Hawking’s Grand Design

Does the Grand Design do away with God. Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

“Traditionally, these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics.”

So begins page 1 of the Grand Design and it is downhill from there. When the book speaks about science, it can be interested. Readers are presented with a fairly short read and several illustrations to facilitate learning. There is sporadic humor throughout the book. Since this is by two authors and it’s hard to tell who wrote what, I will just refer to this work as GD.

The opening claim about philosophy being dead makes me think of the idea I have that too often, science today can seem like a teenager who thinks he is the big man in the universe because he can drive the family car, forgetting that it is his parents who own the car, pay the insurance, put gas in the car, and do maintenance.

In saying this, I mean no disrespect to science. After all, it is not science that has this attitude, but certain scientists. These are scientists who believe they alone have the keys to knowledge and everyone else just better get in the back seat if they’re even allowed to ride in the journey at all. Too many new atheists and others are ready to throw out the philosophers and theologians. A warning to my fellow philosophers and theologians. Let us not make the same mistake.

A statement like this assumes philosophy and science works in the same way. Science works by increments with each new discovery being dependent on the latest discovery. Philosophy works with schools of thought. We still have Platonists vs. Aristotleans going on today. No one has really changed the ultimate beliefs of the schools of thought. They’ve just been working out what they said. Christians are not going to jettison belief in the Trinity any time soon nor are Muslims going to get rid of the Koran. Both will be working out the ramifications of their foundational beliefs.

In fact, a look through this book will suggest that perhaps GD should have studied some of that philosophy to avoid making mistakes. All that they say depends on a philosophical worldview. Are they idealists or realists? That’s philosophy. Are they epistemological relativists or not? That’s also philosophy.

On page 29, we are asked to consider three questions when we realize the universe is governed by laws.

What is the origin of the laws?
Are there any exceptions to the laws, i.e., miracles?
Is there only one set of possible laws?

GD admits that Kepler, Galileo, Descartes, and Newton all answered that God was the explanation for the Laws. For GD, this does not count as an explanation because we have a hard time understanding God. This is not an invalid answer. Why should it be? Scientists regularly posit unknown entities that they do not understand, such as sub-atomic particles, in order to explain data. Figuring out the nature of those particles is a mystery indeed, but the explanation makes sense.

Besides, if one does have a well thought-out theology, one can explain the mystery further. One could even take the general theistic concept found in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and have that be an explanation for the origin of the universe. You could say “I know that there has to be some deity and he has to have some attributes such as X, Y, and Z, but how He has specifically revealed Himself I am still working out.”

As expected, GD is opposed to design and on page 34 we are told the book is rooted in scientific determinism. At this point, I wonder if I am reading the thoughts of the authors or just what it is they have to write because they are determined to do so. Can scientific determinism even verify itself? Can it determine that everything will work out scientifically in the future? If the universe is necessary and determined, then what does GD do with the problem of evil? Is it just that this has to happen and that’s tough, but you’d better suck it up and deal with it? Remember, the problem of evil is not just a problem for theists. Every worldview has to account for it.

Alas, that is a philosophical question and the authors think philosophy is dead, so it seems they will be without an answer to that question. If evil cannot be explained or is even a non-reality, could it be possible the same will apply to goodness? While they speak of an M-theory to explain everything, most of us would want an explanation of good and evil as well, including atheists!

On page 44, Gd says that realism is tempting but then bypasses it stating it is difficult to defend. In the very next sentence, they then say that “according to quantam physics, which is an accurate description of nature, a particle has neither a definitive position or a definitive velocity unless and until these quantities are measured by an observer.”

Question. If realism is not true, then how can it be that there can be an accurate description of nature? This assumes nature is a certain way and can be accurately described, but this is what realism teaches. Ah, the perils of saying philosophy is dead.

If realism is not true, then what is it that is being talked about in the whole book? This is part of the problem. Science alone can never determine that there is an external world. Even Berkeley’s view of reality in that it was all an idea in the mind of God could account for science. If all we have is science, we cannot even establish that matter, the object of its study, even exists.

Once again, it is not science that is the problem but science divorced from its foundations, which quickly becomes bad science.

Our next stop will be page 164, which interestingly happens in a chapter discussing the Goldilocks zone. I am not defending ID here, but simply stating that these findings are compatible easily with ID. GD says ID has the implicit understanding that the designer of the universe is God.

This would not explain agnostics like Berlinski and others, but suppose that IDists do have that belief. If they are entering in scientific data to show that, what is the problem? If God is real, then believing in some sort of design can help science as we can look at why things are the way they are as well. If the God explanation is true, and we keep looking for a contrary explanation, we are not only giving a false explanation, but we are missing the real one, and all of this just to avoid God? Why on Earth? Why think God would be the death knell of science since God was actually the origin of much scientific progress today?

On page 172, we have the usual “Who created God?” question. GD does say that some realize there must be some entity that needs no creator and this is usually taken to mean God. Unfortunately, they do not state why theists hold this position. They do not state we believe that a being who is incapable of change but the cause of all other change must be for all other change to be possible. Beings that change are part of existence and moving from one mode of existence to another. God does not do that since existence is His nature.

Finally, on page 180, we read this toward the end.

“Because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing in the manner described in chapter 6.”

Yes. You read that right.

If gravity exists, then something exists, so there is not nothing.

Gravity also acts on something else so something else must exist, hence there must be at least one thing.

Further, if gravity is a relation between two things at least, there must be at least two things.

Not only that, we have the same mistake of treating nothing as if it was something.

Finally, how is it that something can create itself. Only entities that exist can do actions like create and if something does not exist, it cannot create.

Perhaps some knowledge from a dead subject would have helped?

Also, we are regularly told about M-theory, but we are not told anything about what exactly it is and in fact are told it could be several theories. Keep in mind, it’s not allowed to posit a God who we do not understand, but it is perfectly allowable to posit a theory we do not understand. I am not against theories, but the sword should cut both ways.

In conclusion, those interested in science could enjoy the book, but do not come here expecting sound philosophy and/or theology or an understanding of either one. Once again, we have a case of the new priesthood wanting to vaunt its authority without being aware of the foundations it relies on.

In Christ,
Nick Peters