thinking makes it so

There is grandeur in this view of life…

Flatpack logic

with 3 comments

IKEA store in Japan

IKEA store in Japan

Stephen Hawking is in IKEA.

Hawking: Is this table easy to put together?

Assistant: Easy? It assembles itself.

Seriously though, thank you for all the feedback to Grand Design but no Grand Designer and Give me a reason to be.

Over the last few days there’s been quite an explosion in the media to welcome Hawking’s new book The Grand Design. Apart from the IKEA joke one of the best things I found was from Tim Connor on the American Thinker site (ouch – bit my tongue).

First he quotes Hawking:

Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing.

OK, but then Connor goes on:

The so-called “law of gravity” is nothing more than a term to describe observable properties of matter. There is no per-se law that dictates how matter is to behave. Therefore if matter didn’t exist then neither would laws such as gravity exist. You cannot have laws such as gravity without matter. Quite simply laws such as the law of gravity did not exist before matter in order to dictate that matter should somehow create itself. So then quite obviously neither ‘the law of gravity” nor any other law could have anything to do with “spontaneous creation.”

So Hawking’s explanation is basically an exercise in circular logic. Matter exists because of gravity which exists because of matter which exists because of gravity . . . and so on and so forth.

Er… what is it that makes people leap from ‘I disagree with this guy’ to ‘this guy hasn’t a clue what he’s talking about’? Hawking may be right or wrong, but I can’t believe he’s guilty of such a blatant petitio principii.

I’m no physicist, but I thought we’d moved on from gravity as a term used to describe the behaviour of matter to a conception of gravity as curvature of spacetime? If not, someone tell Stephen Hawking – quick!

A few other links I found interesting:

CNN: Stephen Hawking: God didn’t create universe

CNN: Religious leaders hit back at Hawking

Paul Davies (Guardian): Stephen Hawking’s big bang gaps

Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow (Wall Street Journal): Why God Did Not Create the Universe

Professor Sean Carroll:

© Chris Lawrence 2010.


Written by Chris Lawrence

5 September 2010 at 2:38 pm

3 Responses

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  1. Thank you for this delightful post, Chris. I remain aghast at the theologians who are arguing that there are still questions that we can’t answer (which may or may not include how the universe began) so it is still possible to believe in God. If the only argument they can come up with for God’s existence is that there are still things we can’t explain, God will remain under constant assault.

    I much prefer Einstein’s view that the more we see, the more profound, the more radiantly beautiful, the universe appears. Some mystics believe this gives them a glimpse of God. I’m not there myself, but at least they are not rejecting science on the grounds that their view of God won’t survive an explanation.

    On the other hand, I find myself distrustful of thinkers (even great thinkers) whether they come from a religious or scientific perspective who are sure they are right.

    I don’t expect scientists or theologians (or lesser thinkers such as myself) to stop thinking once they hit the limits of what is currently provable. But once in a while, I wish they’d draw a double line and indicate that beyond that point they are dealing with unproven hypotheses and opinions.

    Though where that double line should be drawn is probably a matter of heated debate in itself.

    Speaking of fact versus hypotheses, I found Peter Kinnon’s comments following your “Give me a reason” post quite intriguing. If he is right, he is confirming a niggling suspicion I have had recently: that mathematical theories like string theory may be very elegant but may not be only unproven but actually unprovable.

    I will be interested to learn your take on Stuart Kaufman. I found much of his evidence for rejecting reductionism convincing, but do not find myself agreeing with his conclusion that the evidence points in the direction of “the sacred.”

    Thank you for making space for thinking. Even we Americans are known to engage in the activity occasionally.


    Terry Sissons

    5 September 2010 at 4:33 pm

    • Thanks Terry.

      Apologies – it was more the content of what my tongue found on the American Thinker site that made it retreat into my cheek!

      I’m afraid to confess I find Stuart Kauffman heavy going. I got the book out of the library while I’m over here (UK) for a few weeks & I’m making very slow progress. I find the writing turgid to say the least so I get easily distracted onto other things.

      Also it had never occurred to me that proponents of natural selection had ruled out the spontaneous generation of order, so I find myself mumbling ‘OK, OK…’ after each painfully decoded sentence. I haven’t got to the sacred bit yet but that may be in other books.

      Thanks again, Chris.

      Chris Lawrence

      5 September 2010 at 5:21 pm

      • Thank you for your comments on Kauffman. I was told earlier that Reinventing the Sacred was easier to undertstand than Origins. I didn’t find Reinventing terribly turgid, but I will confess that after I’d read the chapters on the limitations of reductionism in modern physics and grasped where he was going with the idea of emergence, I sort of raced through everything else.

        From what I can tell, the limitations of prediction are pretty great, but it’s the idea of emergence that I’d like more enlightenment about. Kauffman is not the only author who refers to it (Morowitz does, for instance). But I can’t tell if it’s a mainstream idea among biologists or if it belongs to that fringe group who start out with the a priori assumption that there is a God and work backward from there. If it’s a mainstream idea, fine. Let’s go on from there. If it’s an idea thought up to find God in the world as science sees it, I find it suspicious. Not because it includes God — if it’s valid science and can still encompass God — fine.

        But I don’t trust those who start out to prove there is room for God any more than I trust those scientists who start out to prove there isn’t.

        Let’s just look at what we can see this far and accept that at this point there are just things we don’t know. However much we might like to know them.

        If you have any further thoughts on Kauffman in particular or emergence in general, I’d love to hear them.

        Thank you again.


        Terry Sissons

        6 September 2010 at 5:24 pm

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