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The Grand Design

51GPz0weGVL._SL160_The Grand DesignStephen Hawking & Leonard Mlodinow

Sorry. This book did not live up to the hype.

With the headlines screaming that Stephen Hawking had disproved God: “God did not create the universe, says Hawking”. And the High Priest of antitheism, Richard Dawkins, declaring, “Darwinism kicked God out of biology but physics remained more uncertain. Hawking is now administering the coup de grace”, I was looking forward to a book with a little more bite. And at least something new.

In the beginning was the Law of Gravity, and the Law of Gravity spontaneously created multiple universes,…

I have degrees in Science and Theology, including having studied Philosophy at university. The media hype gave me the impression that this was going to be a ground-breaking, paradigm-smashing read for me.

Having now read the book, I think the Church Mouse is closest to the truth:

What Stephen Hawking said Vs what we heard

Stephen Hawking said that the laws of physics could explain the creation of the universe without the need to refer to a God.

An Atheist heard “There is no God and I can prove it”.

An Anglican heard “God has revealed the wonder of his creation yet further”.

An Evangelical heard “I don’t believe in God, but please tell everyone you know why I am wrong”.

A Catholic heard “We don’t need the Church to explain anything any more”.

A Pentecostal heard “I have another unprovable theory about creation”.

A doubter heard “I told you so – there is no God”.

A psychologist heard “It is a deep human need to seek answers to the question of ‘why’ and the answer is ‘just because'”.

A sceptic heard “I have a new book to sell”.

The book is very attractively presented. But there is nothing new in it! OK – so Stephen Hawking is retired. Anyone who has kept even a general interest in current, (and not undisputed) developments in ideas in theoretical physics will not be surprised by anything in this book.

The arrogance of “philosophy is dead” on the first page doesn’t start off on the right foot. And the constant attempt at lame humour may be funny for a little while but soon becomes tiresome and doesn’t do anything to break the stereotype of geeky-looking nerds with thick glasses who don’t get out much and pore over complex equations with enthusiasm while not realizing other people have quite a different concept of what life is actually about. When the jokes stop for a while in the middle of the book, the tone changes to some harder work – has this material originated in some lecture and been pasted in?

I am pleased that on page 22 he acknowledges that materialism (the belief that there is nothing else going on but material things) and the belief in free will are mutually exclusive. Materialism holds that either everything is determined (a la Newton etc) or things are random (a la Quantum theory etc). Free will is neither of those options. So if you hold to any free will whatsoever, be consistent – you are denying materialism. [Page 178 has free will defined as the inability to calculate the resulting action!]

He argues (correctly IMO, and contra many scientists as he acknowledges) for the strong anthropic principle (the weak anthropic principle holds little interest for me personally). The trouble is (as those many scientists realise) that if you then don’t have the (dubious, and currently, at least, unscientific) multiverse, your only option remaining (as far as I can see) is theism.

The book veers steadily away from Science. M-theory and multiverses currently do not appear falsifiable; hence, following Popper and the philosophy of Science (the reports of which death are greatly exaggerated!) this is not Science. The book is littered with religious language: things are not what they seem as perceived through our senses (page 7), “many like to believe” (page 141), “miraculously” (page 162)…

In some places the writing is so shonky that it is hard to believe this is written by a scientist. Page 91 has Maxwell discovering that electromagnetic waves travel at the speed of light. “He had discovered that light itself is an electromagnetic wave!” Well that logic is at the same level as all cats have four legs, this dog has four legs…

On page 172 he deteriorates to the level of pre-adolescent logic, “It is reasonable to ask who or what created the universe, but if the answer is God, then the question has merely been deflected to that of who created God.”

If you are totally unaware of Quantum theory, or String theory – this might be a good book to read. Or there might be better introductions for you. If you believe in a god-of-the-gaps, where your “God” fills in the bits that we don’t understand, yes, reading this book might make the gap for your “God” a little more cramped. But if you get out more, and see reality with different aspects: physics, beauty, relationships, spirituality,… then God being the source of the Law of Gravity as well as of beauty and love is not going to find any coup de grace to your faith in this book.

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10 Responses to The Grand Design

  1. I haven’t read this one of Hawking, but since I read a lot of physics, it doesn’t surprise me that there is nothing ground breaking in here. I loved the quote that you used from the book, “In the beginning was the Law of Gravity, and the Law of Gravity spontaneously created multiple universes,…” The first question I would ask Dr. Hawking would be where did the law of gravity come from? I’ve always been of the opinion that science describes how God does it, not why or if He exists.

    Thanks for your review. I might get a copy of it in the future.

    • We are on the same page, Jeff. I don’t go to Genesis 1 to ask how questions. And I don’t go to physics to ask the big why questions. And, no, the book doesn’t say where the law of gravity originates from!

