Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Haldane on Hawking

John Haldane responds to The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, in the latest issue of First Things.

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for alerting us, Ed.

I have a question about the book. Every review I've seen mentions how obviously self-refuting the "because there is gravity, the universe was created ex nihilo" line is, if the "because" is interpreted causally, as in "because he was angry at the New Atheists, he wrote a book exposing their arguments."

But couldn't the "because" also be interpreted evidentially, as in "because there are ruins on the moon, someone must have constructed them"? Maybe gravity provides evidence for a self-creating universe. Or does context rule out that reading?

Anonymous said...

If you agree that there must be at least one brute fact, then gravity as that brute fact explains the origin of the universe (according to Hawking).

Appending Shiva or Yahweh or whichever myth tradition you prefer contributes nothing. Hawking is just using Occam's razor, as a good scientist ought.

Anonymous said...

If you agree that there must be at least one brute fact, then gravity as that brute fact explains the origin of the universe (according to Hawking).

Brute facts by definition offer no explanation, and we're still left with the question of how the "law of gravity" could have pre-existed the universe itself. And the ways it could aren't that friendly to Hawking's view.

Further, we don't need Hawking to tell us "if you accept certain things as brute facts, then you don't need to consider God!" You can get atheism out of a YEC scenario with that sort of reasoning: Everything just began to exist 6000 years ago. Woo, science!

Crude said...

Actually, what Hawking does to "science" should be forcing science-fetishists to rend their clothes and hurl lamentations towards the sky. As near as I can tell, he's reducing science itself to nothing more than "useful models", complete with the subjectivity of "usefulness" in play.

Science isn't in the business of describing reality, according to Hawking, since we don't know what "reality" is - nor can we. At most, science gives us some subjectively useful models. As a result, Hawking doesn't eliminate "myth" - his view of science practically demands the presence of such.

I don't think people quite realize what Hawking was really saying in his book. All they hear is "Hawking dissed God!" and fail to notice the wilder aspects.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link.

One thing, though: Professor Haldane asserts in his debate with Hitchens that Thomas Aquinas was a determinist - specifically, a theological determinist. Is this true? Moreover, is determinism a logical outworking of A-T metaphysics?

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 5:43:

I am not certain I understand your response. Or were you not trying to respond to my first comment? Please clarify.

Anon @ 6:49:

Interpreting St. Thomas' position vis-à-vis determinism is no easy feat. Some interpreters (e.g. Bañez and his followers) would certainly list him as a theological determinist or fatalist, while others would argue the contrary. (This controversy is especially heated when considered in the context of predestination.) The former would cite his various affirmations of Divine sovereignty (e.g. ST I:19:6), whereas the latter would note his equally frequent denials that such sovereignty removes contingency and freedom from the created order (e.g. ST I:83:1 & I:19:8).

Whether an A-T metaphysic entails determinism is likewise a controversial question. It is certainly not as prone to determinism as some strands of mechanism, but it is not radically indeterminist either. In any case, it is always worth remembering that there is not some monolithic system of thought adhered to by everyone identifying themselves as Aristotelico-Thomists, so questions like the one you pose might have no single, definite answer.

Please tell me if you require further clarification.

jt said...

Well, any system that posits the eternal existence of a solitary undivided simplicity toward which each and every existent is naturally directed does seem to demand a monolithic mentality of its adherents, don’t you think? Look around.

Ismael said...

I feel somewhat sorry for Hawking.

It seems tha atacking theism in a pop-sciece book has become the standard way to try to regain popularity for "washed-up" scientists (yes... in spite of Hawking's great genius, these last few years he has not accomplished much...).

james said...

@Crude:

"Science isn't in the business of describing reality, according to Hawking, since we don't know what "reality" is - nor can we. At most, science gives us some subjectively useful models."

