A physicist on Hawking’s self-creating universe

Physicist Stephen Barr discusses Stephen Hawking’s recent book, explaining his arguments, explaining what physicists mean by multiple universes, and, finally, explaining why none of this diminishes the case for God at all.  Instead of my trying to paraphrase or quote from what was said, you can just read it yourself:

Much Ado About “Nothing”: Stephen Hawking and the Self-Creating Universe | First Things.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Porcell

    This is excellent. Barr, a Christian physicist, understands far better than Hawking that there is more to heaven and earth than physical being that can be reduced to equations. The idea of a self created universe[s], while physically plausible is far-fetched on the broader plane of Creation. Hawking and other physical cosmologists, even when they, as Hawking does, place God in the gaps, don’t really understand the distinction between being and natural science, even at its most brilliant and best.

    Aristotle understood that in the chain of being at its foundation of necessity is an unmoved mover. Aquinas, much influenced by Aristotle, though his conceptual understanding of Revelation caused him to reach beyond an abstract unmoved mover to that of of a Judeo-Christian Creator.

    For another excellent discussion of this, see William Carroll’s Stephen Hawking’s Creation Confusion. Carroll emphasizes the distinction between Creation and the temporal beginning of Creation.

    Carroll is the Thomas Aquinas Fellow in Science and Religion at Blackfriars Hall and a member of the Faculty of Theology of the University of Oxford. He is author of Galileo: Science and Faith

  • Porcell

    This is excellent. Barr, a Christian physicist, understands far better than Hawking that there is more to heaven and earth than physical being that can be reduced to equations. The idea of a self created universe[s], while physically plausible is far-fetched on the broader plane of Creation. Hawking and other physical cosmologists, even when they, as Hawking does, place God in the gaps, don’t really understand the distinction between being and natural science, even at its most brilliant and best.

    Aristotle understood that in the chain of being at its foundation of necessity is an unmoved mover. Aquinas, much influenced by Aristotle, though his conceptual understanding of Revelation caused him to reach beyond an abstract unmoved mover to that of of a Judeo-Christian Creator.

    For another excellent discussion of this, see William Carroll’s Stephen Hawking’s Creation Confusion. Carroll emphasizes the distinction between Creation and the temporal beginning of Creation.

    Carroll is the Thomas Aquinas Fellow in Science and Religion at Blackfriars Hall and a member of the Faculty of Theology of the University of Oxford. He is author of Galileo: Science and Faith

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  • WebMonk

    Barr nailed it, mostly. I think he overstated Hawking’s claims that God doesn’t exist, but I haven’t read the whole thing while Barr most likely has.

    I think one of the differences between Barr’s approach to The Grand Design and my approach, is that I see TGD as less of a break with some of Hawking’s previous statements (of which Barr quoted a few) as more of a commentary on them.

    But what Barr states about a multiverse (or system of universes, as he puts it there) not removing the need for God is exactly spot on.

    In the past, Hawking has generally agreed with that thought (though he wouldn’t say there actually is a God). From what I read, Hawking doesn’t seem to have changed his mind from what he wrote before.

    And let’s also not ignore the fact that it’s most likely that Mlodinow did most of the writing and much of the wording. Obviously Hawking agrees with it, since he is the co-author, but taking phrases out of TGD and saying that they show Hawking has made a dramatic change from past opinions is not likely to be accurate.

  • WebMonk

    Barr nailed it, mostly. I think he overstated Hawking’s claims that God doesn’t exist, but I haven’t read the whole thing while Barr most likely has.

    I think one of the differences between Barr’s approach to The Grand Design and my approach, is that I see TGD as less of a break with some of Hawking’s previous statements (of which Barr quoted a few) as more of a commentary on them.

    But what Barr states about a multiverse (or system of universes, as he puts it there) not removing the need for God is exactly spot on.

    In the past, Hawking has generally agreed with that thought (though he wouldn’t say there actually is a God). From what I read, Hawking doesn’t seem to have changed his mind from what he wrote before.

    And let’s also not ignore the fact that it’s most likely that Mlodinow did most of the writing and much of the wording. Obviously Hawking agrees with it, since he is the co-author, but taking phrases out of TGD and saying that they show Hawking has made a dramatic change from past opinions is not likely to be accurate.

