Friday, September 24, 2010

More on Hawking's Grand Design (and Penrose)

In the few weeks since my previous post on Hawking's book, more has emerged on the "The Grand Design." 

This is rather belated, so let me rewind a bit.

In the early days of the book's first reviews, some of my physicist and mathematician colleagues (not necessarily Christians or theists) expressed unreserved dismay at the reported content -- such as the espousal of subjective "theory-dependent-realism."  Some said they doubted they would buy the book even to quench their curiosity. These were remarks that I found encouraging.

Of course, Hawking, the self-described "positivist,"  is wrong on all the big philosophical counts -- though he may be correct on some technical details of a mathematical variety. But without a doubt, his physical monism has no capacity to explain "why we exist," as he has stated.  And by "we" that must include all of human experience. His theory explains nothing of human existence or experience. His hubris goes even further when he states that with M-theory philosophy is dead.  With that remark, and with his adherence to the self contradictory philosophy of logical positivism, I'm certain that philosophy is, without a doubt, dead to him.

There was formerly a day and time when physicists showed a little more sobriety in regards to their profession and realized, and openly stated, that physics only deals with physical theories.  Even today, Roger Penrose, though no friend of theism, correctly speaks of the theory as a theory of the physical universe.  (More below). Years ago,  Eugene Wigner also generally spoke of physics as the study of inanimate matter.  Not Hawking, however!  He asserts that M-theory is the reason why animate beings, such as "us," exists.  

Some of the further details (an excerpt can be found here) that have emerged is that Hawking now espouses the absurd concept of theory-dependent-reality -- as if there could be such a thing as any abstract theory, period, in a purely material reality. That an abstract theory could be legislative of physical laws (which are the only laws that exist in Hawking's universe) is absurd.  A universe ruled by nothing but random quantum processes cannot produce rational beings, such as us, who regulate our reasoning by way of immaterial laws of thought (logic) and thereby produce abstract physical theories such as M-theory -- whether true or not.

Other Reviews
I have read a few customer reviews on various book sites, and agree with those who have described the book as a typical shallow popularization of physics. 

For a pure physical objection to Hawking's views, we have the review of Roger Penrose. Penrose's review avoids discussion of the more pure philosophical aspects of the book. I have always found Penrose to be a bit more sober among contemporary physicists -- though his "Platonistic" pluralism is just as absurd as material monism.  (Though we might say Penrose is an inconsistent materialist.) You can read Penrose's physics critique here: Penrose's Review

So despite Penrose's insightful critique of Hawking, we have the following:

On the one hand, we have the absurd and incoherent monism of Hawking that accounts for nothing.  And on the other hand,  we have the multiple unrelated realities of Penrose's neo-Platonism that posits a mysterious plurality of impersonal, co-eternal and co-ultimate realities of physical matter, mind, and "Platonic" mathematics --a plurality more incoherent than the polytheism of pagan Greece and Rome.  Of course, positing such co-eternal things solves the "which came first" problem, but the cure is worse than the disease of monism.  Atheistic pluralism is incoherent, arbitrary and incomplete. And, we should add that conspicuously absent from both Hawking's monism and Penrose's pluralist metaphysics is ethics.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

An Atheist's Miracle

The miraculous is the suspension or violation of natural laws.    For Christians,  miracles are the result of the supernatural agency of God.  It should go without saying that atheists of the material monist variety -- for which all that exists are material systems obeying natural laws -- deny miracles.  Prominent examples are Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and the recently discussed William Provine.

Here, we want to examine the atheism of Richard Dawkins.   Dawkins describes himself as a "dyed-in-the-wool monist."  A monist believes there are no "minds," just physical brains, and much like a computer, there are "brain states."  Man, being a purely physical system, must always be subject to purely natural laws.  The brain, too, is a physical system, controlled by the underlying natural laws -- thought being a mere passive epiphenomenon, with no causal agency.   It is a theorem of this worldview then, that man, as such,  cannot be free from natural laws, and, thus, there can be no human freedom.   William Provine can see this easily (as he has said), and -- as an almost-consistent naturalist --  asserts the absence of "free will." To deny this conclusion is to accept a supernatural suspension of natural law -- a miracle -- which Provine, consistent with his unadulterated material monism, rejects.

Which brings us to Richard Dawkins, who says:

"I am very comfortable with the idea that we can override biology with free will. Indeed, I encourage people all the time to do it."  (Counterbalance Foundation Interview

What we have here is an unabashed atheist miracle.  After millennia of being subject to physical causation, a physical system called "man" evolved by natural law and then spontaneously broke the shackles of natural law, violated the natural laws, thereby becoming henceforth "free."   Man's brain also became "free" to employ abstract (non-physical) logical principles and to reason.  This is an absurd and irrational miracle.   Dawkins can override biology at will and encourage others to do so, too.   Quite a miracle -- a physical system violating physical laws every second of every day.

