Peter Woit is rightly skeptical in his Wall Street Journal review of a book called A Big Bang in a Little Room, by Zeeya Merali. Science, after all, as Woit points out, is about what is observable, measurable, and current theories in physics are playing at the boundaries of what may be observable, even in theory:
[Theorist Alan] Guth was initially fascinated by the idea of baby universes getting produced and making up a multiverse, though he imagined these other universes would all have the same physics as ours. Ms. Merali relates that he quickly lost interest: Why care much about cosmological models producing not just our universe but other copies we can never observe? Over the past 15 years, however, [Andrei] Linde’s slightly different argument—for a multiverse of universes, each with different physics, has become very popular. Such a multiverse even provides an explanation for the lack of progress in recent decades toward a better understanding of where fundamental laws of physics come from: The laws we observe are just artifacts of where various inflaton fields happened to randomly end up after our Big Bang; in other universes, the laws are different. Ms. Merali gives a disturbing version of this, contemplating the possibility that “string theory and inflation may be conspiring against us in such a way that we may never find evidence for them, and just have to trust in them as an act of faith.”
Use of the word “artifact” brings to mind Tom Wolfe’s recent book, The Kingdom of Speech, about which I’ll get around to writing, one of these days. Challenging previous efforts to fit speech into theories of evolution, Wolfe oversteps the argument by calling speech an “artifact” — happened upon or invented, but in no need of being made natural or inevitable.
Whether for multiverses or language, faith in this artifactness permits atheism. Before such theories of relativism, the plain conclusion had to be that somebody created the universe and its laws, gifting mankind with its artifacts and abilities to create more. If we just happen to be on one of limitless paths that happens to accommodate our existence, then our sense of the impossibility of the odds can be brushed aside with the infinite and purposeless attempts.
At the end of it all, the necessity of faith is unavoidable. Belief in God versus chance is always a choice, even with relativism. Take the notion of a multiverse containing universes that have alternative laws of physics. I would argue that they exist, but essentially as theory, and can only be said truly to exist to the extent one can coherently follow them, sort of like relativity with an observation limit. We make them exist, and their coherence points to a central intention, which is God.