Scientists may have detected gravitational pull from other universes (and a long rant on a stupid comment).

Holy crap, holy crap, holy crap!

The first ‘hard evidence’ that other universes exist has been found by scientists.

Cosmologists studying a map of the universe from data gathered by the Planck spacecraft have concluded that it shows anomalies that can only have been caused by the gravitational pull of other universes.

Frakking awesome.

One of the comments on the article was entirely predictable.  It’s an old and bitter bromide, but it always comes up whenever science figures out how another facet of the universe works which, surprise, requires no appeal to god.

I believe the question weather there are multi-universes or not and weather there is a God or not, do not belong in the same category. (Astro) Physics is concerned with the question how nature (the universe) works; theology is concerned with the question why there is a universe, why there is life – and to which purpose. The existence of a multi-universe (or not) does not have any relevance to the question weather God exists. People constantly mingle science and theology, but they are simply not concerned with the same subject-matter. Personally, I think that it is impossible to say anything ‘definitive’ about the existence of god. That question is unanswerable scientifically. However, this is not saying that religious experiences are not real, I certainly think they are. People may see them as the existence of god and I will not argue with them. On the other hand, the existence of a multi-universe may one day be scientifically proved. Frank van Manen, The Netherlands.

It’s the old non-overlapping magisteria argument and it always makes me think of this Jesus and Mo panel:

Religion just makes stuff up that is false by any sane definition of the word.  That is not how science operates.

The part of his comment that drove me the most crazy was:

Personally, I think that it is impossible to say anything ‘definitive’ about the existence of god. That question is unanswerable scientifically.

Yeah, when you create a god that is invisible to all means of reliable detection, that god is unassailable scientifically.  Of course, it’s also unassailable by any other means.  As Matt Dillahunty puts it: Either god exists or it doesn’t exist.  If a god does exist, it either interacts with the universe in some detectable way or it doesn’t.  If it doesn’t, that god is indistinguishable from a non-existent god.  That only leaves a god who interacts with the universe in some detectable way.  But if science, which is the greatest realization of the use of our senses to, you know, detect things, hasn’t found this god, that doesn’t say much for individuals.

In short, the god you’ve created is, in fact, undetectable by science.  The limits of science are not the province of religious knowledge.  Where science is ignorant, so is religion.  The only difference is that religion lacks the integrity of science.

And as for:

(Astro) Physics is concerned with the question how nature (the universe) works; theology is concerned with the question why there is a universe, why there is life – and to which purpose.

While we know there is a what and how to the operation of the universe, who says that there must be a why or a purpose?  I submit that there is no reason to assume there is a purpose or a why to the functionality of the universe, and most certainly not an omniscient, perfect intelligence.  A look at the universe reveals it to be the work of a fairly incompetent engineer at best, as it took billions of years of trial and painful error to reach its current state.  A perfect designer would not require such a system.  It is also still riddled with a host of simple errors that are just what we would expect to see in a universe that operates on a series of mindless rules, but that are just bizarre if a god created anything.  These are things like the existence of the appendix, babies heads being bigger than the birth canal, and the clunky nature of DNA.

Furthermore, everything that we have explained has been found to have a natural rather than a supernatural explanation.  Everything.  You may respond that surely some intelligence put into place those natural explanations, but how do you know this?

What’s more, the god hypothesis and the atheist hypothesis predict different universes.  If a supreme intelligence created the universe we’d expect it to be efficient, not wasteful, and to contain the hallmarks of intelligence.  If all that exists are natural explanations, we’d expect to see a very old universe full of vast amounts of stuff interacting such that highly improbable things (like the origin of life) become likely in isolated pockets.  We’d also expect to see a wide array of flaws perceptible even to mortal minds (which surely can’t be expected to be as clever as a god).  The latter is the universe we find ourselves in.  So the question of multi-verses and what not does have relevance to the question of god’s existence.  And it most certainly has relevance to the truth of religions which claim the universe was created with us in mind.

