Right Wing Nut House



Filed under: Ethics, Science — Rick Moran @ 9:27 am

Stephen Hawking was known as something of a mischievous youth, which makes me think his latest proncunciamento on the universe was deliberately calculated to raise the ire of believers of all stripes:

God did not create the universe, world-famous physicist Stephen Hawking argues in a new book that aims to banish a divine creator from physics.

Hawking says in his book “The Grand Design” that, given the existence of gravity, “the universe can and will create itself from nothing,” according to an excerpt published Thursday in The Times of London.

“Spontaneous creation is the reason why there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist,” he writes in the excerpt.

“It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper [fuse] and set the universe going,” he writes.

His book — as the title suggests — is an attempt to answer “the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything,” he writes, quoting Douglas Adams’ cult science fiction romp, “The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

Believers come back with the argument that there could be a God somewhere in all that mess and you can’t prove otherwise. Indeed, such reductio ad absurdum arguments made by believers have been basic to the thesis that God exists at least since Thomas Aquinas; You must accept the existence of a Supreme Being because not to do so makes the existence of the universe impossible.

And now, here comes Stephen Hawking with his puckish notion that it was not necessary for the Big Bang to occur at God’s direction, that the state of the universe at it’s beginning could account for the laws of physics - and life - all by itself. We’ll see. The Hadron Collider might have a thing or two to say about that if it ever gets up and running at full speed.

It is expected that some of the fundamental particles that will be discovered by the high energy collisions of atoms at Cern will answer some questions we have been tantalizingly close to discovering already; how did the universe get started? Currently, we’ve proved experimentally what happened a couple of millionths of a second after the expansion of the universe began. But prior to that, there is a gap in our knowledge. Hawking is convinced that the distance to discovering the origin of the universe can be bridged without resorting to supernatural explanations.

And, as this Anglican priest and scientist points out, even if Hawking is correct, that isn’t the end of God:

Fraser Watts, an Anglican priest and Cambridge expert in the history of science, said that it’s not the existence of the universe that proves the existence of God.

But, he said, “a creator God provides a reasonable and credible explanation of why there is a universe, and … it is somewhat more likely that there is a God than that there is not. That view is not undermined by what Hawking has said.”

What is undermined is the kind of Supreme Being worshiped by most of the world; an all powerful, all seeing entity that butts into everyone’s life and will send you to hell if you fantasize about Rene Pignataro being almost naked, as my 8th grade nun used to warn us boys about.

The kind of God still possible under Hawking’s theories is a static God whose benign presence can be construed by a belief in predestination or, what some philosophers say is a “universal intelligence.” I don’t buy either theory simply because using a reductive argument, you still end up needing faith to make that last leap of illogic in order to “prove” God’s existence.

Some would say that’s the idea; that humanity’s belief in a Supreme Being is the essence of that part of our mind that bridges reality with dreams, or the perception of what’s real with the knowledge of what isn’t. Somewhere in that muddle, there must be room for faith or life simply has no meaning beyond being born, experiencing consciousness for a while, and then facing eternal oblivion by dying.

Most of us cannot make that leap into what is thought to be absurdist logic. Life is too special, too rare to simply end with a “lights out” finality. Hawking’s point is “Who says so?” If life could come into being as a result of forces at the beginning of the universe that randomly came together without assistance from God, why should there be purpose to anything - including life?

Atheists feel this intuitively and accept the notion that death is the end of existence. A universe that creates the conditions of what some might say is this kind of a “meaningless” life, is perfectly capable of creating itself out of the random fluctuations of forces and particles. The transience of existence is just one more hiccup in the history of time since the instant the universe came into being.

I am not one of those atheists who looks down on believers. After all, there is easily enough uncertainty for me to be spectacularly wrong. This does not mean I will have a deathbed conversion “just to be on the safe side.” Chris Hitchens, suffering with cancer, explains this:

Pursuing the prayer thread through the labyrinth of the Web, I eventually found a bizarre “Place Bets” video. This invites potential punters to put money on whether I will repudiate my atheism and embrace religion by a certain date or continue to affirm unbelief and take the hellish consequences. This isn’t, perhaps, as cheap or as nasty as it may sound. One of Christianity’s most cerebral defenders, Blaise Pascal, reduced the essentials to a wager as far back as the 17th century. Put your faith in the almighty, he proposed, and you stand to gain everything. Decline the heavenly offer and you lose everything if the coin falls the other way. (Some philosophers also call this Pascal’s Gambit.)

Ingenious though the full reasoning of his essay may be—he was one of the founders of probability theory—Pascal assumes both a cynical god and an abjectly opportunist human being. Suppose I ditch the principles I have held for a lifetime, in the hope of gaining favor at the last minute? I hope and trust that no serious person would be at all impressed by such a hucksterish choice. Meanwhile, the god who would reward cowardice and dishonesty and punish irreconcilable doubt is among the many gods in which (whom?) I do not believe. I don’t mean to be churlish about any kind intentions, but when September 20 comes, please do not trouble deaf heaven with your bootless cries. Unless, of course, it makes you feel better.

And that, in the end, is what all this God bothering is about; the very human requirement that we be comforted in the face of a universe so vast it is beyond our understanding. Rather than accept the idea that there are some things we will never know about life, the cosmos, even that pebble in our shoe, it makes us feel better to imagine there is someone, somewhere who has it all figured out and will let us in on the secret if we’re good little boys and girls and make it to the finish line in heaven when we die.

The alternative may sound cynical, but for a rationalist, there really is no other way to face the world when you get out of bed in the morning.

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