Monday, January 23, 2012

Honors Thesis Proposal Draft #1

Hi everyone!
Lately I have been working on my Honor's Thesis Proposal, and I thought some of you might enjoy seeing what I am up to! Unlike most of my other posts, this document is not directed towards the general public, but towards the scholarly community. Because of this, some of the things I talk about may be confusing. Hopefully it will still be a fun read.

Philosophy of Religion Concerning the Anthropic Principle as an Argument for the Existence of a Higher Being in Relation to Modern Scientific Discovery with an Emphasis on Cosmic Inflation Theory
by Joshua Willms

Argument and Analytical Approaches
Every philosophical argument starts out with and derives it’s strength from fundamental assumptions, or premises. Even if the logic that flows from the premises is sound, if the foundation is errant, then so are the conclusions. As such, I will begin by carrying my argument all the way back to it’s most fundamental assumptions, which I shall term Original Assumptions (Willms). Once a firm foundation has been laid, higher and higher ideas will be established, which will in turn become premises which will allow for further progress to be made. In this manner the best possible conclusions will be obtained.
My thesis shall have two purposes. The first will be to establish a framework from which truth can be determined based upon Original Assumptions. My work in this respect will be similar in spirit to the philosophy of Rene Descartes in his Discourse on Method, in which he attempted to establish fundamental principles which could be known beyond any doubt through the use of Methodological Skepticism (Copenhaver). I intend to improve upon his methods, specifically by introducing the concept of relative certainty. The second purpose will be to re-examine a single argument, the Anthropic Principle, from within this framework while taking into account current scientific discoveries. By establishing a solid foundation from the ground up and then incorporating the most recent information available, I intend to make the most up-to-date analysis of the Anthropic Principle as an argument for the existence of a higher being.
            There are many forms which the Anthropic Principle takes, including the Stong Anthropic Principle, the Weak Anthropic Principle, the Modified Anthropic Principle, and others. A brief summary of one version of the Anthropic Principle, the Fine-Tuning Argument, goes like this: Based upon the premises that there are a large (possibly infinite) number of values which fundamental parameters can take (an example of a value would be the gravitational constant) and only a small fraction of those values will allow for the existence of life, one could be led to the conclusion that a higher being purposefully set the values in order to allow for the existence of life. In the words of famous cosmologist Fred Hoyle with reference to the specific temperature range required within stars in order for the nucleosynthesis of Carbon (a pre-requisite for Carbon-based life) to be possible, “Would you not say to yourself, ‘Some super-calculating intellect must have designed the properties of the carbon atom, otherwise the chance of my finding such an atom through the blind forces of nature would be utterly minuscule.’ Of course you would . . . A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.” (Hoyle)
            Perhaps the greatest threat to the Fine Tuning Argument would be the existence of multiple universes, as suggested by physicists such as Steven Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow with reference to String Theory (or more recently, M-Theory) (Hawking and Mlodinow). If there exist an infinite number of universes, and the values within the fundamental parameters can vary from one universe to the next, then one would not be surprised at all that one, a few, or even many of the universes had the ability to support life. The existence of the multiverse is not the only way for multiple values to exist within fundamental parameters. According to quantum mechanics, and more specifically, Feynman Sum Over Histories, our universe alone may not have a single history (Feynman, The Space-Time Formulation of Nonrelativistic Quantum Mechanics). Rather, our universe has every possible history (and therefore, every possible value for every fitness parameter). Throughout the course of my thesis I hope to show that there exists meager scientific evidence for the multiverse (for how could one perform tests for the existence of something outside of our universe?), and that the scientific interpretations of Quantum Mechanics with a specific emphasis on Young’s Double Slit Experiment do not necessarily point towards the actual existence of every possible history for our universe (Feynman, The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Vol. 3).
            There does exist, however, another way for multiple values for fundamental parameters to be introduced within our universe alone. According to Cosmological Inflationary Theory, the early universe (from around 10−36 seconds after the big bang 10−33 seconds after the big bang) underwent a period of exponential expansion during which the volume of the universe increased by a factor of about 1078 (Obviously this would require the universe to be expanding faster than the speed of light, which can be allowed for due to the fabric of space-time expanding, rather than something like matter moving faster than light) (Mukhanov). Due to quantum fluctuations in matter during this period being inflated to cosmic sizes, and therefore significant differences is localized effects of gravity, it is possible for many different regions to form individual “bubbles” within the universe as a whole. If one can determine the number of bubbles which would have formed, and establish that differing values for fitness parameters exist within individual bubbles, one could effectively introduce the same solution for the Anthropic Principle as is proposed by the Multiverse (instead of there being a large number of universes, there are a large number of differing sections within a single universe) (Hawking and Mlodinow). The most important distinction between the objections raised by the Multiverse and Cosmic Inflation Theory is that Cosmic Inflation Theory is much more testable, seeing as it deals with things that exist inside of our own universe!
Obviously, that is not all that there is to determining the strength of the Anthropic Principle. One also needs to establish the following relationships: The relationship between the number of fitness parameters possible within our universe and the number of bubbles, and the relationship between the accuracy with which values for fitness parameters need to be ‘finely-tuned’ for life to exist and the number of bubbles. For example, if we have evidence for only, say, five separate bubbles within our universe, and there are millions of fitness parameters which need to be met to a high degree of accuracy, then the Anthropic Principle would lead us to conclude that an intelligent designer would be necessary for the existence of our universe. However, if there are an infinite number of bubbles within our universe, and the accuracy with which a finite number of values for specific fitness parameters is relatively low, then we would not be at all surprised that one, a few, or even many bubbles within our universe would support life.
Throughout the process of my thesis I plan to focus on evidence relating to Cosmic Inflation Theory. If it can be established that Cosmic Inflation Theory is an accurate description of our universe, and that there are in fact separate sections, or “bubbles,” within our universe, the next step will be to determine whether or not values for fitness parameters vary from bubble to bubble. Ideally, I would like establish to what degree the fitness parameters vary, but that may be asking for too much! If values for fitness parameters do vary between bubbles, I will then go on to estimate the number of bubbles within our universe. Once this value has been established, I will need to determine values for the other side of the relationship: The number of fitness parameters and the accuracy with which these parameters must be met in order for life to exist. Once I have gather all of this information, I will be able to make the best argument for or against the validity of the Anthropic Principle as an argument for the existence of a higher being with regards to Cosmic Inflation Theory.
It is important to note that the Anthropic Principle will not provide one with the ability to determine which God, god, or gods (for example, Allah, or YHWH) is the one (or ones) that exist. Rather, the Anthropic Prinicple has only the power to lead one to think that some sort of higher being, intelligent creator, or “Great One Who Monkey’s With Physics So That Life Can Survive” exists. The higher being would have the following characteristics: Outside of, apart from, or independent of the natural word (space-time, material, and energy), personal, purposeful, and having the ability to create the natural world. Throughout the thesis I will provide evidence for the necessity of each of these characteristics based upon implications of the Anthropic Principle and scientific evidence.
The evidence that I shall use will come from many fields, primarily philosophy, cosmology, physics, mathematics, metaphysics, and biology. It will be my job to analyze, interpret, and integrate the information from all of these fields into a single, cohesive case for or against the validity of the Anthropic Principle as an argument for the existence of a higher being.

