Paul Davies


English Physicist, Author and Broadcaster, Professor at Arizona State University, Chair of SETI, Director of BEYOND: Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science

Author Quotes

Science can proceed only if the scientist adopts an essentially theological worldview... even the most atheistic scientist accepts as an act of faith the existence of a law-like order in nature that is at least in part comprehensible to us.

The language of chemistry simply does not mesh with that of biology. Chemistry is about substances and how they react, whereas biology appeals to concepts such as information and organisation. Informational narratives permeate biology.

There?s no doubt that the popularity of the multiverse is due to the fact that it superficially gives a ready explanation for why the universe is bio-friendly. Twenty years ago, people didn?t want to talk about this fine-tuning because they were embarrassed. It looked like the hand of a creator. Then along came the possibility of a multiverse, and suddenly they?re happy to talk about it because it looks like there?s a ready explanation. Only those universes in which there can be life get observed, and all the rest go unobserved. Notice, however, that it?s far from a complete explanation of existence. You still have to make a huge number of assumptions. You need a universe-generating mechanism to give you all these universes. You need a set of laws that can be scattered across these universes, distributed in some way, according to some algorithm. You?re no better off than saying there is an unexplained God. Even the scientific explanations for the universe are rooted in a particular type of theological thinking. They?re trying to explain the world by appealing to something outside of it. And I think the time has come to move beyond that. We can ? if we try hard enough ? come up with a complete explanation of existence from within the universe, without appealing to something mystical or magical lying beyond it. I think the scientists who are anti-God but appeal to unexplained sets of laws or an unexplained multiverse are just as much at fault as a naive theist who says there?s a mysterious, unexplained God.

Science is based on the assumption that the universe is thoroughly rational and logical at all levels. Miracles are not allowed. This implies that there should be reasons for the particular laws of nature that regulate the physical universe. Atheists claim that the laws exist reasonlessly and that the universe is ultimately absurd. As a scientist, I find this hard to accept. There must be an unchanging rational ground in which the logical, orderly nature of the universe is rooted. Is this rational ground like the timeless God of Augustine? Perhaps it is. But in any case, the law-like basis of the universe seems a more fruitful place for a dialogue between science and theology than focusing on the origin of the universe and the discredited notion of what happened before the Big Bang.

The laws [of physics]... seem themselves to be the product of exceedingly ingenious design.

There's no need to invoke anything supernatural in the origins of the universe or of life. I have never liked the idea of divine tinkering: for me it is much more inspiring to believe that a set of mathematical laws can be so clever as to bring all these things into being.

Science, we are repeatedly told, is the most reliable form of knowledge about the world because it is based on testable hypotheses. Religion, by contrast, is based on faith. The term ?doubting Thomas? well illustrates the difference. In science, a healthy skepticism is a professional necessity, whereas in religion, having belief without evidence is regarded as a virtue.

The living cell is the most complex system of its size known to mankind. Its host of specialized molecules, many found nowhere else but within living material, are themselves already enormously complex. They execute a dance of exquisite fidelity, orchestrated with breathtaking precision. Vastly more elaborate than the most complicated ballet, the dance of life encompasses countless molecular performers in synergetic coordination. Yet this is a dance with no sign of a choreographer. No intelligent supervisor, no mystic force, no conscious controlling agency swings the molecules into place at the right time, chooses the appropriate players, closes the links, uncouples the partners, moves them on. The dance of life is spontaneous, self-sustaining, and self-creating.

They are working for companies that make huge profits. Some get sick pay and some don't get sick pay but they all have the same size mops and buckets.

Scientists are slowly waking up to an inconvenient truth -- the universe looks suspiciously like a fix. The issue concerns the very laws of nature themselves. For 40 years, physicists and cosmologists have been quietly collecting examples of all too convenient "coincidences" and special features in the underlying laws of the universe that seem to be necessary in order for life, and hence conscious beings, to exist. Change any one of them and the consequences would be lethal. Fred Hoyle, the distinguished cosmologist, once said it was as if "a super- intellect has monkeyed with physics".

The origin of life and consciousness were not interventionist miracles, but nor were they stupendously improbable accidents. They were, I believe, part of the natural outworking of the laws of nature, and as such our existence as conscious enquiring beings springs ultimately from the bedrock of physical existence-those ingenious, felicitous laws. That is the sense in which I wrote in The Mind of God : ?We are truly meant to be here.? I mean ?we? in the sense of conscious beings, not Homo sapiens specifically. Thus although we are not at the center of the universe, human existence does have a powerful wider significance. Whatever the universe as a whole may be about, the scientific evidence suggests that we, in some limited yet ultimately still profound way, are an integral part of its purpose.