  • Porcell

    WebMonk, Hawking’s belief or interest in God is suspect. See the NYT review, Many Kinds of Universes, and None Require God, including:

    In “A Brief History of Time” Mr. Hawking also dabbled in what the science writer Timothy Ferris has called “Godmongering.” Mr. Hawking, a longtime professor of mathematics at Cambridge University, has hardly displayed a religious bent during his long career. (A memoir by his former wife outed him as an atheist.) But he ended “Brief History” by declaring that the discovery of a unified theory of physics could help us to “know the mind of God.” It was a line that — cynically, some thought — allowed glints of fuzzy sunshine to warm the cold blade of his thinking.

    At best he apparently speculates about a God in the gaps, though the evidence points to him being probably an atheist and certainly a hard-edged believer in Naturalism.

  • Porcell

    WebMonk, Hawking’s belief or interest in God is suspect. See the NYT review, Many Kinds of Universes, and None Require God, including:

    In “A Brief History of Time” Mr. Hawking also dabbled in what the science writer Timothy Ferris has called “Godmongering.” Mr. Hawking, a longtime professor of mathematics at Cambridge University, has hardly displayed a religious bent during his long career. (A memoir by his former wife outed him as an atheist.) But he ended “Brief History” by declaring that the discovery of a unified theory of physics could help us to “know the mind of God.” It was a line that — cynically, some thought — allowed glints of fuzzy sunshine to warm the cold blade of his thinking.

    At best he apparently speculates about a God in the gaps, though the evidence points to him being probably an atheist and certainly a hard-edged believer in Naturalism.

  • WebMonk

    Porcell, I’ll go you one better. Hawking’s belief in God isn’t mere “suspect” as you say, it seems to be pretty much non-existent. In fact I stated that in #2.

    Your point is?

  • WebMonk

    Porcell, I’ll go you one better. Hawking’s belief in God isn’t mere “suspect” as you say, it seems to be pretty much non-existent. In fact I stated that in #2.

    Your point is?

  • Porcell

    In the FT Barr thread, we have a fascinating exchange from a smart-ass skeptic and Barr as follows:

    Duwayne Anderson says:
    The author makes a rather absurd argument; not understanding the physics of cosmology he asserts:

    “Right up front, it must be noted that this idea is extremely speculative, has not yet been formulated in a mathematically rigorous way, and is unable at this point to make any testable predictions.”

    The author’s anisotropy is glaring. After all, is there any religious POV on creation that is “mathematically rigorous,” not “speculative,” or that makes any “testable predictions?” If those are really his reasons for believing in something, then he needs to join the atheistic community post hast!

    The author’s religion is simple superstition based on the writings of ancient Bronze Age Bedouins. The only reason anyone believes in these silly religions is because of emotion and/or tradition; Christianity and Judaism are absurd on their face. Worship Quetzalcoatl or Zeus for all the good it will do — they are better gods than Jehovah, by a kilometer.

    Duwayne Anderson
    Author of “Farewell to Eden: Coming to terms with Mormonism and science”

    Mr. Duwayne Anderson,

    In the first place, I think I do “understand the physics of cosmology”, having written a number of highly cited theoretical research papers in the area. I note that you have a bachelors degree. I am not sure my Ph.D. and 34 years of research in fundamental physics compares unfavorably to that.

    I called attention to the fact that quantum creation of universes is “extremely
    speculative, has not yet been formulated in a mathematically rigorous way, and is unable at this point to make any testable predictions,” simply because it is true, and I thought that readers should know the current scientific status of the idea. I did not mention this status to dismiss the idea — quite the contrary, I said these were NOT reasons to dismiss it. As a matter of fact, I happen to think the idea of quantum creation of the universe very beautiful and plausible. If I had to bet, I would bet in favor of it. (But we who are scientists also happen to care how testable our scientific theories are.)

    You seem to think that I am laying down as my “reasons for believing in something” that it be rigorously formulated mathematically and be able to make testable predictions. Perhaps that is your criterion of credibility, but it is not mine, and it is an idiotic criterion, as a moment’s thought will show. I believe you are conscious and have subjective experiences. That is not a theory that can be rigorously formulated mathematically, and it makes no testable predictions. I think murder objectively immoral — also not mathematically formulatable and no testable predictions. One could go on and on. Much that any sane person believes would fail that test. On the other hand, if one is talking about mathematical theories of physics, being rigorously formulated mathematically is an important thing.