Why My Project Matters

Many modern scientists, particularly theoretical physicists such as Steven Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, due to the inability of philosophers to keep up with the sciences, have made the claim that “Philosophy is dead” (Hawking and Mlodinow). Even non-scientist philosophers such as Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud have sought to destroy the objectivity of Philosophy (Suber). In addition, modern philosophers have admitted that philosophy is becoming increasingly bogged down in the relativistic nightmare of language and varying cultural backgrounds (Suber).
Philosophers are not the only ones in danger. In Hawking’s and Mlodinow’s recent book “The Grand Design,” Hawking and Mlodinow dismiss philosophy, but then turn around and make sweeping statements about the nature of reality, what ‘nothing’ is, and what ‘nothing’ can and cannot do, and simply define the supernatural as an impossibility. All of these statements are deeply rooted in philosophical presuppositions which they have failed to justify. The worst part is that they make basic errors in logic, which they would not have done had they been trained in philosophy. In addition, the famous Biologist Richard Dawkins has made great strides in the communication of evolutionary principles to the general public, but when he shifts his focus from science to philosophy in his book “The God Delusion,” he slips up and makes basic philosophical errors. Just as when Icarus’ wings of wax melted when he flew too close to the sun, scientists such as Hawking, Mlodinow, and Dawkins have accomplished great things in their respective fields, but fall into the sea when attempting to answer philosophical questions with science alone.
My project will demonstrate that without science, philosophy may well die. In addition, without philosophy, science will continue to be plagued by basic philosophical errors and fail to attain certain kinds of knowledge about the world which it so desperately seeks to describe. My project will unify science and philosophy concerning a particular argument for the existence of a higher being. Specifically, I will create a solid philosophical foundation which will validate the existence of a model-dependent reality, the basic reliability of senses, and logic. From there I will build up to reasons for the validity of mathematics and the scientific method. After this, I will be able to incorporate modern scientific discoveries into my philosophical framework, and provide answers to one of humanity’s most important questions. Philosophy and science need each other in order for accurate knowledge to be obtained about the nature of reality.
Possibly the most important innovation to the field of philosophy that I will introduce to the Realism vs. Anti-Realism debate is Model Dependent Realism. I will demonstrate the overall superiority of Model Dependent Realism as a foundation for every kind of knowledge, including one’s own existence and the validity of senses, logic, mathematics, and science. Then, once I have validated the use of science, I will draw from the most up-to-date data concerning the nature of the universe to draw conclusions concerning the Anthropic Principle.
Obviously an immense amount of effort will need to be exerted in order to re-define philosophy in such a way that modern scientific discoveries relating to cosmology, theoretical physics, mathematics, quantum mechanics, etc. can be incorporated into a cohesive argument. However, this is precisely what a philosopher must do if she intends to create a valid philosophical argument in the modern age dominated by scientific knowledge. Or, as pointed out by Hawking, understanding and integrating modern scientific discovery is exactly what philosophy needs in order for it to “catch up.”
I acknowledge that the scope of my project may need to be cut down in order to avoid biting off more than a single thesis can handle. As I learn more and continue the writing process, it should become clear exactly how much can be accomplished in this project alone.

