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Hawking Picks Physics Over God For Big Bang 1328

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the there-is-no-god dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "The Guardian reports that in his new book, The Grand Design, Professor Stephen Hawking argues that the Big Bang, rather than occurring following the intervention of a divine being, was inevitable due to the law of gravity. '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,' Hawking writes. 'It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.' Hawking had previously appeared to accept the role of God in the creation of the universe. Writing in his bestseller A Brief History Of Time in 1988, Hawking wrote: 'If we discover a complete theory, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we should know the mind of God.'"
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Hawking Picks Physics Over God For Big Bang

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  • M-theory (Score:2, Interesting)

    by LoyalOpposition (168041) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @08:05AM (#33448404)

    In the forthcoming book, published on 9 September, Hawking says that M-theory, a form of string theory, will achieve this goal: "M-theory is the unified theory Einstein was hoping to find," he theorises.

    You just have to have faith.

    ~Loyal

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 02, 2010 @08:10AM (#33448468)

    Humans evolve. Humans create self replicating robots. Humans go away. Some robots say they were built. Other robots rebut 'But who built the builders?' No one, they were not built.

    Or to put it another way, what if a self-aware cartoon character asks 'Who drew the drawers?' No one, they were not drawn.

    Point is, what applies for one level doesn't necessarily apply for the one above it.

  • Who's on first? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by werewolf1031 (869837) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @08:10AM (#33448470)

    "If we discover a complete theory, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we should know the mind of God."

    I always thought it was a metaphor, as in to "know the mind of God" as he puts it means we'd finally understand everything about the universe, not that we'd know what a literal God is thinking.

    Either some people took Mr. Hawking's statement too literally, or I misunderstood...

  • by MokuMokuRyoushi (1701196) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @08:18AM (#33448582) Journal
    I sincerely hope that was a sardonic statement. If that's the condition of people in general today, we're going to have a sticky few decades ahead of us.
  • by mcvos (645701) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @08:24AM (#33448672)

    I was actually under the impression that the law of gravity, like time ans presumably other laws of physics, were inextricably part of this universe, which would mean they came into being at the time of the Big Bang. Does Hawking now say that's not true? Or have I always been wrong in my understanding?

  • Re:The true believer (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rotide (1015173) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @08:27AM (#33448732)

    True, but I simply don't believe science has any reason to even consider, let alone mention "God" in any fashion. You can't waste time disproving something that no one can prove. The onus here is on those who believe. Basically, science need not worry itself with theological ideas. Just keep learning new facts, coming up with new theories and keep teaching them to the best of your ability.

    If somehow, one day, the paths do truly cross, still don't mention religion. Just put the information out there and let those who are willing to accept new ideas, learn.

  • Re:The true believer (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 02, 2010 @08:29AM (#33448766)

    The only time atheists really object to superstition is when it is taught to children as fact.
     
    Look at it this way. I've got a job as a geography teacher. Turns out I am also a member of the Flat Earth Society [alaska.net]. I decide to enlighten the children in class that all those photos from space are fake, and that if you sail too far in one direction, you are going to fall off the edge.
     
    How long would I last in the job?
     
    Now say I'm the Religious Education teacher. I am perfectly entitled to teach them that mankind started off 6000 years ago, in a garden with a magic apple and a talking snake.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 02, 2010 @08:36AM (#33448886)

    Do you not need matter in order to have gravity?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 02, 2010 @08:39AM (#33448940)
    So which one of the several million religion options should we choose? They're all pretty much mutually exclusive, and they all sentence everyone who isn't part of their particular sub-sect to eternal post-mortem punishment of one sort or another. Are you a Catholic? The Mormons, Jews, Baptists, Evangelicals, and so on all say you're a heritic who is going to burn. Are you a Baptist? Nobody else likes you either. Who's right? Which one do you choose? Pascal's wager, if you actually include _all_ of the numbers, says it's better to be an atheist.
  • Here be dragons (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Fractal Dice (696349) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @08:42AM (#33448988) Journal

    Until we can point an exact and computable equation for the entire past, present and future of existence, there will always be unexplored parts of the map. You can fill that void with any assumption you want - from dragons to flying spaghetti monsters, a big fat zero to $God. If you assume that this placeholder is omnipotent and mysterious, that removes all the messy frustration about why it's hiding out in the ignorance section.

