Friday, March 17, 2006

Suspect weak paper against Dembski

I wanted to flag up a paper that has been posted attempting to refute Dembski's idea of the universal probability boundary - only to knock it down.

The link is here, to a paper written by Bradley Monton, who is from the Department of Philosophy at the University of Kentucky. The paper is posted on the TalkReason website. Steve, who helpfully flagged up the article for me, also suggested the following summary:
1. Evidence suggests a certain cosmological theory of the universe is indeed true.
2. This theory suggests the universe is spatially infinite.
3. This would indicate an infinite number of particles.
4. Hence there is good reason to doubt Dembski's UPB.
It is worth pointing out that if this is indeed the sense of the paper (as it seems to me, as well), then it takes a lot of time to say not much at all.

Feel free to correct me if you know better, but I suspect that the problem with this paper is in the third step. Evidence has indeed suggested that the universe is spatially infinite. I think that what the researchers meant by this is that the amount of mass in the universe was too low, given its current rate of expansion, for gravity to overcome the rate of expansion - which means that the universe will go on expanding for ever.

What the person who wrote the paper thought this meant was simply that the universe was infinite. And if the universe was infinite (and not bounded), then it could contain an infinite number of particles. Which means that the number of particles specified by Dembski in calculating the universal probability boundary was too low - an infinite number of particles means that (for example) there must be an infinite number of examples of complex life in the universe.

However, the whole point about the research that was carried out was that the reason that the universe was considered to be infinite - expanding forever, and not collapsing on itself - was that the mass of the universe was established to be too low for it to contract again. In other words, there was a finite limit to the number of fundamental particles in the universe. So point 3 misunderstands the cosmological significance of the research that had been carried out - and in fact, completely reverses it.

I suggest that this be considered another way: if it was reasonable to derive from research that the mass of the universe was indeed infinite, then it wouldn't just make a journal: it would be front page news in daily newspapers - it would be a key result that would completely shape our understanding of the nature of the universe. If the author understood the science, then he would have realised this.

If it is indeed the case that the author has misunderstood the research in this way, then this paper is seriously flawed. If a creationist or a proponent of ID were to advance something which so fundamentally misunderstood a part of science, they would be roasted. Instead, this paper is dignified with a spot on the TalkReason website, and people continue to think that it constitutes a refutation of what Dembski has written.