Sunday, September 05, 2010

Stephen Hawking's and Leonard Mlodinow's Case Against a Possible Creator

The recent article by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow saying there is no case for a creator deity  is finally available on the 'net for now.  Rather than opine about it and take a swipe and "New Atheists" I would entreat all to actually read the article. Here's the key points:

It is possible to turn that last statement into a scientific principle: The fact of our being restricts the characteristics of the kind of environment in which we find ourselves. For example, if we did not know the distance from the Earth to the sun, the fact that beings like us exist would allow us to put bounds on how small or great the Earth-sun separation could be. We need liquid water to exist, and if the Earth were too close, it would all boil off; if it were too far, it would freeze. That principle is called the "weak" anthropic principle.
The weak anthropic principle is not very controversial. But there is a stronger form that is regarded with disdain among some physicists. The strong anthropic principle suggests that the fact that we exist imposes constraints, not just on our environment, but on the possible form and content of the laws of nature themselves...
If one assumes that a few hundred million years in stable orbit is necessary for planetary life to evolve, the number of space dimensions is also fixed by our existence. That is because, according to the laws of gravity, it is only in three dimensions that stable elliptical orbits are possible. In any but three dimensions even a small disturbance, such as that produced by the pull of the other planets, would send a planet off its circular orbit, and cause it to spiral either into or away from the sun.
The emergence of the complex structures capable of supporting intelligent observers seems to be very fragile. The laws of nature form a system that is extremely fine-tuned. What can we make of these coincidences? Luck in the precise form and nature of fundamental physical law is a different kind of luck from the luck we find in environmental factors. It raises the natural question of why it is that way.
Many people would like us to use these coincidences as evidence of the work of God. The idea that the universe was designed to accommodate mankind appears in theologies and mythologies dating from thousands of years ago. In Western culture the Old Testament contains the idea of providential design, but the traditional Christian viewpoint was also greatly influenced by Aristotle, who believed "in an intelligent natural world that functions according to some deliberate design."
That is not the answer of modern science. As recent advances in cosmology suggest, the laws of gravity and quantum theory allow universes to appear spontaneously from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.
Our universe seems to be one of many, each with different laws. That multiverse idea is not a notion invented to account for the miracle of fine tuning. It is a consequence predicted by many theories in modern cosmology. If it is true it reduces the strong anthropic principle to the weak one, putting the fine tunings of physical law on the same footing as the environmental factors, for it means that our cosmic habitat—now the entire observable universe—is just one of many.
Each universe has many possible histories and many possible states. Only a very few would allow creatures like us to exist. Although we are puny and insignificant on the scale of the cosmos, this makes us in a sense the lords of creation. 

The universe, vast as it is, is as Grace Slick once sang..."Compared to your scream, the human dream doesn't mean sh!t to a tree."  The planets we've "seen" outside our solar system are even wilder than we had thought at first. If there were an anthropic principle, it's pretty well hidden amongst the strange variety of objects in the universe.  Sorry if that doesn't mean "religion and science are enemies,"  as far as scientific inquiry versus dogma are concerned but it seems to be the case.

When Hawking and Molodinow say, "the laws of gravity and quantum theory allow universes to appear spontaneously from nothing," I believe, based on what I know as an educated non-specialist, that it means that there is a probabilistic mechanism by which universe arise. That probabilistic structure means that it is fundamentally irrelevant whether or not a deity exists in regards to the universe coming into being.  It falls out of the math so to speak, just as it is irrelevant how the laws of physics effect a large numbers of rolls of two fair die.

In saying there's any kind of anthropic principle we're just thinking we're too damned important in the universe. I would say even Hawking and Mlodinow go in that direction, perhaps as a salve, for saying though we're puny, we're the "lords" of the universe.    There's too much variety in the universe we've already seen to make such a grandiose statement, in my view.

The vast variety of the universe and my limited knowledge of the intertwining of probability into its origin is a catalyst for this Buddhist's sense of wonder, awe, and humility.

By the way,Nathan at Dangerous Harvests had had a post on this earlier.  I would challenge all to actually consider what Hawking and Mlodinow are saying, not from a "Religion" versus "Science" perspective, but to hold that issue in brackets until you have a sufficient understanding of what they're saying as science.  They're not condemning religious people as enemies, they're condemning  dogma as the enemy of reasoning.   I  would make a similar metaphor of religious dogma being fundamentally opposed to the search for the resolution to the Great Matter.  And the search for the resolution to the Great Matter, as made into a parable in the famed ox herding pictures, will always - can only triumph over a dogmatic command to "Believe this because god told me so."

1 comment:

Sabio Lantz said...

Indeed -- I agree. Love your phrase, "...It[a deity] falls out of the math so to speak.."

BTW,little edit:

take a swipe and "New Atheists"

--> AT (not 'and')