But this point of view -- while not uncontroversial -- is pretty widely held among scientists. From a Popperian perspective (at least in my limited understanding), science is just about making falsifiable predictions; we can't even say anything useful about how theories are come up with in the first place, let alone whether they substantively describe something true.

So I rather think "science fetishists" would in fact be pretty blasé.

Ismael said...

But couldn't the "because" also be interpreted evidentially, as in "because there are ruins on the moon, someone must have constructed them"? Maybe gravity provides evidence for a self-creating universe. Or does context rule out that reading?

First one might ask if is sensible at all to talk about gravity without mass and the question remains id String Theory (hence M-theory) is correct at all and not just a useless mathematical model.

Ruins on the moon would show a self-evident fact: that some one built them, true, but the fact that gravity exists does not correlate in the same way with the creation of the universe.

Moreover arguing that gravity proves that the universe created itself sounds more like having the ruins prove that the moon created itself...

At best gravity might indicate that there is something from which gravity comes from.

---

General Relativity describes gravity not as a force but as a curvature/distortion of space-time.

Such distortion, however, is caused by mass (and not other physical properties such as charge or spin)


If you agree that there must be at least one brute fact, then gravity as that brute fact explains the origin of the universe (according to Hawking).

What is the brute fact? That gravity exists? Hawking bases his conclusion on M-theory which is NOT a fact, but a mere mathematical theory with little or none empirical evidence to support it.

Also one might ask: what created gravity or where does gravity come from? How is gravity fundamental at all if it depends on spacetime and mass and these did not exist before?

One might question even the validity of General Relativity as all as there are some anomalies (such as the "Pioneer anomaly") which are yet unexplained by the current theory of gravitation (and indeed there are alternative theories to GR although not as popular).

Appending Shiva or Yahweh or whichever myth tradition you prefer contributes nothing. Hawking is just using Occam's razor, as a good scientist ought.

It depends what the question is.

if you ask HOW our present universe started, then M-theory MIGHT be the answer.

if you ask why is there a universe (or multiverse) then M-theory answers nothing at all (nor do any other physical theories).

BenYachov said...

If one is trying to attack God with Science Roger Penrose is doing a better job of it than Hawking. Penrose's latest theory is trying to overthrow Inflationary Cosmology(& he claims some evidence for it thought it is hotly disputed). If we believe Fr Spitzer (author of NEW PROOFS FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD) all forms of Inflationary Cosmology imply a beginning. So Penrose's model makes Atheism more plausible than mere M-Theory.

OTOH if we believe Thomism (& of course most of the people ere do)
even Penrose's new theory is not a treat to Theism.

Still I doubt he will get anywhere with it but he has gone father than Hawking.

jt said...

Science is concerned with ‘what and how’ – logos. ‘Why’ is the stuff of mythos – where we eff what is ineffible.

Anonymous said...

Nobody has answered my original question: Is the "because" in Hawking's now-infamous line to be interpreted causally or evidentially? I am not asking for an evaluation of his opinion: I want to know what he meant given the context. So, if anyone has read the book, could they please tell me? Thank you and Merry Christmas. :D

james said...

@anonymous:

I haven't read the book, but Google Books can help provide a little context. It doesn't seem as if he's using "because" in an evidential sense.

"Because gravity shapes space and time, it allows space-time to be locally stable but globally unstable. On the scale of the entire universe, the positive energy of the matter can be balanced by the negative gravitational energy, and so there is no restriction on the creation of whole universes. Because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing in the manner described in Chapter 6. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist."

http://books.google.com/books?id=RoO9jkV-yzIC&printsec=frontcover&dq=the+grand+design&hl=en&ei=Mk4STfyqGYLGlQe4w-TTCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=book-thumbnail&resnum=1&ved=0CDEQ6wEwAA#v=snippet&q=because%20there%20is%20a%20law%20like%20gravity&f=false

james said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
james said...

Blogger seems to have a problem with long links, sorry.

http://tinyurl.com/34skcqa

Anonymous said...

james:

Thank you very much for the context and links. I hope you are enjoying your holidays.