    St. Paul and St. Peter were not bedouins, and lived long after people like Aristotle, Euclid, and Hipparchos, whom I suppose you respect. Unless you are making some racial point, I am at a loss what you think you are proving.

    How do you know that the “only reason anyone believe believes … is because of emotion and/or tradition…” That is a might strong assertion. You claim to know how every single person who is religious thinks and his reasons for thinking it. Considering that you are attacking religion on epistemological grounds, this is pretty breathtaking.

    Well, I guess that’s all the fish in this particular barrel.

  • Porcell

    In the FT Barr thread, we have a fascinating exchange from a smart-ass skeptic and Barr as follows:

    Duwayne Anderson says:
    The author makes a rather absurd argument; not understanding the physics of cosmology he asserts:

    “Right up front, it must be noted that this idea is extremely speculative, has not yet been formulated in a mathematically rigorous way, and is unable at this point to make any testable predictions.”

    The author’s anisotropy is glaring. After all, is there any religious POV on creation that is “mathematically rigorous,” not “speculative,” or that makes any “testable predictions?” If those are really his reasons for believing in something, then he needs to join the atheistic community post hast!

    The author’s religion is simple superstition based on the writings of ancient Bronze Age Bedouins. The only reason anyone believes in these silly religions is because of emotion and/or tradition; Christianity and Judaism are absurd on their face. Worship Quetzalcoatl or Zeus for all the good it will do — they are better gods than Jehovah, by a kilometer.

    Duwayne Anderson
    Author of “Farewell to Eden: Coming to terms with Mormonism and science”

    Mr. Duwayne Anderson,

    In the first place, I think I do “understand the physics of cosmology”, having written a number of highly cited theoretical research papers in the area. I note that you have a bachelors degree. I am not sure my Ph.D. and 34 years of research in fundamental physics compares unfavorably to that.

    I called attention to the fact that quantum creation of universes is “extremely
    speculative, has not yet been formulated in a mathematically rigorous way, and is unable at this point to make any testable predictions,” simply because it is true, and I thought that readers should know the current scientific status of the idea. I did not mention this status to dismiss the idea — quite the contrary, I said these were NOT reasons to dismiss it. As a matter of fact, I happen to think the idea of quantum creation of the universe very beautiful and plausible. If I had to bet, I would bet in favor of it. (But we who are scientists also happen to care how testable our scientific theories are.)

    You seem to think that I am laying down as my “reasons for believing in something” that it be rigorously formulated mathematically and be able to make testable predictions. Perhaps that is your criterion of credibility, but it is not mine, and it is an idiotic criterion, as a moment’s thought will show. I believe you are conscious and have subjective experiences. That is not a theory that can be rigorously formulated mathematically, and it makes no testable predictions. I think murder objectively immoral — also not mathematically formulatable and no testable predictions. One could go on and on. Much that any sane person believes would fail that test. On the other hand, if one is talking about mathematical theories of physics, being rigorously formulated mathematically is an important thing.

    St. Paul and St. Peter were not bedouins, and lived long after people like Aristotle, Euclid, and Hipparchos, whom I suppose you respect. Unless you are making some racial point, I am at a loss what you think you are proving.

    How do you know that the “only reason anyone believe believes … is because of emotion and/or tradition…” That is a might strong assertion. You claim to know how every single person who is religious thinks and his reasons for thinking it. Considering that you are attacking religion on epistemological grounds, this is pretty breathtaking.

    Well, I guess that’s all the fish in this particular barrel.

  • Porcell

    WebMonk, at 4, I was responding to your remark at 2: I think he [Barr] overstated Hawking’s claims that God doesn’t exist, presuming that you somehow thought Hawkins might be a believer. What were you saying here?

  • Porcell

    WebMonk, at 4, I was responding to your remark at 2: I think he [Barr] overstated Hawking’s claims that God doesn’t exist, presuming that you somehow thought Hawkins might be a believer. What were you saying here?

  • WebMonk

    Porcell, apparently you live in some sort of binary world where by saying “Barr overstated Hawking’s claims that God doesn’t exist” somehow equates to saying “Hawking believes in God”.

    Are you reading comprehension impaired, or did you just not read a couple paragraphs later where I wrote the line “he [Hawking] wouldn’t say there actually is a God”.

