Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Stephen Hawking Versus God

You have to hand it to the marketers. In their zealous efforts to sell you a copy of Stephen Hawking's new book: The Grand Design, they have granted its author god-like powers.

Through the intermediary spirits called editors they have flooded the media with the news that Stephen Hawking has discovered that there is no God.

If you have ever had any doubt about the question, then surely the opinion of a great physicist should solve the problem for you.

If Hawking says that there is no God, then there is no God.

Inadvertently, all of these editors have ascribed god-like characteristics to Hawking. Remember that, in the beginning, God said: Let there be light. And there was light.

Like Stephen Hawking's God's word became reality. But, while God caused something to exist, Hawking caused a lot of people to believe that something did not exist.

If you are not familiar with the argument, Hawking insists that the universe was formed through a spontaneous action. Apparently, he believes that this disproves the existence of a God who would have set it all in motion.

But what if God is the name one would want to give to the spontaneous action that creates a semi-intelligible universe, then Hawking's belief in having disproved the existence of God would not make very much sense.

Carlin Romano has written the best essay on this marketing ploy. Link here. Romano points out the argument from authority that underlies this ploy.

He notes that Hawking is widely recognized as a genius. Nothing to dispute there. And he is a genius who has sold millions of books. That makes him even more of a genius.

In the minds of the gullible and the lazy, that is good enough to make his pronouncements into dogmatic truth. They are not about to spend their precious time thinking through the issues, are they?

Anyway, you can go to a dinner party and proclaim that you are so smart that you agree with Stephen Hawking, and that, based on his authority, you and all thinking people know that God does not exist.

Even if you are wrong-- and who would be able to prove it-- you will have commanded no small amount of respect at the dinner party. And that's what it's all about, isn't it?

Why are we so ready to accept that genius is worthy of so much respect, even when said genius is making statements about topics he knows very little about?

After all, being the world's leading authority of physics does not mean that you are an authority on theology or philosophy. And being the world's leading authority in mathematics does not mean that you are an authority on Greek poetry. And being the world's leading authority on baseball does not mean that you can hit a golf ball. It is fatuous to suggest otherwise.

When you quote the words of a genius as though they are, for having been uttered by a genius, absolute truth, you are also saying that a genius is something like a superhuman demigod, like an angel or... a genie.

While we only call human beings geniuses, the term used to refer to what we now call: genies. This makes it difficult to use the fact that you are an intermediary between the mundane and the divine to announce that God exists. After all, genius means that you have privileged access to God's mind.

And don't we believe that Stephen Hawking is the ultimate genius because he has, through illness, been largely deprived of the use of his body. A pure mind, unencumbered by a body, has better access to divine intelligence than someone whose mind is constantly being corrupted by bodily interests.

Where did Hawking go wrong? Simply, he was trying to use science, even physics, to prove or disprove the existence of a metaphysical being.

If God is a metaphysical being, then His existence or non-existence is not subject to experimental verification.

If you think that proving and disproving can only take place under the aegis of the scientific method, you have chosen one among many usages of the word: "proof." And then you misapplied it.

Proving a hypothesis is not the same as proving a theorem. Neither is the same as a philosophical proof of the existence of God.

One does not need to wander aimlessly in the philosophical thicket that Aristotle dubbed metaphysics, but a brief explanation is needed.

Ask yourself this: Do you believe that ideas exist? Given that you have never seen, heard, touched, tasted, or smelled an idea, can  you prove scientifically that ideas exist?

If science deals with observable and measurable phenomena, then how can it offer an opinion about the existence of metaphysical objects like ideas?

Let's admit that ideas exist. Do they still exist when no one is thinking about them? That is the crux of the problem.

Whether you take the idea of gravity or the idea of evolution, and you assume that the phenomena that we explain with these ideas existed before any scientist discovered exactly how they functioned, isn't it fair to say that there must exist somewhere else? And if they are ideas, don't they, by definition, exist in a mind.

You may call it the mind of God or the mind of one of God's angels, but still... if you or an archangel has an idea, something like a mind must be thinking it.

Scientists make certain aspects of the known universe intelligible to human minds. It helps those of us who have human minds to be able to grasp the universe's operating principles, and thus to see that it makes sense.

Now, if the universe makes sense to a human mind, isn't it plausible to say that it was created, or organized, or ordered by some other kind of mind?