Speaking of religions that claim the universe was made with us in mind (*cough* Christianity *cough*), when Christians say that science explains the how of the universe which is not religion’s purview, they’re full of shit.  The question “Did a man rise from the dead 2000 years ago?” is a question of Biology.  And the question “Did Jesus walk on water or transmute water into wine?” is a question about Physics.  The Christian faith makes a magnificent glory of how these propositions fly in the face of science, which is why they’re called “miracles”.  But science has the (obvious) answer to both of these questions, and religions have no sound evidence for why the natural order was abrogated in the ways they claim.  Far from tackling two different subjects, the overlap between the claims of specific religions and the conclusions of science leaves about as much room for compromise as a coin toss.

Even the differences in method between faith and science reveal why one is reliable and the other is just a set of baseless claims made with no accountability.  The very nature of making a truth claim implies some degree of testable prediction about the future.  A simple example would be the statement “I own a chess set.”  The implication here is that if you sift through every possession I own, amongst them you would find a chess set.  Science makes testable predictions in this vein;

  • If we add wings and the right type of engine, this vessel will fly.
  • If we use the proper type of filament and apply electricity, it will produce light.
  • If we replace a particular organ, this patient will live.
  • If we apply our hand to the knob and turn, the door will open.

And the success of a claim in science rests solely on how well the prediction is born out in reality.  Religion does no such thing, but still makes claims about how the universe really works and counts on people like the commenter in that article to not notice the difference.

The implication in this article is that whatever science discovers it is just explaining how god chose to do things.  Of course, while we need evidence before we accept claims of atoms, other universes, or black holes, the god that is claimed to be the source of all new scientific discoveries is just asserted ad hoc.  This is a sure way to never be disappointed in your pre-acquired beliefs, but it’s an equally certain way to believe a bunch of nonsensical garbage.  For instance, my belief that pixies authored the universe and put all the natural mechanisms in place remains strong, as every new discovery confirms and strengthens my belief by revealing a mechanism of the universe, which I know was put there by pixies.  If you have evidence for god’s existence like scientists have evidence for the existence of supernovae, present it.  Otherwise don’t think you can get away with saying your religious beliefs are in harmony with science and expect to get away with it unless your audience is just as scientifically illiterate as you are.

The universe does not need a who or a why – it appears to be chugging along just fine with its mindless processes and inanimate objects.  When we ask for evidence that the universe requires a purpose or a “why” we are not overstepping our bounds.  Do you have some manner of evidence that the universe has an ultimate purpose or was blasted into being by a god?  Show us.  But in science it is never noble to pretend to know things you do not (it’s even less noble to say we are overstepping our bounds by calling you on it).

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Jon Voisey

    I’m really tired of hearing this claim that we’ve found evidence of other universes. Take a good hard look at the claim: “We can’t explain this except through other universes”. This is no different than the “We can’t explain this except God.”

    It’s a horrible argument and the other claims of other universes that have been put forth repeatedly have been historically debunked:

  • threadsofscience

    I’m a professional physicist, and I’ve got to say that I’m pretty skeptical of the claim of multiverses. The claimant isn’t part of the Planck group, and so isn’t familiar with the instrument used to take the data. She’s writing to the Daily Mail, and there’s no paper out, not even on the arxiv (where this kind of thing would usually be first annoucned).
    And a brief look a the claimant also shows that she has a history of kind of out-there theories. Not saying it’s false, but I’m not landing in the holy crap category either

    • Art_Vandelay

      Right…I just did a bunch of Google searches and found this claim of “hard evidence” being reported in no reputable science websites or newspapers at all. A Google news search for universe only brings up stories of Canada screwing up the Miss Universe pageant. You’d think this would be much bigger news.

    • invivoMark

      If it’s written by somebody who writes to the Daily Mail, then it’s a good bet that it’s bunkum.

    • Michael W Busch

      I am likewise skeptical, and this sort of behavior and claims sets off all of my pseudoscience detectors. As a planetary astronomer, I withhold judgement until I get a second opinion from the cosmologists, but all previous similar claims have been shown to be false, so the prior probability is skewed very far against this one – especially since the low-order modes in the CMB that her idea relies on have much larger errors from foreground subtraction than the high-order ones.

