Excerpts of Stephen Hawking’s new book, The Grand Design, have been published in Britain’s The Times newspaper, and the world seems to be having a hissy-fit. (I’d include a link, but they require subscription. Here’s a Independent article on the same thing. Take that, Times!) Actually, I will admit that I would love to finish a commentary I had started on the subject, but other things are pressing on me and it looks unlikely. Compared to writing a commentary, this blog is simple stuff!
But for those who have somehow escaped the news, Dr. Hawking states in his new book that the newest (and shiniest!) theories demonstrate that that God is not necessary for the universe to exist. Whether it oscillates, permanently contracts, or expands into the nothingness of “heat death” — it’s irrelevant. Hawking has declared God an unnecessary variable in the equation.
I can understand the hissy-fit: Every time a famous and highly respected scientist (read: Richard Dawkins) becomes a lousy philosopher and theologian (read: Richard Dawkins) and says something sincerely-believed-but-still-dumb (read: Richard Dawkins), it makes news. I do admire the intellect of both Dawkins and Hawkings. I’d pay good money to have some of their neural synapses. (I’d also pay good money to have vocal chords like those of Kevin Lee or Mario Hernandez, but that’s another story.) But I don’t want the set of assumptions they work from. Perhaps the synapses could be purchased separately…
The thing is, what Hawking (and poor, little recognized co-author U.S. physicist Leonard Mlodinow, who might as well build a grass hut in Hawking’s shadow) is saying is nothing new. Physicists and cosmologists have been hypothesizing and waxing hopeful about multiverses and M-theory for years. I’ve blogged a bit about it myself, and, personally, I find the research fascinating even if I disagree with the conclusions they are trying to justify.
The news is not what Hawking is saying. What he is saying is incredibly old news. It is that he is saying it. I rip my pants, my wife and kids have a giggle. Britney Spears rips her pants, Google searches go wild across planet earth. And when it comes to statements about existence, God, and the universe: Stephen Hawking is Britney Spears. (Please tell me I can copyright those last five words…)
I really don’t have time to write anything serious on the topic (that’s where insightful equations like “Stephen Hawking = Britney Spears” come from!), but I can link to a blog post from the past that discusses a similar topic: “Is the Universe Made of Math?”
If Hawking & Mlodinow’s book discusses M-theory, it might be worth getting. Hawking is a good popularizer of scientific material that can be hard to grasp in the hands of others. But his philosophical conclusions? That’s another story. Still, the bridge he tries to build from one to the other might be instructive. (“Instructive” as in “The data from the Black Box we recovered was instructive.”)
I’ll finish the commentary if I can find some time. Until then, don’t worry. Stephen Hawking may have declared that the universe doesn’t need God, but a declaration doth not a reality make. Old false news is still false news even if it is packaged as new false news — and even if Britney Spears announces it.