Hawking at it again!

by Brian 11. September 2010 23:31

The combination of ABC’s Nick Watt and master physicist Stephen Hawking the other night was about as disappointing as it gets within mainstream television news. I’ve witnessed a pattern on ABC going back to Peter Jennings. They appear to have an anti-religious and especially an anti-Christian agenda – perhaps fodder for a future post. We see evidence of this once again, just a few months after a similarly specious interview. As for Stephen Hawking's latest comments, I respectfully suggest he is looking to go out with a big bang of controversy or his mind is quickly approaching maximum entropy. Hawking has coauthored a soon-to-be-released book with Leonard Mlodinow called The Grand Design and makes some astonishing, if not outlandish statements – such as:

"It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going…because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.”

Oh Really? What happened to the 2500 year-old metaphysical principle of ex nihilo nihil fit (from nothing, nothing comes) and what is this new theory conveniently called spontaneous creation? Did Hawking discover something recently to wipe away one of the surest and most fundamental axioms of ontology? Of course not! I heard nothing mentioned in Nick’s interview or any other news save for the dubious M-theory which has been around for years. Nick Watt even sums up his piece with Hawking by saying “It may take years, generations, centuries perhaps, for scientists to test Hawking’s theory that our world was created by physics alone.” That hardly sounds convincing. Hawking most likely; and other proponents commenting on this topic most certainly; offer nothing more than a thought experiment. Real nothingness remains impotent.

Hawking appears to be offering the metascientific idea of a First Law preceding the universe. But this is fraught with problems. First of all, scientists ought to reject ad hoc or prodigal explanations that cannot be verified – whether we speak of multiverses, mother-universes or Physics as a first-cause. Second, an ontologically-prior Law spontaneously generating a rich, complex and fine-tuned universe suitable for conscious life is so pregnant with telic implication one can only be disingenuous to offer the idea within a naturalistic framework. This may be why Hawking also throws out Einsteinian versions of God like Intelligence or Sagan’s Cosmos. If we just capitalize the first letter then all is well. It reminds me of scientists who recognize the mathematical difficulties of abiogenesis on Earth, so they push the problem further into space by suggesting life on Earth was seeded. Same deal here…heaven forbid the first-cause is God, so let’s suggest Physics instead. It used to be God or the Universe as the eternal Alpha. Now we know the universe began to exist, so Hawking leaves us with the choices of God or Physics - and he chooses Physics. Deconstructing what is really going on here...

Hawking, just prior to the release of his new book, joins the irreligious team at ABC to offer a few teasers from his forthcoming bestseller. Robin of ABC introduces Hawking as the physicist who “has been called the smartest man in the world.” Nick goes on to refer to Hawking as “our world’s most famous scientist,” obviously referring to ‘living’ scientist. Nick says, “Hawking has no need for God.” Hawking says, “God is unnecessary,” and “there was no hand of God” at the beginning. He goes on to say, “The laws of physics can explain the universe without the need for a creator. “ So, according to the master scientist, the universe began to exist for no other reason and by no other cause than…wait for it…wait for it…Physics! Nick smiles looking forward to a few beers with his infidels.org buddies and Hawking smiles because he's in the limelight and book sales are promising.

All joking aside, allow me to conclude with the facts all sides of the debate should be able to agree upon:

1.    Nothing substantive has been offered as an explanation for Hawking’s new pronouncement. Yet ABC promotes spontaneous self-creation and the non-necessity of God as if it were the sort of thing smart physicists believe.

2.   Even if Hawking does lay out a theory of everything where the universe creates itself out of nothing, it’s unlikely to be confirmed by science. More likely; what will be offered by Hawking, if anything, will be a metaphysical principle, and will need to be dealt with by philosophers of whom Hawking is hardly qualified.

3.   The idea of simply capitalizing the first letter of physics, laws of nature, gravity, etc., offers no explanation whatsoever as to the first cause of the universe. Something more has to be offered and by Hawking’s own self-imposed standard for truth, a scientific explanation - one that is verifiable and falsifiable. Of course neither of which is likely considering we are talking about a 13.7 billion year old singularity.

