Tegmark’s Parallel Universes: A Challenge to Intelligent Design?
by Karl D. Stephan
Abstract—In an article entitled “Parallel Universes” in the May 2003 issue of Scientific American, Max Tegmark presents a clear and comprehensive picture of the parallel-universe idea. What Tegmark describes is actually a set of related concepts which have in common the notion that there are universes beyond the familiar observable one that astronomers can see parts of directly with telescopes and other instruments. Some of these parallel universes are completely unlike our own; others are nearly identical; still others are identical up to a point and then split off into might-have-been worlds of choices not made. Tegmark’s main argument is that, far from being a shadowy, speculative corner of cosmology, the parallel-universe idea has been increasingly confirmed by recent experiments, and we should get used to it because it appears that it will be around for a while.
If true, this is not good news for proponents of intelligent design such as William A. Dembski. In his recent book No Free Lunch, Dembski is at considerable pains to show why the parallel-universe idea is basically a non-starter. He recognizes the threat that parallel universes pose to the concept of specified complexity. Simply expressed, if literally anything can happen, it will, including the most unlikely and designed-looking things such as earth, life, and humanity. If certain forms of the parallel-universe idea are true, then chance, not design, becomes omnipotent.
Cosmology has always bordered upon
metaphysics. Questions of ultimate origin and destiny began as metaphysical
questions, and only in the
last century has science begun seriously to address some of these issues
with theories based on empirical evidence. It is still not always easy,
therefore, to distinguish cosmology based on empirical evidence from
a philosophical position disguised as empirical cosmology. As we shall
see, Tegmark’s article deals largely with theories whose main
feature, namely, multiple universes, cannot be verified by observation
or experiment even in principle. The experimental tests he proposes
for these theories really consist in making the philosophical presuppositions
required for believing in the theories, and then verifying that the
theories agree with already-known data about the present visible universe.
So far from being a legitimate way to inflate probabilistic resources
to defeat arguments in favor of intelligent design, Tegmark’s
parallel universes represent an array of philosophical arguments disguised
as science. While the philosophical arguments may have merit on their
own, it is illegitimate to claim that they are empirically verified
in the conventional scientific sense, as Tegmark sometimes does.
The full paper is