  • Rainkitten

    Aww.. you guys all suck. I was enjoying reading this. I was raised in a right wing tea party evangelical scientific free zone. I have been struggling to self educate myself ever since. I was pretty happy that I knew what a multiverse was, ( thanks Popular Science Magazine) and was really thrilled that there was a possibility of evidence for this. I really was enjoying the logic arguments as well about ad hawking GAWD into every single thing science discovers. The material of this article was making me feel all comfy n cozy. So SURREE.. here come the physicists and the really smart dudes to totally rip apart the article and leave it bleeding on the page.. Sigh.. sometimes ppl just are no fun at all. :}

  • invivoMark

    JT, Daily Mail is a tabloid. Don’t believe anything you read there until you read it somewhere more reputable.

  • Composer 99

    If memory serves, Ethan Siegel over at ScienceBlogs lays out, in several posts, the quantum-based case for a multiverse, suggesting it’s not all that out-there.
    But concur with all others doubting Daily Mail. Once some results get published in the literature then there’s something to talk about.

    • Jon Voisey

      There’s a difference between making a case for one on a hypothetical level, and claiming to find hard observational evidence.

      The biggest problem with so many of these theories is that they, just like Intelligent Design, make no testable predictions. That’s not to say that they couldn’t once we have more information, but at least at present, they can and are applied to all sorts of ridiculous phenomena by fringe scientists, without constraint.

      • Composer 99

        Hey, like I said, there’s something to talk about once there’s results published.

  • Rain

    (Astro) Physics is concerned with the question how nature (the universe) works; theology is concerned with the question why there is a universe, why there is life – and to which purpose.

    Okay yeah, physics isn’t concerned about why there is a universe or why there is life. Presumably that makes theology feel a lot better when they don’t give a crap about why there is a god or how it does stuff. Whatever makes theology feel good about its own lazy lack of curiosity is okay by me. So yeah let’s pretend like physics doesn’t give a hoot as much as religion doesn’t give a hoot.

  • greg1466

    I think you missed the bigger problem with the comment by stopping to soon in your quote. He says “Personally, I think that it is impossible to say anything ‘definitive’
    about the existence of god. That question is unanswerable
    scientifically. However, this is not saying that religious experiences
    are not real, I certainly think they are.” If the experience is ‘real’ by any reasonable definition of the word, then the experience certainly is capable of being scientifically investigated. Sorry. Can’t have it both ways.

    • Machintelligence

      The experience may be “real” to the one having the experience, but have no connection at all to the material world outside the brain of the one having the experience. Color reversed after images are the classic example: you experience them, but there is nothing “there” that you are experiencing. We can certainly investigate the experience, but it has no “real” component.

      • Rob

        Exhausted dye molecules. Damn straight there’s a real component.

        • Michael W Busch

          Again, not outside of the nervous system of the person concerned.

          • greg1466

            And again, you’re saying we have no way to investigate things internal to the nervous system of the person concerned?

          • Michael W Busch

            Not at all. As I understood it, Machintelligence’s point was that there is a very large set of entirely real experiences that do not exist external to the brain of the person perceiving them – which is true. We can still measure them, but what is happening is not the same as what the person thinks is happening (unless they’re familiar with the artifact concerned).

      • Nate Frein

        I think optical illusions might be a better example. As Rob pointed out, there is a physical reason for afterimages.

        • Rob

          Are bugs in the system not a physical reason?

          • Nate Frein

            Not one external to the brain.

          • greg1466

            So you’re saying we have no way to investigate bugs internal to the brain?

          • Nate Frein

            Where did I say that?

          • Rob

            If it’s something we can measure externally, why does the location matter?

        • greg1466

          Even if optical illusions have no ‘physical’ cause, science can still investigate them simply by having independent experimenters reproduce the effects.

          • Nate Frein

            My interpretation of Machineintelligence’s comment and further discussion was to expand on your original post, not refute it.

      • greg1466

        Why does the experience have to have a connection to the material world outside of the brain? The brain is still part of the material world and able to be investigated. And color reversed images do have a connection to the material world outside of the brain. You can;t have a color reversed after image unless you have been staring at a color image that is outside of the brain. And as Rob mentioned, there is a physical cause to the effect.