Supporting links:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1308599/Stephen-Hawking-wrong-You-explain-universe-God.html
http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5887

Edge of Evolution

by Brian 7. August 2010 21:40

I recently finished The Edge of Evolution by the author of Darwin’s Black Box, Michael Behe. Although I enjoyed the book and learned more about the debate; Behe will appear to readers to have wandered further into no man's land between literal Creationism and neo-Darwinism. As such, I suspect he will not find much company there. I say this realizing full well Intelligent Design (ID) from a theoretical standpoint is agnostic regarding the Designer and therefore wandering from Creationism is somewhat of a non sequitur. We have to remember the theory itself is coincidental to Behe’s theology, and his Christianity. Dembski’s explanatory filter, a core component of ID, is a mathematical approach to detecting design causation. We use it all of the time without even thinking about it. It’s when the filter is applied to microbiology things get dicey - and that is what ID proponents like Behe are trying to unravel. When skeptics conjoin ID and Creationism, the debate gets muddled – and that is what the critics are doing.

I went online to find a single reasonable critical review of the book and was disappointed by all of the ad hominem rubbish out there. As much as I don’t care for Dawkins, his review was the best I could find, and it was poor to say the least. The bottom line: There are gaps in the Darwinian synthesis. Darwinists say Behe appeals to God, and they appeal to current evidence and future scientific discovery. Behe appeals to probabilities too insurmountable for current Darwinian mechanisms to ever overcome, and says Darwinists wave-off the problem with “just-so” stories. Apart from Behe appealing to God (which he does not do in this book), both sides show verisimilitude. I just wish Darwinists would put forth a well-argued critique of work like Behe's instead of mere bad-mouthing.

Behe’s book read like a slight retreat from "Black Box" by moving the beachhead a little closer to orthodox Darwinism. I think everyone was a bit surprised by his position on common descent which is clearly more at home with Darwinists than many ID supporters. For those open to theology where the Creator front-loads design at the singularity, Behe’s view is workable. But integrating such a theology into the Christian worldview is not trivial. Where do material processes stop and design start? Behe tries to answer this question in the book by looking at real-world examples of evolution in action and showing how ineffectual material mechanisms are in obtaining significant change. His arguments are forceful, but not conclusive in my opinion. The real theological challenge remains open for Christians like myself. Where does episodic-supernaturalism end and God’s creative unfolding process begin.

 

Kagin's Corner

by Brian 24. July 2010 18:42

I recently watched an ABC news video showing Edwin Kagin performing de-baptisms with a hair dryer labeled “Truth and Reason.” Just when I was about to dismiss this guy’s theatrics, a couple of his comments caught my attention. When he was asked why his form of activism uses such offensive mockery, Kagin replied: “Atheists have no chance of prevailing in a direct confrontation” because “there are just too many [believers.]”

What does Kagin mean by prevailing? Does he mean: to triumph in the battle of ideas so that atheism becomes the predominate worldview? If this is what he means, surely Truth and Reason ought to be the focus instead of mockery and theatrics. But maybe Kagin is right when he says, atheists have no chance. He and others like him would say truth and reason are not given the opportunity to prevail. I’m sure Kagin thinks that if believers would only drop their dogma and listen, then atheists would have a chance. But if this were his view, it would be out of touch with reality and a convenient excuse to opt out of the discussion.

 

Where do you think Kagin might look for truth and reason – in academia? In the last forty or so years; theism has seen a radical resurgence within philosophy departments in academia. The April 8, 1966 Time Magazine article describing the death of God movement in contemporary theology was close to a low point. Since then, theism has been on the rise.

So perhaps Kagin believes truth and reason would be found in dialog and debate amongst the highly educated. Yet one only need watch the debate between William Lane Craig (a top Christian philosopher) and Christopher Hitchens (one of atheism’s leading spokespersons) to see the disparity. Kagin would like you to think truth and reason are on his side, but he’ll have to do a lot better than a sticker on the side of a blow dryer.

Kagin’s second comment worth noting was leveled at believers at the end of the interview. He said: “Why are they [believers] the least bit concerned by some little old atheist mocking them?” and his answer… “The reason they are worried and concerned is the deep fear that if everyone doesn’t believe it [what believers believe], maybe it isn’t so.” Now that’s interesting. Surely we Christians have no good reason to find a de-baptism offensive, but rather our worry and concern stems from lack of certainty - or so Kagin would like you to think. Yet I always found the more defensive a person is, the more likely they are to resort to mockery and insults.  

Now that Christopher Hitchen’s cancer is public knowledge, in all of the comments and discussions from Christians I’ve noted, prayer for Hitchens recovery is the central focus – not mockery. This kind of response comes from individuals who are confident in the hope they have; not from insecurity. Perhaps if Kagin followed the advice labeled on the other side of his blow dryer he might better understand believers – it read explore and learn.

About the author

I am a Christian, husband, father of two daughters, a partner and lead architect of EasyTerritory, armchair apologist and philosopher, writer of hand-crafted electronic music, avid kiteboarder and a kid around anything that flies (rockets, planes, copters, boomerangs)

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