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Barr on Hawking


As regular readers of this blog know, Stephen Barr is no friend of ID.  But here he gets it right on Hawking’s recent foray into theology.  A sample:

Physics scenarios and theories are merely mathematical stories. They may be fictional or describe some reality. And just as the words of a book by themselves can’t tell you whether it’s fact or fiction—let alone have the power to make the world they describe real—so with the equations of a physics scenario. As Hawking once understood, equations may turn out to be an accurate description of some reality, but cannot not confer reality on the things they describe.

What Hawking called in his previous book the “usual approach of science” is in fact the only genuinely scientific approach. From the time Hawking wrote that earlier book until now, nothing has changed in this regard: theories of physics are still “just sets of rules and equations.”

There are two answers to the question: “Why does anything exist rather than nothing at all?” The atheist answers, “There is no explanation.” The theist replies, God. An intelligent case can be made for either answer. But to say that the laws of physics alone answer it is the purest nonsense—as Hawking himself once realized.

Hawking gave the game away with this quote that in response to this question from Larry King at the beginning of the video: King: "If you could time travel would you go forward or backward?" Hawking: "I would go forward and find if M-theory is indeed the theory of everything." King and others; "Quietly laugh" So here we have Hawking making sweeping claims with a theory that, by his own admission, is not even shown to be true in the first place: This Blog has a excellent take on Hawking's book by a Professor of Mathematical Physics who is no friend of string theory or of its dubious step-child of M-theory: Not Even Wrong - Hawking Gives Up by Peter Woit - a mathematical physicist at Columbia University. Excerpt: 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. http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=3141 The preceding blog has links to other criticisms such as this one: Stephen Hawking says there's no theory of everything Excerpt: This multiplicity of distinct theories prompts the authors to declare that the only way to understand reality is to employ a philosophy called "model-dependent realism". Having declared that "philosophy is dead", the authors unwittingly develop a theory familiar to philosophers since the 1980s, namely "perspectivalism". This radical theory holds that there doesn't exist, even in principle, a single comprehensive theory of the universe. Instead, science offers many incomplete windows onto a common reality, one no more "true" than another. In the authors' hands this position bleeds into an alarming anti-realism: not only does science fail to provide a single description of reality, they say, there is no theory-independent reality at all. If either stance is correct, one shouldn't expect to find a final unifying theory like M-theory - only a bunch of separate and sometimes overlapping windows. So I was surprised when the authors began to advocate M-theory. But it turns out they were unconventionally referring to the patchwork of string theories as "M-theory" too, in addition to the hypothetical ultimate theory about which they remain agnostic. M-theory in either sense is far from complete. But that doesn't stop the authors from asserting that it explains the mysteries of existence: http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/culturelab/2010/09/stephen-hawking-says-theres-no-theory-of-everything.html bornagain77
I read the transcripts of Hawking and Mlodinow's statements on yesterday's Larry King Live show. I was hoping they could answer some of the questions that you, I and nearly everyone else has. Well, I will quote them here and add some comments to each and hopefully this will bring some further understanding of the issues. Mlodinow “According to quantum theory, there is no such thing as nothingness. You can have nothingness in quantum theory. But from that, things will arise. You'll pop into existence and out of existence again.” As you can see, Mlodinow has a difficult time being consistent with his application of the word "nothingness". First there is no such thing. Then in the very next sentence, nothingness exists. Then in the next sentence, "things" arise from such nothingness. This is partially true, if one defines "nothingness" to be a vacuum. It is known and confirmed, that in a vacuum, virtual particles appear and disappear. However, both the vacuum and the particles depend on already existing natural laws to exist. In other words, if there is no vacumm, there would be no virtual particles. In this