Stephen Hawking Settles the God Question Once and For All

By Sean Carroll | September 2, 2010 6:45 pm

Stephen Hawking has a new book coming out (The Grand Design, with Leonard Mlodinow). Among other things, he points out that modern physics has progressed to the point where we don’t need to invoke God to explain the existence of the universe. This is not exactly a hot flash — I remember writing an essay making the same point for a philosophy class my sophomore year in college — but it makes news because it’s Hawking who says it. And that’s absolutely fine — Hawking has a track record of making substantial intellectual contributions, there’s every reason to listen to him more than random undergraduates waxing profound.

This issue is, of course, totally up my alley, and I should certainly blog about it. But I can’t, because I’m on hiatus! (Right?) So, as an experiment, I made a video of myself talking rather than simply typing my words into the computer. Radical! Not sure the amount of information conveyed is anywhere near as large in this format, and obviously I didn’t sweat the production values. I fear that some subtleties of the argument may be lost. But if we’re lucky, other people elsewhere on the internet will also talk about these questions, and we’ll get it all sorted out.

Let me know if the Grand Video Experiment is worth repeating and improving, or whether it’s just a waste of time.

Something that I should have said, but didn’t: there doesn’t need to be some sophisticated modern-physics answer to the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” The universe can simply exist, end of story. But it’s still fun to think carefully about all the possibilities, existence and non-existence both included.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Philosophy, Religion, Science, Top Posts
  • Rakesh

    Thank you sean, very nice explanation. Smacks of a little bit of trying to be politically correct, but nevertheless very well put

  • http://nodrylight.wordpress.com/ riemann

    let me say, once and for all, that this format is definitely worth repeating.

  • Pingback: Tweets that mention Stephen Hawking Settles the God Question Once and For All | Cosmic Variance | Discover Magazine -- Topsy.com()

  • http://Untitledvanityproject.blogspot.com Rhacodactylus

    Stephan Hawking is a very brilliant man, and his books and thoughts are well worth reading, but in all honesty if you were waiting for his say so to embrace atheism, you have just found another religion. Real autonomy comes from thinking for yourself, no matter what answer you come to.

  • Felix

    Hawking is right of course. The universe self-creates under a single set of physical law.

    Hawking did not say God (or gods) do not exist. They do. Because all gods are created by the imagination of man. So in the minds of the believer, God (or gods) are real enough. Each god follows the rules created by the believer to serve their interests.

    Gods are part of human sociology. Both are part of the universe.

    Now let’s go and figure out what the hell is a singularity.

    BTW, do more video!

  • http://www.sunclipse.org Blake Stacey

    Well spoken, with good accent and good discretion.

  • Josh Neal

    Not a big fan of the video. I can’t view it at work, and it takes far longer to view than to read the same amount of information. It is nice, though, to see the more emotive content that is best communicated with body language, but not worth the trade-off.

    As far as Hawking: It’s always good to hear another bright intellectual light voice his or her support for reason, logic, and skepticism!

  • Frank Christiny

    Where is the bloody Like button when you need it!? ;-) Well done, Sean! I wonder what takes longer to do a text blog or a video blog?

  • mary

    I’m an atheist but I don’t think Hawking’s argument resolves the question of “something” instead of “nothing”. The idea of “nothing with the potential for quantum fluctuations” is still “something”.

    The fact that “laws of nature” exist is itself puzzling. The true definition of “nothing” would be no physical world, no quantum fluctuations, and no laws of nature. If there is “nothing” then there should be no need for any laws of nature since there is nothing to describe.

    As soon as you invoke “laws of nature” you automatically begin to describe “something” and one can always say that “God” designed the laws of nature.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    He changed his mind once, he can change it again.

  • http://twitter.com/ChrisLindsay9 CW

    AT 1:18 – “You can create a compact, self-contained universe without needing any energy at all.”

    I understand that the net sum of the universe is zero, but I thought it was because energy was negated by gravity? Wasn’t there always some kind of existing energy, in which the particles involved in quantum mechanics could come into and go out of existence?

    Also, I approve of the video blog as well.

  • http://bjkeefe.blogspot.com/ bjkeefe

    Maybe I’m just an old fart, but I’d rather have read the same words than had them spoken at me. You have a pleasant voice and a fine manner of speaking, Sean, but … bandwidth. Plus, user(audience)-controlled pacing. I can get the information at exactly the rate I want it when I’m reading — sometimes slower, sometimes faster. I don’t have the problem of my mind wandering, or, at other times saying, “Wait, what?”

    This is not to say that I never enjoy listening to a good lecture, but for a short, essentially one-question/one-answer thing, I’d rather read.

    I appreciate that it often takes more work to convey thoughts in text, so, if the choice is 100% hiatus or vlogging, I’ll take the latter. But as long as you asked …

  • Paul Sheldon

    I choose to believe in a God that is so kind as to permit me to understand without dismissing me with “Just because I said so”. Such a God does do something in the universe: he is what Jaim Ginnott called a good teacher/student.

    My faith says I and the entire research community are manifestations of God.

    As Ann Druyan and Richard Dawkins aid, we can have a religious experience understanding without needing God, but I add we might want this larger thing than any one of us believing in us.

  • WhatMeWorry

    Occam’s Razor explains all.

    I prefer to read, but since that would make Sean a cheater, I can live with the clip.

  • AI

    text >> video

    Hawking is getting senile.

  • http://scienceblogs.com/thoughtfulanimal/ Jason Goldman

    More video!

  • Tanya McPositron

    Wait. I thought Stephen WAS god. No?

  • http://www.SoloGen.net SoloGen

    Thank you! I enjoyed the video. I think it is a good idea to occasionally have a video-based post.

  • Josh Neal

    If Hawking is god, and Hawking is getting senile, then that would explain a lot about reality lately.

  • CoffeeCupContrails

    1. I second the bandwidth issue others raised. Always remember your developing-nations audience. I prefer the text version of you… there’s a joke to be made there.
    2. All that body language didn’t make it through (zoom out?)
    3. Lot of echo, obviously. Plus, that patch of wall to your right is a little annoying; if you sat in front of the middle of the book shelf, that symmetry would be more pleasing. While we’re at it, adjust the tripod just a little bit more, so the top the book shelf is at a level parallel always with the top of the video.
    4. Did I see cyan shadows at the beginning for the text that said ‘Sean Carroll’? CYAN??? Who uses Cyan? Who uses shadows? Bad Powerpoint users, that’s who. Also, make that two lines, centered. And, I presume you are talking in your capacity as super-blogger-physicist and not Caltech-person? So maybe the caption should say Sean Carroll, Theoretical Physicist/Author/Blogger.
    5. Video needs more… contrast.

    I can appreciate your placement of books with just the appropriate titles behind you. Is that a half-attempt at subliminally manipulating your audience?

  • Peter Lynds

    “there doesn’t need to be some sophisticated modern-physics answer to the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” The universe can simply exist, end of story.”

    Hi Sean

    I would agree that there doesn’t need to be a sophisticated physics answer to the question, but there does need to be an answer. If the existence of the universe is necessary (which I think it is), there must be an explanation to ground its necessity and justify our asserting it as so. With one obvious difference, stating that the universe exists, end of story, is akin to stating that God exists, end of story.

    Best wishes

    Peter

  • http://sps.nus.edu.sg/~limyenkh Kevin

    Whether or not people agree that Hawking resolves the issue or whether he will change his mind or not, I think he definitely summarized correctly the attitude scientists should adopt when doing science. That’s the important point, right?

    I like the idea of videos. But I felt some pros and cons in either format. Video form makes it easier for us to “spread your word” (sharing links on Facebook, etc.) especially in the internet where many people have short attention spans.

    The bandwidth issue is a good point. And text version is good for links…usually you reference by linking to earlier posts, the original source and other stuff like that. And usually I click through them and discover new nuggets of knowledge on the internet – that would be lost in video form.

  • Pingback: Hawking: The universe created itself from nothing because of all the gravity and stuff that was there before | Thinklets()

  • bad Jim

    I thought that was a pretty good talk. Like most, I’d rather read it than hear it, but if it works for Sean it works for me.

  • onymous

    to the point where we don’t need to invoke God to explain the existence of the universe. This is not exactly a hot flash — I remember writing an essay making the same point for a philosophy class my sophomore year in college

    I hate to break it to you, but I think Laplace might have said something along these lines even earlier than you did… ;-)

  • http://fixerdave.blogspot.com Fixerdave

    Does it really matter to science if a god or gods exist? Science is about discovering natural explanations… what has God got to do with this? If, per chance, the cosmos was created by a god, there’s the whole free-will thing to take into account. If a god wants his creations to be able to choose to worship, to have free will, then every phenomenon, including the cosmos itself, must have discoverable natural mechanisms… if not, if it’s obvious that there had to be some super-dude to start it off, then how could we really chose? If he/she/it/they want us to have free will then any act of creation must include a natural explanation as well. Thus, we have science. God or no God, we have science to find the natural explanations for everything. There will be natural explanations for everything for us to find, eventually. Thus, for anything beyond a personal level, God is irrelevant.

    more here:
    http://fixerdave.blogspot.com/2008/06/free-will.html
    http://fixerdave.blogspot.com/2008/04/science-and-god.html
    http://fixerdave.blogspot.com/2008/04/debating-belief-in-god-is-wrong.html

    P.S. Sorry, not interested in videos myself… takes a good car chase, with explosions, to keep me watching more than 20 seconds ;) Maybe if you started it off with something like the first 10 minutes of Mad Max. It’s late… I probably shouldn’t hit the Submit button… oh well.

  • eujin

    I don’t understand Hawking’s point. Or rather, since I haven’t read the book, I don’t understand Sean’s version of the point Hawking is making.

    Is Hawking simply making the point that modern physics allows the possibility that we may one day understand the universe without going outside the universe, but we don’t yet know what that explanation is? From the video it sounds like he’s doing something slightly more concrete than that and arguing that general relativity combined with quantum mechanics already offers an explaination of how the universe can about.

    But how do you do general relativity without a spacetime manifold? How does general relativity allow spacetime to come into existence? In what sense are you “waiting long enough” to explore the full range of quantum possibilities if you don’t yet have a spacetime to wait in? And how does the total energy of the universe being zero relate to earlier discussions about how energy isn’t really conserved in general relativity? Has Hawking or Sean solved the problem of how to measure the energy of the universe? Do they know something about its extent and boundary? Is it just the famous no boundary principle of the Brief History? Why is it useful to note that the total energy of the universe is zero if energy is not necessarily conserved, or even meaningful without spacetime?

    Surely we need something more than just general relativity and quantum mechanics on their own to build a self-consistent picture of how this all came about? So there’s still plenty of room for God…

  • http://letterstonature.wordpress.com/ Luke Barnes

    3 things …

    1. I like the video!

    2. “The energy of the entire universe, according to Einstein, is exactly zero” – But you’ve previously said ” I personally think it’s better to forget about the so-called “energy of the gravitational field” and just admit that energy is not conserved.” Can we really take these calculations of the energy of the whole universe seriously?

    3. Define “nothing”. If we go with the definition: “if what you’re talking about has properties, then it’s something”, then it’s clear that Hawking isn’t describing creation out of nothing. Whatever it is, it has the properties ascribed to it by GR/QFT. Some quotes for you to interact with:

    Cosmologists sometimes claim that the universe can arise ‘from nothing’. But they should watch their language, especially when addressing philosophers. We’ve realised ever since Einstein that empty space can have a structure such that it can be warped and distorted. Even if shrunk down to a ‘point’, it is latent with particles and forces – still a far richer construct than the philosopher’s ‘nothing’. Theorists may, some day, be able to write down fundemental equations governing physical reality. But physics can never explain what ‘breathes fire’ into the equations, and actualised them into a real cosmos. The fundemental question of ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ remains the province of philosophers. And even they may be wiser to respond, with Ludwig Wittgenstein, what ‘whereof one cannot speak, one must be silent’. (Martin Rees, Just 6 Numbers)

    The concept of a universe materializing out of nothing boggles the mind … yet the state of “nothing” cannot be identified with absolute nothingness. The tunneling is described by the laws of quantum mechanics, and thus “nothing” should be subjected to these laws. The laws must have existed, even though there was no universe. (Alex Vilenkin, Many Worlds in One)

  • http://www.catholiclab.net Ian

    Dear Sean, you say “Stephen Hawking Settles the God Question Once and For All”. I say ‘no he has not’.

    Is Hawking (or you) a theologian? No

    Does Hawking (or you) know how God works? No

    Then how can he (and you for that matter) say that science does not need to invoke God as a cause for creation?

    When will you learn that theology and science are different endeavours, different approaches, which seek the truth, and as such cannot be in conflict. Even your philosophy of science is lacking. For heaven’s sake Sean read some Pierre Duhem or Fr Stanley Jaki!

    The God vs science theme sells books and newspapers.

  • yogi-one

    I like also Kim Griest’s little talk about the subject on UCTV:

    The Mystery of Empty Space
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-vKh_jKX7Q

    Since I’m a lay person, who can’t do the math, I am relegated to finding scientists who have the skill to eloquently translate the math to comprehensible English, and take the time to do so for the general public.

    As I understand it, the “nothing” being referred to here is what Griest is calling the “vacuum energy” in his talk. According to Griest, string theory can be solved in such a way that shows that the vacuum energy is unstable.

    In other words, as long as the equations work out so that both sides eventually can be resolved to zero, you can go through as many perturbations as you want . As I understand it, the concept of virtual particles in the quantum soup means universes can fluctuate in and out of existence. Furthermore, since there is no absolute timescale, each universe can have it’s own time encased in itself.

    Meaning that what looks like a 13.7 billion year old, infinitely expanding and accelerating universe from inside that universe can look like a virtual blip lasting 10 to the -33 seconds from outside of it. Or not visible at all from outside, since no light or energy would be escaping from it.

    In a nanosecond, an infinity of universes can be happening right in front of you and you’d never know it, but from inside any one of those universes it would seem very expansive and take 10s of billions of years of time.

    As understand it, Hawking and others are simply saying you can solve the equations without invoking a divine power (that is, without having to introduce a random, inexplicable and unquantifiable variable) to make both sides of the equations eventually balance out and resolve back to zero.

    That’s a little bit different than the old philosopher’s discussion about whether God exists or not.

    But if you want more hits on the internet, which headline will grab more attention?

    a. “Scientists say God Isn’t Needed”
    or
    b. “Physicists Solve String Theory Without Invoking Unquantifiable Variables”

    I think we all know the answer to that.

    Sorry if you’re left feeling a little bit sucker-punched by a sexed-up headline. Me too.

  • DP in CA

    The “Grand Video Experiment” is not very accessible to someone who is deaf. I hope if you repeat the experiment in the future that you or someone else will post a transcript.

  • Rich in MD

    :-(
    Can’t access video from work.

  • http://theeternaluniverse.blogspot.com/ Joseph Smidt

    Sean,

    I don’t mean to be a problem with this question, but I would really appreciate it if you would address it as I believe you are well equipped to. I am confused how you say something came from nothing when actually something comes from something: quantum gravity.

    And I don’t think it is a foolish concern because you went to great lengths to demonstrate how something comes from nothing. But you don’t have the universe springing from nothing, you have the unexplained existence of quantum gravity leading to the creation of the universe.

    And if you feel the concern isn’t important I find that odd as much as I find odd any claim that something just exists without explanation. (It’s like some form of an anthropic argument to me. )

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Ian: Is Hawking (or you) a theologian? No
    Does Hawking (or you) know how God works? No
    Then how can he (and you for that matter) say that science does not need to invoke God as a cause for creation?

    Do theologians know how God works? Can you establish somehow that there is anything for theologians to have expertise in, outside of a historical view of what other theologians have said?

    RE the video: I would prefer text, but if you do more videos,
    1) Better sound please. Lose the echo.
    2) Keep it short. I may watch a 3 minute video, but I may not watch a video over 5 minutes, and certainly not one over 10 minutes.

  • Katharine

    Hawking is right of course. The universe self-creates under a single set of physical law.

    Hawking did not say God (or gods) do not exist. They do. Because all gods are created by the imagination of man. So in the minds of the believer, God (or gods) are real enough. Each god follows the rules created by the believer to serve their interests.

    Gods are part of human sociology. Both are part of the universe.

    There is a problem with the ‘imaginary friend exists!… as a thought in theists’ heads’ argument; this is like saying a giant three-horned hippopotamus exists because some person dreamt it up. By this train of logic, everything conceivable by the human mind exists, even contradictory things. This makes no sense.

    I’m an atheist but I don’t think Hawking’s argument resolves the question of “something” instead of “nothing”. The idea of “nothing with the potential for quantum fluctuations” is still “something”.

    The fact that “laws of nature” exist is itself puzzling. The true definition of “nothing” would be no physical world, no quantum fluctuations, and no laws of nature. If there is “nothing” then there should be no need for any laws of nature since there is nothing to describe.

    As soon as you invoke “laws of nature” you automatically begin to describe “something” and one can always say that “God” designed the laws of nature.

    I’m more inclined, personally, to say that gravity and the fundamental forces just happen to be just so (and am fairly satisfied with that explanation; the notion that they are set by something else strikes me as a little presumptive without further evidence).

