Infinite Monkeys versus Infinite Universes



Last time, I wrote about the Infinite Monkey Theorem, i.e., the thought-experiment that posits that an infinite number of monkeys typing on an infinite number of keyboards for an infinite period of time would ultimately be able to write all of the books in the Library of Congress. I used basic probability mathematics to determine the likelihood that ten billion monkeys typing for three hundred million years would be able to write just the first two clauses of the beginning of Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. As shown in the post entitled, "Infinite Monkeys, Keyboards and Time - What are the Odds?" even with ten billion monkeys each typing 52 letters, spaces and punctuation every minute of every day for 300 million years, the odds of those monkeys randomly typing those two lines calculated to one time in every 2.98*1077 years (that's once in every 298 million, million, million, million, million, million, million, million, million, million, million years - and I might have lost track while counting out millions). Needless to say, the odds of the monkeys typing anything resembling those first two clauses of the first sentence (let alone an entire novel) in that period of time is so infinitesimally small that it is more likely that you will win the Powerball lottery (with its 175,000,000:1 odds) several million times in a row. (If you do beat those odds, I expect you to buy everyone in the U.S. lunch because you will own the country.)

So, what does this have to do with Christianity? Well, a lot, actually.

Several statistical issues arise when discussing Christianity and atheism (or its less robust but more cautious twin, agnosticism). One place where statistically impossible odds arise is when discussing the idea that the universe (and especially the Earth) just happened to have the conditions needed to be hospitable for life.

It is simply not true that it is likely that a universe hospitable to life would randomly leap into existence on its own. There are many, many factors that need to be finely balanced for life to have arisen on Earth. Hugh Ross at Reasons to Believe has recorded 93 factors that needed to be in place for life to arise on Earth (together with the sources for identifying each of these factors) on the Reasons to Believe blog in an article entitled "Fine Tuning for Life in the Universe." The odds of all of these factors coming into being randomly (recall that if the Universe leapt into existence randomly, none of our physical laws had to be what they presently are) is so small that it is much more likely that the monkeys will type the entire book, A Tale of Two Cities.

Recognizing this problem, some scientists have posited the existence of a multiverse - the theory that the universe is just one of many possible universes. As noted in an article on Space.com entitled "Confronting the Multiverse: What 'Infinite' Universes Would Mean":
As physicist and Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg told me on "Closer to Truth" (the source of all following interviews), "The word 'universe,' I suppose, should properly mean the whole thing — everything. But when we think of 'universe,' we sometimes use the word to mean just our Big Bang, the things we can see out to almost 14 billion light-years in all directions. And in this manner, it's reasonable to question: Is our universe unique? Are there multiple Big Bangs? Could there be multiple Big Bangs in different senses?"

"We started calling it a 'multiverse,'" meaning the entire ensemble of innumerable regions of disconnected space-time, said Andrei Linde, the Russian-American physicist now at Stanford. He developed the theory of "eternal chaotic inflation," which generates ever-increasing numbers of universes without end. Scientists created the neologism "multiverse," Linde continued, "because we found that what we had called 'the universe' can be divided into extremely large regions, which may have different laws of physics. And one part may be suitable for life, and other parts unsuitable."

Linde portrays "universes" as painted balloons or bubbles on canvas, "squeezing off" from one another via eternal chaotic inflation. Each of his bubbles is a separate universe, each with different laws of physics. The whole collection of universes, the multiverse, is incomprehensibly vast — and growing ever more so.
Now, the multiverse has been used as an answer to the "anthropic principle", i.e, the unmistakable impression that the universe that we live in is especially suited for life - essentially, the same idea that Hugh Ross raises in his article above. Take, for example, the following from Discover Magazine's article, "Science's Alternative to an Intelligent Designer: The Multiverse Theory":
Life, it seems, is not an incidental component of the universe, burped up out of a random chemical brew on a lonely planet to endure for a few fleeting ticks of the cosmic clock. In some strange sense, it appears that we are not adapted to the universe; the universe is adapted to us.

