Thursday, September 02, 2010

Hawking: No Unmoved Mover, No First Cause, Only Infinite Regression

Celebrated physicist Stephen Hawking continues to deny that the universe began to exist.

Of course, he affirms that this current universe began to exist, at the mighty Big Bang. But he denies that something outside the universe caused it. Per a smidgen of a report in the Guardian (free, we think, of that paper's signature typos), Hawking in his latest book says that "the law of gravity" explains the origin of the universe.

Really, what Hawking hopes is that string theory or other attempts at a unified theory of physics will explain all this. Calling it gravity makes it more accessible to us proles.

In other words, Hawking continues to insist that somehow the laws of physics, unobservable and untestable outside this present universe, can explain how universes arise spontaneously.

Thoughtful readers will realize that cosmology presents two major alternatives, regardless of the time and place in which one does one's cosmology. Either the universe exists without a beginning (variant likely affirmed by Hawking: an infinite series of discrete universes without beginning, prompted by an eternally existing scientific law) or it exists with a beginning.

And if it begins once and once only, it needs a creator, as has been widely understood since people first started writing down their thoughts on the issue.

Hawking is not offering a scientific judgment in this regard. He is offering the opinion of a scientist who surmises that because science has told us a lot of stuff about the universe we live in, it can tell us about stuff that lies beyond the universe we live in as well. We offer him SWNIDish kudos for making a faith statement, urging simply that he reconsider the object of his faith.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Gravity is more likely to explain the DVTs gathering in his legs.

Bryan D said...

If physicists took James Dobson as seriously as theologians take Hawking, that would illustrate how ludicrous it is that we still listen to Stephen Hawking.

CDW said...

That's it? Thin.

carlsweatman said...

I think I would more awed by Hawking's suggestion if it any originality to it, but it really doesn't.

Bryan D said...

He actually started making this claim in Rome something like six years ago. Hat-tip to our stellar press!

Jon A. Alfred E. Michael J. Wile E. SWNID said...

Henceforth, let us refer to this pronouncement as "Hawking's Gravid Cosmology."

Bryan D said...

By that do you mean it lays an egg?

JB in CA said...

He actually started making this claim in Rome something like six years ago. Hat-tip to our stellar press! —Bryan D.

That was my first thought—or close to it. Actually, he's been saying the same thing publicly (just not as explicitly) since at least the first edition of A Brief History of Time, in 1988. It's based (primarily) on a theory he worked out with Jim Hartle in 1983 (The Hartle-Hawking Hypothesis) that does away with the need for postulating a "singularity"—or precise beginning—at the "moment" of the Big Bang. He seems to think, rather curiously, that if the universe did not have a precise moment at which it came into existence, we can't really say it had a beginning. (Who wants to play "Name that Fallacy?") In addition, the theory hypothesizes that the Big Bang was a subatomic event that occurred purely by chance (as such subatomic events are said to do) out of "nothingness." The Big Bang, in other words, was the result of a random fluctuation (that's where the gravity comes in) out of nothingness. The problem is that "nothingness" turns out to be a something, namely, a quantum field, and Hawking doesn't have any explanation as to where that came from. Presumably, if you call it "nothingness," it just goes away.

In any event, the report on his belief that the universe had no need of God to create it seems ill-timed, until you realize that he has a new book out. Then it makes perfectly good sense. The report is really an advertisement for a new book in which his most intriguing idea is almost three decades old.

JB in CA said...

Bryan D: I've read a little more online about Hawking's new book, and it sounds like the reasons he gives in it for why he thinks the universe is self-explanatory are associated more with current string theory and the notion of a "multiverse" than they are with the Hartle-Hawking Hypothesis I mentioned above. Is that new defense of his old position what you had in mind when you said that he started making this claim about six years ago? I'm interested, because if that's the case, his remark seems a bit premature, given that, so far, the empirical evidence for string theory and the multiverse it postulates is just about nil.

Jon A. Alfred E. Michael J. Wile E. SWNID said...

We've seen interesting rumors that Hawking is now so debilitated that he can't even use his speech synthesizer. Supposedly a single grad student is able to interpret certain facial tics as yes or no answers. If true, this suggests that some cluster of Hawking hangers-on is republishing his popular-level ideas to extract income for themselves as the great man slips at last into mortality.

The whole thing is tragic if true.

Bryan D said...

JB: My memory seems to have muddled his 1988 Der Spiegel interview with the 2008 talk he gave at the Vatican symposium on the sciences. The striking similarity between both versions is that they are inherently religious. The first because it is a meta-empirical tautology, the second because it is entirely credal.

JB in CA said...

Brian: Thanks for the response (and the picture). I haven't read the Der Spiegel interview you mentioned, but I did find this quotation drawn from it: "What I have done is to show that it is possible for the way the universe began to be determined by the laws of science. In that case, it would not be necessary to appeal to God to decide how the universe began. This doesn't prove that there is no God, only that God is not necessary." Here he's clearly talking about the Hartle-Hawking hypothesis, not string theory and the multiverse. But, of course, that was 22 years ago. Who knows what he's up to in his new book. As I pointed out above, one of the reviews I read makes it sound as though he's thrown string theory (with its "multiverse") into the mix, but beyond that, I suppose I'll have to purchase the book (and actually read it) to find out. Any thoughts?

JB in CA said...

JAAEMJWESWNID: I've heard the same, and I agree, it's tragic. I also can't help but wonder how much of what the grad student says based on Hawking's facial tics is interpretation, and how much is interpolation. If he's the only one who can do it, that leaves no one else to make sure he gets it right.

Bryan D said...

JB: He's not just thrown it into the mix, he's abandoned all of his standard model dogmas for M-theory (the theory that is supposed to explain the theory that was supposed to explain everything). Notable string theory sceptic Peter Woit gives an excellent and more detailed response to Hawking's book here.

JB in CA said...

Thanks for the link, Bryan. Very interesting.

Jon A. Alfred E. Michael J. Wile E. SWNID said...

Here's a review of the book that we found helpful.

Anonymous said...

I wonder though, are most Campbellites even worried about the universe having a beginning?
Sounds like doctrine to me.

Thaudit