    As Ann Druyan and Richard Dawkins aid, we can have a religious experience understanding without needing God, but I add we might want this larger thing than any one of us believing in us.

    Just because you want it doesn’t mean it exists.

    If the existence of the universe is necessary (which I think it is), there must be an explanation to ground its necessity and justify our asserting it as so. With one obvious difference, stating that the universe exists, end of story, is akin to stating that God exists, end of story.

    What makes you think the existence of the universe is necessary? It’s a little anthropomorphizing to insist that something’s existence must have a point.

    Dear Sean, you say “Stephen Hawking Settles the God Question Once and For All”. I say ‘no he has not’.

    Is Hawking (or you) a theologian? No

    Does Hawking (or you) know how God works? No

    Then how can he (and you for that matter) say that science does not need to invoke God as a cause for creation?

    When will you learn that theology and science are different endeavours, different approaches, which seek the truth, and as such cannot be in conflict. Even your philosophy of science is lacking. For heaven’s sake Sean read some Pierre Duhem or Fr Stanley Jaki!

    The God vs science theme sells books and newspapers.

    I like to think of theology as bullsh*t dressed up in a good deal of rhetoric – sophistry. You postulate this deity of yours without any particular reason to except the writings of a good deal of crazy, uneducated Roman Empire-era Middle Easterners who were merely repeating a cultural meme facilitated by the relative lack of scientific knowledge of the age (this was PRE-Middle-Ages, remember – the Romans knew mostly engineering and very little science; they had to import most of their doctors from Greece, who wasn’t that great medically anyway, and their subjugated peoples were even less knowledgeable about the sciences).

    You have all this cargo-cult philosophy and cargo-cult science that you do – a whole discipline you’ve got – built up on completely ridiculous assumptions.

  • http://wavefunction.fieldofscience.com Wavefunction

    I just finished reading “The Grand Design” and it shines with Hawking’s usual wit, dry humor and amusing and revealing analogies.

  • http://sarajdavis.net/ Non-Believer

    I enjoyed the video. I usually prefer shorter videos – less than 5 minutes – prefer in the 3 min. range.
    I will say this about video. When a subject is too complex – I understand things better when I listen rather than read. I have no idea why.
    This wasn’t one of those subjects, but occasionally when you write about some new theory my mind just turns to mush.

  • Miles

    Peter, “stating that the universe exists, end of story, is akin to stating that God exists, end of story. ” Only in the sense that stating that bread exists, end of story, is akin to stating that leprechauns exist, end of story. We have evidence for the former and none for the latter.

    Ian, The title refers to the existence of a creator god. Why should theology have any bearing on the cause of the cosmos? It’s not a theological question, it’s a scientific one. Hawking’s whole point is we now understand entirely natural mechanisms by which the cosmos could come into being, a point that as clearly eliminates the gap filled by a creator god as Newton eliminated the gap filled by a sky god or as Pasteur eliminated the gap filled by a disease god or as localized brain damage eliminated the gap filled by the soul. Of course there are still gaps for your theology to insert a god into, so Hawking doesn’t settle all god questions, just creator god questions.

    And btw Ian, theology starts with the assumption that a god exists, and then tries to plug god into any mystery that remains, sometimes even going so far as to turn knowledge back into mystery so as to have a place to plug god into. Theology does not seek truth. Truth is not even irrelevant to theology. Truth is the enemy of theology. Please do not ever say “theology and science are different ways of seeking the truth” again. What a vile, disgusting lie.

  • ANON

    HATE, HATE, HATE the video format.

    You see, I’m deaf.

    Not only does your video exclude me, but whatever it is that you said in it is now unsearchable by google, untranslatable by BabbleFish or other tools that non-English speakers might use, and generally a lot less useful to the world than a real blog entry.

    Literacy is one of humanity’s greatest accompllishments. Please don’t forsake it for videos, podcasts, and other oral throwbacks to a pre-literate age!

  • JJ

    I never understood religion, I never understood the idea of God. Can anyone define it please? What is God? And no, I dont want to hear any idiotic theological BS.
    And why we speak of something we can’t define even. Its just a ridiculous, pointless, laughable concept. “Opium for the masses”, which brought nothing but mass murder throughout the history.

  • NoJoy

    Ian, the title of the post seemed clearly facetious to me.

    I haven’t read the book, but from the articles I’ve read it seems that the main argument is just an application of Occam’s Razor, combined with an explanation for the existence of the universe that does not require a creator. It’s the same argument that prefers evolution with natural selection to “intelligent design”, but on a cosmic scale.

    Eujin, I too would love to know what “waiting long enough” means in this context.

  • Paul W.

    Sean,

    It sounds like you used the mic on the camera, in a room with mostly hard walls.

    It would sound much better if you used a highly directional mike (e.g., supercardioid, not just cardioid and especially not omnidirectional) so that you come in loud and clear and most of the echoes don’t.

    Better yet, use a lavalier mike clipped to your lapel, rather than mounted on the camera.

    Either will usually dramatically improve the audio.

    Ob physics: since the sound energy decreases with the square of the distance, getting the mike, say, 4 times closer to you makes the direct sound 16x stronger, which brings it way up above the ambient echoey stuff coming from all around. Close miking is technique #1 of clean audio recording; even a very cheap mike up close sounds lots better than any not-highly-directional mike far away.

  • BoRon

    Sean,
    I like it and plan to replay it a few times.
    As for production problems, you might use some acoustic treatments to tame the echoes.
    (A mind experiment: assume your walls are mirrors, your voice emanates from a light bulb and you see the light from the point of view of the microphone. You see reflections of your voice coming from many directions. Hang sound absorbers over the brighter images on the walls, floor and ceiling. Don’t overdo it.)

    Ian (28), if science and theology are different endeavors why can’t they say it? You did. It is the topic of the discussion.

  • Sam Gralla

    No video, please. But come back to blogging.

  • polariton

    Sean, bearing in mind the enormous respect that I have for you, I think you’re wrong on this one.
    Hawking doesn’t settle the question – at most he might influence the views held by the general public. And if that view becomes predominant in the society, then that doesn’t make it right.
    It’s a philospohical question that cannot be answered but is to be debated – that’s what philosophy is. Because it’s not a scientific question, or more generally it is a question about personal view rather than establishable fact, it cannot be settled by anyone voicing their opinion, and certainly not for all.

  • cgray451

    Left wing kooks have an overwhelming need to glorify themselves and their own “brilliance.” Saying and believing that the universe has no beginning point requires just as much faith as believing there is a God. I’ll become an atheist when I see some physicist create something out of thin air. I’ll settle for a stick of Juicy Fruit gum. I’m not holding my breath.

  • Paul

    What a load of self important nonsense. Hawking has said the same thing for more than 20 years. I also doubt that any atheists posting here were “believers” before anyone was able to solve string theory equations (string theory is still in doubt by the way) without “Invoking Unquantifiable Variables” and I doubt that any would have seen their position as being a mere opinion since equations could not balance! Very much the contrary in fact.

    Hawking has tried to “prove” atheism for decades, so I don’t know why people imagine this is a “change of mind” as it most certainly is not. No serious scientist, certainly no serious physicist (including Newton, and he was not an atheist) invokes “God” or “gods” or “sentient spirits” to solve any equation, or any physical law. The most that he can do is say that it is possible to not invoke a deity in origin theory for THIS UNIVERSE (assuming a multiverse). I get the impression of a man desperate to justify his belief – not sure why he needs to, it isn’t as if we live in 17th century Italy like Galileo. Perhaps he wants to be the one who “proved” there is no god, which is the next thing to being a god. However I don’t see why anyone needs Hawking’s approval to justify their position, and I don’t think he says anything new, or offers new evidence either.

  • JScarry

    I’d prefer to read, but if it means you can explain more physics, I’m all for the video format.

  • http://thesciencepundit.blogspot.com/ The Science Pundit

    I like the video. But let me echo Reginald’s observation about the sound (see what I did there?). You need to get a new microphone, or change the settings on your mic, or filter the audio track somehow. The video sounded like it was recorded in the shower.

  • Paul

    Here are my thoughts about the first argument discussed in Sean’s video. This argument works if, somehow, someway, the laws of physics have any sort of meaning or existence by themselves even when no universe exists. This is something we, obviously, have no reason to believe. If NOTHING exists, then there are NO laws of physics, no quantum mechanics, no general relativity, no notion of “energy” or the uncertainty principle, NOTHING. Therefore, NOTHING will result. You’ll need a pre-existing universe in order for another universe to be born, because only with a pre-existing universe do you have laws that are capable of describing a situation whereby another universe comes to be.

    Therefore, I think the only way this can work is if there is a multiverse. Of course, if the multiverse has any sort of “beginning”, then one may get away with invoking God. But since there is no evidence, yet, of a multiverse, we can all still go along believing God has something to do with this reality.

  • Paul

    If no universe exists, there is NOTHING “fluctuating”, nothing upon which the uncertainty principle can be said to apply to, no notion of “energy”, no notion of time or time, no notion of space, therefore no notion of “metric”, there is just NOTHING.

    When you talk about “[set] of possibilities” for quantum mechanics, well that assumes an already existing universe. We have absolutely no reason to think that if we start with nothing, then there is a finite probability that we will have spacetime from NOTHING. Maybe there is a 100% chance that from nothing will come nothing. In fact, that’s very true. If there is nothing, there are no “laws of physics”, etc., from which a universe can spring into being. Laws of physics make absolutely NO SENSE outside a universe. That’s what science is all about. The laws are principles which seem to describe our observable world accurately. They have no meaning outside a universe.

  • The Great Kabuga

    Paul,

    Lots of tacit assumptions in your little spiel.

    What I’d like to know, if ‘God had something to do with it’ is:

    What caused god?

    What caused the rules by which he functions?

    You are not allowed to declare by fiat: he’s god, therefore the rules don’t apply to him!

  • Aleksandar Mikovic

    Several commentators rightly pointed out that Hawking’s claim about God is ridiculous, and I would like to add one more argument that Hawking is wrong. Namely, Hawking’s assumption is that a mathematical theory, i.e. M-theory, describes the Universe completely and hence there is no need for God. However, Goedel’s theorems from logic imply that there is no a complete mathematical theory which contains aritmethics, and a theory of everything must certainly contain it, and hence there is no complete theory of everything. Note that this argument was first introduced by Fr. Jaki, and amusingly, even Hawking used to accept it.

    A related point is that many people do not understand the difference between science and metaphysics. When they proclaim that science can explain everything, they are opting for a specific metaphysics. However, this metaphysics is poor one, because the Goedel’s theorems imply that it can never describe the world completely. The only way to avoid the Goedel’s theorems is to proclaim that there are no natural laws, which then essentially boils down to the metaphysics where everything happens randomly. Although logically consistent, such a metaphysics is ridiculous, and it is of the same flavor as solipsism.

  • Paul_prime

    Oh…. #49 and #50 are from a different Paul. Let’s call myself Paul_prime.

  • Paul_prime

    The Great Kabuga,

    I don’t know what caused God. Maybe God doesn’t have a cause. I don’t know what “rules” God by which God functions. All I was getting at was that if you have nothing, you will get nothing. You can’t have laws of physics acting to do things if there isn’t an already existing universe. Laws of physics outside an already existing universe have no meaning. So you can’t just say that the universe was born from a “quantum fluctuation” of nothing into something. Even if you can get a universe from nothing, why THIS universe? That’s why you have to invoke either some sort of supernatural being (God if you will), or a pre-existing multiverse, for which we have no real evidence for. Therefore, I don’t see anything incorrect about attributing the existing of our universe to the act of a divine being.

  • The Great Kabuga

    Mikovic wrote:

    Namely, Hawking’s assumption is that a mathematical theory, i.e. M-theory, describes the Universe completely and hence there is no need for God. However, Goedel’s theorems from logic imply that there is no a complete mathematical theory which contains aritmethics, and a theory of everything must certainly contain it, and hence there is no complete theory of everything. Note that this argument was first introduced by Fr. Jaki, and amusingly, even Hawking used to accept it.

    This is a very simplistic view. For a more nuanced view, see: http://arxiv.org/abs/physics/0612253

    He argues that Godel’s Theorem has implications for what one may predict by formal manipulation of the mathematical structures resulting from a ‘final theory’ ; such a theory is not rendered impossible by the theorem.

    And as he points out, the axioms of a physical theory (what people call ‘laws’) are given, not defined within a formal structure.

  • Bill

    My own explanation on why there is no god dazzles me with it’s brilliance! I don’t know why it isn’t the “accepted” explanation.

    Here goes…. Hemmoroids, cancer, diarrhea,back aches, toothaches, ….all the obvious little failings clearly present in us, ” … In God’s image.”

    If you were omnipotent, absolutely unlimited in any way, couldn’t you have designed something better than us? I know I could. Evolution,with it’s stops,starts, detours, and simple bad constructs produced us, not some magical, mystical, super being. It is so obvious.

  • Paul_prime

    Bill,

    I’m sure we all know evolution produced us. But what produced our universe and the laws it appears to run according to?

  • The Great Kabuga

    Paul,

    So, in essence, to explain what we have evidence for, you invoke an hypothesis whose properties are ill-defined, and possibly unknowable and ask me to take this seriously?

    At least even if a ‘final’ theory invokes a causally-adrift multiverse, it will still make predictions about our own Universe, which may be tested.

    And speaking of multiverses, I can imagine a few scenarious which would severely undermine your assumptions.

  • AI

    Paul_prime: “But what produced our universe and the laws it appears to run according to?”

    We don’t know and we might never know.

    But invoking god doesn’t help in any way, it just shifts the question to what created god. Invoking laws of physics doesn’t help either and for the same reason.

  • Paul_prime

    The Great Kabuga,

    I’m not asking you to take it seriously, I’m just saying it’s a POSSIBILITY, along with the possibility that our universe came from a parent universe. For the latter, you need laws of physics capable of describing a situation whereby a universe can be created from a pre-existing universe. You can’t make a universe from NOTHING. Laws of physics make no sense outside an already existing universe.

    I think God or whatever you want to call a supernatural being is a possibility if there is no multiverse. If you can show that there are laws which describe everything about our universe at the energies we can reach now, plus the energies all the way up to the Planck length, and if these laws have the possibility that new universes can be made, then you can have a multiverse, and no need for a creator. Of course, you are still left the problem of why these particular laws, or why this particular fundamental theory?

    If your laws do not admit the possibility of making new universes, then there is no reason to think that there are other universes besides our own. So if you assume our universe had a clear beginning, “before which” (whatever that means) there was nothing, then you need something other than the laws of physics (which have no meaning outside a universe) to make that universe out of nothing. That’s what I’ve been saying above. What is that something? Well, something supernatural.

  • Rebecca Sparks

    Interesting, although maybe you can have a grad student type up your vblogs so we can read them too.

  • Giotis

    Of course this doesn’t disprove anything. You can always ask who made the laws of physics. For example why QM holds? What is its origin and its physical explanation since it is postulated and it’s not self explanatory? Same reasoning hods for other first principles. Currently there is no explanation and without explanations there is always room for God. A supreme being outside the natural world may have imposed these laws having a specific plan in mind etc…

    Such petty attempts to disprove God’s involvement in the genesis of the Cosmos are indeed laughable.

  • XPT

    Much appreciated. I’d hope for longer videos, but this was interesting nonetheless.

  • Other Sean

    I agree with the conclusion: No God needed to light a fuse. I still think Wilczek says it best:”Nothing is unstable”. Our intution is inverted because the second law leads us to make an inaccurate extrapolation that roughly equates “somethingness” with structure and order which is ever fleeting. Does this settle the issue with respect to God? Well it falsifies a certain image of one. But I disagree it disposes of the issue completely. Nothing can really do that. Just because we come to the end of a chain of logical reasoning doesn’t imply we have exhausted reality.
    As much as I think Hawking is right, its worth pointing out the enormous change in view point from his original view point.The hope for a single unifying set of laws has been replaced with an ensemble of origins and histories. Well, looking back on our experience with Darwin and Copernicus we probably should have expected this. But we didn’t, and we are in the process of changing our minds in what we mean by the universe itself. I don’t deny the religious person the right to do the same with God.

  • Fujaro

    Sean, I’m afraid the argument you give (or better still your summary of Hawking’s argument) for self-creation of the universe does not register at all with me and a lot of other posters here.

    You use sentences like “if you wait long enough it will happen”, but “waiting” presumes the existence of time. Also, as pointed out by others, the argument as you state it, presupposes the laws of nature. Either you have smoothed the edges of the real argument too much in trying to bring it across on video to my little brain ;-) or there is no argument at all. I would appreciate a little commentary of you on this since the comments show a need for some more detailed explanation. Not in the least because this indeed is a question that keeps bugging little brains all over the planet.

  • erik

    I do very much like the video format as it makes it easier to get someone else to actually pay attention to it. Also you speak quite well.

  • Deacon

    I believe in God. I believe he created the universe with the laws he wished it to have. I am not a good person, I don’t do good things to please my God. My God did a good thing for me by sending Jesus to save me, and I do good things out of the thankfullness for my price he paid on the cross. I love you all with your different opinions and ideas. Thinking is an amazing quality. Just don’t dismiss God because of your ideas, he is after all the one who gave you the intelect to think them, but it is your choice how you use them.