sense, something most certainly is not coming from nothing, since a vacuum is a contingent "something". Mlodinow "“So there's nothing, but nothing is not stable. Things come and go from nothingness.”" Again, a real inconsistency here. Nothingness having some additional quality of "not stable", from which things (universes?) come and go... Seems to me "nothingness" would be a lack of defining qualities....but that's just me. Mlodinow "There are a lot of awesome things in the world that we wonder about, that are almost beyond human power to understand in their beauty or their significance. And that's the realm I think of philosophy and religion......... there are two separate domains" This clues us in to where Mlodinow is coming from, philosophically. He obviously holds to a view of "Nonoverlapping Magisteria", that science and religion are and must remain separate domains. This will help to explain his next comment. "And it does turn out that the laws of nature are very finely tuned to -- so as to allow for the existence of intelligent beings. I don't mean to say somebody tuned them, but they just happen to be that way." Of course, to a believer of Non Overlapping Magesteria, the universe is fine-tuned, but without a fine-tuner! Just like a computer program, without a programmer! A building plan, without a planner! And it was just chance! We are the lucky planet in a lucky universe in a multiverse of spontaneously created universes, all coming from nothing. Yep. Okay. Right. Some people may rightly ask "Are we even talking science at this point or science fiction?". Neither. It is a new religion called M-Theory. Adherents to this new religion worship nature as if it had the characteristics of a god. Now let's turn to Hawking's comments, from the recent Larry King Live show. Hawking "Gravity and quantum theory cause universes to be created spontaneously out of nothing." Again, the obvious, unanswered question, "from what cometh gravity upon which the first universe was caused from?" Hawking "The scientific account is complete. Theology is unnecessary" That is shockingly arrogant. Hawking "Rather, these multiple universes arise naturally from physical law." Wait, earlier he said universes arise from quantum theory and gravity (gravity being subject to natural law). But now universe arise from physical law! Maybe this next one will help explain all of this. Hawking "Although we are puny and insignificant on the scale of the cosmos, this makes us in a sense the lords of creation" A woefully prideful comment, and inaccurate. In his mind, we are just insignificant matter compared to the overall collection of matter (in this universe). This does not make us lords of creation. Yes, we are puny, but we are not insignificant. We have meaning and purpose that Hawking simply refuses to accept due to his own philosophical presupposition of atheism, which is really the motivation and reason for the book. Interestingly, both authors dodged the question that Larry King asked "do you believe in God?". Bantay
Here is a video of Stephen Hawking and Fr. Spitzer on Larry King: http://www.magisreasonfaith.org/ As well the site has the youtube video that led to Fr. Spitzer's appearance on Larry King. -------- God Of Wonders - City On A Hill - music video http://www.metacafe.com/watch/3994616 bornagain77
I watched Hawking on Larry King. It was excruciating. Deepak Chopra was there as well as Spitzer. Hawking was so far off the mark with his empirical evidence it was incredible. Surely I'm not the only one to see how far off base he was. His co-author kept claiming that they base M-Theory on observations, and alluded to the 10^500 universe's to arise out of string theory, yet the 'observations' are exactly what is severely compromising any integrity string theory once had. Testing Creation Using the Proton to Electron Mass Ratio Excerpt: The bottom line is that the electron to proton mass ratio unquestionably joins the growing list of fundamental constants in physics demonstrated to be constant over the history of the universe.,,, For the first time, limits on the possible variability of the electron to proton mass ratio are low enough to constrain dark energy models that “invoke rolling scalar fields,” that is, some kind of cosmic quintessence. They also are low enough to eliminate a set of string theory models in physics. That is these limits are already helping astronomers to develop a more detailed picture of both the cosmic creation event and of the history of the universe. Such achievements have yielded, and will continue to yield, more evidence for the biblical model for the universe’s origin and development. http://www.reasons.org/TestingCreationUsingtheProtontoElectronMassRatio Lack of observational evidence is the hallmark of string theory and M-theory, despite