    Where you run into problems is that these seemingly harmless placeholders become memes. As you add lore around your placeholder of choice, there is competition between memes. Some survive. Some die. Some mutate. Evolution now kicks in. The placeholders become resistant to being replaced with other placeholders. As people start filling in the map, knowledge itself becomes a threat to the meme and it begins to complete for mindspace in which to live.

    Now this harmless placeholder is, for all practical purposes, a real living thing scratching at your mind from the void beyond knowledge like some quantum virtual particle leaping out of a black hole.

  • by ledow (319597) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @08:50AM (#33449146) Homepage

    "Of course, when the universe is several nanoseconds old, we're past talking about "creation", aren't we? By several nanoseconds, at least."

    Assuming a single-universe, in only the four human-visible dimensions, that came from "nothing" rather than, say, a constantly expanding and contracting universe, or one created via intra-dimensional interactions that are invisible to us in "our" universe, or... etc.etc.etc. Simply saying "this universe looks to be several billion years old" does not negate the possibility that a) we're wrong, b) only *this* universe is that old, or c) that what we think of as time isn't quite that simple. Time and space are pretty much the same thing to a theoretical physicist, remember. Until you can get your head round that, interpreting simplified statements isn't going to get you anywhere.

    "Ultimately, the other side of the singularity that is the Big Bang is unknowable. We can speculation all we like, and pretty much all the speculations are equally valid - they're all a pile of crap...."

    Unknowable is a big word to a physicist. They can just about accept that you can't "know" certain things at certain times (Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, for example), but they formalise that "enforced ignorance" as much as possible. Mathematicians, like myself, respect that. If you know something is impossible, work out how, why, and what the limits of that impossibility are. Otherwise, you might as well not even bother to learn physics at all past your first six months of lessons in that subject. Or mathematics. Or computing (The Halting Problem, for instance).

    Saying that they're all a pile of crap is over-simplifying things. The point is, they are all logically consistent up to a point. That may be due to human error, it may be due to the fact that they are all linked by something we haven't yet found. But they ARE still logically inconsistent and until we find any mistakes or connections, they aren't "crap". Maybe unusable. Maybe unverifiable. Maybe impractical. But they are no worse than any other hypothesis at all.

    "Note that Hawking was, most likely, talking about the galaxies, suns, planets, etc. when he said that God wasn't needed to make it happen. In that, he's correct, in that once the Big Bang happens, gravity pretty much requires the formation of planets, stars, galaxies, etc."

    I doubt he was. Hawking generally doesn't simplify down that far and if he did, he'd probably be immensely pissed that someone was taking his high-end work and using such a simplified version of a conclusion from it. He's talking intra-dimensional gravitational interactions, most probably. Which leads into things like understanding how a dimension can exist outside our universe and inside it, and how an extra-dimensional interaction can kick-start something from nothing. Gravitons are believed to travel between dimensions that we can only describe mathematically (up to 11 of them). They are the only things we have theorised that are able to do so - electromagnetism, mass, etc. can't. Thus I think what he's saying is that if we sort out M-Theory (which is the formalisation of many string theories that are all "crap" for various values of "crap", until we get a single, logically consistent theory that explains all the shortcomings and "crap"), we'll discover that gravitons can pass through other dimensions and yet still affect our own, and thus a "Big Bang" is more an externally-triggered event that creates a universe from which it's hard to see outside, even mathematically, and guess what else is outside it.

    But, hey, that's just from me reading up on M-theory since the article was published. It took me about 10 minutes and the only classes I ever came close to failing were Physics ones. Strange how a little research can provide so many possible alternative "non-crap" answers so quickly.

