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Grande Strategy

Comment: The Stephen Hawking Delusion

Posted from Hamza Tzortzis' Blog

Let me get something clear from the beginning, I haven’t read Professor Stephen Hawking’s new book The Grand Design, as it will be available to purchase in 6 days. Therefore, this comment is based on the specific excerpts taken from his book concerning the existence of God and cosmology that appeared in the media.

In the Professor’s new book, an extract of which appeared in the Times newspaper, it states that 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. The Professor continues It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.

From these excerpts alone it seems to me that the Professor is claiming that things can pop into being and that the universe spontaneously emerged from nothing. The Professor makes these conclusions as he seems to be holding an indeterministic view of physics. This means that he believes that there are many sub-atomic events that do not correspond with causality, because some physicists claim that sub-atomic particles behave unpredictably and spontaneously in the quantum vacuum all without any perceived cause!

However there are two main problems with this view:

1. The quantum vacuum is not nothing, so the claim that the universe came from nothing, because of the observations made at the quantum level, is misleading. The vacuum is actually something; it is a sea of fluctuating energy with a rich structure and obeys the laws of the universe. This is why many physicists are adopting a deterministic view of the observations made at the quantum level, for instance the David Bohm interpretation being one of them.

2. Philosophically speaking how can these physicists, like Stephen Hawking who adopt an indeterministic view, justify their conclusions? I don’t think they have a strong argument because everything we perceive in the universe comes into being via a cause, things change and events happen because of causes. This is the undeniable default position to take because the collective experience of mankind has never experienced or witnessed things coming into being out of nothing, and without the concept of causality we will not have the mental framework to understand our observations and experiences. In philosophical terms causality is a priori, which means knowledge we have independent of any experience.

Some philosophers and scientists deny this and claim that you can't think of examples of things we can know independent of experience. This is not true, take the following examples into consideration:

Circles have no corners.
Fathers are male.
4+4 = 8.
Time is irreversible.
Everything that begins to exist has a cause.

We know causality is true because we bring it to all our experience, rather than our experience bringing it to us. It is like wearing yellow-tinted glasses, everything looks yellow not because of anything out there in the world, but because of the glasses through which we are looking at everything. The contention that this is just an assumption is not true because without causality we would not be able to have the concept of an external reality. Take the following example into consideration; imagine you are looking at the White House in Washington DC. Your eyes may wonder to the door, across the pillars, then to the roof and finally over to the front lawn. Now contrast this to another experience, you are on the river Thames in London and you see a boat floating past. What dictates the order in which you had these experiences? When you looked at the White House you had a choice to see the door first and then the pillars and so on. However with the boat you had no choice as the front of the boat was the first to appear.

The point to take here is that you would not have been able to make the distinction that some experiences are ordered by yourself and others are ordered independently, unless we had the concept of causality. In absence of causality our experience would be very different from the way it is. It would be a single sequence of experiences only: one thing after another. 

You may be wondering how this relate to God’s existence. Well, if spontaneous creation from nothing was true and that causality did not make sense in the quantum vacuum, then from a scientific perspective God could be out of the picture. But since causality is true and spontaneous creation out of nothing is false, then we have a strong argument for the existence of God. Take the following premises into account,

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause
2. The universe began to exist
3. Therefore the universe has a cause

Since premises 1 and 2 are true, it logically follows that premise 3 is true. Everything that begins to exist has a cause, the universe began to exist, therefore the universe must also have a cause. However, to believe that this cause is God can be perceived as a leap of faith rather than a rational conclusion, because this cause could have been a mechanical cause or necessary pre-existing conditions. In light of this how can we justify that this cause is a transcendent immaterial being?

Using conceptual analysis, we can conclude that it must not be subject to time because it created time. This cause must also be uncaused due to the absurdity of an infinite regress, if the cause of the universe had a cause, and that cause had a cause ad infinitum, then there wouldn't be a universe to talk about in the first place! The cause of the universe must also be immaterial and beyond matter because it created the universe, and the universe is the sum of all matter. Significantly, this cause must have a will because since this cause is eternal, and it caused a finite effect, in other words the universe, then it must have chosen to do so, and choice indicates the existence of a will. Since this cause has a will it can interact and have relationships with personal agents, like human beings.

This analysis gives good reasons to believe in the Islamic concept of God, as the Qur’an – the book of the Muslims – eloquently summarises these points,

“Say: He is God, the One and Only! God, the Eternal, Absolute; He begets not nor is He begotten. And there is none like unto Him.

In conclusion, it seems to me that the Professor has placed himself in a self-defeating position, because to claim something comes from nothing and that causality is not true at the quantum level would be tantamount to saying that his book The Grand Design was not written by him, rather it spontaneously appeared into existence without any cause, and came into being from nothing!

But we all know out of nothing, nothing comes. This is why the Professor seems to have contradicted himself by saying it was all possible because of gravity. Then I would like to kindly ask him, where did gravity come from? If he responds “from nothing”, well, I would rhetorically reply, “so did your book”.

Lastly, I must add that I am looking forward to reading the Professor's book to find out what exactly he means by spontaneous causality and that the universe came into being from nothing, because for me it just doesn't make any sense!
Vision Without Glasses


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