Kirt Hobler said...

Regarding The Grand Design and Hawking's quote "Because there is a law like gravity,the universe can and will create itself from nothing in the manner described in Chapter 6. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going." (pg. 180)
This is not science, although it contains scientific terms like gravity. It is philosophy (metaphysics) or myth or relgion and goes well beyond any evidence in science. To me he is arguing that the laws of nature in our universe explain scientific natural history...how things were made. Creation talk goes beyond science and therefore he cannot claim science doesn't need philosophy/religion/myth. Let's face it, math and science are not complete to explain everything. We need it all to have any hope of achieving meaning...but let's not call it only science.

Crude said...

James,

But this point of view -- while not uncontroversial -- is pretty widely held among scientists. From a Popperian perspective (at least in my limited understanding), science is just about making falsifiable predictions; we can't even say anything useful about how theories are come up with in the first place, let alone whether they substantively describe something true.

So I rather think "science fetishists" would in fact be pretty blasé.


Is it really widely held? I wonder. But more than that, I've run into too many said fetishists who scream about how science shows us the truth, or shows us facts, or shows us how the world really is to convince me the response would be 'blase'. I think the response of quite a few would be one of horror. (Indeed, there were a number of horrified responses to Hawking by his fellow scientists. I wonder how apt Woit's "Hawking Gives Up" summary really was.)

Greg said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Greg said...

[re-post for bad grammar]

Occam's razor is pretty much the AK47 of debate: A serviceable enough thing that is wielded ineptly by dozens of untrained jackanapes. Despite their considerable learning, that's kind of how Hawking and his co-author come off here.

"Gee, lets use teleological terms to denounce teleology!" Reductionism is easily the most damaging intellectual vogue since Marx and the wearing of black socks with sandals.

Jinzang said...

The point of the Hawking quote is that the Big Bang is an embarrassment for any theory claiming mass-energy is conserved, as it seems a huge violation. However, if one claims that the negative potential energy of gravitation exactly balances the mass-energy in the universe, there is no violation of the conservation laws. Though this is merely claimed and not proven.

The modern theory of gravity, Einstein's theory of relativity was strongly influenced by Mach's principle, which claims there is no absolute space. There's some debate on how well they mesh. Hawking seems to be arguing Mach's principle can be extended to time. In this extended theory of relativity, there would be no time before the big bang, any more than there would be space, as both would only exist relative to matter. If the idea that makes your head hurt, it makes mine hurt too, but I am not a cosmologist.

Your typical scientist is a realist, but also a positivist. When you point out that realism comes with some metaphysical baggage that is not compatible with positivism, they retreat to pragmatism, but revert to realism when you've gone away.

David said...

Nobody has answered my original question: Is the "because" in Hawking's now-infamous line to be interpreted causally or evidentially?

Well, "because" is always causal, of course (it's right there in the name, "by [what] cause"!); in your example, even construction is a form of causation. If by evidential, you mean something like gravity is the cause of our knowing that the universe is such a way, then no, Hawking isn't merely claiming that "the universe would have to be like this to get gravity, and we do have gravity, therefore we know the universe is the way I'm claiming". He is indeed claiming that gravity is a cause of the universe's being that way.

Of course, Hawking is getting mixed up over efficient causes — his idea of God is as some kind of being who gets out his cosmic lighter to "ignite" the Big Bang, and he's saying that the universe doesn't have a "beginning" like that, so there's no need for a God like that. But that's the wrong kind of "because"; there are also formal and final causes, and gravity is a formal cause (the universe has a certain overall structure, i.e. the law of physics are a certain way). Gravity is a cause, but it's not flicking the lighter either. Hawking gets that gravity is not an efficient cause of the universe but still fails to notice that even though it doesn't temporally precede the cosmos, it logically precedes it, which requires a further explanation just as much as a Big Bang waiting to be ignited would.