    My own way of thinking about this is that the universe is a bubble. We can't see outside it, we can't poke the borders, we can only guess. Saying that the b

  • Re:Who's on first? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Talla (95956) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @08:50AM (#33449150)

    I always thought it was a metaphor

    If course it was, this is just a clarification to stop religious extremists from being able to pretend that he supports their god. What I find really interesting in the article is that he supports M-theory. It may be old news, but I wasn't aware of it.

  • by stephenhawking (571308) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @08:51AM (#33449166) Homepage

    It's turtles all the way down!

    Someone, it appears, actually read "A Brief History of Time."

  • by BergZ (1680594) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @09:00AM (#33449338)
    I’m curious about this book "I Don't Have Faith Enough to be an Atheist":
    Looking at the description of the book on Amazon is quite interesting. According to the sycophantic reviews from other Christian religious authors this book must provide bullet proof arguments for the existence of God.
    If it’s anything like “A Purpose Driven Life”: I’m not going to pick it up. For anyone who hasn’t read APDL; Don’t bother, it’s a real stinker. I was given a copy a few weeks ago with the assurance that it contains “bullet proof” arguments of God’s existence... It doesn’t.
    The main argument of APDL goes: You exist because God created you, and he created you so that you would serve him therefore God exists and because God exists he must the Judeo-Christian God and his son must be Christ.
    The argument is bereft of any content worthy of serious intellectual consideration. Oh, but they did take the time to try to hock some cheezy tie-in 'wares like "APDL Journal" and "APDL Cards" all available for a small "donation".
  • by kenp2002 (545495) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @09:15AM (#33449678) Homepage Journal

    The law of gravity is physical in the sense of a force acting upon matter and energy. Part of the big bang theories out there in fact postulates that the strong, weak nuclear forces, gravity, electromagnetic, etc were all bound together maintaining the inital singularity (if that term is even accurate) then one or more of them broke off that unified force and subsequently set the big-bang off. If that was the case then we have a whole new layer of physics to contend with, the fact that forces themselves have the potential to break down or decay. In simple terms: The very laws of physics may change over time. (Heavy isn't it?) So gravity itself (as a force) could at some point break down into some additional, more basic forces, convert to a particle based force, who the hell knows! For all of human history we've never really looked at the concept that reality itself (And that laws that form it) may be subject to change themselves over time.

    But, tangent aside, as a physical "thingiee"... sure but nor more or less physical as "pressure", "heat", or to a lesser extent entropy.

  • by timeOday (582209) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @09:27AM (#33449910)
    Reason would only take you so far anyway. Instead of answering "why" once or twice, science enables mankind to answer it to 5 or 6 levels of depth. That level of knowledge has given most of us life (multiplying the carrying capacity of the planet by orders of magnitude) and allowed us to live better and longer lives, too. But there are no ultimate explanations. Any chain of logic (or causality) must either extend forever and ever, or stop at something that just "is," and both options are nonsensical. (This is equally true whether or not any of the links in the chain are God).
  • by j00r0m4nc3r (959816) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @09:29AM (#33449948)
    Either way, you're doing what you want. This is how the human brain works. In fact, this is how every single living organism works. You have a single base motive : to find "happiness". For some people, this happiness is derived from following their religion. For others, this happiness is derived from other things. Either way, you never do anything that your brain believes won't lead to happiness. Every single action you take in your life is your brain attempting to achieve happiness. Your conscious mind, if it even exists, can only try to interpret these actions.
  • Re:well duh. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by grub (11606) <slashdot@grub.net> on Thursday September 02, 2010 @09:36AM (#33450094) Homepage Journal

    I think I would have said it more of "Hawking picks one religion over another."

    Atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby.
  • by Joce640k (829181) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @09:37AM (#33450116) Homepage

    There's far more religious people in prison than Atheists [holysmoke.org].

    Also far less crime in countries with high rates of Atheism [nairaland.com].

    And murder rates seem directly correlated with Christian belief [cybercollege.com], not inversely as you might expect.

