why scientists should probably not be allowed to pass as philosophers, or, why the wsj should be more specific with its headlines

This little ditty from Stephen Hawking ruffled my feathers a little bit.

Look, I “know” Stephen Hawking is a “genius” (read: people tell me how smart he is because he made a device to let himself talk), but this just seems to be a shoddy, shoddy argument. I had the feeling it would be, too, when his point didn’t appear till the third last paragraph of the article.

Hawking starts with a cute anecdote about the viking mythology. Yeah, yeah, we get it, people didn’t know why certain things happened, so they made up stories about it, but now modern science (*said in the most reverential and awestruck tone*) has discovered the reason for those phenomena. Good and fine. No rational human being would deny that these myths must fade in the face of such evidence. Of course, also no rational human being would make the radical jump and assume that the evidence of modern science wipes away all “myths”, including religion itself.

Hawking then explains some ideas regarding the genesis of the universe, and how we humans are so great at exploring it, thinking about it, etc., but mostly explains how the universe is just so darn suited to human life, against very high odds that lif not exist. He offers the interesting notion of the “strong anthropic principle”, in which “the fact that we [human beings] exist imposes constraints, not just on our environment, but on the possible form and content of the laws of nature themselves.” Maybe I’m not interpreting this statement correctly, but it sure seems like Hawking is suggesting there’s some sort of conspiracy going on in the universe between our existence and the very laws of the universe itself. In other words, the laws of the universe are oddly suited to support life and, presumably, allow it to flourish. Sounds great! In fact, he does say this himself. The laws of nature “appear to have a design that is both tailor-made to support us and, if we are to exist, leaves [sic] little room for alteration.” He goes on to provide much evidence for just how improbable the genesis of this universe was, how if certain events did not happen at certain times, or if certain elements weighed anything different from what they did, life would not be possible.

Hawking seems to be on a reasonable course of action. He even poses the further relevant question raised by all this evidence in support of a “friendly” universe: “It [all this evidence] raises the natural question of why it [the universe] is that way.” In other words, the evidence points towards some sort of design, and if some sort of design, then a Designer.

Then we have his ASSERTION (nota bene: NOT argument) that intelligent design, in whatever way one wishes to formulate it, “is not the answer of modern science.” Instead, Hawking asserts, “as recent advances in cosmology suggest, the laws of gravity and quantum theory allow universes to appear spontaneously from nothing… It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”

Ok, ok, I understand that this article is an excerpt from the early part of a book he just released today, and that the whole point of the article is to whet your interest, but still, the man has made a bold assertion and has provided NO evidence in the article to back up his claim! In fact, he has done everything he can to show order, purpose, and telos in the universe, and yet has asserted the lack of a Designer. (I don’t even want to get into the idea of multiple universes, something I can’t begin to pretend to understand.) And yet he asserts the claim to the contrary of all the evidence he has provided. Yes, this must be his aim… now I’m going to want to go out and buy the book… grumble grumble… Even still, one, just ONE shred of evidence, or one short explanation of “recent advances in cosmology” would have been just wonderful. But we don’t get any of that. Maybe what I have the biggest beef with is that the article is titled “Why God Did Not Create The Universe,” without providing one actual shred of reason why in the article itself. Misleading.

Anyways, I guess I’ll read the book (I’m not going to buy it) if I get the chance and update this post. After initially being riled up, those further relevant questions have started popping up. Looking forward to entertaining them.

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One Response to why scientists should probably not be allowed to pass as philosophers, or, why the wsj should be more specific with its headlines

  1. James P. Cahill says:

    Yeah – Hawking kinda ticked me off with this one. I saw this and was like, “C’mon, Stephen, you’re too good for this Dawkins/Hitchins crap.” (I hesitate to only separate those two men with a slash, since Hitchins at least has integrity.)

    I too would like a shred of actual supporting scientific evidence for his claim of no creator or “fuse lighter.” Apparently singularities just sort of spontaneously explode. My question then, is how does a particle of zero volume and infinite density just come to exist? There had to be at least one to begin with. God may not have created the universe, but somehow, quite literally, everything got crammed into (or came to exist within) nothing. Sounds like a fairly divine task to me. A primordial black hole? Sounds a lot like the abyss in the beginning of Genesis. Just saying.

    The multiverse theory is fairly well accepted cosmology. I’ll buy the spontaneously exploding singularity theory (This may not be exactly what he’s saying but it’s as close as my not quite Einsteinean mind comes) – since it comes from Hawking (Who is a genius because he literally wrote the books on black holes, spacetime, and singularities) but you still have to start somewhere.

    His broader end point, however, is that we’re lucky in the sense that the UNIVERSE we live in is suited to allow life in the same way that the Earth is suited to allow life. In other words, we live in the Earth of universes as opposed to the Pluto of universes. Here he has a good point, though I’d like to see some hard science, and this certainly in no way disproves God.

    I suppose you could say given an infinite universe theory (DC comics did this too) that we would have to come to exist sooner or later, but its still a mathematical long shot.

    In either place (earth or universe) it’s a mathematical miracle we exist. God’s in the math, I just don’t think Hawking knows what he’s found quite yet.

    Remember our King Lear from Epstein? “Nothing will come of nothing.”

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