This may not prove that God exists, but it should certainly help us to avoid pretending that we know for a fact that God does not exist.

As Carlin Romano explains, Hawking has fallen into the kinds of errors that were first analyzed by the great philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.

When we say that God exists, or even that ideas exist, we are not using the predicate of existence the same way we would if we were talking about the existence of a thumb tack or of the Gulf Stream.

And when we say that we believe in a metaphysical being like God or a metaphysical entity like an idea, we are not talking about the same kind of belief that we have when we say that we believe in the existence of the sun or that we believe that the Saints won the Super Bowl.

Just because you are using the same word does not mean that you are talking about the same thing.


Chuck Pelto said...

TO: Dr. Schneiderman, et al.
RE: What Was It....

If Hawking says that there is no God, then there is no God. -- Stuart Schneiderman

....someone said over 100 years ago?


God is Dead. -- Nietzsche

However, I saw a bumper sticker that read....

"God is dead." -- Nietzsche (c. 1895) "Nietzsche is dead." -- God (Today)


[History doesn't repeat itself. It has a speech impediment.]

P.S. Three guesses....first two don't count....

Stuart Schneiderman said...

This is an interesting question... one that I had actually tried to avoid.

Because Nietzsche's statement implies that God was once alive, but then died.

Hawking is saying that God never existed at all, so that sounds a bit different to me.

But then, whatever does Nietzsche mean? If he is referring to Jesus Christ, then his statement is banal, since Christ was alive and did die.

If he is referring to God the father, then his statement, if taken literally, is meaningless.

No one really believes that God is a biological organism and only biological organisms can be either alive or dead.

But perhaps Nietzsche was thinking about metaphoric life and death... that would mean that God's influence, his importance in the culture, his ability to inspire belief, has died.

And this might be true of Europe, because, after all, Nietzsche was just a few decades ahead of the triumph of godlessness in Europe.

MajorSensible said...

Dr. Schneiderman,

Here's a challenge would pose to militant atheists who would use science to "prove" the inexistence of God or that the events of the Bible aren't true:

Describe love, using only engineering terms.

Chuck Pelto said...

TO: Dr. Schneiderman
RE: Wanted: Dead or Alive

Because Nietzsche's statement implies that God was once alive, but then died.

Hawking is saying that God never existed at all, so that sounds a bit different to me.
-- Stuart Schneiderman

Look at it from this perspective....

If God 'never existed', that's the same effect as being 'dead'.


[First God made idiots (for practice) then he made school boards. -- Mark Twain]

P.S. Is Hawking on some 'educational' board? Inquiring minds want to know....

Chuck Pelto said...

TO: MajorSensible
RE: Speaking of Atheists

I like THIS definition....

Atheist, n., One who is praying to God that He doesn't exist.


[I am the lord my god. Thou shalt have no other god besides ME. -- atheist's first commandment]

David Foster said...

Nietzsche was talking about the decline of religious belief among the educated classes, not the metaphysical truth or falsity of the belief. Here's Tom Wolfe's summary:

"Nietzsche said this was not a declaration of atheism, although he was in fact an atheist, but simply the news of an event. He called the death of God a "tremendous event," the greatest event of modern history. The news was that educated people no longer believed in God, as a result of the rise of rationalism and scientific thought, including Darwinism, over the preceding 250 years. But before you atheists run up your flags of triumph, he said, think of the implications. "The story I have to tell," wrote Nietzsche, "is the history of the next two centuries." He predicted (in Ecce Homo) that the twentieth century would be a century of "wars such as have never happened on earth," wars catastrophic beyond all imagining. And why? Because human beings would no longer have a god to turn to, to absolve them of their guilt; but they would still be racked by guilt, since guilt is an impulse instilled in children when they are very young, before the age of reason. As a result, people would loathe not only one another but themselves. The blind and reassuring faith they formerly poured into their belief in God, said Nietzsche, they would now pour into a belief in barbaric nationalistic brotherhoods: "If the doctrines...of the lack of any cardinal distinction between man and animal, doctrines I consider true but deadly"—he says in an allusion to Darwinism in Untimely Meditations—"are hurled into the people for another generation...then nobody should be surprised when...brotherhoods with the aim of the robbery and exploitation of the non–brothers...will appear in the arena of the future."

MajorSensible said...

Chuck: Love that definition. I will have to remember that one. Thanks.