    Did I not state that clearly enough? Should I put it in all caps for you? Bold it? Underline? Put flashing lights and an arrow pointing to where I wrote “he [Hawking] wouldn’t say there actually is a God”?

    Is it somehow impossible to say that Hawking didn’t try to present a systematic proof that God doesn’t exist without instantly meaning that Hawking is a believer in God?

    Barr and others seem to be reacting to TGD as if it was intended to be an exhaustive treatise of the final scientific proof that God doesn’t exist. It’s not, and wasn’t intended to be such. Does that somehow mean Hawking believes God exists? No.

  • WebMonk

    Porcell, apparently you live in some sort of binary world where by saying “Barr overstated Hawking’s claims that God doesn’t exist” somehow equates to saying “Hawking believes in God”.

    Are you reading comprehension impaired, or did you just not read a couple paragraphs later where I wrote the line “he [Hawking] wouldn’t say there actually is a God”.

    Did I not state that clearly enough? Should I put it in all caps for you? Bold it? Underline? Put flashing lights and an arrow pointing to where I wrote “he [Hawking] wouldn’t say there actually is a God”?

    Is it somehow impossible to say that Hawking didn’t try to present a systematic proof that God doesn’t exist without instantly meaning that Hawking is a believer in God?

    Barr and others seem to be reacting to TGD as if it was intended to be an exhaustive treatise of the final scientific proof that God doesn’t exist. It’s not, and wasn’t intended to be such. Does that somehow mean Hawking believes God exists? No.

  • WebMonk

    Did you catch that last line?

  • WebMonk

    Did you catch that last line?

  • WebMonk

    Today I had another opportunity to read some more at the bookstore, and I made it through just over 3/4 of The Grand Design and I didn’t find anywhere yet where Hawking makes the claim that a multiverse disproves the existence of God.

    In fact, as I’ve made it most of the way through, I’ve come to the opinion that Hawking probably didn’t write much of it as Mlodinow did. The style of writing is significantly different than that of A Brief History of Time.

    I think the description on the cover and publicist advertising was created to catch more attention than it was to accurately portray the book.

    I suspect that Barr was reacting almost entirely to the description and claims of the dust jacket and not to the actual content of the book itself. I’m sure he read it, but since all the furor was being caused by the publicist’s description, that’s what he responded to.

    But don’t let that stop anyone from having fun bashing the book on what you imagine it says rather than on what it actually says.

  • WebMonk

    Today I had another opportunity to read some more at the bookstore, and I made it through just over 3/4 of The Grand Design and I didn’t find anywhere yet where Hawking makes the claim that a multiverse disproves the existence of God.

    In fact, as I’ve made it most of the way through, I’ve come to the opinion that Hawking probably didn’t write much of it as Mlodinow did. The style of writing is significantly different than that of A Brief History of Time.

    I think the description on the cover and publicist advertising was created to catch more attention than it was to accurately portray the book.

    I suspect that Barr was reacting almost entirely to the description and claims of the dust jacket and not to the actual content of the book itself. I’m sure he read it, but since all the furor was being caused by the publicist’s description, that’s what he responded to.

    But don’t let that stop anyone from having fun bashing the book on what you imagine it says rather than on what it actually says.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    “I think the description on the cover and publicist advertising was created to catch more attention than it was to accurately portray the book” (@9). Gosh, I hope other publishers don’t pick up on this technique! ;)

    Sorry, I work for a publisher. I’m cynical.

    Anyhow, I’ve lost track of what I’ve read on various threads in this blog and elsewhere, but I thought it was clear that Hawking (whose name people have a remarkably difficult time spelling) never claimed proof of a lack of God’s existence, but rather that one no longer needed to rely on the supernatural to explain the existence (that is, the beginning) of things.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    “I think the description on the cover and publicist advertising was created to catch more attention than it was to accurately portray the book” (@9). Gosh, I hope other publishers don’t pick up on this technique! ;)

    Sorry, I work for a publisher. I’m cynical.

    Anyhow, I’ve lost track of what I’ve read on various threads in this blog and elsewhere, but I thought it was clear that Hawking (whose name people have a remarkably difficult time spelling) never claimed proof of a lack of God’s existence, but rather that one no longer needed to rely on the supernatural to explain the existence (that is, the beginning) of things.

