Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Review of The Grand Design

People keep asking me what I think of Stephen Hawking’s recent remarks on religion. I refrained from public comment because I was reviewing Hawking’s latest book The Grand Design (co-written with Leonard Mlodinow) for National Review. The review has now appeared, in NR’s November 29 issue. It is available online to NR subscribers, and should be on the newsstands any time now. If you are not a subscriber, please do the good people at NR a favor and pick up a copy.


  1. Thanks Ed. Is Sam Harris next? :)

    Ha ha, your work is never done!

  2. I would be very interested in reading Dr Feser's take on Sam Harris and his latest. Brandon, who has commented here quite a bit over the last few posts on lying, has expressed some mild sympathy for Harris on the question of the supposed is/ought dichotomy in ethics. Might be interesting to get a discussion going here on that subject.

    As for Feser vs. Hawking, if Hawking's essay is any indication of the quality of his thinking about the origins of the universe, then Feser will chop him into tiny little wee pieces.

  3. As an aside, on the issue of subscribing to NRO, I say nay. Unfortunately, NRO uses very intrusive popups as part of a Christmas subscription campaign that's already been running for weeks now, with six weeks still to go till Christmas!

    I will never reward any online site that uses popups, especially ones that don't have a visible X to dismiss (you have to know to use the ESC key).

    That kind of aggressive behaviour needs to be discouraged.

  4. Thanks, Professor Feser. I'll never understand how these secular liberal types (specifically, New Atheist types) imagine themselves to be eminently qualified to speak about philosophical and theological issues. I mean, I'd never delude myself into thinking that I can make competent remarks on matters of mathematical astrophysics, so why don't scientists and others treat philosophers and theologians with a similar due deference? When they fail to do so, it's sort of like watching a child build sand castles on a beach, after which he kicks them over with his foot and then sincerely believes himself to be Napoleon Bonaparte.

    I also wouldn't mind seeing a Thomistic take on Sam Harris' recent book, which claims in its subtitle that "science can determine human values." In the absence of the standard is/ought objection to such a claim, I wonder how a rejection of Harris' position would actually look like. Would a Thomistic critique be more damning or less damning of Harris?

  5. What! No free stuff? Alright I'll buy it........


  6. In "The Grand Design" Hawking says that we are somewhat like goldfish in a curved fishbowl. Our perceptions are limited and warped by the kind of lenses we see through, “the interpretive structure of our human brains.” Albert Einstein rejected this subjective approach, common to much of quantum mechanics, but did admit that our view of reality is distorted.

    Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity has the surprising consequences that “the same event, when viewed from inertial systems in motion with respect to each other, will seem to occur at different times, bodies will measure out at different lengths, and clocks will run at different speeds.” Light does travel in a curve, due to the gravity of matter, thereby distorting views from each perspective in this Universe. Similarly, mystics’ experience in divine oneness, which might be considered the same "eternal" event, viewed from various historical, cultural and personal perspectives, have occurred with different frequencies, degrees of realization and durations. This might help to explain the diversity in the expressions or reports of that spiritual awareness. What is seen is the same; it is the "seeing" which differs.

    In some sciences, all existence is described as matter or energy. In some of mysticism, only consciousness exists. Dark matter is 25%, and dark energy about 70%, of the critical density of this Universe. Divine essence, also not visible, emanates and sustains universal matter (mass/energy: visible/dark) and cosmic consciousness (f(x) raised to its greatest power). During suprarational consciousness, and beyond, mystics share in that essence to varying extents. [quoted from my e-book on comparative mysticism]

  7. Dear Edward,
    Massimo Robberto provides an interesting view from the "inside".

    I thought it may be worth taking a look. It is pubblished in Trace n.9, 2010. It is sufficient to go here: and navigate through to get to n.9 (name of article is: "Hawking’s
    godless universe? It’s just an opinion".

  8. WL Craig has also, expectedly, provided a deft demolition job on his website.

  9. Massimo Robberto provides an interesting view from the "inside"

    Here's a direct link to the article. I work with Massimo, so it's funny to see him mentioned here.

  10. WL Craig has also, expectedly, provided a deft demolition job on his website.

    And here's the link, to save you the trouble of searching.

  11. I tracked down a copy just for this review and it was excellent. Thanks!

  12. There is another link to WL Craig Review:

    I hope Dr. Feser you do not mind if we post links of the 'competition' :P

    I had no chance to read Dr. Feser's review (since I am not subscribed to NRO and I cannot get a physical copy of it) but I thought that Craig's review was quite on the mark.

    Now I am an admirer of Hawking, who truly is a genius and in spite of his physical challenges he has become one of the greater scientists of our age.
    Although I and others might not agree with some of his theories and conclusions, no one can deny him a spot in the science 'hall of fame'.

    That is especially why his latest book is literally making me sad.

    It seems to me rather a desperate and extremely rushed attempt into 'solving the Big Problem' now that he's reached almost the age of 70 and HIS history of time is almost over (although he might still live 10 or 20 years more who knows).

    And indeed Hawking and Mlodinow, in their desperation, cut their own legs in the beginning declaring philosophy dead and then spending the rest of the book philosophizing (poorly) and doing speculative science.

    I think this book is really unworthy of Hawking himself. I wonder if ‘The Grand Design’ was not a product of coercion from the New Atheist angle to try to ‘destroy the cosmological argument with physics’.

    In that case those new atheists who did coerce Hawking in this charade (if it is indeed what happened) are really despicable, both from a moral point of view as well as from a scientific one.

  13. Philosophy is dead. Is Logic dead also?
    How did the scientists come to know that an entire universe could come out of nothing? Or, how did they come to know that anything at all could come out of nothing? Were they present at that moment when the universe was being born? As that was not the case at all, therefore they did not get that idea being present at the creation event. Rather they got this idea being present here on this very earth. They have created a vacuum artificially, and then they have observed that virtual particles (electron-positron pairs) are still appearing spontaneously out of that vacuum and then disappearing again. From that observation they have first speculated, and then ultimately theorized, that an entire universe could also come out of nothing. But here their entire logic is flawed. These scientists are all born and brought up within the Christian tradition. Maybe they have downright rejected the Christian world-view, but they cannot say that they are all ignorant of that world-view. According to that world-view God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent. So as per Christian belief-system, and not only as per Christian belief-system, but as per other belief-systems also, God is everywhere. So when these scientists are saying that the void is a real void, God is already dead and non-existent for them. But these scientists know very well that non-existence of God will not be finally established until and unless it is shown that the origin of the universe can also be explained without invoking God. Creation event is the ultimate event where God will have to be made redundant, and if that can be done successfully then that will prove beyond any reasonable doubt that God does not exist. So how have they accomplished that job, the job of making God redundant in case of creation event? These were the steps:
    1) God is non-existent, and so, the void is a real void. Without the pre-supposition that God does not exist, it cannot be concluded that the void is a real void.
    2) As virtual particles can come out of the void, so also the entire universe. Our universe has actually originated from the void due to a quantum fluctuation in it.
    3) This shows that God was not necessary to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going, as because there was no creation event.
    4) This further shows that God does not exist.
    So here what is to be proved has been proved based on the assumption that it has already been proved. Philosophy is already dead for these scientists. Is it that logic is also dead for them?