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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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