  • Ray Gedaly

    I was more interested in trying to identify each of the books in your book case. But the resolution of the video is too poor. Next time use HD.

  • piscator

    This video is shocking. It is shocking not because the content is manifestly false to anyone who knows something about the subject, which it is, but because it seems to involve a professional cosmologist saying something he must know is false in order to support an ideological viewpoint. The most charitable interpretation seems to be that he was in a hurry and fluffed his lines.

    To be clear: there is *no* understanding in modern physics as to how the universe came into being. Not in general relativity. Not in quantum gravity. Not in string theory. This is not a remotely controversial opinion, just a statement of fact. Go and look at the arxiv, go and look at the papers people write and the questions they answer.

    Saying that questions like ‘why is there something rather than nothing’ are answered by modern physics is dishonest, plain and simple. All those cheering on this video should ask themselves whether they would likewise cheer on a video saying that brontosaurus was in the stable next to baby Jesus.

    Distorting science for ideological purposes is *never* right.

  • rococo

    Sorry, I definitely prefer to read.

  • Ghazal Geshnizjani

    I have so many issues with going out as scientists and telling people whether god exists or not when in reality as of this moment and to best of my knowledge as a cosmologists it is still out of the jurisdiction of our work.
    I am completely for educating people when religion and science start to overlap say earth is not 3000 or 6000 years old or whatever it is according to the bible but that is because we have overwhelming evidence for that. I am also fine with smart people such as Hawking or Weinberg claiming as their personal opinion that they do not see any need for god to exist. However to go out and use credit from science for something which is not yet part of science is really a dangerous path to walk and can come back and hurt us the most.
    Furthermore playing the devil’s advocate, the argument presented here in fact is in favor of some interpretations of god in Islamic mysticism and philosophy where a human observer on this earth can never comprehend the full extent of what god is and those who even develop the potential to partially understand it can hardly explain it to others but there can be no distinction between concept of god, nature, its laws or gravity! So I doubt until Hawking proves universe could come to existence without the laws of physics, he can convince people the no need for god.

  • Glen

    well congrats… your brilliant scientific minds have finally agreed upon a theory of everything (for now anyway… I’ll check back later to make sure). Without a shred of real evidence and no way to possibly prove it, you’ve discovered a(nother) suitable, theorized explanation for how, without the existence of an intelligent designer (call Him God if you like), the incredibly complex, riddled with vastly intelligent design features, incomprehensibly finely tuned universe came into existance by itself. Well done! You can now go on living your life free from guilt, without any fear of consequences of the possibility of there being a God to hold you accountable. But before you do, let me me remind you of these words…
    “…the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools.” Romans 1:18-22

    and…

    “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “ I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” 1 Cor 1:18-25

  • Brian137

    Where to begin?

  • viggen

    I really liked the post that you had written at the link that “it’s okay for the universe to just exist.” I wish I had read that when you posted it originally.

    if nothingness is somehow more natural or likely than existence, and yet here we are, it must be because God willed it to be so.

    Not being a cosmologist, I guess I can’t speculate very effectively at the notion about whether any state of reality is more natural than another. However, I have one additional thought which relates to this quote here. Even though we have observations like “expansion” and “entropy” do we even necessarily have any understanding of what “nothingness” actually is? The universe is known to be full of a lot of something, whether it’s dark matter, dark energy, energy or conventional matter… we have therefore never ever made even a single measurement of true “nothingness.” Our definition of nothingness is the lack of somethingness that we do measure. But there is something everywhere and a lot of it we can’t even observe!

    Having never actually observed or measured it, suppose that nothingness is the only thing that doesn’t actually exist, then there would be no need to magically pull anything out of it since everything would just already be there to begin with, if not in the form we currently know it, with those parts of the form that we can currently measure. Maybe I’m the only one who thinks we have no way of supposing there’s a way to be outside the universe looking back at it, which is what we would need in order to compare what we have, and don’t even necessarily know we have, with what we don’t have, which is the absence of everything (both observable and not). We definitely don’t know what the absence of a universe even is… we just have a “whatever there was before this” which is why people want there to be a God to begin with.

  • Felix

    The Archbishop of Canterbury rushed to defend ‘God’ after hearing from Hawking. The Archbishop is afraid, worried. After all, even if Hawking is 10% right, the Archbishop face ridicule, even lost of his job. He has to explain to his flock they’ve been worshiping nonsense for centuries!

    I am so fortunate we live in times as interesting as that of Galileo. Galileo, like Hawking, dared to refute Church doctrine; dared to teach those funny men in strange uniforms a bit of reality. During his time, Galileo said the Earth orbits around the Sun. Basic laws of physics allows it, and in fact demands it. No God is required to make it happen, or to predict their motions. Denouncing Galileo, the Pope said God made the Sun orbit around the Earth, its motion is a sacred secret, and and whole matter of heaven motion is impossible for mere human to understand. Therefore, it requires humans to just worship it.

    Centuries later, nothing has changed. Church doctrine remains wrong, primitive, stupid and delusional. And science continues to win on every single issue, trumps everything else on its ability to deliver reliable knowledge.

  • bittergradstudent

    Just adding the detail that one shouldn’t really apply Gödel’s theorem to a probabalistic theory like quantum mechanices–a quantum mechanical theory won’t correspond with the type of deterministic formal logical system that Gödel was talking about.

    As for the larger question, “proofs” like this are really an attack on the sort of God that your fundamentalist conservative Baptists think up. The point of religion isn’t about making testable predictions. It isn’t even about telling you about how the world works. It is not a construct of logos, of fact.

    It’s a construct of mythos, of meaning. It’s a framework of understanding from which to approach facts, because, as has been repeatedly and rigorously proven by psychology, humans are incapable for logically evaluating all facts before them and making decisions–we inherently need some sort of framework to look at the world. It’s why you can have an atheistic religion like Buddhism be considered a religion–Buddhism provides a structure from which to approach scientific facts and worldly experience.

    It’s also why I’ve noticed that the more atheistic you are, the more you tend to be into comic books and pop culture. It’s not that you believe that the X-Men are or whatever, but there is a mental gap of story that is needed.

  • Paulo

    Well, I would say that many of the people who take too seriously the question Why is there Something instead of Nothing are assuming that “nothingness is somehow more natural or likely than existence”. But i don’t know why should this be, why they think that, nor have I seen evidence for that (hiden) assumption.

    Following some ideias above about nothing, the “real nothing” and what implies, I’d like to say, there is no nothing because there can’t be a reason for nothingness being somehow more natural or likely than existence. That follows from nothing (;-))as postulated by some.

    BTW, that “nothingness is somehow more natural or likely than existence” is kinda strange… To what “natural” could the author be refering to?

  • Peter Lynds

    Hi Miles,

    You omitted the beginning of the sentence. That we need justification is precisely the point.

    Best wishes

    Peter

  • Thomas

    So, if we project the laws of our universe onto whatever the cause of the universe (cotu from here on) is, then the cotu exists in a warped (or unwarped, if we are the warped) time line, that is infinite. The cotu is governed by the laws of quantum mechanics, and due to its infinite existence, and quantum burps, it will create, and has created anything and everything.

    This is nothing new, just another mechanism for the creation of the universe. Just because you chose to project laws from within our universe onto the cotu, does not make it part of the universe. You can say you now have laws which can govern the cotu, and if it does exist, these laws could lead to the creation of our universe.

    However, what have you done more, then someone who says that whatever created the universe is a god, governed by some other set of laws? Your set of laws can be seen in the universe here, but their existence here does not prove their existence in the cotu.

    There is still no evidence that the cotu is what you have defined it as, so it does not prove god can only exist without having an influence on the universe. Your definition of the cotu may be the right one, and one day be either proved or disproved, but neither has happened yet, so it remains just another theory.

  • psmith

    @21:Peter You nailed it on the head

  • Aleksandar Mikovic

    A graduate student here said that Goedel’s theorems do not apply to Quantum Mechanics, because of the probabilistic nature of QM, and hence QM is not a formal logical system. This is not true, because the probabilistic nature of QM is one of the postulates and hence QM is a formal system.

    Related to the question of what are the Natural Laws, and their relation to our world, the best way to understand them is within a platonic metaphysics; see paper by M. Tegmark called “Mathematical Universe” and a paper of mine entitlied “Temporal Platonic Metaphysics” on the arxiv.

  • AI

    “Well, I would say that many of the people who take too seriously the question Why is there Something instead of Nothing are assuming that “nothingness is somehow more natural or likely than existence”

    The question makes perfect sense without any such assumption.

    It’s also only one variant of a more general question – why the Universe is the way it is, when it could have been realized in an infinite number of different ways.

  • CarlN

    Peter, yes “when” there is nothing no explanation is required and is the only logical starting point for explaining why there is something at all.

    So how can something come from nothing? Well “when” there is nothing everything is lacking:

    1. There is no “law” of causality.
    2. There is a total lack of “things” (conservation laws for example) that could prevent something to be created from nothing.
    3. There is total lack of “conditions” that need to be fullfilled for something to be created from nothing.

    So nothing is actually “unstable”. It is enterly logical that all that exists is created from nothing. This is also consistent with the Big Bang of course.

  • AI

    “So nothing is actually “unstable”. It is enterly logical that all that exists is created from nothing.”

    Nonsense. Absolute nothingness is permanent as there is *no time* and *no change,* it’s a state which cannot evolve.

  • Michele

    Thank you for your post, it was very interesting, but……i could not get to the end of it because of the very unplaisant acoustics and echo, which i think might have turned other people off (like me). Worth repeating? Yes, absolutely, but with better sound.

  • Miles

    Hi Peter,

    I think you missed my point. We do have justification that the universe exists, I’d even go so far as to say we have a multitude of evidence to suggest such a thing. We do not have justification that any gods exist. In fact, we have a good deal of circumstantial evidence to the contrary.

    1) Most of the reasons for invoking the actions of gods have been shown to have natural explanations by science: disease, the origin of man, the origin of other creatures and plants, the origin of the earth, the origin of the sun, the origin of the stars and planets, the origin of the cosmos, and how the brain works. We do not understand everything about all of these topics, and our current, best explanations may be wrong, but at the very least the progress science has made in closing the gaps of our understanding suggests that it would be foolish to cling to the same god explanation the ancients used.

    2) The variety of god claims out there strongly suggests that people want to believe in gods, and psychology tells us that if people want to believe something, they often find a way.

    3) The contradictory god claims that exist to this day mean that at least most of the True Believers are wrong.

    4) A lack of evidence where we would expect to find evidence, say from prayer or other benefits to believers.

    None of these prove the nonexistence of god; the evidence is merely circumstantial. Then again, the effectiveness of homeopathy has not been disproven. It has merely been shown not to work in numerous studies, but as all true believers know, it just hasn’t been tested under the right conditions ;-)

    Best wishes,

    Miles

  • Sluokdas

    Sean, you really are painfully self-obsessed.

  • bittergradstudent

    A. Mikovic #82:

    Yes, probablities of QM are part of the axioms of QM. No, this axiom is not the same as the set of axioms that Gödel assumed when formulating his theorem. He most certainly did not use some sort of modal logic in proving his theory, and the Uncertainty Principle already leaves a notion of undecidablility built into the theory.

    If you were using Gödel’s theorem to say that Newtonian mechanics, or General Relativity can’t possibly describe everything in the universe, fine, though there are some trickier points of the philosophy of math that could be raised.

    But quantum mechanics significantly muddies that picture, and if you’re going to make the claim that Gödel’s theorem shows that QM can’t describe the universe, its incumbent on you to show why this very, very technical proof applies to QM, which is a very different mathematical construct from the types of formal systems, such as arithmetic, that Gödel was talking about.

  • Pingback: Hawking Says God Not Needed to Kick-Start Big Bang; World Freaks Out | 80beats | FEEDER()

  • Escuerd

    Ian said: “When will you learn that theology and science are different endeavours, different approaches, which seek the truth, and as such cannot be in conflict.”

    Nope. Empirically false. Theology has come into conflict with science many times.
    Also, I’m not sure how an inability to come into conflict follows from the fact that two different endeavors use different approaches to seek truth.

    When it makes truth claims, the only way that theology can avoid coming into conflict with science is by relegating its claims to the safety of the unobservable. If theologians have developed useful methods for learning about unobservable things (gods, souls, etc.), one has to wonder why these methods don’t also work to derive truth claims about observable things.

  • CarlN

    AI, Apart from what exist there is actually nothing. What changes is nothing –> nothing + something else :-)

    But it is bad wording, nothing “unstable”.

  • http://jolt.law.harvard.edu/digest/ Davis

    The fact that “laws of nature” exist is itself puzzling. The true definition of “nothing” would be no physical world, no quantum fluctuations, and no laws of nature. If there is “nothing” then there should be no need for any laws of nature since there is nothing to describe.

    I’d like to riff on this for a moment, because I think it poses an interesting scenario. If by “nothing” we mean that, in addition to there being no universe, there are also no laws whatsoever, then I would postulate that the existence of the universe becomes even *less* surprising. Why?

    Well, let’s start with the assumption that nothingness (in the stuff-free and rule-free sense) is the default state. The conceptual problem with the universe seems to be that there is no apparent path from this state of nothingness to the universe we now live in — the old “you can’t get something from nothing” trope. But if there are no laws in this nothingness, what could possibly serve as an obstacle to the spontaneous appearance of something such as our universe? Absent conservation laws and causality rules (not to mention any notion of time or space), I would argue that a law-free nothingness should be a chaotic thing (nothing?) indeed, with spontaneous generation of stuff and/or laws an *expected* result.

    This is not to say that I consider this argument a solution to the question of where our universe did in fact come from; rather, I present this as one possible solution in the scenario where not even QM can be assumed to hold in the “presence” (an oxymoron, I realize) of true nothingness.

  • John

    You do not give us enough information in this post to trust such a dogmatic statement such as “End of Discussion.”

    Having watched your excellent lecture at Google on the Arrow of Time, I understand Your point though.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Someone recommended to me that I watch your video believing it to be the clincher to their argument.

    So, a physicist studying the physical universe, with methods and tools that rigorously include only information about the physical universe only finds the physical universe as defined with those methods and tools. I’m waiting for the man to bite the dog in this. I’m also wondering where the place of equal protection under the law or freedom of association, etc. are in your universe since those aren’t required under this scenario either.

    You do know that if someone believes that a god created the universe exactly as it really is, as opposed to how any group of people believe it to be at any given time, which would, of course, include physicists, then nothing you discover with science could conflict with the belief in that god. And, let me break this gently to you, I’ll bet if you put it to most religious people that way, they’d agree with the idea.

    I’m wondering, why does what other people believe about this matter so much to some atheists?

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Theology has come into conflict with science many times.

    Well, science has come into conflict with science many times. Politics has, philosophy, … Which of those do you want to negate? And, by the way, just what is this “religion” that is one defined thing you’re going on about on this thread so sloppily? Hey, how about if we say “the male gender” has come into conflict with science many times. I can tell you what “the male gender” is. How about sexist old white men who work in the sciences and hinder the careers of women and minorities in the sciences? Now, I’ll bet those conflicts could be documented.

  • A. E. Newman

    If you can’t get it in your head that there was no Creator, then you simply push the Big Question back to the likes of the child’s “well who made God” and “who made God’s God” so it’s Gods all the way up … which is highly, um, unsatisfying.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    A. E. Newman. Your scenario is derived from our experience of the physical universe in which things come from other things, have a beginning, etc. How do you know that would be true for a God which was above the physical universe and so would possibly be above any of the notions, habits, rules, …. laws of logic and physics, we have derived from our experience of the PHYSICAL universe. You know not everyone who is religious is a novice at that kind of argument, whereas its my experience that a majority of atheists seem to be.

    I’ll wait for an answer to my first question without getting into a discussion about other things.

  • God’s Drinking Buddy

    Always plenty of room for God at Hilbert’s Hotel. The couches are comfortable too.

    The other day he was telling me about the unitary evolution of information in the universe and how it was really cool how information is encoded in the states of the universe. Turns out that it is virtually impossible to remove his existence from hilbert space because there are states that allow people to believe in him, so unless one could find a way to remove those states he will always exist. It’s too bad to hear that Stevie Hawking has grown senile, but there’s plenty of room at Hilbert’s for him too.

  • amphiox

    Then how can he (and you for that matter) say that science does not need to invoke God as a cause for creation?

    Hawking is a scientist. That makes him reasonably qualified to comment of what science does or does not need, don’t you think?

    Theology, on the other hand, presupposes the existence of god, and would not exist as a discipline without that presupposition, which means that the only two things concerning god that theologians CAN’T creditably comment is 1. whether or not god exists, and 2. whether or not god is necessary.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    amphiox, Hawking and Carroll can’t credibly comment on either of those questions you fault theologians over any more than the theologians can, though I’d expect that what theologians have to say would tend to be more detailed and complex and, likely, more interesting. And, as science can’t deal with those questions and that is where Hawking and Carroll’s professional credibility comes from, why is what they saying about the question taken as authoritative? They, clearly, expect to be taken to have some kind of authority derived from their profession when that idea is pretty irrational.