    Christians are also much more likely to divorce than Atheists [religioustolerance.org]

    So on the whole ... if there is a heaven, and entrance is based on good behavior and actions, there's probably going to be more atheists there then Christians.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 02, 2010 @09:37AM (#33450118)

    Please, before those that agree out of hand Hawking's arguments because he's a smart physicist and "he's Hawking, he must be right", let me just say that you need to read the counter arguments before you make a decision. When you do, you'll find that this "Spontaneous creation" argument is weak at best.

    I recommend you read books like "Reasonable Faith" by William Lane Craig and "I Don't Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist" by Norman Geisler - they address this issue thoroughly and logically with very sound arguments. If you think "something can come from nothing", reading those books will give you food for thought. Personally, I've found the Kalam Cosmological Argument and the Teleological Argument two sound arguments against what Hawking is theorizing (there are others). Those two books I've mentioned go into detail into that, among lots of other things.

    And before its asked again, the question "if God exists, than what created God?" is about as weak as Hawking's assertions (and again, is answered by those two books among others).

  • by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Thursday September 02, 2010 @09:53AM (#33450494) Homepage

    I was raised in a non-religious household. I came to Orthodox Christianity because of Richard Swinburne's defence of Christianity (a multi-volume series published by Oxford University Press). Swinburne in turn left the Church of England for the Orthodox Church after he found it the only Christian denomination that matched where his philosophical reasoning led him.

    So it's quite common for people to believe in Christianity through being convinced of its claims, not only because of an accident of upbringing.

  • by Rutefoot (1338385) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @10:01AM (#33450708)
    When I try to discuss this with religious people, they often argue that my 'moral code' is based off of Christian teachings and wouldn't exist otherwise.

    What they fail to understand is that their moral codes were created for very sensible reasons that likely predates their religion by millenia. We are social creatures, this is how we evolved. Our ability to function within groups has always been so crucially important to our survival. So within those groups, rules naturally form to make sure that group functions as well as possible to help give it better chances of survival. In small groups "for the good of the community" reasons work fine and dandy, but when groups grow beyond Dunbar's Number [wikipedia.org] then more extreme measures have to be taken (as people will lose connection with the 'community' in larger groups and no longer feel as obligated to contribute to it). And the desire to avoid eternal damnation works well for the most part.
  • by darien.train (1752510) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @10:01AM (#33450710) Journal

    Pascal's wager is a poor one for many reasons. It's a classic false choice. All you're truly wagering against is the notion of a personal god who monitors and judges your every thought and action (which is a bet I'll take any day). Not whether a god or gods exist.

    Many atheists will cede that they border on deist as in "If there is a god it's the equivalent of how we view ants, not some kind of overbearing father figure/mind reader/judge/asshole." What supreme being has the time or inclination to listen to what us dumb apes are thinking all the time? That sounds like a really short-sighted view of the possibilities of omnipotence.

    Many atheists will also cede that there could be a higher power, just one that's also a part of the natural universe (aliens, AI machines, a singularity, etc.)

    Just sayin!

  • by mmajosh (1689226) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @10:18AM (#33450998)
    Reading books on "logical-thinking" is completely relative, therefore it is irrelevant. It's the same as the common-sense or common-knowledge arguments...it's all relative to the one believing. Philosophy 101 brother :)
  • by digitig (1056110) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @10:23AM (#33451108)

    And even if you do believe in God, what are the chances you've chosen the right one to believe in?

    That isn't actually a very strong argument against taking a position. Suppose I put twenty boxes in front of you and told you that one of them contained a good cheque for $1,000,000 and the others contained nothing. You can open any one, and keep the contents. What are the changes of picking the right one? Not great. What reason is there for choosing one box over another? Not much: maybe hunch, maybe try to interpret my facial expressions. One thing is sure, though: any strategy that involves opening a box is better than the strategy of not opening any of them because you can't decide.

