Thursday, 2 September 2010

God: Hawking did not create the Universe

The headline occupies the lower centre of the front page of today's Times, in large print:
Hawking: God did not create Universe
and then in smaller print:
Britain's most eminent scientist rejects divine intervention
Now, at first reflection, one is tempted to substitute Stephen Hawking for Tony Blair in The Catholic Whistle's story of arrivals at the pearly gates, not intending thereby to be unpleasant to Stephen Hawking in any personal way, but rather to point out something of the view that he represents.  There is more substance to suggesting that Stephen Hawking is laying claim to God's seat than to the idea that Tony Blair occupies that chair!

The definiteness of some of the media reporting of Stephen Hawking's view is not necessarily accurate to the extract from his forthcoming book that appears in the Eureka supplement with today's Times. There are some interesting appearances of the word "if" in that extract. A comment on the notion of multiple universes (this is, if I recall correctly, derided by Stanley Jaki as the most un-scientific notion imaginable - science as science is not able to assert a notion such as this that is by its own definition beyond the possibility of empirical observation), is followed at the beginning of the next paragraph with "But if it is true ..." It is in paragraphs qualified by this "if it is true ..." that Stephen Hawking writes what is the subject of much of today's media coverage:
But just as Darwin and Wallace explained how the apparently miraculous design of living forms could appear without intervention by a supreme being, the multiverse concept can explain the fine-tuning of physical law without the need for a benevolent creator who made the Universe for our benefit....Spontaneous creation is the reason why the Universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the Universe going.
The last paragraph of the extract in Eureka is somewhat alike to the last paragraph of Stephen Hawking's book A Brief History of Time. Compare this, from A Brief History ..
However, if we do discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people, by able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason - for then we would know the mind of God.
to this from the extract in Eureka:
M-theory is the unified theory Einstein was hoping to find. The fact that we human beings .... have been able to come this close to an understanding of the laws governing us and our Universe is a great triumph. But perhaps the true miracle is that abstract considerations of logic lead to a unique theory that predicts and describes a vast Universe full of the amazing variety that we see. If the theory is confirmed by observation, it will be the successful conclusion of a search going back more than 3 000 years.

We will have found the grand design.
One of the lessons of science, particularly in the most recent stages of its history, is that the ultimate understanding for one generation is simply the launching point for the explorations of the next generation. Even at this level, the claim for M-theory that it might be the final step towards man's understanding of the Universe, whole and entire, is breathtakingly arrogant. And it is amusing to see the reference to "confirmed by observation" of a theory part of which is to suggest completely unobservable parallel universes.

But the key point on which the argument turns is that of "spontaneous creation", the idea that the Universe is in some way self-creating. This isn't actually that new an idea, and doesn't appear to me to be particularly linked to a new M-theory of everything. From the point of view of the scientists first proposing it, the idea of the anthropic principle (that our Universe is in some way very finely tuned to provide the conditions for reasoning observers to come to live in it) implicitly contained  an idea of a self-explaining universe, and it is but a small step to move from there to a self-creating Universe. [Some Christian apologists take up this idea of the anthropic principle and see it as supporting an idea of humankind's special place at the highest point in the order of the Universe. I think it can be understood in this way, and this is in some way a part of the insight contained in this principle. But we should recognise that, in understanding it in this way, Christian apologists are adding a sense of extrinsic meaningfulness, of directed purpose, that the original scientist proponents of the principle would not share.]

I had originally intended giving this post the title "I am, you are, but is Stephen Hawking?", meaning thereby to draw attention to the idea of being, the idea of existing rather than not existing, and the understanding of the idea of creation philosophically understood as having to do with the bringing into and sustaining of being as such. The history of the development of the physical/material aspect of being that is rightly the study of the physical sciences isn't able to touch on this question of creation, except through the mediation of a philosophy of being. The term "creation" as it is used by Stephen Hawking is therefore quite empty of meaning ... and, in reality, he isn't able to draw any real conclusion, one way or another, about the existence of a God who is the creator of the Universe. And that is even if his M-theory is true ....

Further comment: at Musings of a Pertinacious Papist and The Telegraph.

3 comments:

Francis said...

Hi, Joe. I haven't followed this story too closely but from what I have observed in more measured/informed discussions - and as you with your usual careful reading identify in your post- it seems that the Press seems to be overlooking the 'if' in Hawkings' latest work. I wonder how they would present the story if he had said that his study of maths proved that there must be a God?

Besides, saying that God wasn't NECESSARY (sorry to use capitals: can't get the HTML tags for italics to work) for the universe to come into being isn't the same as saying that God doesn't exist or that he didn't create the universe: only that it wasn't necessary for him to create it.

There might have been two ways for the universe to come into existence: spontaneously or by divine will.

God might have created the mathematical laws that meant that a universe could come into being spontaneously (Hmm..I wonder what the power relationship is between an omnipotent God and the iron laws of mathematics?)

He might exist but not have created the universe.

There again, saying that God created the universe doesn't necessarily mean that he is the type of personal God of Abraham, Issac and Israel...or that there was just one god and not a team working on the project...or even that he is still alive.

Is M theory the same as string theory?

Joe said...

Francis:

Working in reverse: no idea what M-theory is, though the coverage seems to suggest that it is a version of/derived from string theory .... Way beyond my pay grade and the antiquity of my undergraduate studies .... but it sounds important doesn't it?

Most arguments for the existence of God are based on reasoning from the existence of the world, or of features of that world, to the existence of God. Catholic teaching insists on the possibility of this, though it does not insist that every individual will come to believe in God in this way (hence the need for God to reveal himself to Abraham, Isaac etc). This would be a basis for saying that, if you do accept an argument for God's creating the Universe, then you are likely also to accept His continuing existence ...

The coverage in the Times the next day clearly and overwhelmingly showed an editorial line in favour of God's non-existence. It included a lead article rather praising Stephen Hawking's two penny-worth. I thought it enshrined irrationality.

Fortunately, the Times did not quite feel ready to print its obituary of God. I think they get these things ready ahead of time, but I did turn the pages with a certain expectation that they would have printed one yesterday.

philalethe said...

It's very sad -for those who perpetrate it and the gullible who trust in them- to see mere speculation in theoretical physics being glorified once again in the name of the goddess of science. It has happened a lot of times really during the last 2 to 3 centuries, but the followers of scientism and positivism just won't mend their mentalities... :-)

Of course, it has to be said that Christianity at its authenticity(Orthodox Fathers, e.g. :-) ) and people such as Schroedinger (because the theory talks about and is based upon a quantum vacuum ,correct?), Kant, Wittgenstein, have always accepted that knowledge of created and knowledge of the Uncreated are irrelevant to one another. A saint knows the lives of his visitors and their sins, virtues, drawbacks etc. through information he obtains from the Spirit. A scientist observes the physical environment and space and then he speculates and creates theories. It's really simple, isn't it?

And as I live in northern Europe, I would like to ask, why is Hawking considered so important as a theorist? Has he had any important contribution? It's different being a "populariser", of course...

A great "thank you" a priori. :-)