    Hawking is qualified to have ideas about the subject of God but he doesn’t have any more authority on that subject derived from his study of the physical sciences which exclude any consideration of God. He has the exact same qualification as any other person has to think about the subject, his profession adds absolutely nothing to that qualification any more than it would prepare him to expound on history or arts criticism. I’d really like to hear how, for example, his study of physics would prepare him to authoritatively expound on the separation of church and state.

    Most academic fields of study have standards of research and writing a lot closer to theology than they do science, there are huge swaths of human culture and life that are too complex to be treated with science. Are you saying that history, the law, and other fields like that have no professional credibility because of the standards required by their fields of study?

    I’m finding the emotional drive behind this effort to be really interesting. It really does bother you folks that people have their own ideas on this, doesn’t it.

  • James

    @Anthony:

    I would think that in-depth study of the physical laws of the universe would make one amply qualified to comment on whether those physical law require some form of “god” in order to operate.

    You also seem to be conflating the idea of “god” with that of “religion”. No-one is denying that religion exists, and so to claim that showing god to be unnecessary is somehow similar to commenting on separation of church and state is very disingenuous.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    James, the first thing I said here pointed out that the tools and methods of science rigorously exclude the consideration of anything other than the physical universe, using them to address a question that, then, introduces the subject of God is illegitimate. It’s certainly not rational. It’s obviously not science. What Hawking says about subjects outside of his professional competence has no more credibility than what a plumber or sales clerk might say about it. Though as Hawking uses his science as a platform for saying it, there might be less of a reason to take it seriously. There is nothing in science that can be applied to that question, it’s no more legitimate to assert that than the phony “intelligent design” attempt to use science in a related way to a different end.

    I don’t think that there is any one thing that is “religion”. So you don’t seem to have understood that point.

    The issue of “church and state” is a political and not a religious question, I could have easily used the right to due process or the right to enter into contracts. Maybe I should have for the sake of clarity. There was nothing disingenuous about it, considering the question was what part of Hawking’s professional credentials prepared him to comment on things entirely outside of his professional area.

  • Thud

    I didn’t expect to like the video, but I did like it. It got right to the point, and the clarity provides the necessary punch. Generally, I prefer to read, with math as needed.
    You (or Hawking) make the bare assertion that the universe adds to nothing. (Stenger has also asserted this.) This is a key point, and I’m pretty sure you can justify it, but I’d like to explain it to my siblings. To do so, I need to know: what are the terms that add to zero, what is the theory for each term, what is the theory that requires them to add in this way. The addition, we can do, but the credibility depends on the justification for each term and the operation itself.
    I have Einstein’s “The Meaning of Relativity” right here, and Meisner/Thorne/Wheeler’s “Gravitation” on a shelf gathering dust. Refer to these as needed, or something else, and I’ll dig into it. Thanks. We need to know how it adds.

  • http://none anthony

    Sean, nice try but no cigar. Parenthetically, I have listened to your course from The Teaching
    co and enjoyed it.
    It is more than a bit illogical to talk about the universe obeying its “own laws” and yet conclude
    that it functions intirely on its own. Presumably that means to you that out of nothing came the
    laws by which the universe functions, or are you saying the universe came out of nothing and then,
    before developing, somehow came up with the laws it was thereafter to follow. Sorry. It just
    doesnt wash. In my opinion today’s quantum physicists have gone off the charts and are a little
    too carried away with themselves. Time will show how much of their theory is wrong. String Theory
    is a perfect example of what I call arrogant nonsense. It proves absolutely nothing and cannot be
    proven by any known method; its just someone’s fancy idea like the physicist who is into making
    circles and then circles of circles, etcl; just jibberish nonsense. tony

  • Peter Lynds

    Hi Miles,

    That God doesn’t exist (or there is no evidence for his existence), and that the universe clearly does exist, is what I meant by “’with one obvious difference”.

    Either the existence of the universe is contingent (it may not have existed) or necessary (it could not have failed to exist). However, a contingent explanation for why the universe exists rather than not can only fail, because, being contingent, it inherently admits the possibility the universe might not have existed. As such, only an appeal to the necessity of existence can potentially provide a satisfactory answer. Furthermore, as it needs to show that existence is inescapable, such an appeal will clearly need justification, whether physical or logical. Stating that the universe “just is”, end of story, doesn’t help in this respect, as it doesn’t represent an argument. It seems to me to be a cop-out for people unable to fathom what an answer, even just in principle, might look like.

    Best wishes

    Peter

  • Escuerd

    Anthony McCarthy: “Well, science has come into conflict with science many times.”

    Yes, thank you, but that was a response to the claim that theology and science are in separate realms and cannot conflict with one another.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Escuerd, Well, thank you for identifying yourself, because after I’d taken the quote I couldn’t find where I’d taken it from and didn’t want to have to re-read the entire thread.

    First, that there have been conflicts about science with religious people is true, it doesn’t do anything to de-legitimate religious belief in general, it only means that there are people who can hold ideas that are refuted by science. People do for any number of reasons, including scientists on the basis of their preferences and understanding within science. That’s a fact about the ability of people to not be convinced, not about the reality or not of God. That some atheists seem to want to use that fact ONLY in the case of religion, ignoring the real nature of the problem and distorting it, to some extent dishonestly, to bash religious belief leads me to think that it’s not entirely rational.

    The fact that there are successful scientists who also believe, quite sincerely, in God, some of them with an impressive publication record, even in physics, is all the proof available that there isn’t any necessary conflict between that belief and science. There are even biblical fundamentalists who have successful careers in science, though I wouldn’t take them as entirely reliable on the topic of evolutionary science, so even biblical fundamentalism isn’t a bar to practicing science. I’m sorry if those facts make some people unhappy but it is evidence that there is something basically wrong with the idea that science and religion are in some kind of unbridgeable conflict. As that evidence exists in real life instead of in theory, it’s more credible in a way that I was always told that mattered to science.

    I don’t, obviously, believe that NOMA is a valid idea because of that, though it’s a more rational idea than the idea that there is an unalterable conflict between religious belief and science because the evidence against that idea is obvious and it has been since the invention of science. I believe H. Allen Orr might have made a similar argument on the subject.

  • Aleksandar Mikovic

    I did not say that Quantum Mechanics is decidable or not, but I said that a Theory of Everything must be undecidable, since it must contain arithmetics because it is a theory of everything.

  • http://ill-conceived-rant.blogspot.com/ Bewilderd

    There are very nice explanations in that video but I think there are two points which need to be stressed more or added

    1 God never really had a role in science before anyway because to invoke god as a sloution to existence involves infinite regression and of course makes no testable predictions. You may as well just postulate the universe exists (as you mention one can) as postulate god exists then created it.

    2 Hawkins argument involves many elements not tested experimentally. Believers can still think that god created the universe and be consistent with science. They simply can’t state there is no framework in science which could explain the universe existing to motivate their belief.

  • Cosmonut

    YES, YESSS !! Science has proved the existence of God !! I KNEW the day would come !!!!

    What ? Hawking didn’t say that ??!!
    Humph, why would I believe someone who couldn’t even quantize gravity ?
    And in any case, science can’t say anything about God.

  • James

    @Anthony: Do I need to have studied invisible pink unicorns for several years before concluding that invisible pink unicorns are not necessary for the laws of physics to work?

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Oh, good Lord. Not the pink unicorns again.

    Unicorns are supposed to be a part of the physical universe, they were supposed to be animals you could trap because they would lay their heads in the laps of virgins.

    I’ll leave it to impartial readers of this discussion to judge who has a more rational understanding of these issues without resorting to the Randian mode of argument through appeal to prejudice and mockery.

  • God’s Drinking Buddy

    We have space for pink unicorns too. Those are absolutely essential.

  • http://www.islamic-thought.com Mohammad Shafiq Khan

    The whole science on the basis of which Hawking thinks he is knowledgeable has been proved wrong & baseless by putting forward theory of everything. The theory is in the process of being published and a copy of the theory has been sent to Washington Post and Hindustan Times and most of the science journals . The theory of everything is a theistic theory. If any body wants the theory contact shafiqifs@gmail.com.

    Mohammad Shafiq Khan

  • spyder

    I’ll leave it to impartial readers of this discussion to judge who has a more rational understanding of these issues

    Well the impartial readers are tired, simply exhausted, by your ruminating on your fucking god. Who is this god? Certainly not Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva, in whom a very large population of the planet believe. Perhaps you are referring to Zeus or Odin. Maybe you are struggling to add Allah in your god head? I can’t imagine Wakantanka is so easily ascribed, but you are the praiser of all things theology. You blah blah blah and yada yada on how theology holds this epistemological power but you can’t even begin to express from whence “this” theology came.
    You wrote and i quote: “As that evidence exists in real life instead of in theory,” and then argue that perception based-science fails to take into consideration the theological underpinnings of those who hold views based in faith. Such muddled thinking, followed by sophomoric insulting (the pink unicorn comment was quite apropos actually), are the hallmarks of irrational thought.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Spyder, exactly what part of what I wrote here are you talking about? Exact wording.

  • bwana

    Hawkings can say what he wants. People will believe as they choose; God or no God…

    Dislike video. With only a satellite internet the bandwidth is not adequate for the task! Also, add some sound damping; echo is annoying…

  • http://none anthony

    pink unicorns!!! we know that for the for the earth and man to exist a million things had to
    “go right”; even the slightest change in any of them and poof, we would not have come into
    existance. As soon as YOU use the word laws, you are in trouble. Laws , by definition, are not
    random but the product of some intelligence (and i dont mean to include congress in that by any
    means). Do you believe the laws themselves are random or reflective of some sort of intelligence?
    If the latter , then you get no cigar. If the former , you get the rasberry for foggy thinking . what say you sean?

  • Brad Hill

    The video was effective for me. Well done. More, please.

  • http://michaelshantz.com Mike Shantz

    Thanks. I have learned several things.
    1. information and computation for a universe require no energy from that universe.
    2. universes arise spontaneously from the laws of physics
    3. a large (infinite) number of random universes must be tried before finding one that works
    4. there is no fitness function so they all keep going forever (by whose clock?)
    5. Hawking knows that most theists believe God created the laws of physics
    6. Hawking knows that multiverse ideas have no bearing on theism
    7. Hawking knows that attacking God in bold headlines will sell more books.

    Hawking is more confused than I am.

  • Gordon

    Hmmm, so Hawking, as a scientist, should not speculate on God or religion because it is not
    his area of expertise…..well, just who is an “expert” on non-existent, supernatural entities?
    Theologians are experts in their own dogma. Gould’s NOMA–non-overlapping magisteria- is
    just pusillanimous political correctness making him sound like a pompous ass. One of those M’s
    is evidence-based, rational, capable of correction and modification, capable of being replicated, and
    congruent with reality. The other is faith based, irrational, dependent on magic and non-replicatible
    miracles, unmodifiable, unfalsifiable. IMO one is a magisterium, the other is a con-job.

  • bittergradstudent

    @Gordon

    Philosophers of religion, many of whom are atheist, are a much better starting point that most scientists, at least considering the degree to which I have had to explain the basic tenets of world religion to my colleagues.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Gordon, Hawking can speculate all he wants to but he shouldn’t pretend that science, which excludes anything other than information about the physical universe, could contain information relevant to that question.

    When you’re coming up with a model it really does matter what you put into it and what you exclude from it. If you want to address a question with a method or model or process that has already excluded anything relevant to that question then it’s irrational to expect to find an answer to that question with it.

    What other areas of life that don’t fall within the subject matter of science are you willing to call a con job on the same basis?

    I’m finding it pretty telling how you guys go from condemning religion as being dependent on authority to practicing exactly that. Just as Hawking did in that recent interview, while speaking authoritatively to a receptive audience that doesn’t seem to notice his profession can’t deal with the matter on which he is taken to be authoritative by the same people who pretend they don’t do that. Apparently integrity is a sometimes thing with you.

  • http://michaelshantz.com Mike Shantz

    The headline of Hawking’s Wall Street Journal article is “Why God Did Not Create the Universe”. Either Hawking did not write that headline or Sean is wrong about what Hawking is trying to say.

    Doesn’t information science also have something to say about this? Existence appears to be computational since a certain amount of information and computation are needed to compute the physical laws and represent the quantities of a universe. Multiverse ideas require an infinite number of universes. So existence must have infinite computational power and infinite information capacity for such a multiverse. So Occam has to decide whether an infinite number of random useless universes with no convergence mechanism for the finely tuned physical constants is a simpler explanation than God. Does this really warrant the arrogance coming from atheists?

  • Janne
  • http://www.cebookshop.com/social/profile.html Job Pagsibigan

    It shouldn’t take a Stephen Hawking to figure out that the Laws of Physics can never be used to postulate the non-existence of a Creator. Why call it “physics” if it can as well speak for the “spiritual?”

    If everything came out of absolutely “nothing,” why–in the first place–the need for “something” like physical laws to keep everything from ending into nothingness again, anytime?

    Nothingness is the ultimate & the simplest resulting balance of chaos after its components have naturally canceled each other out. The fact that the Universe has kept itself from being nothing again (Law of Conservation of Mass & Energy) is built-in proof that it is consciously keeping itself to be in existence. That consciousness–is God.

  • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com Norwegian Shooter

    “The Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren?????!!????? (Fourth book from the left on the top shelf of the right bookcase) I read it too, as “research”, but promptly threw it in the trash. Shame on you, Sean.

  • vn

    The background of this video contains a vast collection of books,
    including one (on the (my) right hand side, at the bottom shelf)
    with the title: ‘Does God exist?’ (the author is not distinguishable).

    It reminds me a TV-picture from the meeting of R.Reagan and
    M.Gorbachev in Reykjavik (press-conference, maybe).

    The background there had contained two ‘desk-top’ figurines:
    Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’ was on the Reagan’s side and, on the other
    side, there was Shadr’s ‘Stone as a weapon of proletariat’.

    (I say nothing about Reagan, but ‘Gorby’, imho, is much below
    the both sculptures.)

    Well, ‘Shadr’ is a pseudonym, taken after sculptor’s native town,
    Shadrinsk (not vice versa; the real family was just ‘Ivanov';
    well, why do I know this? it’s easy, I was born in Shadrinsk)

    And, by the way, I have published recently a book under the next
    title (it seemingly has some influence of the Bible !
    and includes many equations):
    ‘Old and new research on the Absolute Parallelism’.
    See amazon.com for the blurb.

    And, frankly speaking, I believe that a concrete (or the correct)
    theory can give concrete conclusions; while an eclectic set of models
    (or theories which, perhaps, will give falsifiable predictions
    only ‘ten years form now’) leads only to endless disputes (in any form).

  • Gordon

    I find it interesting that some of you seem to think that science can say nothing about religion, or that scientists, or those with a rational thought process, need to defer to experts in religion in order to show how foolish religious beliefs are. The scientific process, logic, cause-effect thinking, can show that religion is not logical, is not based on cause and effect relationships, etc. i.e. it can be used to show what religion is not. As far as what else I think is a con job, it is simply anything that we are expected to believe that is supernatural, without evidence, because of irrational, unsupported dogma, and incapable of modification…..that pretty much restricts it to religion, in all its toxic forms.

  • bittergradstudent

    Yes, it is easy to debunk a strawman caricature of religious belief. Congrats.

    Religion asks a wholly different question from science. It’s impossible to read a religious text honestly and read it as an attempt to explain how the physical world works. Religion serves a purpose of creating meaning or context. You can disagree with that meaning and that context, but if you’re going to do so, you at least need to abandon this claim that religious texts are alternate models for how the physical world works, which is a belief only really held by fundamentalist idiots.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Gordon, can science say anything about the right to a speedy trial or due process? Most of human experience and life includes a huge number of things that science can’t deal with because science can’t handle anything but the things that can fit into its methods and be processed by its tools. It can only refute claims made about those parts of the physical universe about which its methods and tools can produce reliable evidence. Even within the physical universe, if science can’t produce the evidence or even make sufficient observations science isn’t able to do that.

    Your bringing up cause and effect relationships is interesting to me because I recently had an argument in which I made exactly that point. Science can only know things that lie within a causal network, it only catches those things which it can in that net, as Eddington pointed out more than eighty years ago. It might be able to tell you about what it catches in its net, it can’t tell you anything about what it doesn’t catch but that might still be just as real. I’m surprised that anyone who works in physics would have to have that pointed out to them but we’re all only human, after all.

    It’s a con job for a scientist to pretend that their work can contain things it can’t and that it can do what it can’t. Scientists who come to believe their science can do that are deluded in a way that some people delude themselves about their belief in what’s important to them. That kind of myopia is common all through our kind, even very clever people aren’t immune, when they get too full of themselves they are especially susceptible.

    And, I’m decidedly not sorry to tell you, people have every right to consult their experience and their reasoning and their conscience and come to conclusions about things. That’s especially true for things which science or history or any other fact based field of human activity can’t tell them. Whether or not God is real is one of those.

