A Short Review of Davies’ The Goldilocks Enigma

TheGoldlocksEnigma
The Goldlocks Enigma

Paul Davies’ The Goldilocks Enigma discusses the fine-tuning of the universe for the existence of life and its possible explanations. Davies is an agnostic cosmologist at ASU (home of vocal atheist cosmologist Lawrence Krauss. They must have interesting faculty meetings!)

Pros:

– Davies is a lucid writer. His descriptions of basic particle physics and string theory were very good (from my lay perspective). Fine-tuning isn’t really addressed until Chapter 7 after a long but enjoyable introduction to cosmology.
– Davies agrees that cosmological fine-tuning is a real and dramatic phenomenon: “If almost any of the basic features of the universe… were different, life would very probably have been impossible… On the face of it, the universe does look as if it had been designed by an intelligent creator” (p. 3). He provides a good overview and critique of the three major explanations for fine-turning: coincidence, design, and the multiverse.
– Good critique of the multiverse, the idea that there are a huge number of undetectable parallel universes with different law of physics. The multiverse “invokes an overabundance of entities, most of which could never be observed,” “requires a lot of unexplained and very ‘convenient’ physics to make it work,” and does not solve the problem of why anything exists at all (p. 298-299).
– The connection between the multiverse and a ‘simulated universe’ was particularly interesting. According to Davies, the existence of a multiverse strongly suggests that the universe may actually be a computer simulation, like the Matrix. Many proponents of the multiverse apparently agree with this “bizarre” conclusion (p. 203-216).
– Several off-hand comments call attention to the fact that some explanations of fine-tuning are not merely alternatives to theism, but are motivated by the *desire* to avoid theism. It never hurts to mention the emotional or philosophical motivations behind our reasoning and often helps keep us honest.

Cons:

– Davies’ main objection to God as the explanation for cosmological fine-tuning is that God’s existence is left unexplained. He recognizes that God, if he exists, is a necessary being, whose nature explains his existence. However, for unspecified reasons, he seems to think that God’s necessary existence entails that the universe also exists necessarily (p. 231). This objection needs much more elaboration, because it strikes me as a non-sequitur.
– To explain fine-tuning, Davies appeals to the strong anthropic principle (SAP), which neither theists nor atheists are likely to endorse. He believes that the evolution of conscious observers may somehow be *required* by physics. In other words, there is some law-like principle that there must be conscious beings in the universe. Davies concedes that this explanation requires us to relax the assumptions that 1) there are strict ‘laws of physics’ 2) that teleology is not built into the universe and 3) that causation cannot act backwards in time.
– I think there are reasonable ways around the objection that the multiverse entails a ‘simulated universe.’ The ‘Boltzmann brain’ objection to the multiverse is a better one, but it isn’t mentioned.

Summary:

Good read. Davies’ tone and style were pleasant. The content reinforced the idea that cosmological ‘fine-tuning’ is a well-accepted phenomenon affirmed by physicists across religious ideologies. I’m personally surprised that Davies isn’t a deist. His SAP explanation is, by his own admission, speculative and highly incomplete. If God’s ‘necessary existence’ is really his only objection to a designer, then design beats SAP hands-down.