Things changed with the discovery of neutron stars and black holes - objects with gravitational fields so intense that dramatic space and time-warping effects occur.

Scientists have no agreed theory of the origin of life - plenty of scenarios, conjectures and just-so stories, but nothing with solid experimental support.

The origin of life is one of the great unsolved problems of science. Nobody knows how, where or when life originated. About all that is known for certain is that microbial life had established itself on Earth by about three and a half billion years ago. In the absence of hard evidence of what came before, there is plenty of scope for disagreement.

To expect alien technology to be just a few decades ahead of ours is too incredible to be taken seriously.

Searching for alternative life on Earth might seem misconceived, because there is excellent evidence that every kind of life so far studied evolved from a common ancestor that lived billions of years ago. Yet most of the life that exists on Earth has never been properly classified.

The popular image of mathematics as a collection of precise facts, linked together by well-defined logical paths is revealed to be false. There is randomness and hence uncertainty in mathematics, just as there is in physics.

Traditionally, scientists have treated the laws of physics as simply 'given,' elegant mathematical relationships that were somehow imprinted on the universe at its birth, and fixed thereafter. Inquiry into the origin and nature of the laws was not regarded as a proper part of science.

No planet is more earth-like than Earth itself, so if life really does pop up readily in earth-like conditions, then surely it should have arisen many times right here on our home planet? And how do we know it didn't? The truth is, nobody has looked.

Should we find a second form of life right here on our doorstep, we could be confident that life is a truly cosmic phenomenon. If so, there may well be sentient beings somewhere in the galaxy wondering, as do we, if they are not alone in the universe.

The position I have presented to you today is radically different. It is one that regards the universe, not as the plaything of a capricious Deity, but as a coherent, rational, elegant, and harmonious expression of a deep and purposeful meaning. I believe the time has now come for those theologians who share this vision to join me and my scientific colleagues to take the message to the people.

Until now, I've been writing about now as if it were literally an instant of time, but of course human faculties are not infinitely precise. It is simplistic to suppose that physical events and mental events march along exactly in step, with the stream of actual moments in the outside world and the stream of conscious awareness of them perfectly synchronized. The cinema industry depends on the phenomenon that what seems to us a movie is really a succession of still pictures, running at twenty-five [sic] frames per second. We don't notice the joins. Evidently the now of our conscious awareness stretches over at least 1/25 of a second. In fact, psychologists are convinced it can last a lot longer than that. Take he familiar tick-tock of the clock. Well, the clock doesn't go tick-tock at all; it goes tick-tick, every tick producing the same sound. It's just that our consciousness runs two successive ticks into a singe tick-tock experience?but only if the duration between ticks is less than about three seconds. A really bug pendulum clock just goes tock . . . tock . . . tock, whereas a bedside clock chatters away: ticktockticktock... Two to three seconds seems to be the duration over which our minds integrate sense data into a unitary experience, a fact reflected in the structure of human music and poetry.

Nobody can really object to the ?weak anthropic principle.? It just says that the laws and conditions of the universe must be consistent with life; otherwise, we wouldn?t be here. But if we combine it with the multiverse hypothesis, then we?re in business. The multiverse hypothesis says that what we?ve been calling the universe is nothing of the kind. It?s just a bubble, a little local region in a much vaster and more elaborate system called the multiverse. And the multiverse consists of lots of universes. There are different ways you can arrange this. One way is to have them scattered throughout space, and each universe would be a gigantic bubble, much bigger than the size of what we can see at the moment, but there would be many, many bubbles. And each of these bubbles would come with its own set of laws.

So how can we test the idea that the transition from nonlife to life is simple enough to happen repeatedly? The most obvious and straightforward way is to search for a second form of life on Earth. No planet is more Earth-like than Earth itself, so if the path to life is easy, then life should have started up many times over right here.

The problem with this neat separation into ?non-overlapping magisteria,? as Stephen Jay Gould described science and religion, is that science has its own faith-based belief system. All science proceeds on the assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible way. You couldn?t be a scientist if you thought the universe was a meaningless jumble of odds and ends haphazardly juxtaposed. When physicists probe to a deeper level of subatomic structure, or astronomers extend the reach of their instruments, they expect to encounter additional elegant mathematical order. And so far this faith has been justified.

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English Physicist, Author and Broadcaster, Professor at Arizona State University, Chair of SETI, Director of BEYOND: Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science