  • WebMonk

    That’s accurate, though I never ran across anywhere he specifically said that there is no need to rely on God as the explaining existence of all things (the multiverse). He specifically states that with the modern theories of the multiverse, such as M-theory, there is no need to have God to explain the existence of our universe.

    That’s a bit of a difference. I don’t know what Hawking would say about the need for God to explain the existence of the multiverse. Maybe that’s something he mentions in the last 1/3 of the book I haven’t read – the last couple summary chapters or something.

    I suspect he would say that the multiverse is eternally existent, though using the term “eternally” for something that exists outside of time is sort of tricky. Perhaps he would phrase it something like “The multiverse exists without being created,” but I’m just speculating there. I didn’t read anywhere that he specifically talks of the need for God for the larger multiverse to exist instead of not exist.

  • WebMonk

    That’s accurate, though I never ran across anywhere he specifically said that there is no need to rely on God as the explaining existence of all things (the multiverse). He specifically states that with the modern theories of the multiverse, such as M-theory, there is no need to have God to explain the existence of our universe.

    That’s a bit of a difference. I don’t know what Hawking would say about the need for God to explain the existence of the multiverse. Maybe that’s something he mentions in the last 1/3 of the book I haven’t read – the last couple summary chapters or something.

    I suspect he would say that the multiverse is eternally existent, though using the term “eternally” for something that exists outside of time is sort of tricky. Perhaps he would phrase it something like “The multiverse exists without being created,” but I’m just speculating there. I didn’t read anywhere that he specifically talks of the need for God for the larger multiverse to exist instead of not exist.

  • Porcell

    Webmonk, I’ll take Tipler’s,
    Barr’s, and
    Carroll’s analysis over yours.

    These reputable scholars have read the book; you haven’t come close to refuting their arguments

  • Porcell

    Webmonk, I’ll take Tipler’s,
    Barr’s, and
    Carroll’s analysis over yours.

    These reputable scholars have read the book; you haven’t come close to refuting their arguments

  • Porcell

    Webmonk, I’ll take Tipler’s, Barr’s, and http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2010/09/much-ado-about-ldquonothingrdquo-stephen-hawking-and-the-self-creating-universe Barr’s, and Carroll’s analysis over yours.

    These reputable scholars have read the book; you haven’t come close to refuting their arguments

  • Porcell

    Webmonk, I’ll take Tipler’s, Barr’s, and http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2010/09/much-ado-about-ldquonothingrdquo-stephen-hawking-and-the-self-creating-universe Barr’s, and Carroll’s analysis over yours.

    These reputable scholars have read the book; you haven’t come close to refuting their arguments

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Porcell (@13), as usual, all you offer is an appeal to authority. Which might be something if you were making a go at understanding the science behind it all. Which WebMonk has. And you haven’t. Which leads me to ask you: on what basis should I trust your appeal to authority? On what basis do you judge these people to be the superior authorities?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Porcell (@13), as usual, all you offer is an appeal to authority. Which might be something if you were making a go at understanding the science behind it all. Which WebMonk has. And you haven’t. Which leads me to ask you: on what basis should I trust your appeal to authority? On what basis do you judge these people to be the superior authorities?

  • WebMonk

    Don’t sweat it tODD, none of those articles deal with anything beyond the dust cover statements anyway. It’s just repeating what has already been said about the publicist description. In fact three of the articles listed in @12 and @13 are the same article, in fact they’re the same article that Dr. Veith uses to introduce this thread.

    Impressive research, that is! :-D

    The only link we hadn’t seen before, the one by Carroll, doesn’t actually say anything differe – uses the dust cover and takes Hawking quotes out of context, such as the ever popular and horribly out of context quote that “philosophy is dead”.

  • WebMonk

    Don’t sweat it tODD, none of those articles deal with anything beyond the dust cover statements anyway. It’s just repeating what has already been said about the publicist description. In fact three of the articles listed in @12 and @13 are the same article, in fact they’re the same article that Dr. Veith uses to introduce this thread.

    Impressive research, that is! :-D

    The only link we hadn’t seen before, the one by Carroll, doesn’t actually say anything differe – uses the dust cover and takes Hawking quotes out of context, such as the ever popular and horribly out of context quote that “philosophy is dead”.

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