Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Hawking some shady wares

Well, that's a blogger's life for you. No sooner is there a story to get your teeth into than life intervenes and whisks you away for a few days. I realise I have committed the heinous teacher-crime of not returning homework on time. The shame, the shame!

Still, let's get something straight. I cannot possibly comment as a physicist on Stephen Hawking's argument about spontaneous creation . It's entirely possibly that many physicists cannot comment on Hawking's argument as physicists either. Still, the nub of the Hawking argument comes down to this:

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.

There are, as I see it, two logical problems with this proposition. Let us rehearse them:

1. You cannot attribute an action to an agent who is not. I'm not saying agents are always evident; merely that they cannot explain anything to which they have no relationship. You know the scenario. We've all seen small children, discovered in flagrante delicto , who attempt to blame their misdemeanour on somebody else who couldn't possibly have been responsible. How can Hawking attribute causality to something which is not there? It was the Universe wot done it, 'onest. Even if we allow for a slightly different meaning to the word 'universe', how can anything be said to exist inevitably (and, therefore, it is conditioned to be this and not that) before it exists, unless there is some other source of that inevitability?

2. I suppose the second logical problem here is in the meaning Hawking attributes to 'why': 'why we exist'. Surely, when physical science says 'why' it only ever means 'how'; only ethics or psychology, neither of which are physical sciences, explore agency as the cause or result of meaning. Since the argument Hawking is referencing, however, involves the possibility of divine agency in the physical world, to use 'why' when you mean 'how' is objectively a sleight of hand.

In comments on a previous post, Moretben has made the argument that 'glory and gratitude' are also necessary conditions of being able to appreciate the argument from the physical world to the existence of God. For my part, I do not deny that knowledge and moral rectitude are connected; but I do question whether any atheistic understanding of the universe can be ultimately logical (not only formally but materially). I suppose that depends how we understand 'logic'. As Chesterton says somewhere, the mad man is not the one who has lost his reason, he is the one who has lost everything except his reason. In other words, the mad man is the one whose only claim to knowledge lies in the impregnability of his formal logic.

St Paul's teaching is that the invisible God is discoverable in his eternal power and divinity through material creation. That does not mean that we can understood the Uncreated one; only that the human mind can perceive something of Him through what surrrounds us.

I suspect there is every reason to believe that Hawking's conclusions are not those of victorious physics, so much as those of humanism defeated by the roaring absurdity of a theist or atheist universe. This argument is not exhausted by the possiblity of the Hagios or the God of the Philosophers; there is also the God who can be known through natural reason and who has chosen to reveal his nature and purposes more clearly and more fully through his Son.

1 comment:

Ben Trovato said...

As King Lear said:

'Nothing will come of nothing! Speak again!"