    As to evidence, Hawking or anyone else on the nature of alien life is no less speculative than theology. Thinking about it for something I wrote this past week, he doesn’t seem to really appreciate how very complex the question gets when its based entirely on theoretical possibilities instead of evidence, for which we have absolutely none. That is especially true when you consider the possibilities of life that is very unlike ours. I got the feeling reading about what he said that his was a very simple physicists view of it, one I’d be surprised to find in an evolutionary biologist, say.

    For someone who knows something about mathematics, stating what you believe about the possibility of “other life” and framing it in terms of probability when we have a grand total of zero examples of “other life” to base a range of possibility on, was interesting. Hawking was doing what we also seem to fall in the trap of doing, applying language inappropriately. We know of one line of life that has arisen and developed in the universe so we know that the chance of that is one in something, there is absolutely no way of knowing if that something is one (possible venue for life to arise and develop) or some incalculably huge number. Even if we were able in some seemingly improbable future to get that first number up to two, I think I’m fairly safe in saying that the size of the second number will always be unknown to either science or mathematics.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Maybe it would have been better if I had said that we know the possibility of life arising is 1x in something, x being at least 1.

  • http://www.catholiclab.net Ian

    @34 – I did not say theologians know how God works so it is not fair to ask “Do theologians know how God works?” The point is that nor Carroll or Hawking are theologians, and if you know anything about theology you would know that it is impossible to know how God works.

    Read this to understand what I mean.

    http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/hawkings-new-book-does-not-dismiss-the-real-god-from-creation-jesuit-scholars-say/?utm_source=www.findpdf.us&utm_medium=findpdf.us

    But perhaps the greatest irony to all of this is that Sean Carroll is quoted by Fr Robert Spitzer SJ in his latest book “New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy”

  • http://enklabloggen.blogspot.com Cecilia

    Nice explanation of Hawking’s book, i think (haven’t read it yet), but I have two questions for Sean Carroll,
    and i apologize for not having read all the comments here, and if this question is already posted:

    If the laws of quantum mechanics state that someting (space, time, mass) indeed can come from nothing, then:

    1. Isn’t spontaneous quantum fluctuation about particles appearing within this universe, requiring a background?

    2. So space has come to be, from no space? Because of the quantum laws? But where did those laws apply when there weren’t any space? There wasn’t even a ‘where’?

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Ian, I’m also interested in the idea that the laws of physics have some known existence in the universe apart from the humans who have formulated those laws. I thought that was especially strange in someone who has speculated, as Hawking has, that “other life” could be very, very different from us. I’d expect that life that might be expected to have a very different frame of reference and point of view might come up with other ways to explain the universe to themselves.

    There seems to be a conceit in the line of atheist thought that he holds that the nature of even the objects they study is comprehensively known to them. If Sean Carroll was participating in this discussion I’d like to ask him if he is asserting that there is a single object studied by physics about which, literally, everything is known to science. And I really do mean a comprehensive and exhaustive knowledge. If, as I expect, the answer to that would be “no”, it’s a pretty big leap to thinking they have enough understanding of God who is believed to be above the physical universe and the objects in it.

    You could go on to look at what proof actually consists of and when it’s really possible to have a comprehensive proof and the role that consensus plays in the status of “proved” being given to an idea.

    The point in the article you linked to about the rather stunning underestimate of the size and scope of what believers mean when they talk about God is also a part of this. I’ve yet to talk to even the most rational, dogmatic atheist who doesn’t fail to understand what religion means when it talks about God. They want to dispose of the idea by reduction, maybe that’s a habit they get from the necessary practices of science. I’ve seldom encountered an agnostic who doesn’t understand the scope of the idea.

  • http://www.islamic-thought.com Mohammad Shafiq Khan

    The whole science on the basis of which Hawking has written the upcoming atheistic book has been proved wrong & baseless. Finally the theory of everything has been put forward wherein Big Bang Theory, Special Theory of Relativity, General Theory of Relativity, space-time concept have been proved absolutely baseless. The theory has been sent to Nature, Physical Review D, Astrophyical Journal and other journals
    besides to all possible media to get the theory checked by physicists all over the world. Whosoever wants the theory, I would love to send the theory to him if he makes the request on my e-mail shafiqifs@gmail.com besides part of the unedited theory is available on my website http://www.islamic-thought.com. The theory is being shortly published by a leading science journal. After the theories are published the books about Relativity shall have to be simply burnt. Let every reader of this blog
    have no doubt about it because the proofs against theories of relativity are so strong.

  • Gordon

    Anthony. I finally get your point. Science has little to nothing to say about religion. Except, using its
    tools and methods, it can say that religion is very likely wrong, or else entirely speculative. Like
    trials, laws, etc that you mention, it is a social construct, usually a dogmatic one based on tenets that would have been politically useful a millenium ago. One does not need science to see that most religious beliefs do not correspond to reality—just a rational mind. Religious beliefs tend to be delusional in the true sense of the word, except that when millions have them, it is called religion.
    Sam Harris says that when many have such a belief, it is religion. If one person had the belief system, he would be called insane. People use the word “God” in many ways to mean so many different things.
    For example, I can accept the God of Spinoza or Einstein—but their use of it seems to mean just the Universe of what is. When Hawking finished his “Brief History of Time” with “and then we would know the mind of God”, he was doing the same thing, but also being purposely mischievous.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Gordon, you can speculate all you want but the methods of science don’t touch any proposal of religion except those about the physical universe for which science can produce evidence. Even religious ideas about that which science can’t produce a refutation of with valid evidence are beyond the reach of science. No matter how preposterous those ideas seem to you or me or anyone else, if you can’t produce the evidence that is relevant to them your rejection has to be based on something other than science. You might find more honest challenges to some of then in history but that’s hardly the same thing.

    That is unless you want to junk that old idea that science was all about evidence, which a surprising number of the more fashionable atheists seem to want to do.

    I’ve got nothing against people deciding they believe there isn’t a God, I’ve got a real problem with rude, arrogant and dishonest statements on the subject either way.

    Sanity should be determined by the ability to function in the world. I think most of the proposals about extraterrestrials are pretty nuts but I don’t think Hawking is insane.

  • http://n/a Nate

    Sean. Wouldn’t it be better to say you’re no longer on hiatus than to keep apologizing for writing while you’re on hiatus?

  • Gordon

    No, my rejection of religion is based on LACK of evidence for it. I am under no obligation to look for evidence for it or any other delusional supernatural system.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Gordon, I didn’t request that you look for evidence for them did I? I just pointed out that Hawking and Carroll were being rather coy about the inability of physics to find evidence in the matter of the existence of God.

    I wonder if you’ve ever lectured Daniel Dennett, Susan Blackmore or Richard Dawkins about the lack of evidence for memes or specific behaviors in the Paleolithic period.

    As to your accusation of delusion in the large majority of the human population, clearly you’re very emotional about this issue. Far more than the mere absence of evidence would warrant because very, very little in life has that level of evidentiary foundation

  • Gordon

    Hmmm with religion the clear winner in that category. You ARE asking that I (Sean, Hawking) find evidence for religion clearly by saying about the “inability of physics to find evidence in the matter of the existence of God” and I say that you have to provide evidence for God. I don’t have to and physics doesnt have to find evidence for a non-existent being. That is impossible. Certainly there is abundant evidence for memes, but not in the Paleolithic period for good rational reasons—talk about straw men.
    Arguing with you is like arguing with a brick.

  • Diocletian

    I wish to make only one statement in connection with the physics “vs.” god issue. I’ll make it right away and then ramble some to describe its motivations. My contention is that the ultimate theory of reality, the logical structure that after a struggle of centuries or perhaps longer renders theoretical physics a completed system, will be seen in retrospect to have the following property: that the theory could in principle have been deduced through thought alone and without the need for experiment or measurents of any kind. In other words, as I have encountered elsewhere, ‘Reality is a crutch,’ but a more intelligent statement might be that the universe has unique properties and arises from a logical necessity. I want something more compelling than what is offered here, namely to say that QM and GR allow the universe to arise out of nothingness; QM and GR are circumstantial, based on observation, and do not arise out of logical necessity.

    A final theory would answer our questions without, for once, raising new questions at the same time, and there would no longer be a need then after so much hard work to throw up our arms in frustration and invoke a deity or QM or GR or any other first cause behind it all. In his tricentennial address ( in James R. Newman’s collected essays on the history of mathematics) on Newton, Keynes, after reviewing the trunks of Newton’s unpublished papers, which included on the order of a million words on religion, claimed that Newton believed, if he could only have the time uninterrupted and silent to concentrate long enough, that he could unravel all the questions that could be put to the universe, in Keynes words, “including the Godhead.” Although the inventor of physics was indeed a theist, one can claim at the same time. as Sean and Hawking, that the very concept of God is inconsistent with the spirit and ends of physics. But as a radical I throw QM and GR into the same “first cause” donjon in which I confine deities.

    I wrote the above remarks before hearing Sean’s video presentation, which was slowly downloading on my dialup connection. It’s a marvelous and concise talk that I much admire. I accept Sean’s dryly amusing statement that “it’s ok to believe in God as long as he doesn’t do anything” as equivalent to my claim that God is inconsistent with the spirit of physics. ( I had no problem with the technical aspects of the video, but agree with some others, particularly the deaf and those who like to take out quotes, that text is preferable. But having never met Sean, it was very nice to see him in action; he’s a laconic and very expressive speaker.)

    I will read Hawking’s book when I can get, and I hope that it will answer the question of how the universe springs from nothingness, a question that plagues not only me but Cecelia (“So space has come to be, from no space? Because of the quantum laws? But where did those laws apply when there weren’t any space? There wasn’t even a ‘where’?”) and Job Pabsibigan (“If everything came out of absolutely “nothing,” why–in the first place–the need for “something” like physical laws to keep everything from ending into nothingness again, anytime? “) and others too.

    Sean is evidently more sanguine about existence, and he gives his answer to these questions I think twice. In the video, he says roughly ” the universe can just come into existence out of nothing…add to that quantum mechanics, that if something can happen then it will happen…if you wait long enough.” Well, there are some obvious problems here ( such as what is meant by “waiting” prior to the existence of space and time) but I won’t belabor them because I think Sean makes his point well enough. A second and very clear expression of this practical attitude is in Sean’s written introduction to the video wherein he says,”“Why is there something rather than nothing?” The universe can simply exist, end of story. ” I anticipate that the ideas in Hawking’s book are very similar.

    But I don’t feel this way. As a trouble maker by nature, I want more answers. I want to know Why the universe exists, and I feel that physics will remain unfinished until it answers this question. Even in an infinite steady-state universe, I would be unsatisfied with Sean’s pragmatic acceptance of existence, but in the Big Bang world with its dated beginning and dismal end I really must demand an answer.

    All the established theories of course lack the requisite property that I and some others would demand, although there have been attempts. As an undergraduate I bcame fascinated by Eddington’s book Fundamental Theory. I could not of course understand it no matter how far I carried it with me each day, and when I sought help my professor told me, “Agh! He was crazy when he wrote that.” Nevertheless, the idea that Eddington could calculate the number – exactly – of protons in the universe and compute the mass of the electron as well, all from some principle without the need for data, seemed to enshrine an ideal that was truly worth striving for. ( I saw not long ago at Amazon that there is now a book purporting to elucidate Fundamantal Theory, and I intend to get ahold of this and see if my understanding of Eddington’s intent is accurate.)

    Actually, Eddington required one number, the Hubble constant, to arrive at his values, and perhaps a final theory should be allowed a parameter of scale, a single curtsey to gross reality. Does string theory have these properties? Tell me, as I don’t know enough about it to say.

    Evidently, Hawking and Sean both are satisfied that GR and QM possibly along with ST are enough to explain the question of existence. Yet physicists are far from content with GR and QM and regard these merely as things akin to a few Taylor terms of a deeper and more profund theory. I like to think that this final theory, which unlike all previous theories, will be discovered via almost purely logical considerations rather than striving to explain experiments. This theory then may well have some very compelling logical principles within it that indeed explain that the universe is not a choice or a circumstance but a logical necessity. This is the kind of theory that I want, and as long as physicists remain dissatisfied with GR and QM for different and more valid reasons, I will hold out hope that the question of existence will be answered in a way that satisfies me as well as some others here. I think that Eddington was on the track of such a theory long before its time. When physicists have in fact united GR and QM and arrived at a final theory that, despite nonsense musings about Godel, has completed the work of theoretical physics, then it may be that, like the alchemists of old who vanished when they succeeded in transforming dross to gold, physicists will be able to create universes by thought alone and will have become the gods they despise. Many of us with such crazy thoughts should be glad we did not live in the 16th century along with Giordano Bruno. The person I would most like to hear from now is Weinberg.

    PS I have spent more time on this comment than I really have and have used far more space than I merit and am leaving it with many imperfections but am sorry that I did not get to discuss Godel’s work and its purported and usually groundless application to physics and other things. There was a “box article” in Scientific American within the last year describing the efforts of an American physicist to develop a proof analogous to some of Godel’s but purley with physics in mind. I am sorry that I cannot find this reference and that the Sci Am search engine is not detailed enough to retrieve it. If you have it handy please let us know.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Gordon, I don’t care if you, Sean or any of the various atheists here or abroad believes in God, you can disbelieve to your hearts content and your mutual admiration and self-esteem. I don’t care if you assert there’s no such thing. But if you claim that you can use science to dispose of God then you are required to back up your claim with science. I would say the same thing to anyone asserting that they can use science to verify the existence of God or any aspect of religious belief. I endorse the Dover decision and the wall of separation as concerns science or any other public school classrooms.

    You are flying off the handle and assuming I am trying to convert you to some religious belief when all I’m doing is holding you to produce the evidence to back up your claims. Which you can’t do. That you apparently are upset with being held to your own stated standard is not my fault.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Diocletian, have you read Eddington’s The Philosophy of Physical Science? You might want to read what he has to say about “existence” in that book as well as what he had to say about the nature of the laws of physics.

    I’ve never looked at his Fundamental Theory but I thought what he said about the epistemology of science was pretty interesting.

  • Lonely Flower

    Recent observations shows that the fine structure constant of electromagnetic interactions changes across the universe, and our part of universe could be the only place where life is possible. Shouldn’t Stephen Hawking changes his mind now about non necessity of God’s existence?!

    “Now, results from a new study show that alpha seems to have varied a tiny bit in different directions of the universe billions of years ago, being slightly smaller in the northern hemisphere and slightly larger in the southern hemisphere. One intriguing possible implication is that the fine-structure constant is continuously varying in space, and seems fine-tuned for life in our neighborhood of the universe.”

    http://www.reddit.com/tb/da55x

  • Blunt Instrument

    “I remember writing an essay making the same point for a philosophy class my sophomore year in college”

    I’ve been saying for a while now that your arguments regarding the non-existence of God were sophomoric. Now I have proof.

    Hate the video blog format. If I wanted video, I would watch television or go to YouTube. I prefer to read text on blogs. Period.

  • Alan

    Stephen Hawking and others are still missing what is the spiritual component of human existence. I have spoken about this before here.

    There is for instance scientific work being done on this in regard to near-death experiences by Dr. Sam Parnia, Dr. Peter Fenwick and the huge team of doctors connected with a collaboration of hospitals in Europe and the United States – see mindbodysymposium.com where a substantive conference at the United Nations took place. The research is the AWARE Project.

    Some results are out I believe in 2011. Until then I think we can put Stephen Hawking and others on hold. Or perhaps the multiverse, with our universe postulated to be one of many, actually incorporates this too. If the evidence comes in on this then we must include this spiritual part of our existence as part of something rather larger than biology suggests. There may indeed then be life after death – an interesting result from multiverse physics!

    Also the work of the late Prof. Ian Stevenson of the University of Virginia is interesting – decades of studies of reincarnation with many peer reviewed publications. His conclusion was that the evidence was “suggestive of reincarnation”, an interesting choice of words from a cautious scientist. Of course, the multiverse must incorporate this too.
    It almost seems as if the universe with its properties is “looking after us”. Now can anyone challenge this, albeit I say this in a poetic way?

    Can physics bring these observations into its present fold? This is an important question yet to be answered. After all it may also mean that the love we have for our families has a powerful reality, the alternative being the blind illusion of just chemical reactions.

  • XPT

    “decades of studies of reincarnation with many peer reviewed publications”

    AHAHAHAHAHAAHHAHAHAAAAHHHHHAAHAHAHHHHHAAHH!!!

  • Alan

    XPT

    Unusual response!

    You could try http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/full/162/4/823
    from the American Journal of Psychiatry.

    Do a little more research and please control yourself!

    Alan

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Certainly there is abundant evidence for memes, Gordon

    There has not be a single piece of evidence, certainly not of the kind you’re promoting as the only valid sort, produced which supports memes. What “evidence” I’ve seen produced could constitute a sort of materialist “a-theology” of the most scholastic sort.

    The idea is so fundamentally flawed, especially in Dennett’s exposition of the it, that it is shocking that so many of the self-appointed guardians of science take to it. My guess would be that his clear hatred of religion has blinded them to the irrational aspects of that, though few of the ones who I’m aware of have been have been real scientists.

