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Wednesday, September 08, 2010

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W.

This essay by Fr. Spitzer and the one ("Stephen Hawking’s Creation Confusion") by William Carroll are great responses to Hawking.

Todd Newbold

Why does it seem physics like to deny God, while the "bio" fields confirm God? Maybe because physics deal with human theories while biology keeps getting more and more powerful microscopes and "witness" the permutations of life cells are in the many trillions.

Ed Peters

Go Fr. S, but remember, SH's claim betrays such a PROFOUND ignorance of basic logic on his part, that he will not likely be able recognize the drubbing he will obviously suffer. Most people today think that if they are still talking, their arguments must hold water. SH can go on talking as long as he wants, there always be dopes in the MSM who will broadcast his views on anything.

W.

After reading some of Hawking and listening again to Fr. Spitzer, he is arguing against a position that Hawking did not state. I am not a Hawking fan, but as good as the logic and argument is from Fr. Spitzer, his main argument about "an obvious contradiction" is based on a different understanding of nothing than that of Hawking.

Fr. Spitzer says at 4:55: "and we mean nothing by nothing."

Hawking's use of nothing is not the same. Stephen Barr makes a similar point at First Things. I say this in hope that Fr. Spitzer considers this possible difference and the sources referenced here before he goes on CNN.

Hawking does not mean a literal nothing. Barr makes the point that Hawking means something more like the nothing we might have in our bank accounts when the balance is zero. There is nothing there, but it is not an absolute nothing. It is surrounded by or supported by another structure: the account, the bank, the capacity to have money added to it, and so forth. What Hawking means by "nothing" is analogous. In the system of many universes, there can be some universes in potency. They are not yet in existence. And so when they come into existence, they come from a relative nothing in the sense of not having yet been.

As well, this use of universes is different from the philosophical/theological understanding of universe as the total of reality, all that there is. The cosmological multiple universes is a system from which or in which particular universes (physical structures which follow certain physical laws) come to be. How they come to be is through the greater workings of the larger system and its laws. This larger system is what most of us mean by universe, but it is not what Hawking and many other cosmologists and physicists mean by it.

Thus, when one of the universes come to be and there is no clear and identifiable (in his limited scientific sense--rational, mathematical, and subject to some sort of modular experimental test) causal reason for it, Hawking says it is spontaneous. Further, he says it is created. This creation is not absolute. It is a creation in the sense of explaining its beginning. This is not the full creation in the Christian and Thomistic understanding of creation. For that, see Carroll's article.

Hawking and Fr. Spitzer seem to be arguing different points. Would that Hawking had addressed the larger issue of the reason or source of the existence of the entirety of the multiple universes, of all reality, but he did not in what I read from the new book. I hope Fr. Spitzer gets him to at least answer what he means by "nothing" and what he means by "creation." That should make this difference clear.

Fr. Vincent Fitzpatrick

Having read nothing else by Fr. Spitzer, I'm not impressed, reading this passage, by his prowess as an English stylist. Some clarity, please!

Hawking has no clue what metaphysics is about. Spitzer probably does. Since both men are highly conversant in physics, however, this "debate" is going to go like rabbit tracks--hopping all over the place and getting nowhere.

Mark Brumley

I agree that Hawking must really mean by "nothing" a special kind of something. And I agree that Father Spitzer's argument above addresses absolute nothing, not that qualified, specialized "nothing".

However, popular statements by Hawking, including the Wall Street Journal piece, he has not made clear that the "nothing" to which he refers is not really nothing. He has been satisfied to leave the impression that by "nothing" he means "nothing". We don't need God to account for the universe, he argues, because the universe can create itself out of nothing. Here is a quote from the Wall Street Journal piece:

"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."

Father Spitzer rightly points out the absurdity of the argument above. If he does not address in his comments above the more refined sense of "nothing" that Hawking and others discuss elsewhere, it is because that refined sense is not used in popular statements and it is irrelevant to the question of creation by God. The universe coming into existence from the specialized kind of "nothing", which is not really nothing, is simply not an argument against creation of the universe (and the specialized "nothing") by God from a real nothing. So why does Hawking bring it up? Either he is confused and therefore confusing others about how he uses "nothing" or he is misleading people or both.

W.

"The universe coming into existence from the specialized kind of 'nothing', which is not really nothing, is simply not an argument against creation of the universe (and the specialized 'nothing') by God from a real nothing. So why does Hawking bring it up? Either he is confused and therefore confusing others about how he uses 'nothing' or he is misleading people or both."

This made me think of the panel discussion last night on Larry King (CNN) where the co-author Leonard Moldinow made some interesting comments.

He kept avoiding the question of his "personal beliefs" about what happens to us after this life, about the possibility of a creator God, and other related metaphysical issues. It was interesting that he kept speaking about that area as if it is mere personal belief. He seemed to give no respectable recognition to metaphysics, continuing to rephrase the issue in terms of "personal beliefs."

Perhaps I am reading into his responses but he came off as one who thinks physics, cosmology, and other related scientific fields are the best disciplines to arrive at an intellectual answer. As if there is no metaphysics.

Add to that he would not deal with the question of the absolute nothing, with the explanation or cause for the existence of the system(s) of multiple universes (namely, what is the source of existence for all that is, no matter how many universes there might be), and Fr. Spitzer's demonstration of the fallacy they employ in their book about going from particular bits of evidence to a universal claim about physics (he did try to answer but it was unsuccessful at best, implying that physics does not follow the same rules of logic and argument as philosophy). Huh? Fr. Spitzer's point was well-made and showed a big error in a key argument of Hawking and Leonard Moldinow's Grand Design.

Brian J. Schuettler

Mark,

Your summation of the argument is brilliant, absolutely brilliant. Thank you.

Mark Brumley

Leonard Moldinow's comments were at times difficult to make sense of. For instance, his comments about Goedel's theorem applying to axiomatic systems such as mathematics and that physics wasn't axiomatic but based on observation, etc. But of course in physics scientific theories that purport to explain observation are mathematical. Theories of everything are mathematical. While some philosophers and scientists reject that claim that Goedel's theorem implies the ultimate failure of theories of everything, it was a bit misleading to act as if it has no pertinence to the question under discussion.

I feel like Hawking and Moldinow are involved with an intellectual shell game here, trying to make it seem as if contemporary physics and cosmology's discussion of "creation from nothing" has a bearing on the issue of whether, ultimately, God is needed as an explanation of why there is something rather than nothing, without making it clear that they're not talking about absolute nothing. Of course we don't need God as an explanation of a physical process, qua physical process. Whether we need God as the ultimate explanation of being, which provides the conditions for all real or merely possible existants, is a different issue. But it is not an issue that physics alone can resolve because the question of the limits of physics is entailed by the issue and physics can't settle the question of what questions physics can settle. That's philosophy's job.

Ted

Your simple point that since like only begets like, nothing therefore begets nothing pretty much dismisses Hawking's assertion before it begins.

One of the knowan and fundamental properties of the Big Bang Theory is that as we approach teh inital point, all of the physical laws break down. Logically at the initial point no physical law can exist. The law of gravity being a physical law therefore also cannot exist at the beginning.

When Hawking says "because there is such a law such as gravity" he is hanging his assertion entirely on a peg that he in fact agrees is not actually there.

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