  2. I’ve been curious about what this book would say. Some suggested Hawking might even be leaning towards deism, but I guess not. I’ll have to check it out, so I can debate with interested students, but it sounds like I’ll just be more annoyed and bored than ever. The New Atheists are already losing my interest as it is; I can hardly stomach this old, swiss-cheese logic anymore. Thanks for writing.

  3. I have always thought that there are two sorts of people: those who study science and think “oh, well that explains everything” and those who think “this only leaves things more mysterious than ever!” (A similar observation is made about half-way through the Plato’s Phaedo.)

    To generalise horribly, it also seems that biologists tend to fall into the first category and physicists into the latter. So it was interesting to read that Dawkins quote above.

    Perhaps the explanation is that Dawkinsism is (per Keith Ward) dependent on ‘common sense’ (especially when dealing with metaphysical subjects which cannot be dealt with by the hypothetico-deductive method). Whereas physics seems to be the scientific discipline most sceptical of ‘common sense’ as an accurate guide to the way things work (e.g. in the behaviour of particles at quantum level, or the physical effects on bodies at speed).

  4. In “The Grand Design” Stephen Hawking postulates that M-theory may be the Holy Grail of physics…the Grand Unified Theory which Einstein had tried to formulate, but never completed. It expands on quantum mechanics and string theories.

    In my e-book on comparative mysticism is a quote by Albert Einstein: “…most beautiful and profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and most radiant beauty – which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their primitive form – this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of all religion.”

    E=mc², Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, is probably the best known scientific equation. I revised it to help better understand the relationship between divine Essence (Spirit), matter (mass/energy: visible/dark) and consciousness (f(x) raised to its greatest power). Unlike the speed of light, which is a constant, there are no exact measurements for consciousness. In this hypothetical formula, basic consciousness may be of insects, to the second power of animals and to the third power the rational mind of humans. The fourth power is suprarational consciousness of mystics, when they intuit the divine essence in perceived matter. This was a convenient analogy, but there cannot be a divine formula.

  5. A good deal of the press for Prof. Hawking’s book (here in the states, at least) was that it explained ‘why there is something rather than nothing.’ But in reality it just seems to walk that question back rather than taking a stab at actually answering why gravity and quantum physics exist. I am glad to see him grappling with the strong Anthropic Principle though.

    • You are quite right: the book does not answer why there is something rather than nothing.

      Ron, thank you for your comment and link. Your comment actually ended up in the spam filter. I am now receiving spam often by the hundreds and only accidentally notice comments there – so apologies to anyone else whose good comments are not coming through.

  6. Genuis. “We wolld therefore have to say that any complex being has free well-not as a fundamental feature, but as an effective theory, an admission of our inability to do the calculations that would enable us to predict its actions”. Page 178

  7. “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.”
    – Stephen Hawking in “The Grand Design”
    “As recent advances in cosmology suggest, the laws of gravity and quantum theory allow universes to appear spontaneously from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”
    – Stephen Hawking in the same book.

    Here three questions can be asked:
    1) Which one came first, universe, or laws of gravity and quantum theory?
    2) If the universe came first, then how was there spontaneous creation without the laws of gravity and quantum theory?
    3) If the laws of gravity and quantum theory came first, then Hawking has merely substituted God with quantum theory and laws of gravity. These two together can be called Hawking’s “Unconscious God”. Therefore we can legitimately ask the question: Who, or what, created Hawking’s unconscious God?

  8. Philosophy is dead. Is Logic dead also?

    Regarding the M-theory: I have already written something on multiverse theory (not yet published anywhere). There I have come to the conclusion that if there are an infinite number of universes, then only within that infinite number of universes there will certainly be at least one universe in which life will emerge. If the number of universes is only 10 to the power 500, then it is very much unlikely that any one of them will support life, because no universe will know which set of values the other universes have already taken, and if everything is left on chance, then there is every probability that all the universes will take only those set of values that will not support life. There will be no mechanism that will prevent any universe from taking the same set of values that have already been taken by other universes. There will be no mechanism that will take an overview of all the universes already generated, and seeing that in none of them life has actually emerged will move the things in such a way that at least one universe going to be generated afterwards will definitely get the value of the parameters just right for the emergence of life. Only in case of an infinite number of universes this problem will not be there. This is because if we subtract 10 to the power 500 from infinity, then also we will get infinity. If we subtract infinity from infinity, still then we will be left with infinity. So we are always left with an infinite number of universes out of which in at least one universe life will definitely emerge. Therefore if M-theory shows that it can possibly have 10 to the power 500 number of solutions, and that thus there might be 10 to the power 500 number of universes in each of which physical laws would be different, then it is really a poor theory, because it cannot give us any assurance that life will certainly emerge in at least one universe. So instead of M-theory we need another theory that will actually have an infinite number of solutions.
    Now the next question to be pondered is this: 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?
    Giving death-sentence to an already-dead God is a joke perhaps!

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