  • Carol Lynn

    I’d rather have no purpose to my existence than go through eternity as some kind of immortal slavish worshipper with nothing to do but yell out, “Hosannah!” at regular intervals to placate an abusive deity. – shudder – Truly a fate worse than death.

  • Jeremy Shaffer

    The “science explains how the universe works, religion explains why it is and never shall they meet” is sort of like every escort mission that has been put in a video game in that, while it is meant to shield and preserve theistic believe and/ or theistic sensitivity
    from scientific findings, it fails due to the very thing it is meant to

  • Michael W Busch

    From consulting with the cosmologists I know at Stanford and Caltech, I have a consistent second opinion:

    “This is nonsense. There are a couple of anomalies in the Planck data, including a cold spot; but, they aren’t high-significance and there’s uncertainty in the foregrounds and other systematic errors.”

    What seems to have happened here is that Mersini-Houghton has looked at the Planck map and interpreted it as supporting her pet hypothesis, without properly accounting for the systematic uncertainties in the map – such as there being thermal radiation from dust in the solar system and the galactic plane between us and the cosmic microwave background that needs to be subtracted and is never subtracted perfectly. This isn’t “hard evidence” in any sense. This is “seeing what you want to see in the noise”.

    So, no, scientists have not detected gravitational pulls from other universes. Sorry.

    • Rain

      Thanks for looking into that.

      • Michael W Busch

        There is one positive thing: this isn’t the most crazy misunderstanding of the CMB data. A while back, someone claimed to have found circles in the CMB and connected this to their pet hypothesis. Except they were fitting noise and the “circles” they were claiming were just random fluctuations. This was demonstrated by an appropriate statistical calculation showing how the original claimants could have equally well said they saw squares, triangles, pentagrams, or smiley faces – when you are willing to accept noise as signal, you can find patterns in any sufficiently large data set.

        • invivoMark

          That “someone” was Roger Penrose – a really famous physicist, but also a really infamous crazy person.

          He’s gone off the deep end at some point in the last couple decades, and is obsessed with the idea that consciousness can be explained by the quantum states of neural microtubules – a bollocks claim that has no evidence at all to support it.

          • Michael W Busch

            That “someone” was Roger Penrose – a really famous physicist

            Yes, it was. And yes, Penrose has lately been advocating a large number of very nonsensical ideas. That doesn’t make him crazy. It makes him wrong.

          • invivoMark

            He’s sometimes so far gone that I mistakenly assume he’s won a Nobel. ;-)

  • Msironen

    I’m fairly confused as to what exactly is meant by “other universes” here.

    It cannot be a reference to a quantum multiverse since they cannot interact with us even through gravity; if they could, everything everywhere would pretty much instantly collapse into a black hole since there are infinite (or an _extremely_ large) number of them “right next to us”.

    If on the other hand it’s a reference to matter outside our observable universe (let’s call it our Hubble volume), the existence of such is so obvious it’s almost asinine. The idea that our Hubble volume is somehow singular is bizarre to the extreme and hasn’t been entertained by physicists for decades, at least.

    So basically this “news” only seems to be “news” to people who think there are “Ends here”-signs in space.

    • Psychotic Atheist

      Detecting additional universes through the study of the CMBR and the like has long been discussed in relation to such ideas as M-theory. It is to these kinds of universes that I am presuming they are referring.

      These would seem to be neither a ‘quantum multiverse’ nor ‘multiple Hubble volumes’.

      In any event, the news isn’t necessarily that extra universes exist, but that there is ‘hard evidence’ (as opposed to the theoretical underpinnings you give a brief account of) to support it. If indeed it really is hard evidence, as all I see are quotes from some physicists. There’s always some physicists who are willing to say quoteworthy things, so that really isn’t sufficient….

  • unbound55

    Seems to be a week of uncritically accepted reports. As the physicists here have pointed out, this is just a pet theory put out to the regular media with very little evidence to back up their notion.

    Also seeing the story about the conservative group claiming Republicans lie 3 times as often, when, in fact that news release was an analysis of how PolitiFact is part of the liberal conspiracy. With the twisting of their news release, Salon and others have successfully confirmed their suspicions.