Sunday, September 05, 2010

Arguing from authority? Hawking, you're supposed to be better than that.

In Saturday's Wall Street Journal, there was an article by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow clearly designed as a naked promotion of their new book.  In the article, they argue that modern physics removes the need for a divine being to have created the universe.  Religious arguments aside (seriously, guys, is that particular argument even news anymore?), one thing in the article especially annoyed me.  Toward the end, the authors state:
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.
You know what's wrong with this? It states, as if it is established fact, that we understand cosmology well enough to declare that universes spontaneously self-create. It states that the multiverse is a prediction of "many" theories, implying strongly that it's on firm ground. The problem is, this isn't science. It's not falsifiable, and in its present form it's not even close to being falsifiable in the foreseeable future. Seriously, name one PREdiction (as opposed to retrodiction) of these cosmological models, or more seriously, the multiverse/landscape idea, that is testable. Don't claim that our existence is such a test - the anthropic principle is weak sauce and is by no means evidence of the multiverse. Man, it annoys me when high profile theorists (it always seems to be theorists who do this) forget that physics is actually an experimental science that rests on predictive power.


Anonymous said...

Logically, I don't see how science, that is to find the law and utilize the law, could either prove or disprove the existence of the creator of the law. I suppose that any theory is based on some fundamental laws or assumptions, beyond which is the region of unknown.

Anonymous said...

It more Mathematics than science. If a self-consistent mathematical theory of everything can be produced from some deep underlying principle (e.g. the holographic principle, or some sort of statistical infomation theory) that doesn't have any of the landscape stuff, I don't think it needs to be falsifiable for someone to make firm statements.
The idea of a God doesn't even meet that standard.

sylow said...

Ok, lemme pose (seemingly) simple questions then. You put dead seed on dead soil and you pour water on it. You suddenly get living organism(grass, trees etc.) out of that dead seed. How does this happen if there is no god? Where do we all go after we die (including Hawking himself who doesn't have many years left in this world)? What is dark matter? If everything is spontaneous, why can't we turn lead into gold? Even better, why can't all scientists create even a fly out of nothing?

Marco Frasca said...

Dear Doug,

I thought the same when I firstly heard this title running on all the media here in Italy. Today, it is a common wisdom in physics to draw a lot of conclusions out of uncertain facts. So, while I respect Hawking and I accept doing self-promotion, I cannot share the idea to transform physics into metaphysics turning back to middle age.



Anonymous said...

According to Dr. Hawking "The scientific account is complete. Theology is unnecessary." The scientific account is complete? How can any self-respecting scientist make such a statement with a straight face?

Unknown said...

science versus religion, ne'er the twain shall meet. I teach science at a Catholic high school and the first day I explain how science is a system of analyzing nature while religion is faith. We can't talk about creation in science class b/c the scientific method cannot be applied.
The same is true of much of modern physics. As Doug points out, how can we do experiments on a multiverse? This also holds true for modern string theory. If many 'predictions' are untestable then it is NOT science. It is math, it is philosophy, and even religion (so far is it explains existence).

Of course, as is always the case with this stuff, it begs the question of the initial Cause.

I actually felt sorry for the once honorable Dr. Hawking after reading all the press surrounding his latest. He seems pathetic.