Thursday, September 02, 2010

Nature is enough

I'm really glad that Stephen Hawking has finally cleared up the much quote-mined sentence at the end of his now famous 1988 book "A brief history of time". In that book he signed off with the words, "if we discover a complete theory, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we should know the mind of God." Of course people that know him have always said that he's referring to "God" here in the Deistic sense, i.e. meaning "Nature" or the Universe but never the less religious fundamentalists and creationists everywhere have used this sentence to make half-baked assertions along the lines of "famous scientist believes in God" This is about as likely as me killing my children because I say things like "if you don't stop arguing with your sister you're not going to reach your tenth birthday!". Language is such an imprecise way of communicating ideas and feelings.

In a new book titled "The grand design" Hawking says (more clearly this time) that "It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going". New ideas and discoveries in physics strongly suggest that because of physical laws like gravity Universes can and will create themselves from nothing and develop completely naturally, including the evolution (and descent by natural selection) of sentient beings such as ourselves in suitable environments. Since 1992 (and mentioned regularly here) we are discovering exoplanets and other features of the universe which make the assertion that our existence is somehow special or necessitates a divine (supernatural) spark of some kind redundant.

Sounds like an interesting book;

PS if you want to see a live debate between Ruth Gledhill and Richard Dawkins about this topic then you can watch it (live) here. So far, nothing new from the theist side, just the usual ontological diversions about "purpose" and x might be true or y might be true, science can't prove (insert Deity of your choice) doesn't exist. Celestial teapots in spades and god of the gaps ad nausea, let's hope she comes up with something more convincing or I predict the usual post coital excuse of "I lost the debate because Dawkins is so shrill, oh yeah and what about all the charity, therefore God exists".


Elizabeth said...

What annoys me is whenever a scientist says something like this, the papers bring in the religious writers and give them a prominent rebuttal space. The Times gave Ruth Glendall's opinion almost as much space as Hawking's.

thanks for an enlightening post.

G said...

I think that's fair enough, if he's making theological statements, Elizabeth. And if Prof Hawking decides to give us his views on politics, I'd expect to hear from Vernon Bogdanor or a politician. And if he has a new view on economics, it would be nice to hear from an economist.

From what I've read so far, I don't see that Prof Hawking's view has changed since A Brief History - he's just made a slightly more explicit comment, at a quiet news time of the year.

Steve Borthwick said...

G, A reasonable point although I'm not sure that it's so valid in this case since the story was primarily a science story (obviously the God angle sells more papers and so the religious editor is given disproportionate space IMO)

The opposite is not true unfortunately, when the Bishop of Carlisle says that floods are caused by Gay people we don't see a huge swathe of space given to the science editor to put him straight; you have to look to the comments sections for that.

gerrardus said...

The irony is I quite agree with Hawkings. As far as I can see, if we found anywhere in Physics where there was a "gap" to find God, we should keep looking till we plug it. I don't like the idea of a gap for God - it implies bad workmanship.

gerrardus said...

Btw I've finally got round to changing my Google moniker to be the same as my Twitter one. But you may have guessed that...