Tuesday, 5 October 2010
God's Grand Design - second light
The thinly disguised real agenda behind Stephen Hawking's latest book "The Grand Design" is to show that science has now replaced philosophy and religion as the arbiter of the Big Question - Is there a God? And more importantly to declare to the world science's answer to the question, "It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going" (p.180). A reader is helped if they understand from the outset that this is the grand design of the book.
A second helpful sidebar for any reader is to understand that over the last few decades science has marvelled at the fine-tuning of the universe. Wherever we look, whether it's at the incredible uniqueness of ordinary water to the remarkable way the constants of nature are tuned to just the right value, we find evidence that everything is 'just right' for life. This of course, to the normal mind, points suspiciously to the work of a Grand Designer. But to other minds, it points to the need to work even harder at getting rid of him.
Within the second paragraph he dispenses with the philosophers "philosophy is dead" (page 5), and deals similar blows to religions, but in more subtle ways. First, to ridicule religion, he (this should probably be 'they') brings up the creation or nature myths of ancient cultures (e.g. Viking, p.15, Boshongo people p. 123). The sheer folly of these does not need a condemnatory note, and thus all religious views are damned together. Clever trick. Then to condemn One Religion further he mentions the old chestnuts Bishop Usher (p.124) and the Galileo affair (p. 87). The ground is thus cleared for the demonstration of science's grand new declaration. Here is how it works........
A brief history of the grand design
You and I are fortunate to live at a pretty crucial and sensible set of sizes and speeds. (I Wonder Why?) What I mean is this: If we lived in the tiny world of elementary particles, we would experience very weird effects. For example, we could not travel in our quantum cars at any speed we wanted to but only at say 10, 20, 30 and 40 mph! 11,12,13.....mph would all be forbidden speeds. If, on the other hand we were really heavy people (think sun mass and beyond), gravitation would begin to warp the space around us, and if we moved around at speeds close to the speed of light, strange things would happen to time and space and mass. But at our sizes, masses and speeds, everything around us is sensible. (I Wonder Why?).
Crazy things happen down at small sizes (quantum effects, which no-one really understands) and it is here that Hawking plays his games.
First of all he assumes that the universe began with the Big Bang - in this way you can get the whole universe to play quantum games. Secondly, he employs Richard Feyman's interpretation of quantum mechanical effects "sum over histories". Thirdly, he invokes M theory which is the current attempt to reconcile theories of the really big (relativity) with the theories of the really little (quantum). What comes out is the multiverse theory with knobs.
The multiverse theory says that way back at time not far away from zero, countless universes were born. Each of these universes possesses its own set of different numbers (the numbers that shape the laws in that universe). If you tweak these numbers much differently from what they are in our world you can't have life. So we assume that most if not all of these other universes are infertile. How does this help dispense with God? It means that there is nothing very special about the finetuning of our universe. It is just a fluke. If you throw a dice enough times your bound to get 6, if a near infinite amount of universes are created at once, at least one of them must contain life!
The 'knob' on Hawking's theory is that by clever substitution of time as just one other dimension of space, we can dispense with the idea of time-at-the-beginning altogether.
Some big problems
There are many problems with this book. My primary one is that the book assumes final science. It assumes that theories such as the big bang and M theory represent final science. This is a fatal assumption made in every age of rapid advance by the guys at the top. Even the most preliminary study of the history of science will reveal that the theories regarded as firm today will be the stuff of comedians tomorrow. The Big Bang Theory, for example, is under attack by reputable scientists (see cosmology.info) Of course no establishment scientist will tell you this, for their whole reputation is based on today's science. (Reader understand that scientists work in the same way as anyone else, proud of their reputations, etc. They are just as human as anyone else, subject to the same protection of personal influence and reputation.)
Secondly, the authors fall into old explanations of historical episodes, for example the Galileo affair. They need to study other trees in the field of knowledge; a good start would be Patricia Fara's Science: A Four Thousand Year History. (Better still, pre-order The X Club: Power and Authority in Victorian Science, Ruth Barton. This is interesting: it seems to take women authors to prick the balloon of male dominated science and bring out the uncomfortable truth).
Thirdly, other equally knowledgeable scientists are already wading in to water down the 'findings'. Roger Penrose, for example: "unlike quantum mechanics, M-theory enjoys no observational support whatever"; it is widely believed that these other universes would be forever beyond observation and therefore proof.
My theological reflection on the book was, here is yet another classic illustration of Romans 1:18-20. So loud is the voice of the Creator that no-one can deny his Grand Design. So dark is the human heart that he will do anything to suppress the knowledge of that God, even use wonderful science as a weapon to suppress that knowledge.
This is not a science book, it's a religious book. This is not science, it is a terrible abuse of science. It is one thing to explain the wonderful findings of modern science, it is quite another to turn them into weapons of warfare. For all such misuse of science, "the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.."