    I wonder how Sean Carroll would like to have to incorporate Dennett’s ideas into the most subtle of physics. I haven’t thought about it until now but having to wade through a sea of ill defined memes in order to get at a view of the mechanisms of the physical universe free of a bias imposed by the parochialism of our species would seem to give even the topic of his video a few hurdles that no one could get over.

    Your designation of my point about the idea which is hugely popular among many trendy atheists, that they can base science on assertions about the unobserved behavior of our ancestors in the Paleolithic period, being 100% evidence free, as a straw man, is only evidence that you need to find a new substitute for actual refutation. That kind of practice among those who recite “evidence” as a mantra couldn’t be more relevant to this discussion.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Gordon, guessing that you might not like what I just said and having a full schedule today, you might want to read this.

    http://bostonreview.net/BR21.3/Orr.html

    You might read Dennett’s vitriolic retorts and the the resultant go rounds with Orr and others but if you do you really should read their responses to that as well. I notice, in looking around a bit, that the self-appointed rationalists don’t seem to be interested in the entire record of those discussions, often giving their champion a last word that he often didn’t get in reality.

  • Neal J. King

    149, 151: Alan,

    I’ve read some of Ian Stevenson’s studies, suggestive of reincarnation, a few decades ago.

    They are interesting, but could hardly be considered robust proof.

    Also, I fail to see the relevance of the multiverse concept, for if the concept of reincarnation means anything, it should operate within one universe.

    Finally, if reincarnation is a physical event, its timing seems to depend on culture: In Buddhist countries, Stevenson’s case studies seem to indicate that the reincarnation generally seems to have taken place 9 months after the death, or later; whereas among the Druse in the Middle East, it has taken place about simultaneously with the death. Each of these is in accordance with the religious/cosmological expectations of the respective cultures.

  • Alan

    Neal @ 154

    Certainly not complete proof of an afterlife but perhaps a fair pointer. The cases involving birthmarks are particularly fascinating, where the birthmark correspond closely to the wounds which had lead to the death of the previous personality. He has a fair number of these, well documented.

    I suppose re the multiverse, if reincarnation works in our universe then is that a property of our universe that gets “generated” or evolves from some deeper physics? Universes get generated by the science behind the multiverse. If the observations are valid for reincarnation, there should be a deeper explanation, i.e. why does our universe have such properties that allow such phenomena to exist? Certainly a valid question, though it seems a little like coffee-table talk! And observations first, always. If reincarnation and an afterlife are true then physics has some serious explaining to do, surely, and at all levels of the physics.

    I am afraid I have to read up on the cultural aspects, but it is the the individual cases which I find interesting, many of which seem quite strong. On the whole he has amassed thousands of cases of varying strength and the work continues at the University of Virginia under Prof. Jim Tucker and his team. They seem to be on to something.

    And if the the AWARE study under Sam Parnia get some powerful results but from a different direction, near-death experience research, then things will get very interesting.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Sometimes I wonder if the mulitverse idea isn’t just what happens when you bump your head against a limit in the tools and abilities of people to get any farther. Maybe it’s an artifact of the limits of mathematics to penetrate any farther.

    I don’t know anything about reincarnation other than that I don’t like the idea so I won’t comment on it.

  • Blunt Instrument

    The question “Is there a God?” cannot be answered by science because it is not falsifiable. Hawking has not answered it. No man can answer this question.

    We humans continually confuse religion and God. Religion is a product of man. It was created by man. It has been warped and modified by the decisions of men for their own benefit. Its fallibility is a byproduct of the fallibility of the men who have shaped it over thousands of years. The same can be said for any system of man, be it economic, social, etc. Using religion to prove or disprove the existence of God is no better than using science.

    Belief in God need not be inconsistent with belief in science. Science requires observation. There are many things that we theorize that we can never observe, yet we believe they exist: Multiple universes, tachyons (faster-than-light particles), the inside of a black hole are just a few. Why force God to become observable in order to exist?

    Belief in God does not require proof any more than multiple universes require proof in order to exist. Belief in God requires faith. If you have faith, no proof is required. If you have lost your faith, no proof will ever be enough.

  • http://enklabloggen.blogspot.com Cecilia

    Belief in God does not require proof any more than multiple universes require proof in order to exist. Belief in God requires faith. If you have faith, no proof is required. If you have lost your faith, no proof will ever be enough.

    But in this particular story, which prof Sean Carroll’s video is about, the question is more than about faith against science, i would say.

    Carroll claimes, together with Hawking, that creation of the universe can be made by physics laws only. Something can come out from totally absolutely noting (no space, no time, no mass) thanks to quantum laws.

    But then the question is: Where did those quantum laws apply when there was no ‘where’/’here’/’there’ at all?

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Cecilia, or a “when”, which seems to have been not not-there either. I’m no physicist but how do these laws function without a when?

    I’d still like Sean Carroll to tell if there is a single object of which physics has a comprehensive and complete knowledge. And if it doesn’t have that complete knowledge about an object how it could have it about anything else.

    What we can rely on with science is important but trying to turn science into a total system of everything seems to be a premature effort.

  • http://enklabloggen.blogspot.com Cecilia

    Anthony McCarthy: Maybe when scientists like Carroll or Hawking talk about ‘nothing’ they don’t refer to a total philosophical nothing. They might assume a superspace from which the universe(s) form, take shape, become.

    But in that case i wouldn’t call it “The universe created itself from nothing”,
    because a superspace is something.

    Professor Carroll,
    with all respect, a theory of everything would not prove that the universe created itself from absolutely nothing, and that there is only room to believe in a god who doesn’t have anything to do with our universe.

    Because that physics theory has not taken care of the question of where/when those laws applied when there wasn’t any where/when at all.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    The current deist fad among atheists in physics is just like the one that tries to explain away religious belief as a product of evolution (on the basis of absolutely no evidence) ignoring the fact that people who believe in a creator-god believe that God created everything, including those genes, molecules, atoms etc. that they think are, somehow, immune from that created everything that they are a part of.

    It’s a pretty big oversight based on the ignorance most sciency atheists have about the literature of religious thinking over the centuries. They look at the crudest recent statements about religion and figure that serious thinkers on the subject wouldn’t have taken the things studied by physics into account. As I pointed out in my first comment on this thread, beneath all of the variable ideas that have developed from it, at the bottom of the belief in a creator is the belief that the universe AS IT IS, INDEPENDENT OF CURRENT HUMAN UNDERSTANDING, was created by God. The changeable understanding of human beings of that universe is a product of human limits. That we aren’t in full possession of a comprehensive knowledge of the physical universe is not a surprise since if there’s one thing noticeable about human beings, we aren’t omniscient. While I wouldn’t claim that some religious figure hasn’t claimed full knowledge of the universe, in most religious traditions that idea would be considered to be absurd and irreligious.

    I think the new atheism is a product of ignorance just as biblical fundamentalism is a product of ignorance. And of bigotry, the twin of ignorance. Though there is a lot of frat boy style clique bonding and arrogance involved in a lot of it too.

  • sati

    it looks like bla bla

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Yes, it’s fun to think you’re superior to other people but they’re not under any obligation to agree with you.

  • Low Math, Meekly Interacting

    The Multiverse vs. God. The irony. She burns.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Low math, the multiverse is fully accepted throughout the world population of physicists as settled? Oddly enough, I seem to recall some rather atheistic sounding skeptics doubting it, citing their favorite law of parsimony, among other things. And, of course, where’s that gold standard of materialist fundamentalism, THE EVIDENCE.

    See @161.

    http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/

  • Low Math, Meekly Interacting

    I feel a white hot burning now.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    And from the same blog, you might want to pursue this:

    For more recent research on the multiverse, see philosopher Klaas Kraay’s Theism and the Multiverse, where he argues that:

    theists should maintain that the world God selects is a multiverse. In particular, I claim that this multiverse includes all and only those universes which are worth creating and sustaining. I further argue that this multiverse is the unique best of all divinely-actualizable worlds.

    http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=668

    Taking notice of a name familiar to the readers of this blog in the full text.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    And, especially apropos to Hawking’s proud boast about religion=authority whereas science = evidence, there is this comment by Woit here:

    Some parts of particle physics (string theory) and some parts of cosmology (the multiverse) just inherently don’t predict or explain anything (using “explain” in the scientific sense, which carries with it a requirement that your explanation of how the world works be testable by experiment). The amount of attention and effort that has gone into such theories over the last quarter century is remarkable and very unusual in the history of science. Horgan more than ten years ago was one of the first science journalists to notice that something funny was going on.

    As more and more time goes on, and some serious physicists start engaging in more and more speculative behavior, getting farther and farther from any hope of testability (see, the Landscape and the multiverse), the argument that there’s a problem here is getting more and more traction. Among serious physicists these days, I don’t think this is even any more a very controversial claim, with many of them prepared to admit that parts of the subject are in a bit of a crisis.

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2008/03/15/science-and-unobservable-things/#comment-38194

    Of course, all I said was that the idea wasn’t universally held to be settled science, though the part about jettisoning the requirement for evidence in the first place sort of refutes Hawking’s proud boast rather definitively.

    I have been trying to be polite, Sean.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Oh, and getting back to the idea of ideas that damage science @96, there was this interesting idea:

    Ouch…and to save money, the government will soon be “rationing funds by quality”.

    So what does this have to do with Stephen Hawking and M-theory?

    Physicists need the backing of the British public to ensure that the funding cuts don’t hit them disproportionately. This could be very difficult if the public think that most physicists spend their time arguing about what unproven theories say about the existence of God.

    The challenge, of course, is how to make the public aware of all the fantastic work done by other British physicists.

    http://physicsworld.com/blog/2010/09/by_hamish_johnstonstephen_hawk.html

    Who am I to question the idea that M-theory and Hawking’s authoritative declaration conflicts with the practice of science in Britain?

  • MyrtleParker

    This is really really sad Sean. You should know better than to claim such great accomplishments for science. We _know_ nothing about the laws of physics at the moment of the bang. We _speculate_ all we want, but nothing has been tested. The laws we have evidence for break down completely in such environments.

    To claim that science has answered the question of the origin of the universe or that we somehow have anything other than rampant speculation for the so-called multiverse is a fraud and a lie. And you know it.

    I can’t figure out where you went off the rails. I guess the your taste of mainstream publicity has messed with your head.

  • MyrtleParker

    Too bad you didn’t take Feynman’s spirit as well as his seat: it is OK to admit that we just don’t know some things.

    The laws of physics before and during the bang… WE JUST DON’T KNOW. The multiverse: just a bunch of SPECULATION. Claiming either as evidence that modern science has it all figured out and therefore God couldn’t have created the universe or even act in it: ABSURD CHARLATANRY.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    I guess Sean Carroll isn’t going to answer that question. Is there another physicist reading this who will say whether or not there is a single object which is comprehensively and exhaustively known to physics? I’d really like an answer to that question, though, as seen in the discussion of the multiverse it’s possible there will be more than one answer.

  • http://www.catholiclab.net Ian

    Further to my comments on Fr Robert Spitzer’s SJ book – he will be appearing on Larry King Live (CNN) this Friday night (Sept. 10) along with Deepak Chopra and Leonard Mlodinow, who co-authored “The Grand Design” with Stephen Hawking.

    Not sure what Chopra will add.

  • MT-LA

    Anthony McCarthy: I’ve obviously come onto this discussion late, but I wanted to thank you for taking your logic bat in hand and trying to knock some sense into otherwise sensible people.

    I’ll have to save this discussion thread the next time this issue pops up.

    I hate to bring up an old post, but how would you refute the “pink unicorns” argument? I don’t think it holds water, but I haven’t found a reliable way to counter it (which only means that I haven’t researched it enough).

    If you’re still around to answer this, I’m thankful.

  • JimV

    Long ago, my story goes, a caveman was relaxing after a hard day, when one of his children began bothering him with questions. “Why does rain fall, Daddy?” The caveman thought for a minute, then said, “Because the Rain God makes it fall.” “You’re so smart, Daddy,” the caveboy continued, “Why does fire burn?” “Because the Fire God makes it burn! Now go play with some bones and stop bothering me!”

    Later we learned that rain and combustion are natural processes in our universe, which happen both to the just and the unjust, and cannot be influenced by sacrifices or prayers.

    Science now tells us that creation of new universes by quantum fluctuations in empty space is also a natural process, not one that requires the personal manipulation of any god or gods.

    Die-hard theists are still free to assume that that some agency which happens to love them was responsible for designing the natural processes such that after who knows how many spawnings of universes within universes, and billions of years within one of the latest universes, finally evolution produced a creature wonderful enough to justify all this effort (namely themselves). (And they call atheists arrogant.)

  • Peristrophism

    Things go bump in the night–or at least, maybe they do–therefore there must be a god. Ipso facto, Hawking is wrong.

    There! I’ve conclusively proved the existence of the God of the people of the Book, using my vast & powerful intellect, which is better than yours. That doesn’t mean my opinions are necessarily better than yours, but we both know they really are, don’t we?

    As for the video presentation: I didn’t watch it, because I couldn’t have heard it, or even read the lips. But it’s just simply wrong to use video on a blog (see previous paragraph for authority).

  • Anthony McCarthy

    MT-LA Well, unicorns weren’t supposed to be supernatural, they were supposed to be actual animals in the physical world that could be trapped and hunted. So they’re an especially bad example of pop-materialist argument by derision and mockery, appealing to people who don’t understand the issue.

    At least that’s been my line of argument that none of them seems to have refuted.

    I have to say that until I’d read the line of argument Hawking takes in his book, going to the mutiverse theory and putting that together with his pronouncements about religion being all about authority and science about evidence and so science would win I hadn’t realized how big the disconnect is. Having followed some of the discussions of the multiverse controversy including Sean Carroll, especially the Bloggingheads discussion here:

    http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/9433

    in which Carroll says that it’s OK to not accept the idea, twice, I was pretty stunned that he endorsed what Hawking said about that extension of it.

  • Gordon

    Yes, MT-LA, Anthony is a bat, but not a logic bat–rather a fruit bat. It is not logic that he is using.
    Also, he complains that scientists haven’t read the religious literature. Well, is it worth reading?
    Christopher Hitchens, Dawkins, and Sam Harris all certainly have read a good chunk of it—why not
    read their books to find out? I do admire their patience and their intestinal fortitude in doing so, considering the, e.g. misogyny, brutality, pettiness, of the Christian god, and the incredible viciousness of Christ in introducing the concept of Hell into Christianity (not there in the Old Testament). Most religions are derivative anyway. At least Scientology is not derivative lunacy.
    Of course, it is incredibly silly, and most religious folks would also say so, but if you look at its belief system, is it really more far out than the 3 bigtime religions?
    BTW, I notice that those on the blog defending religion seem also to be promoting psi and other flaky frauds.

  • Gordon

    Unicorns are supposed to be real animals, and they turn out not to be, so somehow this affects an argument against their existence ?? Am I reading you correctly? This smacks of “everything that I can think of exists.”
    BTW, I have read several of Karen Armstrong’s books on various religions and they are excellent—
    a former nun who renounced Catholicism and now is at most, a deist, perhaps an atheist.
    The religious apologists here must be from the USA, perhaps the most religiously polluted developed country in the world.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    And if you needed more examples Gordon has provided them.

  • http://www.catholiclab.net Ian

    Okay a couple of things which appear to have confused folk on my posts.

    When I asked whether Hawking (or Sean) were theologians and whether they knew how God works it was with a view to establish a few things about them:

    1) If they were theologians they would know that it is impossible to know how God works. My second question was a trick question.

    2) Since Hawking (and Sean) are not theologians it is also clear that what hawking has done is to establish his own theology and then successfully overturn it.

    3) Even the use of the word theology is misleading – again something that wasn’t picked up on. There are many different types of theology, and perhaps Hawking’s ‘theology’ is most closely aligned to Deism, which is not what the Catholic Church teaches. And yes, I’m Catholic so can only really speak for the Catholic Church

    What is also clear is that Hawking (and Sean) do not know their philosophy of science, they do not its limits.

    Unlike philosophy or metaphysics, science cannot deductively prove a creation or a God. This is because natural science deals with the physical universe and with the regularities which we call ‘laws of nature’ that are obeyed by the phenomena within that universe. But God is not an object or phenomena or regularity within the physical universe; so science cannot say anything about God.

    Moreover, science is an empirical and inductive discipline. As such science cannot be certain that it has considered all possible data that would be relevant to a complete explanation of particular physical phenomena or the universe itself. It is always open to new data and discoveries which could alter its explanation of particular phenomena and the universe.

    But science can provide pointers – cosmological, teleological, and so on. Science and theology, properly understood, both seek the truth and therefore cannot be in opposition.

    And in response to some who believe Catholic theology has been in opposition to science: Bruno was condemned for his theology not his science which was based on the works of Cardinal Nicolas of Cusa (you will not be burnt at the stake for repeating the words of a Cardinal). Bruno eventually frustrated his Inquisitors with his constant confessions and retractions. Galileo could not prove that the Earth spun or that it did indeed revolve around the Sun – Foucalt’s pendulum and Stellar aberration (and later parallax) proved that. Galileo was condemned more for his derision of the Pope (his sponsor) and his desire to re-interpret Scripture.