Call it a fluke, a mystery, a miracle. Or call it the biggest problem in physics. Short of invoking a benevolent creator, many physicists see only one possible explanation: Our universe may be but one of perhaps infinitely many universes in an inconceivably vast multi­verse. Most of those universes are barren, but some, like ours, have conditions suitable for life.

The idea is controversial. Critics say it doesn’t even qualify as a scientific theory because the existence of other universes cannot be proved or disproved. Advocates argue that, like it or not, the multiverse may well be the only viable non­religious explanation for what is often called the “fine-tuning problem”—the baffling observation that the laws of the universe seem custom-tailored to favor the emergence of life.
Now, scientists have refined the Multiverse Theory since the Discovery Magazine article was published in 2008, but there is no question that it remains primarily used in common parlance as a basis for rejecting the idea of special creation by an intelligent designer. But does it really work? Isn't this really just a re-visitation of the Infinite Monkey Theorem?

Consider: the idea of the Multiverse Theory begins with the idea that infinite universes have come into existence, and we are just one of the many iterations that bubbled out of the pool. Now, as demonstrated by the Space.com article mentioned above, the multiverse is thought to create an infinite number of universes. But how is this really any different than the Infinite Monkey Theorem? Rather than having an infinite number of monkeys typing on an infinite number of keyboards for an infinite amount of time ultimately typing a novel (which is not possible if the numbers are actually less than infinte), we now have an infinite number of universes bubbling out of a infinitely large cosmic pool for an infinite period of time ultimately creating a universe capable of creating and supporting life. It appears that all we have done is substitute monkeys with universes.

When I looked at the Infinite Monkey Theorem, I noted that nothing in this universe that we inhabit is infinite because everything in this universe is necessarily of finite size and finite age. As I pointed out, having the a finite amount of monkeys (even a very large number of monkeys) typing a finite amount of time, the possibility of actually typing the first two clauses of A Tale of Two Cities was so statistically small as to be impossible. What if the phrase "infinite" isn't really an actual infinite (which doesn't exist in this universe) but simply a way of describing a really large number? If that is the case, then it remains as statistically impossible that the large number of factors needed for the creation of a universe capable of supporting life could come together with only a finite number of universes bubbling out over a finite period of time.

Of course, if the multiverse is an actual infinite both in terms of time and in terms of the number of universes produced, then (as I stated previously) the math means anything is possible (in fact, it is mathematically certain). But that leads to the question: what reason do we have to believe that the multiverse (it if exists at all) is actually infinite in size or that it has existed for an actual infinite amount of time? To the best of my knowledge, there is no reason to believe that the multiverse is actually infinitely old or infinitely large -- other than it gives a mathematically valid justification for the existence of our universe. But that would be arriving at a conclusion just to justify the non-existence of an intelligent designer. But positing the facts to be exactly what is needed to solve the Anthropic Principle problem is ... well, the results of intelligent design.

The multiverse seems to fail for the same reason that the monkeys fail, i.e., the multiverse theory should require an infinite number of universes being produced over an infinite period of time to create a universe suited to support life, but there is no evidence that the multiverse even exists let alone that the multiverse is infinite in either time or size. Maybe someday, an infinite number of scientists experimenting in an infinite number of laboratories for an infinite amount of time will produce evidence that the multiverse is truly infinite, but that will only be the result of intelligence - not chance.

Comments

im-skeptical said…
There is a significant difference between the "infinite monkeys" postulation and the statistical likelihood of a universe that supports life.

You can observe monkeys and precisely calculate a probability for a given outcome within some given time. You might even enhance the odds by training them to make certain key combinations, like capital letters with a frequency that approximates English language. In any case, you can make a calculation that provides a reasonable estimate of the odds.

But you can't do that with physical constants. We have no basis in observation to say that the expected mass of an electron is represented by some particular probability distribution. Or the gravitational constant, or any other number of factors that would be needed for this overall probability calculation.

