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.

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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.

Hawking Disappoints

by Brian 12. June 2010 17:12

Diane Sawyer interviewed one of the renowned contemporary physicists of our day during the ABC Nightly news this week. Due to ALS, Stephen Hawking PhD had to answer Diane through his cheek-controlled speech synthesizer. What an opportunity! I’m sure millions of viewers were poised to hear what the master-scientist had to say about life, the universe, and everything. When asked about the biggest mystery he would like solved, Hawking replied: “I want to know why the universe exists, why there is something greater than nothing.” A perfect start to a perfect interview! – So I thought. Hawking started with with one of the greatest metaphysical questions. As Leibniz said, “nothing exists and nothing happens without a reason why it is so, and not otherwise.” Since the universe began to exist, it does seem fitting to ask “why” it came into being rather than to merely assume its existence as brute fact. So how might Hawking enlighten us here?

Unfortunately he didn’t as the interview proceeded off the edge of a cliff into utter irrelevance and deceptiveness. Hawking continued:

“There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, [and] science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works.”

When considering the metaphysical challenge “why is there something rather than nothing” Hawking says we are to assume two approaches: religion or science. Wait a minute; I thought metaphysics was one of the main branches of philosophy – not science or religion. Science may help see the problem from the bottom-up and religion may help to see it from the top-down; but ultimately this is a philosophical question. Here is what I think Hawking should have said, Christianity somewhat aside:

“Science will never on its own be able to answer ‘why’ something exists rather than nothing. But if a Creator exists, He would be in an authoritative position to answer the question of ‘why.’ We should seek to find this Authority, and if He can be found, then seek to know Him.”

Hawking is a physicist – not a theologian or philosopher. Asking him about the great metaphysical questions of reality, or his views on science versus religion, is like asking Kobe Bryant to play in the World Cup. He would probably do a better job than your average Joe, but frankly, is not qualified. However John Polkinghorne, former professor of Mathematical Physics at Cambridge; Anglican priest; former president of Queen’s College; and winner of the Templeton Prize in 2002, is qualified – at least by comparison. What does Polkinghorne say about the so-called conflict between science and religion?

We must take account of what science has to tell us about the pattern and history of the physical world in which we live. Of course, science itself can no more dictate to religion what it is to believe than religion can prescribe for science what the outcome of its inquiry is to be. The two disciplines are concerned with the exploration of different aspects of human experience: in the one case, our impersonal encounter with a physical world that we transcend; in the other, our personal encounter with the One who transcends us. They use different methods: in the one case, the experimental procedure of putting matters to the test; in the other, the commitment of trust which must underlie all personal encounter, whether between ourselves or with the reality of God. They ask different questions: in the one case, how things happen, by what process?; in the other, why things happen, to what purpose? Though these are two different questions, yet, the ways we answer them must bear some consonant relationship to each other.

Polkinghorne has written much on the consonant relationship between science and religion. He describes one objective World unmoved by our interpretation. Science is able to peer into the World as well as religion.  As a critical realist, Polkinghorne takes issue with the idea:  What is – is reduced to the question of how we know what is.” Yet Hawking seems to fall right into this fallacious trap. He appears to think as Edward Weiler that if you know ‘how’ something works, then you necessarily can answer the questions of ‘why.’ But as I said, Hawking is simply unqualified and can offer us little more than his opinion.

The world would have been far better served if Diane had interviewed John Polkinghorne instead of Stephen Hawking. If asked whether or not science will win over religion, he might have responded as he has in similar interviews with one of his favorite quotations from a great Thomist thinker of the last century, Bernard Lonergan. He once said this: 'God is the all sufficient explanation, the eternal rapture glimpsed in every Archimedean cry of eureka'. And conclude: “The search for understanding, which is so natural to a scientist, is, in the end, the search for God. That is how religion will continue to flourish in this Age of Science.”


About the author

I am a Christian, husband, father of two daughters, an owner of ISC, lead architect of MapDotNet, armchair apologist and philosopher, writer of hand-crafted electronic music, and a kid around anything that flies (rockets, planes, copters, boomerangs, hot air baloons, lawn furniture)

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