Credentials, Skills, and Knowledge

I am pursuing a degree in Biology with a minor in Chemistry, which will allow me to understand the Anthropic Principle as it pertains to the parameters necessary for the existence of organic life. In addition, my background in science will help me to analyze, interpret, and integrate scholarly articles. Over the past four years I have acquainted myself with Philosophy, Philosophy of Religion, Metaphysics, Cosmology, Apologetics, Alternative Worldviews, Theology, History, Theoretical Physics, Quantum Mechanics, Relativity, the Nature of Time, and other fields. I have written over 80 short articles pertaining to these subjects in a blog I created to share my ideas. Perhaps the most important characteristic I bring to the table is an intense motivation to find answers to the questions I am asking, no matter how many difficult subjects I need to master. Even if I received no credit or recognition for what I am doing, I would continue down the path of learning I have chosen for myself due to curiosity and a passionate desire for knowledge.

            Due to the nature of the topics that I will be addressing, it will be quite difficult for anyone who is not intimately associated with at least philosophy, theoretical physics, cosmology, and perhaps relativity to understand my arguments. Individuals who are experts in one field may be unfamiliar with another. As such, a significant portion of the thesis will need to be directed towards education. Basic principles will be explained and key terms will be defined before they are used in arguments. I will also include a section on recommended reading for those who wish to obtain a better grasp of the subject material.

Schedule of Activities
            I intend to break my thesis into two phases, A and B. Phase A will pertain to the establishment of the philosophical foundation of my argument. Phase A will be broken down in the following way:
·         Phase A: Philosophical Foundation
1.      Realism vs. Anti-Realism
§  Establish Model Dependent Realism as a superior alternative
2.      Original Assumptions
§  My mind exists
§  My senses are basically reliable to describe my model of reality
§  Logic and reasoning are valid
3.      Use Original Assumptions to establish ways of obtaining higher-order knowledge
§  Mathematics (based upon logic)
§  The Scientific Method (based upon logic, and senses)
The second phase, Phase B, will pertain to the gathering, understanding, analyzing, interpreting, and integrating of scientific data and discoveries.
·         Phase B: Interpreting Science within the framework of Phase A
o   Explanation of the Anthropic Principle in general
o   Selection of specific arguments within the Anthropic Principal
o   List of possible scientific topics which must be understood and explained:
§  Cosmology/Theoretical Physics
·         Relativity
·         The nature of time
·         Cosmological Inflation Theory
·         M-Theory
·         The nature of light
§  Quantum Mechanics
·         Young Double-Slit Experiment
·         Feynman Sum Over Histories
§  Biology
·         Requirements for the existence of life
         Once both phases have been completed, I will be able to complete a comprehensive argument concerning the Anthropic Principle.

Copenhaver, Rebeccas. "Forms of Skepticism." Internet Archive: Wayback Machine. 23 January 2012 <>.
Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.
Descartes, Rene. Discourse on Method and Meditations. Trans. Laurence J. Lafleur. New york: The Liberal Arts Press, 1960.
Feynman, R. P. The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Vol. 3. USA: Addison-Wesley, 1965.
Feynman, R. P. "The Space-Time Formulation of Nonrelativistic Quantum Mechanics." Reviews of Modern Physics (1948): 367-387.
Hawking, Steven. A Brief History of Time. New York: Spark Pub, 2003.
Hawking, Steven and Leonard Mlodinow. The Grand Design. New York: Bantam, 2010.
Hoyle, Fred. "The Universe: Past and Present Reflections." Engineering and Science (1981): 8-12.
Keller, Timothy J. "The Cosmic Welcome Mat." Keller, Timothy J. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York: Dutton, 2008. 134-37.
Little, Paul E. Know Why You Believe. Chicago: Inter-Varsity, 1968.
Mukhanov, V. F. Physical Foundations of Cosmology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 2005.
Sproul, R. C. Defending Your Faith: An Introduction to Apologetics. Weaton, IL: Crossway, 2003.
Suber, Peter. "Is Philosohpy Dead?" The Earlhamite (1993): 12-14.
Willms, Joshua. "Fundamental Assumptions (Part II)." 5 June 2011. Honest Search for Truth. 20 January 2012 <>.

1 comment:

  1. It is good that you posted your draft online for us to read it. But, I wish you also posted the whole paper online. Your thesis proposal can really be a big help to other people who are also on the same field as you, and it can be a good source of information for other too. Anyway, you really have a good topic for your thesis. Which reminds me, have you already defended the paper?