation.

  8. 8
    DuWayne

    Graham –

    It’s the same old question of infinite regress, if you say goddidit, then who did god etc.

    Oh no, that’s simple. It’s not an infinite regression, it’s an infinite loop. The aliens who kick it all off actually come from our multiverse (or another). With all the billions of universes, each with millions of inhabited planets, there are bound to be – say, a hundred or so who both figure out that reality couldn’t exist without someone who knows it should exist making it happen – *and* figure out how to transcend time and space as we know it, to make it happen.

    This means of course, that many of them manage this – thus creating a nearly infinite number of multiverses. But that’s OK, we can work with that. And fuck all that causality bullshit. Why the hell shouldn’t someone from what was created transcend it to become it’s creator? Show me the math that says it couldn’t happen that way, or fuck off with your goddamned paradox’s.

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