    Anyway, people at stages 5 and 6 of Fowler's model of faith development [plts.edu] don't really make a choice between different faith traditions (so your argument about inheriting the religion of their parents doesn't apply to them, although they may inherit some ways of expressing that faith). In terms of the box game, these people recognise the nature of the game, don't put any faith in their ability to choose well, but simply enjoy the act of opening the box that they do.

  • Hubris (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheLink (130905) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @10:41AM (#33451498) Journal
    No, it's virtual machines all the way...

    Seriously, that's why trying to prove certain things may not be possible. Saying they are likely to be XYZ based on certain evidence is wiser, but insisting that you are even close to 100% sure is being silly. If it turns out we really are in something similar to a universe simulator/virtual machine there's no guarantee we can prove anything about stuff outside.

    For example, say I create a universe simulator, set up a universe, make copies and mess about with some copies. Pause one, edit and restart it.

    How old would that universe be? From the "inside" it might be billions of years or more. From outside it might have just started a moment ago.

    From inside that universe, based on the rules, there could be no evidence or need for a creator. From the outside there could be one or many creators involved in designing it, etc. Or the concept of "one" vs "many" doesn't really translate that well.

    Yes it could turn out that isn't a creator at all, and it just so happens it's like that. But it could even turn out to be stranger - because the rules outside aren't necessarily the same as the rules inside, heck thinking they must be takes an immense leap of faith in my opinion.

    Looking at the evidence, I think the universe isn't quite so simple as many think (even the very smart ones). As such, I personally believe there is a God and he has a strange sense of humour. I may be wrong, but how can a intelligent, rational and knowledgeable mere human being can be so sure he/she is right about the universe?

    It's certainly not a simple 3 body newtonian universe we're in. And thank God the graphics are better than Civ2 :).
  • What created Law? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by gox (1595435) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @10:45AM (#33451568)

    Who created this law of things can only exist if it first have to go through the process of creation then?

    Creation, in this context, doesn't have to involve design in any way, or any kind of "process" for that matter. Also, time-line is irrelevant -- one can even speak of time's creation. What we're basically discussing here is causality. So the gist of the matter is:

    "Does existence need a cause?"

    Let's assume that there was a big bang. My existence can be causally traced back to it. So, there is no "my existence", individually standing; it is a composite "situation", which is a result of the state of affairs at the bang. But can we speak of any existence which is not a result?

    If the question was, "Is there a word that has a meaning by itself?", the answer would be almost obviously be "no".

    So, "What caused the big bang?", IMO, is a very legitimate question. There cannot be a first cause -- otherwise the word "causality" would lose its meaning.

    But it's not the dramatic reality about all this. What we are really admitting, I think, is that, existence itself is a composition of relations between objects (causality in action). I.e. "Existence is structure".

    One thinks then, that reality is composed of objects (matter/energy) and relations (laws). However, our history of knowledge shows that, when you investigate "matter", using the techniques of the time, you always discover that it's "made up" of finer stuff. This stuff, can in turn be structures that are made up of even finer stuff. If not so, that means that it has nothing about it that is not in its set of relations (its properties).

    So it's almost inevitable to arrive to the conclusion that what we call matter is a structure, composed of relations of things. Things which are nothing but their relations. At this point, I guess, we can't get rid if the "thing" linguistically, since we need it to define the relations.

    In conclusion, it seems that there's nothing other than the laws of nature, that makes up the universe. In this context, causality is enforced by consistency and doesn't have to have a more specialized meaning.

    Do we make any progress with this line of reasoning? You can still ask where the laws of nature come from? My metaphysical view tends to have an economical bias, not about the quantity of existence, but quantity of metaphysics involved. :-) So, I just accept that every possible world (any combination of laws) exists.

  • Re:The true believer (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) <obsessivemathsfreak@nosPAm.eircom.net> on Thursday September 02, 2010 @10:49AM (#33451654) Homepage Journal

    Just look at the Creationist nonsense going on in US schools. This is 2010?!