    Where theology and science do clash, is in their application – namely morals. But even then I am very loathed to say that they do clash since it more likely what boils down to is an individuals desire to ‘do whatever I want’. For example, my faith teaches me that human life is sacred, and science teaches us that human life begins at conception, and as such hESRC and abortion are morally wrong and yet some scientists wish to promote them.

    And finally on Fr Spitzer’s book: Those who claim that science has nothing to say about the existence of a God, then I suggest you read the book and then pass comment.

  • Alan

    I am reading, off and on, a wonderful book by Prof. Elizabeth Lloyd Mayer, formerly a clinical professor of psychology at UC Berkeley (Oppenheimer’s place!) called Extraordinary Knowing, with a foreward by Prof. Freeman Dyson (who showed Feynman and Schwinger’s QED stuff were equivalent). Originally a strong skeptic on the paranormal, she concluded after her own research and personal experiences that the phenomena were quite real.

    This seeems to bring in a powerful subjective element into reality and one which has a strong personal aspect. In my brief comments above on the reincarnation work of Prof. Ian Stevenson there seems to be a pattern here, some punchy afterlife data that needs explaining.

    Can the multiverse idea explain all this, this highly personal aspect of ourselves which maybe carries on after we die? Is this then tied into the God-idea and are God-like universes (with this personal continuation property) created in the multiverse by anthropic selection? The mind boggles!

    I must say seriously that there is a convergence here more towards God-like than God-less. Maybe that’s just how the multiverse does it’s stuff, populating it’s nifty Landscape with nice little God-type universes which have within them, from time to time, a bit of “intervention” from higher beings.
    I’m OK with this.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Gordon, I think Karen Armstrong would be surprised to find out that she’s a deist, at least from the last things I heard or read of her. I know she was calling herself a “freelance monotheist” for quite a while. I think you might be relying too much on the literature of popular atheism for your sources. Which is, of course, the problem with relying on Hitchens, Harris or Dawkins on the topic of theology. While I’m sure they boned up a bit to write their polemical hit jobs, it was exactly for that purpose, to have stuff to shoot at not to seriously inform themselves about the full scope of thinking on the subject. Their address of the history of religion isn’t much more credible. And, as many of the reviewers of The God Delusion pointed out, Dawkins address of serious theological thinking is absurdly slight for a book claiming to dispose of God. I seem to recall one of them pointed out that he made reference to Douglas Adams more than he did any well regarded theologian. Given what I’ve read about Hawking’s book, maybe it’s a rule of thumb that a book of that sort which leans on Adams fails. Relying on them for information about the enormous range of serious writing on religion would be the exact equivalent to relying on three writers from the Intelligent Design industry to learn about biology, and I don’t mean the ones conversant with real science. I don’t think Sean Carroll would like anyone unfamiliar with his topic to depend only on critics of his POV, even the internal critics of it. You’re recommending that people rely on an anti-religious, middle brow equivalent of Jack Chick for their understanding of religious thinking.

    And, Gordon, as they were supposedly animals in the physical world that don’t exist, unicorns are as suited to debunking science, which deals only with the physical universe, as they are God who is certainly defined as being not of the physical universe. Maybe you should learn the lesson that people can be mistaken about what they believe about the physical universe from unicorns. They might be a much more suitable analogue for those mulitverses, which are supposed to be part of the physical universe. And what they could tell you about people being mistaken about animals they can’t see could be more applicable to Dawkins’ unseen behaviors in undocumented societies, though the idea just came to me and I haven’t really thought it out.

    Considering how much play they get among you new atheists, I’m wondering where are all these deists you keep talking about? I’ve never seen one or heard one. I think they’re a figment of your imagination.

    And, for the record, I don’t have any opinion as to whether or not multiverses exist I just don’t see how something that only fits into a theoretical model and is supposed to be accepted because you can come up with an explanation for things if you assume they are there, fits into science. I don’t think it’s that far removed from people who come to a better understanding of their experience by referring to God. I’d always thought that it was the actual observation, detection, measurement, analysis and the successful defense of that analysis that defined the scientific definition of the natural universe and anything that couldn’t measure up to those standards isn’t included in science. Given that boast Hawking and just about any popular atheist I’ve ever heard on the topic of “evidence” make, multiverses don’t seem to measure up to that standard. Though I have nothing against people believing in it if they find it helpful, though I don’t really see any practical use for the idea.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Jim V. Do you have any actual, testable, physical evidence to back up that explanatory myth you spun @175?

  • http://google kurt forrer

    Hawking says nothing new. He simply reiterates the ancient theological conundrum of creation out of nothing; ex nihilo. The only difference between that and his take is that he substitutes God with ‘laws of physics’. the word ‘law’ is derived from Latin ‘lex'; ‘legis’, which in turn is derived from the Greek ‘logos’. Interesting is that St. John’s Gospel says: “in the beginning there was the Word (logos), and the Word (logos) was with God, and the Word (logos) was God.

    But of course not all theologians agreed that something would come from nothing. It was the Jewish scribes that started that embarrassment in Genesi I. In Babylon and Sumeria God only created new order from the pre-existing chaos.

    And Heraclitus said: “the the Universe, which is the same for all, has not been created by any god or man, but always has been, is and will be an ever-living fire, kindling itself by regular measures and going out by regular measures.”

    And all mystics will agree with him.

  • http://google kurt forrer

    Hawking says nothing new. He simply reiterates the ancient theological conundrum of creation out of nothing; ex nihilo. The only difference between that and his take is that he substitutes God with ‘laws of physics’. the word ‘law’ is derived from Latin ‘lex’; ‘legis’, which in turn is derived from the Greek ‘logos’. Interesting is that St. John’s Gospel says: “in the beginning there was the Word (logos), and the Word (logos) was with God, and the Word (logos) was God.

    But of course not all theologians agreed that something would come from nothing. It was the Jewish scribes that started that embarrassment in Genesi I. In Babylon and Sumeria God only created new order from the pre-existing chaos.

    And Heraclitus said: “the the Universe, which is the same for all, has not been created by any god or man, but always has been, is and will be an ever-living fire, kindling itself by regular measures and going out by regular measures.”

    And all mystics will agree with him.

  • Blunt Instrument

    JimV@175 writes:

    “Science now tells us that creation of new universes by quantum fluctuations in empty space is also a natural process, not one that requires the personal manipulation of any god or gods.”

    Not quite. The difference between rain falling, fire burning, and the spontaneous creation of new universes is that two are observable and one is theoretically possible based on our current understanding of the mathematics. Two are scientifically based. One is based in faith in mathematical models. How exactly do any of them disprove the existence of God?

  • http://www.michael-gogins.com Michael Gogins

    As usual scientists are no good at philosophy. Of course philosophers are no good at science either. It’s a good thing we still have both…

    As long as we’re putting science and philosophy on the same page, God is not an object. God could never be something one finds at the beginning of a chain of physical cause and effect. Whether, or not, God exists, physical law, if consistent, must be self-contained. So developing a more self-contained model of cosmology says nothing whatsoever about the existence of God.

    To come at this from a different angle, human beings decide and act. As far as science is concerned, this is all covered by physical law. Notoriously, however, understanding physical law is no help at all when it comes to deciding whether or not to do something important. You have to decide for reasons of your own. Again, it is no help at all to think that it’s all “covered” no matter what you decide. You still have to decide, and you still have to have your own reasons. (This argument has countless antecedents.)

    In the sense of “reasons” that I am using here — things that motivate rational decisions by human beings in a sense that is more or less at right angles to physical law — God is the reason why there is anything, and the ultimate reason why we should do anything.

    We can get further inside the structure I am trying to illuminate. Assume that all reasoning and acting is covered by physical law. Formulate a complete, predictive model of my reasoning and acting. Communicate that model to me. It is no longer complete and predictive, because it cannot account for the effects upon me of its communication to me. There is an infinite regress of self-representation… conscious reasoning diagonalizes physical models of conscious reasoning. This is true whether, or not, consciousness has a physical basis. (This is a condensed form of Mackay’s “logical indeterminacy of free choice”).

    We can get outside this structure as well. A physical model is mechanistic, it is an abstract machine. As such it has a definite Kolmogorov complexity. A physical model of scientific creativity would have to have a Kolmogorov complexity greater than that of all physical models generated by that creativity. So either we have a fixed Kolmogorov complexity and so will never be complex enough to model how we generate models, or we do not have a fixed Kolmogorov complexity and it is impossible in principle to model how we generate models. (This is an updated form of Godel’s dilemma.)

    The structure I am trying to illuminate has a name. Transcendence. God is what, or who, transcends physical law. This is not the same, I hope it is clear, as a miracle.

    Still, whether, or not, this transcendence is simply an artifact of our finitude and logical incompleteness, or it is real and active, is not a question that science can answer.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Michael Gogins, in case anyone might have made a mistake, I’d better come clean and say I’m not a philosopher, I’m a music teacher, though a mediocre one who has time on his hands.

  • Gordon

    “Where are these deists you are talking about”—-try Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, John Adams etc for a start. Your founding fathers would be appalled to see what the US has mutated into.
    Michael—that was drivel with buzzwords.
    Alan—now its psyhics? What next? This is a science blog, not an asylum.
    Anthony–Douglas Adams was more intelligent than theologians. Man, if you want a dreck-induced headache try reading any Teilhard de Chardin. Also, where are the deists?–well, they are all over the place. No one with a functioning neo-cortex believes in a personal god any longer.

  • JimV

    Since a few people were kind enough to notice my previous comment, I’ll make the dangerous mistake of expanding upon it – although really, any misconceptions can best and perhaps only be cleared up by re-reading it carefully.

    Evidence for its various theses:

    That people make up myths to give explanations (which don’t actually explain anything) for things they don’t understand about the universe: see history and anthropology, Norse mythology, Egyptian mythology, Greek Mythology, etc..

    That natural processes exist which are not influenced by sacrifice or prayer: anecdotal evidence abounds (unless you are willing to claim that no victims of a car or airplane crash ever had a prayer for safe travel – “traveling mercies” is the phrase I have heard – offered on their behalf); and there have been controlled experiments on prayer showing it it be ineffective against illness.

    That science says quantum fluctuations can produce new universes: I haven’t polled scientists, but that seems to be the consensus of those I have read. That quantum fluctuations do produce virtual particles: Hawking radiation from black holes.

    That theists will continue pushing their god hypotheses further and further upstream as science makes it necessary, without regard to the increasingly strange sequence of events this entails: see this thread.

    As for disproving the existence of god, neither I, nor Sean Carroll, nor Hawking, nor Richard Dawkins, would dream of it. Neither can we disprove the existence of pink unicorns, which could be magical creatures which are very good at hiding, similar to gods. We simply say, we have found no evidence or need for that hypothesis (and it fails to meet the Judge Judy criterion).

  • Gordon

    BTW, here is Peter Medawar’s devastating review of de Chardin’s Phenomenon of Man. It could apply to nearly any theistic book.

    http://markmaking.typepad.com/markmaking/2006/05/medawar_on_teil.html

    -Sorry for the typo psychic, not psyhic, but those who believe in them likely wouldn’t notice.

  • Gordon

    re :173 “…not sure what Deepak Chopra will add”—–I am. He will add a farrago of New Age drivel
    and obfuscation plus misuse of scientific terms.

  • MT-LA

    JimV:”As for disproving the existence of god, neither I, nor Sean Carroll, nor Hawking, nor Richard Dawkins, would dream of it…We simply say, we have found no evidence or need for that hypothesis.”

    Strange, since the title of this blog post seems to contradict your statement. You, personally, might not be trying to disprove the existence of God. That’s fine…you can believe (or disbelieve) what you want. But when hubris of science begins to cloud its actual capability, then you start running into problems.

    If I can paraphrase Anthony McCarthy (and I apologize if I misstate your position): Science is of the physical world. Science can only know of the physical world because of the constraints of the scientific method. The scientific method cannot be applied to God because it is not of the physical world. The scientific method, similarly, cannot be applied to the pre-universe because there are no physical laws that are independent of a physical universe.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Gordon, “my” founding fathers? First you are mistaken, I don’t worship at the altar of the founders, holding them in any more regard than I do people who came along after them or who are alive now. I wonder, did any of them declare themselves to be deists? They’d have certainly known the term. I know that deism was as big a fad among the educated upper class back then as atheism is today but I’d like to know if any of them affirmed that was what they believed. You will have those quotes handy, won’t you?

    Do you happen to be British?

    — Douglas Adams was more intelligent than theologians. Gordon

    I’m aware there are people who would think that was a witty remark, I wonder what Jefferson would have thought about it. He was rather taken with Priestly on theological topics.

    — Man, if you want a dreck-induced headache try reading any Teilhard de Chardin. Gordon

    Difficult reading can have that effect on some people. Who else have you read? Assuming you actually read de Chardin and not just the same invective against him that I’ve seen. I will point out I didn’t endorse any particular theologians though I’d have thought that an Oxford chair who undertook to write a book touching on the subject might have made a bit more of an effort to find out what they are talking about.

    I did look and noticed that among the people I saw who were impressed with the book was Bernard Towers, who I’d not have taken for a slouch.

    — No one with a functioning neo-cortex believes in a personal god any longer. Gordon

    Oh, dear. What evidence do you have to back up that assertion. Apparently evidence is as much a sometimes thing as integrity with you folks. Or am I supposed to take this assertion on authority?

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Jim V. I still want to know where your explanatory myth came from. What physical evidence do you have to back it up? Or does it just come out of convenience as all of the similar explanatory myths of the Dawkins school of science come from?

    I think it’s high time that someone called the new atheists on their claims to only believe things based in evidence because it’s clear they are among the premier advocates of dispensing with evidence in science. You will notice who it has been in this discussion who has been defending that as a standard of scientific reliability and who hasn’t.

  • Gordon

    You don’t get it, do you? What I (and perhaps Sean) am claiming is simply that there is no evidence for the existence of a God. Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence.
    BTW, I did waste my time once reading “The Phenomenon..”. It was not “difficult”. It was obscurantist garbage, and, as a precursor of New Age drivel, was full of feel-good pap.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    There is no evidence for multiverses, there is no evidence of memes, there is no evidence of a specific favorably adaptive behavior in our Paleolithic ancestors which was widely practiced, conferring a reproductive advantage, which is the expression of a specific genetic complex producing, for example “religion proteins” which result in what is so popularly talked about among new atheists as “religion”. I would love to further expound what is involved in that idea, let’s just say it’s a remarkably unstable and varied “genetic expression” among us today if that’s true, since there is no definable “thing” that is meant by “religion”. You know, if it was so adaptively favorable in the past, getting rid of its expression just might lead to our extinction. Having gone there several times since I entered this discussion just over a hundred comments ago, I’m not going to review other worthwhile ideas that also have no evidentiary foundation of that kind, but I’m sure even Sean would not like to be without some of them, tenure, for example.

    Good grief. I’m supposed to take you guys seriously as the keepers of the little candle in the dark that used to be science, even as you turn it into an evidence free game?

  • Katharine

    Funny how theists have to presuppose a nonphysical world to justify their belief in the existence of their imaginary friend. It’s a bit like believing ‘oh, there’s this giant platypus colored a bright shade of purple. It exists entirely outside the physical world!’.

    Equally probable, equally stupid.

    It’s essentially crud you’ve made up inside your head.

  • Katharine

    I think it’s high time that someone called the new atheists on their claims to only believe things based in evidence because it’s clear they are among the premier advocates of dispensing with evidence in science. You will notice who it has been in this discussion who has been defending that as a standard of scientific reliability and who hasn’t.

    We call this a tu quoque. It’s an informal logical fallacy.

    The idea of a ‘meme’, I understand, is more of one of those weird social science cultural things. Talk to them about it.

    I’m what you might call a ‘new atheist'; I’d say at least on my part that the jury’s out for me on the subject of string theory and multiverses. I am more inclined to believe they exist than a deity exists, because they appear to make use of solely physical mechanisms rather than going off on some bizarre anthrocentric fairy-world tangent. At the same time, they are a little short on the evidence.

    And I think the whole genetics-religion thing is kind of silly. That’s more under the purview of social science people, I think, because cognitive biases are ultimately going to be expressed in a context.

  • JimV

    “I still want to know where your explanatory myth came from.”

    Did you try re-reading the original comment again, and still not notice the word “story”?

    My story came from the same place that the Egyptian myths, Norse myths, Hebrew myths, and tales of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox came from: a mixture of known facts (various primitive tribes did have Rain Gods and Fire Gods), previous legends, and the speculations formed by billions of neurons firing at random. Imagination is a good thing (a tool for survival). It produces the hypotheses which we use to explain the mechanisms of natural processes, but it needs to be used in conjunction with a checking method (the scientific method), so that it doesn’t fly off in unfruitful directions.

    As to Sean’s title, I suspect he succumbed to the temptation of hyperbole, but I believe his basic point, and Hawking’s, is the same as that of my original comment. Both have previously disclaimed any ability to prove or disprove mathematically the existence of a god, and of course no scientific principle is “proved” (only supported by evidence), so they would consider that a red herring.

