A week or so ago I wrote up as an April Fool’s joke a posting claiming that the Stanford theoretical physics group was joining a new Templeton foundation devoted to religion and science. At the time I had no idea of the degree to which Templeton-funded pseudo-science has infected mainstream cosmology. This joke turned out to be much closer to reality than I had imagined. In my quick research before writing it, I had missed the fact that the Templeton Foundation two years ago organized a symposium at Stanford on the topic of Universe or Multiverse?. The participants, presumably funded by Templeton, included a large fraction of the senior Stanford ITP faculty (Dimopoulos, Kallosh, Linde, Susskind). Someone also wrote to me to tell me that Gerald Cleaver had spent a sizable amount of time at Stanford at Susskind’s invitation, something I was completely unaware of when I picked him to co-direct the Templeton institute with Susskind. Finally, Mark Trodden reported in the comment section that “When I was out at LCWS04 at Stanford a couple of weeks ago I was dismayed to find out that there was a Templeton conference going on at the same time and that a number of prominent people were attending it rather than LCWS04.”
One of the other attendees at the Templeton conference was Alexander Vilenkin, and yesterday Lubos Motl had a report on Vilenkin’s talk at Harvard on “Probabilities in the Landscape”. Lubos explains in some detail what a load of pseudo-scientific nonsense this all is, and I’m in complete agreement with him, down to his last paragraph about how “Finally, I am sure that various people who have a similar opinion about the anthropic thinking will use this admitted frustration as a weapon against string theory.” Certainly. By the way, Vilenkin’s research is funded by a Templeton grant.
It seems that Cambridge University Press will be publishing a volume this year also entitled “Universe or Multiverse?” based on the Stanford symposium. It’s being edited by Bernard Carr, a professor of Mathematics and Astronomy at Queen Mary College in London. He’s the recipient of a Templeton grant for a project entitled “Fundamental Physics, Cosmology and the Problem of our Existence”. When he’s not working on cosmology and religion, he is President of the Society for Psychical Research, which investigates poltergeists, parapsychology, survival after death, etc. You couldn’t make this stuff up. “Universe or Multiverse?” will include as least one sensible article, Lee Smolin’s Scientific Alternatives to the Anthropic Principle, which explains clearly why the Anthropic Principle is not science.
Another participant in the Stanford symposium was Robin Collins, and he’s contributing an article on “A Theistic Perspective on the Multiverse Hypothesis” to the Cambridge volume. He’s supported by the Center for Science and Culture of the Discovery Institute, a right-wing organization dedicated to promoting “Intelligent Design” research. The Discovery Institute has just started up a new weblog devoted to Intelligent Design called Intelligent Design The Future which has drawn scorn from (among others) Sean Carroll and Jacques Distler. Jacques claims to have fallen off his chair laughing at this posting with its claim that “mainstream physics is now quite comfortable with design in cosmology” and question “Why should inferring design from the evidence of cosmology be scientifically respectable, but inferring design from the evidence of biology be scientifically disreputable?”, but again I’m with Lubos that this is not funny. Actually it’s scary.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that the theory of evolution is under concerted and well-funded attack in the United States by a wide array of religious fanatics and pseudo-scientists, who are doing everything they can to stop the teaching of evolution in US schools and promote the pseudo-science of Intelligent Design. This is a fight that scientists need to join, but the extent to which pseudo-science has already infected mainstream physics and cosmology is becoming dangerous and is going to make it very difficult to effectively answer the Intelligent Designers. Susskind is giving a talk at Brown soon entitled The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design. Unless he’s gotten even crazier than I would have imagined, I guess he’ll be claiming that the string theory landscape/anthropic principle stuff he has been pushing only appears to support Intelligent Design. Behind it all is not an intelligent designer, but a wonderful physical theory called string theory. But the reason Intelligent Design is pseudo-science is that it is a non-predictive framework. It doesn’t predict anything, so you can’t test it and show that it is wrong. This is exactly the situation that string theory is in these days, and, for the life of me, I have no idea what response physicists can now honestly make to someone who says: “Look, you have a non-predictive framework involving a very complicated and incomplete mathematical structure that you believe for emotional and sociological reasons. I’ve got a different non-predictive framework tracing everything back to an Intelligent Designer, and I think mine makes more sense than yours.”