Christian miracles are intelligible since God, the rational Being who created and upholds natural law, can intercede according to His will.  Likewise, Christians as dualists (man has both a material body and an immaterial soul), deny man is causally determined by physics.  So then, belief in Christian miracles is rational. . .Dawkins' belief in his atheist miracle of "free will" is irrational.

Richard Dawkins describes Christians as "dyed-in-the-wool-faith-heads" who are "immune to argument." He could not be more wrong -- Dawkins the self-styled "dyed-in-the-wool monist " with a belief that a natural system called man can override biology (which is just physics, after all)  is the one immune to reason.  Dawkins' faith in his atheist creed makes him a "dyed-in-the-wool-faith-head."  He will accept an irrational atheist "miracle," but deny the rational Christian miracles.

And to think Dawkins subtitled his website "...Reason and Science,  A Clear-Thinking Oasis."  Contrary to that slogan, Richard Dawkins is a most muddle-minded irrational "scientist," and that is saying a lot.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Hawking's "The Grand Design" -- a new sub-Platonic Cosmogony for Itching Ears

The release of Stephen Hawking's latest book, The Grand Design, is making rounds in the news. 

The use of the word "design" in the title is a bit ironic.  Atheist scientists tend to use words in their popular books in less than precise ways, and no doubt this helps sell more books to the less scientifically literate public.  But, the use of such loose words is contrary to their usual practice of terminological precision in scientific journals. 

We can be sure that "design" does not mean it was designed -- it is Orwellian doublespeak for "description."  Calling it the "Grand Description," and asking "Is Hawking really describing nothing?," may help clear the field in what I describe below.

In this book, we learn that Hawking now explicitly says there is no need for God.  In the place of God, he says we have the mindless law of gravity (quantum gravity, I would presume) to thank for it all.  This bit of "news" should not be a surprise.  Alongside paying lip-service to "God," he had already said much the same in A Brief History of Time.  In connection with his no-boundary conjecture, he had written, "What place, then, for a creator?"

So then, just what is Hawking's "new insight"?  Here is one extract that is being circulated:

"Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist...".

This type of philosophical nonsense is not even as good as that typically produced by college freshmen.  It is philosophical conjuring, verbal subterfuge  and "creative accounting."   If Hawking's profession were investment management, his accounting techniques would amount to securities fraud, and he would be subject to criminal prosecution.

As a physicist whose special field is General Relativity and Quantum Field Theory, I can attest that the law of gravity and the rest are not "nothing."  Gravity is a property of matter, along with those other laws and other fundamental forces as incorporated in the Standard Model.  If all of these other fields, particles, and laws governing their interactions are nothing, then one is left to wonder how the many details of the structure of the physical universe can be analyzed in mathematical terms.  And by terms I am being explicit!  

All of the physical stuff -- individual particles of matter and their fields -- that supposedly emerges from Hawking's "nothing," by way of gravity, is already in the "mix."  There are explicit mathematical terms describing both the individual particles of matter and the laws that govern the interactions of all that "stuff" in the equations from the "git go."  To talk as if it is not is just simply creative accounting -- all of the physical stuff is already "lurking" there.  And so then the physical universe, too,  is already there.   If they are truly "nothing," Hawking ought to take a red pencil and strike those descriptors from his equations.  

This should be no surprise, since the equations of physical models and theories are deductive in nature, and, therefore, they predict the implications of the theory.  If a theory could not deductively predict its logical consequences, it would violate the very tenets of the scientific method and be useless.  On the surface, Hawking's claim is equivalent to someone deducing "Socrates is mortal" while omitting the minor premise "Socrates is a man" from that famous syllogism.

Hawking has stated nothing new -- he has just restated the standard brute-fact material universe of atheism.  A universe of matter-in-motion not adequate to the task of accounting for all of human experience -- a universe conspicuously devoid of logic, mathematics, morality, human minds and human freedom.

But as Hawking describes the universe, it is something even more absurd than Plato's cosmogony.  In place of Plato's intelligent demiurge acting on eternal matter, we have Hawking's mindless gravity and. . .nothing.  Well, not quite nothing, but a "nothing" describable by some explicit and rather advanced mathematics.  Now that is something!

According to Hawking, after years of work and study in the field of physics, I am now supposed to believe that the elegant mathematics was a description of nothing rather than something. 

If Professor Hawking wants to insist that these are all "nothing," then apparently he is writing about nothing and describing nothing (an oxymoron if ever there was).  Since it would then appear that the latest property of the law of gravity is "forgiveness" -- and it must be so since gravity is the reason we exist -- then he should please forgive those who curtly dismiss his book.

Maybe, he should change the title to Much Ado About Nothing -- but, alas, that title has already been taken.