Thursday, August 19, 2004

Unscientific American

Two posts below, I wrote about a “level playing field”. The gist of the argument was that, when it comes to scientific literature, there isn’t one. You can speculate about scientific-sounding unfalsifiable theories and get published, but not intelligent design.

As if to make my point, I present the latest issue (September) of Scientific American. Now SciAm long ago passed into the “rag” category, going beyond properly (for a scientific journal) ignoring religion to being outright hostile. Similarly, according to SciAm, no proposed weapon system (especially if it is related to missile defense) could ever possibly work, and no questioning of global warming is tolerated.

In the September issue, devoted to Einstein, we find an article entitled The String Theory Landscape by Drs. Raphael Bousso and Joseph Polchinski. At one point in their article they discuss infinite universes, and proceed to wax anthropic. They sweep our good fortune (for having just the right vacuum energy to make our universe livable) under the rug. It’s no wonder we live here, they argue, just like on a smaller scale we live in temperate climates on earth rather than in Antarctica, the Marianas Trench, or the moon. But this is a flawed analogy. It’s not because of luck that we don’t live in Antarctica, it’s by design. There was intelligence behind the gross features of human migration, not random chance. These local inhospitable regions are observable. Other universes are not. It has long been accepted that something that cannot, even in principle, be observed is outside the realm of science. No so parallel universe theories, they are exempted from this requirement.

Multiverse theories are in general unfalsifiable quantum religions, and are therefore no more worthy of being called science than the intelligent design arguments. Bousso and Polchinski are free to discuss untestable multiverse speculations, but had their paper used even a single sentence suggesting another possibility, that our universe was designed for life, the useful idiots at SciAm would have rejected it.

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