There was a sci-fi/fantasy series I read some years back, written by Piers Anthony. In the series, Anthony suggested that God made the Earth [Creation / Eden] and the Devil set it evolving [Adam and Eve eating from the tree of knowledge and being expelled from the garden].

I've always thought that was as good an explanation as any that could tie together both creation and evolution.

Chuck Pelto said...

TO: David
RE: Nietzsche

Thanks for the education on Nietzsche. Especially his prophetic comments relating to the 20th Century.

However, just because Nietzsche claims that he was talking about faith in God being 'dead', as opposed to an actual entity being such, it still seems to me that he, as an atheist, was 'killing' God. And reveling in the 'act'.

But that's OT.

RE: Back to Hawking

Atheists, throughout time, have wished God dead. And have done whatever their rationalization will allow them to achieve that.

Still and all, God abides. Despite their 'best' efforts. As the bumper sticker I mentioned in my first comment in this thread states. We're 'here today, gone tomorrow', but He remains.

Hawking can dream his self-important dream. And maybe all the attention he has been getting is causing him to think such. But that doesn't matter to God.

How can I say this? Because in my last nigh on 60 years on this ball-o-dirt, I've seen enough to convince me He exists. Not to forget the fact that He's saved my sorry fourth-point-of-contact from being snuffed out on three occasions now: (1) plummeting out of a black-night sky with a malfunctioning parachute, (2) in a snit with an 18-wheeler at Interstate speeds, and (3) giving me what I needed for 'extended play', three months before it was needed.

This besides other more significant aspects that happened AFTER I became a REAL christian.

Hawking has serious problems. Other than his being bound to a wheel chair and not being able to communicate very well. Maybe if he had a more open mind, he'd see better.


['Happy atheist' is an oxymoron.]

Chuck Pelto said...

TO: MajorSensible
RE: [OT] [R]Evolutionary Thinking

....God made the Earth [Creation / Eden] and the Devil set it evolving [Adam and Eve eating from the tree of knowledge and being expelled from the garden]. -- MajorSensible

Cute. And, after a fashion, simple.

I'm more inclined to see it as Disney portrayed all that, up to a point, in the Stravinsky Sacre de Primtemp portion of Fantasia.

The fade-in/show a phase/fade-out correlates well with how I suspect God gave the vision of the Creation to the fellow who passed it on until Moses got it into Genesis.

Think upon it.

How would God give such a vision to a man?

Would He make the poor fellow sit through the entire 13 BILLION years of Creation, up to the point where the man was? The fellow wouldn't last that long.

What about playing it 'fast forward'? That would be too incomprehensible.

How about showing Creation in 'stages'? And the transitions being fade-in/fade-out.

What would the man think of the fade-in/fade-out? Would he think that was a 'day'?

As for Adam and Eve and the Garden, have you ever noticed that there are TWO creations of Man in Genesis?

There's the creation of mankind on the 'sixth day', in Chapter 1. THEN there's the creation of Adam and Eve and their placement in the Garden in Chapter 2.

Ever wonder whatever became of the Neanderthals? Or Cro-Magnon?

Look around you. They're STILL amongst us.....three guesses....


[We are they....]

Chuck Pelto said...


If you want to gain a better 'appreciation' of some of the more cryptic/mysterious passages in that Old Book, e.g., the first few chapters of the first book, as well as the last chapters of the last one, look at the 'visions' given to the writers and ponder how a man of their time would explain what he saw to his contemporaries.

Wouldn't he put the vision into terms they would understand?

After all....

....how could a man of pre-historic time explain to his fellows a vision of the Creation, as I propose He did it (above)?

Then again, from Revelation....

....how would a man of the First Century describe to HIS fellow men a vision of a runaway nuclear reactor? Or a flight of AH-64 Apache attack helicopters in the Saudi Arabian desert?

P.P.S. About that nuclear reactor. That accident took place in 1986 at a place named Chernobyl. Guess what that name translates in to English from its native Ukrainian....

....try 'Wormwood'. And notice the use of the 'proper noun' form in that Old Book.

I know a Ukrainian emigre. I asked him about the naming of the town. He said it was named for the most common form of flora in the vicinity.....Wormwood.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

This is a great discussion. Thanks to all.

I had hesitated to post on this topic, but clearly many of you have good and pertinent things to say about it.

Thanks, again.

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