what Hawking says: 'it is clear that the string landscape hypothesis is a highly speculative construction built on shaky assumptions and,,, requires meta-level fine-tuning itself." - Bruce Gordon This following article illustrates just how far string theory would miss the mark of explaining the fine-tuning we see even if it were found to be true: Baron Münchhausen and the Self-Creating Universe: Roger Penrose has calculated that the entropy of the big bang itself, in order to give rise to the life-permitting universe we observe, must be fine-tuned to one part in e10exp(123)?10^10exp(123). Such complex specified conditions do not arise by chance, even in a string-theoretic multiverse with 10^500 different configurations of laws and constants, so an intelligent cause may be inferred. What is more, since it is the big bang itself that is fine-tuned to this degree, the intelligence that explains it as an effect must be logically prior to it and independent of it – in short, an immaterial intelligence that transcends matter, energy and space-time. (of note: 10^10^123 minus 10^500 is still, for all practical purposes, 10^10^123) http://www.evolutionnews.org/2007/06/baron_munchausen_and_the_selfc.html Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory and the Search for Unity in Physical Law: Peter Woit, a PhD. in theoretical physics and a lecturer in mathematics at Columbia, points out—again and again—that string theory, despite its two decades of dominance, is just a hunch aspiring to be a theory. It hasn't predicted anything, as theories are required to do, and its practitioners have become so desperate, says Woit, that they're willing to redefine what doing science means in order to justify their labors. http://www.amazon.com/Not-Even-Wrong-Failure-Physical/dp/0465092756 As well, Deepak Chopra was labeled a 'spiritual teacher' on the Larry King show, yet his 'spirituality' was so far pitched away from any firm basis it made the New Age ramblings of Shirley Maclain seem downright reasonable. The few minutes they gave Fr. Spitzer, were a breath of fresh air from all the non-sense I was hearing from the others. He of course brought up the problem of something coming from nothing, and touched very briefly on the logical fallacy that determinism,,, something about Hawking trying to extrapolate 'a particular to a universal' as far 'free will' was concerned,, it was really getting interesting with Spitzer, and then Hawking's co-author overwhelmed the conversation and refused to let Spitzer finish his point. which if he would have it would have completely undermined Hawking's argument from first principles. Hopefully Spitzer will blog further on it tomorrow here: http://www.magisreasonfaith.org/blog/?p=39 I look forward to Dr. Craig's take on Hawking's book as well. bornagain77
Yes, Fr. Spitzer is no lightwieght, and he's an absolute delight to listen to. I have met him and heard him speak a couple times - my daughter goes to Gonzaga where he was president her freshman year, and he gave a lecture hosted by my parish last year. He's a gas - really funny, energetic and skilled speaker. landru
This should be very interesting: Fr. Robert Spitzer to Debate Stephen Hawking Tonight on Larry King Live http://www.evolutionnews.org/2010/09/fr_robert_spitzer_to_debate_st038051.html I just read Spitzer's new book and he is no lightweight in this area: New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0802863833?ie=UTF8&tag=discoveryinsti06&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0802863833 Father Spitzer already refuted Hawking's claim on the Magis Center http://www.magisreasonfaith.org/blog/?p=39 bornagain77
zeroseven @ 4 "There is no requirement that an uncaused universe must be eternal." Maybe there is no such thing as "free will" after all. There is such a requirement and I will explain it just this once. If something is uncaused, it MUST ALSO be eternal. Here's why. To say that something is uncaused is to say that it never had a cause. It never had a cause of it's beginning. Law of identity. But if it never was caused, yet exists, then it must have always existed because there is no antecedent chain of causes to retrace to it's original cause (or beginning) since, by definition, it never had an original cause of its beginning, i.e. existence. This is just what uncaused means. Uncaused is another way to say infinite, or eternal. You've also probably snapped to another conclusion about this and that is that uncaused things do not change, but the universe is changing, therefore, the universe is not uncaused (eternal), but caused. You can take the other side of this and tell me how something could exist without cause yet have a beginning (a first cause) and I'll listen. But I fear that exercise is doomed to failure. Still, in order to demonstrate my antipathy for all things mystical, I'll hold out the possibility that this one time, in the entire history of the universe, that the laws of reason may be violated. And that you are the guy who can do that. (p.s. thousands of cosmologists claiming that 1 = 2 would all be wrong, too. This is no different.) But wait! I said I wasn't going to argue about the authority of reason with someone who rejects the authority of reason while claiming to be reasonable. Yet here I am... sigh... how unreasonable of me... :-) tgpeeler
