Hawking’s grand design – lessons for apologists?

I managed to get my own copy of  The Grand Design (co-authored by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow) the other day. Talk about luck. I was on one of my rare visits to the big smoke and inquired at Borders. It had just come in that day and wasn’t yet on the shelves!


Victor Stenger


Obviously I won’t comment in depth until I have read the book. I get the impression that I may find the discussions of philosophy more interesting then the physics, though. And I guess it is the philosophical aspects of the book which have provoked the most criticism, or at least the theological criticism. (Mathematicians and physicists like Peter Woit, of course are making their criticisms – but hardly making the newspapers with them – see for example Hawking gives up).

However, I am aware the Victor Stenger is reviewing the book and look forward to his views. He has some standing in cosmology and philosophy, and his writing in these areas are excellent.

So far he has made only limited comments based on other reviews (see Hawking and the Multiverse). I feel he makes an important, point in his conclusion. It does seem obvious to me, but then again the extreme theological reaction to news of the book suggests it may not be to some others. Victor says:

So, at least according to the reviews, Hawking and Mlodinow haven’t said much that physicists and cosmologists haven’t already heard before. However, thanks to Hawking’s notoriety, at least more people will now have heard that science has plausible answers to how the universe came about naturally without the need for a creator. Hopefully this will include those theologians and apologists who continue to wrongfully insist that modern science has demonstrated a need for God.

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8 responses to “Hawking’s grand design – lessons for apologists?

  1. Not surprisingly, I like this bit from Woit:

    One thing that is sure to generate sales for a book of this kind is to somehow drag in religion. The book’s rather conventional claim that “God is unnecessary” for explaining physics and early universe cosmology has provided a lot of publicity for the book. I’m in favor of naturalism and leaving God out of physics as much as the next person, but if you’re the sort who wants to go to battle in the science/religion wars, why you would choose to take up such a dubious weapon as M-theory mystifies me. A British journalist contacted me about this recently and we talked about M-theory and its problems. She wanted me to comment on whether physicists doing this sort of thing are relying upon “faith” in much the same way as religious believers. I stuck to my standard refusal to get into such discussions, but, thinking about it, have to admit that the kind of pseudo-science going on here and being promoted in this book isn’t obviously any better than the faith-based explanations of how the world works favored by conventional religions.

  2. Not completely surprising – but are you perhaps conceding with “isn’t obviously any better than the faith-based explanations of how the world works favored by conventional religions.”

    But, I agree, one doesn’t have to get into speculative string theory to recognise that gods are no longer required to explain reality.

  3. Yes, that’s your take – not surprising either.

  4. one doesn’t have to get into speculative string theory to recognise that gods are no longer required to explain reality

    IMHO the current state of knowledge on ultimate causality neither requires nor excludes “gods”. But if evidence of any gods should turn up, I think warrants for their arrest might be in order.


  5. Udaybhanu Chitrakar

    Philosophy is dead. Is Logic dead also?

    How did the scientists come to know that an entire universe could come out of nothing? Or, how did they come to know that anything at all could come out of nothing? Were they present at that moment when the universe was being born? As they were not present there, therefore they did not get that idea from the creation event. Rather they got this idea being present here on this very earth. They have created a vacuum artificially, and then they have observed that virtual particles (electron-positron pairs) are still appearing spontaneously out of that vacuum and then disappearing again. From that observation they have first speculated, and then ultimately theorized, that an entire universe could also come out of nothing. But here their entire logic is flawed. These scientists are all born and brought up within the Christian tradition. Maybe they have downright rejected the Christian world-view, but they cannot say that they are all ignorant of that world-view. According to that world-view God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent. So as per Christian belief-system, and not only as per Christian belief-system, but as per other belief-systems also, God is everywhere. So when these scientists are saying that the void is a real void, God is already dead and non-existent for them. But these scientists know very well that non-existence of God will not be finally established until and unless it is shown that the origin of the universe can also be explained without invoking God. Creation event is the ultimate event where God will have to be made redundant, and if that can be done then that will prove beyond any reasonable doubt that God does not exist. So how have they accomplished that job, the job of making God redundant in case of creation event? These were the steps:
    1) God is non-existent, and so, the void is a real void. Without the pre-supposition that God does not exist, it cannot be concluded that the void is a real void.
    2) As virtual particles can originate from the void, so also the entire universe. Our universe has actually originated from the void due to a quantum fluctuation in it.
    3) This shows that God was not necessary to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going, as because there was no creation event.
    4) This further shows that God does not exist.
    So here what is to be proved has been proved based on the assumption that it has already been proved. Philosophy is dead for these scientists. Is it that logic is also dead for them?

  6. Richard Christie

    Udaybhanu Chitrakar, since you appear to be appealing to logic….
    what’s underneath YOUR turtle?

  7. Udaybhanu, how about a bit of logic, and perhaps more importantly honesty, from you.

    Who the hell says that scientists know that our universe came from nothing? At this stage these are only hypotheses – which rely on some ideas that have yet to be confirmed.

    And the fact is that probably most cosmologists these days favor hypotheses of formation from a previous universe – although that doesn’t necessarily change the idea that the net mass/energy of the universe remains at zero.

    As for philosophy being dead – well that’s true of the old religious philosophy . But modern scientific philosophy is very much alive – but of course ignored by theists. Yes “philosophy” is dead in the same way as the king is dead – long live the king.

    You have misrepresented the scientific process. And you ignore the fact that religion has never been able to produce credible knowledge on these matters – only myths.

    If we ever do develop a reliable and accurate description of the formation of universes it will be as a result if scientific work. Honest objective work. Not religion.

    “God did it” has never explained anything.

  8. How did the scientists come to know that blah, blah, blah…Or, how did they come to know that blah, blah, blah?

    Behold! A strawman is formed before our very eyes.
    Those pesky unknown scientists with their silly ideas made from straw.

    Were they present at that moment when the universe was being born?

    Dumber than a bag of hammers. This is prime Ken Ham material with his whole “were you there?” shtick.

    Things happen.
    Things happen…even though you personally are not there to directly witness them.
    Science is the study of reality. Science gives us tools to study how things happen in reality…even when (shock, gasp) there’s nobody around to take notes.

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