    It certainly is. But unfortunately the science/religion "debate" is an American disease which has unfortunately infected discourse in most other anglophone countries. This kind of tripe coming from Stephen Hawkings himself is a symptom of just how chronic the infection has become.

    Call me nostalgic, but I seem to recall that in the 1990's, anyone talking about the place of God or Religion in the sciences or indeed politics was viewed as an outlandish crackpot or a cultist of some kind. People seemed to leave their religion at home (I'm talking about countries outside the US). Nowadays, everyone seems to have no shame dropping out juvenile level inanity about creationism or belief in the divine at the drop of a hat.

    In my opinion, all this jawing about religion in virtually any context is a waste of air, and worse has a divisive, and poisonous effect on our society. We're going downhill ever since we caught this bug from US newsfeeds--as well as the internet--and its only going to get worse until we stop allowing backward opinions from conservative America to pollute our airwaves.

    Garbage like this is why I find myself turning to sources like Russia Today, Al-Jazzeera and China Daily for news. At least the totalitarian regimes don't cater to this pre-Enlightenment prattle. We may as well start reading horoscopes and celebrity gossip than give credence to this crud.

  • by EnsilZah (575600) <EnsilZah.Gmail@com> on Thursday September 02, 2010 @11:26AM (#33452434)

    Well then why can't something else be outside time and have the same results?
    Or would you also call that god?
    Or does being outside time somehow necessitate agency and if so why?

  • by ElKry (1544795) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @11:43AM (#33452822)
    Do you not need people in order to believe in God?
  • by bjk002 (757977) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @12:01PM (#33453234)
    "they choose to do the "right" thing because it is right, not because someone else said it was right and threatened them with torture if they disobeyed."

    I call it individualized social-humanistic morality [link] [wikipedia.org], where "right" is self-determined based on the awareness of the potential of human society.
  • Re:Devil's advocate: (Score:3, Interesting)

    by magsol (1406749) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @01:24PM (#33454654) Journal
    I may be modded off-topic for this, but I am genuinely curious as to your explanations for why an afterlife doesn't (or shouldn't?) exist, as well as how you qualify actions as purely deterministic. Not saying I agree or disagree (yet); I'm just very curious as to how you reached those conclusions.
  • Re:God, god, god.... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by MokuMokuRyoushi (1701196) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @10:15PM (#33461030) Journal

    Is that the case? Believe me, I've seen and studied all of these explanations before.
    But, alright. Let's say it's attributed to one of the three above. In that case, we should be able to achieve the same result by calling out any other name of similar status in our mind. Correct so far?
    But before that, let's pick a control word, to round off our test. I have a watch on my desk, so I choose the word "watch". You can pick whatever you like. Next, I'll choose another deity's name... Allah should do. I'd have picked Baal, but that would have been too old-fashioned. You can take whatever you like.

    Finally, I'll begin. I'll call on each word or name three times each. Then I'll call on the Lord's name. If you like, you can try as well. I encourage you to test your theory.

    But I've already told you what the result is, because I have tested. Don't think I haven't seen these explanations. Don't think I haven't studied in college and been told that the concept of God is nonsensical, ludicrous. I know it is. But in spite of that logic, there is a feeling, there is a sensation of life, clear and peaceful, when you call on that name. I'm not saying that science, or logic, or sensible thought is bad or stupid. I wish people would use it more, to be honest, I've come across so many people who would rather be right no matter the truth. I just don't care about what is bad or stupid. I have a sense of life, and I follow it. I'm not following blindly, even. I know every argument against God. I've seen and heard it all(well, I'm sure someone somewhere can hit me with a new one, but...), but it all fails to tell me why calling gives me that sense.

    If you want to say I'm wrong, then you need to test it. The fact is that testing a theory is the essence of science. If that weren't true, then mice would still be born from cheese, and meat would give birth to maggots - the planet would be flat. What an insane world it would be, don't you think? I challenge the concept, present my theory, and prove it through experimentation. I'll ask that you do the same.

We will have solar energy as soon as the utility companies solve one technical problem -- how to run a sunbeam through a meter.

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