zeroseven - I'd really love to have an argument with you about the first principles of reason and how they are undeniable, and perhaps more importantly, about how the conclusions of arguments made from pure reason are also undeniable (see God, Arguments for), but I suspect that you'd deny all of that. So I'd be in the position of arguing why reason is the ultimate authority in matters of truth with someone who claims to be reasonable, yet denies the basis for all rational thought, and does so with an apparently straight face. This is just astonishing to me. (Granted, I am easily astonished, and amused. Some people still think, for example, that the government can help our economy by saddling it with ever more debt and regulation of the wrong kind!! I mean, how FUNNY is that?) As an early birthday present to myself I'll spare us both. Have a great day. tgpeeler
"Hawking should stick to physics and leave the metaphysics to others with at least a passing acquaintance with the first principles of reason." But his book sales will suffer terribly if he does that! NZer
tgpeeler; "The notion of a finite thing, i.e. the universe, being uncaused (infinite or eternal) is self-contradictory and cannot possibly be true. Therefore, uncaused is out." I love how you can with such assurance rule out the theories of thousands of cosmologists. That kind of certainty of mind is what prevents the accumulation of knowledge. There is no requirement that an uncaused universe must be eternal. And you say that this approach is a retreat into mysticism? But "God did it" is not? zeroseven
The problem here, as TGPeeler perceives, is that Hawking is trying to push a philosophical case using scientific arguments. Yes, Barr is right, but he is right for the wrong reasons. In effect, he is trying to correct Hawking's bad philosophy with better physics. To suggest, as Hawking does, that something can cause itself is a fundamental and egregious philosophical mistake, and the way to correct it is not to launch into another discussion about physics but rather to explain the unquestionably bad reasoning [not the questionable physics] behind the error. StephenB
"There are two answers to the question: “Why does anything exist rather than nothing at all?” The atheist answers, “There is no explanation.” The theist replies, God. An intelligent case can be made for either answer." That's interesting. I have never heard the intelligent case for the proposition that "there is no explanation." That seems on the face of it to be a retreat into either mysticism or perpetual and willful ignorance. It seems odd that real "scientists" would resort to that gambit. Paragons of reason that they are, er, claim to be. The logically possible answers to the question "Why does anything exist?" are: 1) uncaused 2) or caused. If 2), then self caused or other caused. So we have three, and only three, potentially rational alternatives to discuss. The notion of a finite thing, i.e. the universe, being uncaused (infinite or eternal) is self-contradictory and cannot possibly be true. Therefore, uncaused is out. The notion of a finite thing creating itself is equally irrational as it essentially claims that something pre-exists itself. Therefore, self-caused is out. So we are left with "other caused" (and what that means). I am happy to have that argument all day long. But uncaused and self-caused are nonsense. Hawking should stick to physics and leave the metaphysics to others with at least a passing acquaintance with the first principles of reason. tgpeeler
Barry: "...But here he get it right..." Grammar? I recall that when Anthony Flew became a theist and co-wrote a book about it, some critics said he was old and senile, while others said he never wrote the book but instead had words put in his mouth by the co-author. Of course, since Hawking is on the dark side, no such critique would be valid. Just because he is now an old man does not mean that he could be losing it... Btw, this is an interesting article written about Hawking from the perspective of his first wife. Very interesting to see the not-so-nice personal side to Hawking and his evolving and hardening atheism. http://creation.com/jane-hawking-music-to-move-the-stars NZer

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