Anyone who says that a universe like ours has a small probability is talking out of his ass. The truth is that he simply doesn't know that. It could be that no other set of values is even possible. Or that the number of possibilities is much more limited than the ID advocates speculate. We just don't know.
BK said…
Let's start with the fact that the IMT posits that the monkeys are randomly striking keys, so saying that we can train monkeys to strike more appropriate keys is changing the theorem. My work last time assumes purely random combinations which is what the IMT assumes.

Second, I don't know on what basis you say that we have "no basis in observation to say that the expected mass of an electron is represented by some particular probability distribution." We can see that many of these factors could easily have been other than what they are. Minor changes in weight of charge of electrons would change the entire structure. Why do you think that the likelihood of that happening by chance cannot be determined? Simply because we don't have other universes to compare it to? We don't have infinite monkeys, either.

On your last comment (which is subject to being deleted for profanity), I guess you have a problem with Discover Magazine, too. It makes it very clear that scientists recognize this as a real problem. But I respect people who don't believe something just because others believe it, but you will definitely need to support it more than just asserting that they are "talking out of their ...."
im-skeptical said…
Let's start with the fact that the IMT posits that the monkeys are randomly striking keys, so saying that we can train monkeys to strike more appropriate keys is changing the theorem. My work last time assumes purely random combinations which is what the IMT assumes.
- I was raising the issue that the assumption of randomness (uniform probability distribution) might not be the best. Better results would be obtained by actually observing the frequency of hits for each key, and the frequency of combinations. For example, if the monkeys are observed to always strike keys by alternating right and left hands, that would drastically affect the probability distribution for producing certain texts, based on the location of keys on the keyboard.

Second, I don't know on what basis you say that we have "no basis in observation to say that the expected mass of an electron is represented by some particular probability distribution." We can see that many of these factors could easily have been other than what they are.
- I disagree. How do you know that they could have been different? When people make these calculations, they just assume that any value is just as likely as another, but nobody knows whether that's true. This is a point made by Victor Stenger. Perhaps all these physical constants are linked together, so that choosing one of them determines all the rest. Perhaps there's only one set of values that could ever exist. There's no physicist that knows. And that's why just assuming random choices is faulty.

Why do you think that the likelihood of that happening by chance cannot be determined? Simply because we don't have other universes to compare it to? We don't have infinite monkeys, either.
- As I was saying, we have no idea - based on what we know of THIS universe.

I guess you have a problem with Discover Magazine, too. It makes it very clear that scientists recognize this as a real problem. But I respect people who don't believe something just because others believe it, but you will definitely need to support it more than just asserting that they are "talking out of their ...."
- The discover article ignores the major problem that Stenger and other physicists have pointed out.
BK said…
Ah yes, Stenger's reliance on the "Theory of Everything" which, of course, does not exist (or, at least, has not been discovered). Relying upon a theory that has no identified basis in reality is an interesting tact which I will allow to stand on it's own.
Joe Hinman said…
another example of atheist apologists rely upon unproven speculator then latter act like how can we believe in God no empirical proof,
im-skeptical said…
Regardless of your failure to read and understand what Stenger says, the point still stands. There is no valid reason to assume a low probability for the universe having the properties it has, and I haven't heard any justification for it. Nothing but your assertion.
BK said…
I read your link and understood it. My comment stands.
im-skeptical said…
My link was just a blurb for his book. I seriously doubt you understand what Stenger is talking about.
BK said…
Ah yes, you understand it but I don't. And that would because you are so much smarter than me, right? You post a link which I read and understand, but now what you linked isn't really what he said. I will leave it to others who might bother to read this far to decide who shows more understanding. This thread is done.
im-skeptical said…
Stenger's objection is not based on any particular theory. It's just a fact that it is erroneous to make assumptions (as you have done) about the improbability of various physical constants.

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