    Here’s another story I have used to illustrate this point: a man was prosecuted for murder (my story goes) because he was found standing over the body with a smoking gun in his hand, and a bullet from that gun killed the victim. The defense attorney rises to address the jury: “Ladies and gentlemen, the prosecutor has not proved his case. We contend that space aliens killed the victim, then teleported my client to the scene and teleported the gun into his hand! The prosecutor cannot disprove this!”

    (This story comes from the same place the previous one did, to forestall the question.)

    Any claim of science could turn out to be wrong (and will usually turn out to be incomplete); it’s not perfect, it just beats the heck out of whatever is in second place, because it is based on evidence and reasoning which holds up under peer review, and would be admissible in a court of law – unlike religion, which is based largely on hearsay.

  • Gordon

    Well there is such a thing as scientific speculation which has explanatory power, but little evidence.
    Science is not just positivist results of measurements. The purpose is to rationally explain the way things are. It is not, like religion, faith-based, incapable of modification when new facts are uncovered, based on tribal dogma from a millenium ago–etc. The multiverse helps to explain features of quantum mechanics, which has incredibly precise evidence. Once again, religion has none and relies on dogma and authority. The multiverse interpretation has not been universally accepted (David Gross) but that is fine—science is a process, unlike religion, which is immutable.
    This is enough for me on this topic. It is clear that religious apologists never quit.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Katherine, you do know who invented memes don’t you? If you don’t you should really find out before you dismiss my point. And you might want to note who some of their greatest promoters are as well.

    As I never am when encountering new atheists, I’m not surprised to have all kinds of things attributed to what I said when I not only have never said them but don’t happen to hold with them. I have noticed that thinking by stereotype instead of the recorded evidence is also a widespread habit of the new atheism. Let me just say I’ve also learned that correcting each and every one of their unfounded attributions takes too much time.

    Given who’s blog your on and the video that gave rise to this thread, the remark about “presupposing worlds” is more than ironic. If you don’t know that, go look at the video and look up multiuniverse and M-theory and, for example, Peter Woit’s critique of it and you’ll get what I mean.

    Jim V. you mean you didn’t mean your story to actually have some kind of relevance to the topic of religious belief? I wonder why you bothered.

  • http://kforcounter.blogspot.com Cody

    “Je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là.” –Pierre-Simon Laplace, c.1806.

    Hawking is brilliant and all, but his recent comments on E.T. were absurd. The only solution is thinking critically about all information—regardless of how bright the source is that the information emanates from—and testing said information against other known information to “proof” its truth value, and rate its validity in proportion to the supporting evidence, ratio-nally. (I.e., science!)

  • Gordon

    Woit as an authority….hmmm what a concept.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Gordon, maybe you’ll want to let the folks at Columbia U. know what you do.

  • Gordon

    They can look it up on Spires.

  • http://kforcounter.blogspot.com Cody

    Sorry to butt in, but, I can’t seem to help myself…

    “There is no evidence for multiverses” [agree; highly speculative at best, though “evidenced” by the mathematics and our inability to interpret the math in an intuitively consistent way.]
    “there is no evidence of memes” [disagree; what is fashion?]
    “there is no evidence of a specific favorably adaptive behavior in our Paleolithic ancestors which was widely practiced, conferring a reproductive advantage, which is the expression of a specific genetic complex producing, for example “religion proteins” which result in what is so popularly talked about among new atheists as “religion”. [eh… the evidence is the high prevalence of religious belief, indicating that it was either selected for, or at least not selected against…]

    “since there is no definable ‘thing’ that is meant by ‘religion’.” [if you can’t agree on a definition for a word, it makes little sense to debate anything related to the word, because no one knows what you’re debating. As a “Gnu Atheist” myself, I mostly mean the dogmatic, ancient beliefs in a personal god that are the traditional basis of the Abrahamic religions; I tend to exclude all the abstract new-age beliefs, deism and pantheism because they tend to make up a very small portion of what I consider to be “the problem” with religion. You might very well call me an anti-dogmatist. If you’d agree, I’d love to focus on the gnu atheists’ intolerance of dogmatism.]

    “You know, if it was so adaptively favorable in the past, getting rid of its expression just might lead to our extinction.” [Likewise, keeping it might lead to our extinction. Technology so heavily alters our environments that you can’t rely on our naturally-selected bodies to even regulate our food intake in a healthy manor, let alone our social habits/policies/behaviors/interactions. We’ve shed many religious beliefs (sacrifices, gods for each phenomena, blaming god(s) for natural disasters (most of us have), etc.), I tend to be of the opinion that shedding the rest would be beneficial (though obviously that point is open to debate).

    “Good grief. I’m supposed to take you guys seriously as the keepers of the little candle in the dark that used to be science, even as you turn it into an evidence free game?” [Wait, the theist is demanding evidence? If you’re criticizing people for not providing evidence in a blog-based-discussion of religious ideas, you should note that they don’t represent the real workings of science. In reality, we all debate and criticize one another, and over much comparison and effort and criticism and debate, emerges a consensus of what the best explanation for the evidence is. Science has no authorities, only people who give better advice about where to look or how to test for given kinds of evidence. The truth that emerges from the scientific process however is indisputable. As Oppenheimer said, “for what is true today cannot be found false tomorrow.]

    For a good understanding of “what is science?” I recommend reading R. Feynman’s speech, “What is Science?”. And for a better understanding of why we say “Newton was wrong, Einstein is wrong, and science is often found to be wrong”, read I. Asimov’s essay, “The Relativity of Wrong”. As Ike says,

    My answer to him was, “John, when people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.”

    Just one more thing: the basis of the Abrahamic religions is a manuscript which makes little sense when read as non-fiction but makes tons of sense when interpreted as the work of a bunch of ancient goat-herders who knew little to nothing about the harsh world they found themselves in. No memes, no genes, no science. And yet half(!) of the planet believes that this book (& its two main derivatives) are inspired by something beyond physical reality! (Extraordinary claim!) What I don’t understand is, why do they believe this is a work of non-fiction written through the hands of men guided by some supreme being, but they don’t believe me when I put a sandwich board on and go down to the corner to warn people that god has told me the end is near? Why is that so clearly crazy, but the “good book” so confidently sane? And (sorry to rant) but it’s considered a sane book in the face of Abraham, ready to murder his son! If god told me to murder someone, I’d check myself into an asylum (assuming I still had the cognitive capacity to do so).

  • MT-LA

    JimV: “As to Sean’s title, I suspect he succumbed to the temptation of hyperbole, but I believe his basic point, and Hawking’s, is the same as that of my original comment. Both have previously disclaimed any ability to prove or disprove mathematically the existence of a god”

    Oh…I see. You (and Sean, and Hawking) are agnostics. Sorry, I thought you were atheists. I wonder how I could have made that mistake.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    [eh… the evidence is the high prevalence of religious belief, indicating that it was either selected for, or at least not selected against…] Cody

    The evidence that there is a “thing” that constitutes “religion” which can constitute a adaptation of any kind, isn’t there.

    The evidence that if there was such a “thing” that it would be the result of a genetic expression, isn’t there.

    The evidence that “religion” was practiced by our ancestors in the Paleolithic, isn’t there.

    The evidence that if there was a “religion” practiced by them that it would have conferred a reproductive advantage, isn’t there. — Especially interesting given the many and frequent assertions that our swinging and hardly faithful ancestors had a reproductive advantage. Though I often wonder if that idea isn’t an adaptation originating in way too many evo-psy faculty who are surrounded by too many young students.

    There is no evidence that anything they might have regarded as a religion would be recognizable to us as a religion.

    One could go on. I would like them to at least identify a “religion protein” or two before I’d begin to take any of it seriously. Though actually finding a definition of “religion” that wasn’t more than a convenient fiction might be a nicer place to start.

    I generally think of science as an attempt to find more reliable information about the physical universe, as I asserted earlier in this thread.

    I could keep this up indefinitely but I do have other things to do.

    Gordon, you might find this interesting if it doesn’t give you a headache.

    http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=2778

  • http://kforcounter.blogspot.com Cody

    Why are you so bent on there needing to be a genetic origin of religion? Science doesn’t demand that. There are many, easily conceivable explanations for why religion is so ubiquitous. But what is hard to argue against, is that given it’s ubiquity, that the underlying causes/origins (whatever they may be), were not selected for.

    Personally, I imagine it has more to do with our brains making causal connections in inappropriate circumstances than it has to do with genetic predisposition for faith or believing authority. This is born out by experiments such as B.F. Skinner’s superstitious pigeons, or the way baseball players are often superstitious about batting (where signal to noise ratio is terrible), and not fielding (where S/N is good). There is plenty of evidence that we (as well as many other species) are predisposed to believe our caretakers (think imprinting in birds), even when those caretakers are lying to us. Furthermore there are good (and simple) arguments as to why this is beneficial to a species, and why it would be selected for over adaptations that allowed for say, skepticism, or exploration. (Adults that survive ought to have better advice as to how to survive than randomly sampling behavior, much of which would lead to certain doom.)

    But why do you need a scientific explanation for the origin of religion? To me that’s as silly as asking for a scientific explanation of the origin of the bee-hive hairdo; some aspects of human behavior emerge from odd places, like one-upping one another. And it gets really stupid sometimes. Ergo, the pope’s hat.

    You might wonder what motivates me to be so vocal and vehement about atheism, and it’s because I see so many problems caused by theists. As Hitchens said, “the suicide bomber community, is entirely religious; the genital mutilation community, is entirely religious; the pedophilia community isn’t entirely, but they’re bidding for it.” As Weinberg said, “with or without religion, you have good people doing good things, and evil people doing bad things. But for good people to do bad things, that takes religion.”

  • spyder

    Let’s muddle the mess some more, since it seems that some of the above have taken the muck to the extremes.

    http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/2010/09/deeply_confused_essay_on_relig.php

    Also, eat some mushrooms…

  • Anthony McCarthy

    — Why are you so bent on there needing to be a genetic origin of religion? Cody

    Given my skepticism that there is a specific entity that constitutes “religion” which natural selection could act on, I don’t understand how you could miss my complete skepticism about that assertion of many new atheists, Dawkins and Dennett chief among them. I doubt it, I don’t think there is any way to find out if it’s true for the reasons I stated above and many more. A better question is why two of the lions of the new atheism, the “we’re all about evidence, you’re all about authority” people, want to remove the requirement to produce evidence from science, substituting explanatory myths for the tacit evidence? And why they are so seldom called on that discrepancy.

    I hope that there are some people still reading this thread who can see the problem here. The guys who slam religious people for believing that God made the word flesh want to make their words flesh. Is there some weird quantum seeming phenomenon that makes contradictions like those OK for the new atheists or is it just your good old fashioned fundamentalism cutting itself slack?

    I wonder how the evo-psy guys might like having B. F. Skinner brought up sort of in their defense.

    I won’t begin to touch the irony of you quoting that old saw by Steve Weinberg in the context of this thread because it would take another hundred comments to go through it. Though the irony abounds in the NA world.

    I will say that quoting Hitchens, ex trot, ex Bushie, the advocate of the invasion of Iraq that has killed well, well over a hundred thousand people is pretty disgusting.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Oh, and I just remembered, suicide bombing actually originated among Marxists in Sri Lanka, a campaign that is ongoing, I think you could find. Though I doubt Karl Marx would have approved of the idea at all.

    Until very recently, most suicide bombers were secular in origin. The techniques of suicide bombing were first developed by the Tamil Tigers, a Marxist-Leninist group operating in Sri Lanka that recruits mainly from the island’s Hindu population, but which – like Marxist-Leninist parties everywhere – has always been intensely hostile to religion.

    http://www.newstatesman.com/200509120042

    See also:

    http://leninology.blogspot.com/2005/07/suicide-bombing-dossier.html

    So Hitchens’ statement is a lie. Hardly his first.

  • JimV

    “Jim V. you mean you didn’t mean your story to actually have some kind of relevance to the topic of religious belief?”

    No, that is not what I mean. You asked where it came from. It has the same relevance as my story about the murder trial: it illustrates a relevant point, without necessarily being literally true (although it could be – you can’t disprove it, as a religionist would say). I’m not sure where your antagonism to it comes from. Surely you agree there were primitive tribes who erroneously considered wind, rain, and fire to be controlled by capricious gods? If not, we disagree on that. If so, the analogy to the creation of universes seems apt and relevant, to me.

    “Oh…I see. You (and Sean, and Hawking) are agnostics.”

    Here is how I see the semantics: asymmetry is the lack of symmetry; a theist is one who believes in a personal god; an atheist is one who lacks that belief, as do I, Dr. Carroll, and Dr. Hawking; a gnostic is one who believes the existence or non-existence of a god or gods can be known for certain; an agnostic is one who does not have this belief. Accordingly, I, Sean, Hawking, and Dawkins are all agnostic atheists. (There are also agnostic theists, by the way.) I know that Dawkins is self-described as such, and while I can’t speak for Sean and Hawking, would bet what’s left of my 401k that they would agree with this position. I would also bet (although not as much) that you yourself lack a belief in Zeus and therefore are atheistic as far as Zeus is concerned. We simply applied our reason to the Abrahamic gods the same way you did to Zeus, and found them wanting in believability – as well as all the other theistic gods we have heard of so far (Ra, Odin, etc.).

    I didn’t finish my story about the murder trial. The jurists examined all the evidence, conferred, and settled the question: guilty (although the convicted person still correctly says there is no disproof of his alternate explanation).

  • Gordon

    Why would I find that interesting? AdS/CFT and M theory are the best thing going right now, so it is not surprising that they are cited the most. And suicide bombing originated in that instance with the Tamils, who are Hindus mostly. You Americans think that everyone with a brain is a Marxist. Hitchens just tells it like it is. BTW, Brian Greene is an authority at Columbia who is actually a member of the physics department….

  • Alan

    Gordon @ 190

    Now if you check out the SPR website (the Society for Psychical Research is, I believe, one of the oldest academic societies):

    http://www.spr.ac.uk/main/page/trustees-and-officers-psychical-research

    You will find Prof. Deborah Delanoy Ph.D, Mary Rose Barrington M.A., Prof. Bernard Carr MA, Ph.D, Prof. David Fontana BA, MEd, Ph.D, Alan Gauld MA, PhD, DLitt, Prof. John Poynton M.Sc., Ph.D, Prof. Archie Roy B.Sc, FRAS and the list goes on. Some very senior scientists who are on to something.

    So you should dig a little better than that, to put it mildly.

    Also Prof. Carr was the Editor of the quite recent Universe or Multiverse? (2007), which I believe included scientific luminaries quite bigger than yourself, AND of course was one of Stephen Hawking’s research Ph.D’s. He studied the first second of the universe I believe.
    Prof. Carr has written a paper “Can psychical research bridge the gap between matter and mind? at http://www.esalenctr.org/display/sbd09.htm where he develops ideas which are based on the multiverse.

    I would also check out the renowned quantum physicist Henry Stapp’s site at:

    http://www-physics.lbl.gov/~stapp/stappfiles.html where these issues are addressed quite powerfully at the theoretical level.

    So you see you must look a little deeper and catch up on your reading!
    You should not put things you seem to have no knowledge of in your own personal mental asylum, as you say. I too am a physics postgrad. but I have looked at this information. You could try too!

    As I said above, there seems to be a subjective element in reality that needs to be addressed in science, not ignored. Can the multiverse do this?

  • Gordon

    Hmmm, I was right—-just below the surface, psychic crap.

  • Alan

    Wow, that was a complete data free statement!

    1. The scientists at 217 actually outgun you but you don’t realize it.
    2. You also read (?) the comment but read nothing of the content.
    3. You seem to have a serious denial problem or you are pursuing “issue deflection tactics”. Either is psychologically interesting…

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Alan, it’s not exactly my area of interest but I think you might find page 202, right before the references, interesting. Considering the role that Richard Feynman plays in new atheist culture.

    http://www.tricksterbook.com/ArticlesOnline/HymanReview.htm

  • Rajveer

    Nature of GOD :The understanding of God is not something which is to be understood apart from His nature. The understanding of God includes His formless existence and all the forms created by Him. God is not something apart from forms. He is not something outside from physics and gravity rather all these laws and their effects are within God.
    Guru Nanak (The first teacher of Sikhism) says:
    “We can only express a sense of wonder about the beginning. The absolute void (Nothingness) abided endlessly deep within Himself then. From His state of absolute existence, He assumed the immaculate form; from formless, He assumed the supreme form.” (Page 940 Guru Granth Sahib, holy scripture)
    Having said that,Guru Nanak identifies the God in following words
    “O Nanak, the True One is the Giver of all; He is to be identified through creative nature we see. ||8||” (Page 141 Holy Scripture Guru Granth Sahib)
    The creative nature has the power to create, sustain and destruct the life. Can Stephen Hawkins reject this identification of God given by a saint born in 1469?

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Surely you agree there were primitive tribes who erroneously considered wind, rain, and fire to be controlled by capricious gods? Jim V

    How condescending of you. I generally look at who is destroying the biosphere and what they’re doing it with and it’s not “primative tribes” with animistic beliefs but those with access to science and technology and who practice the real state religion of America and most other developed countries, mammonism.

    I’d rather deal with things that are at least asserted by people to be real instead of fiction in this case. If it’s fiction you’re aiming for, two words, continuity, narrative.

    I’m sorry if I’m beginning to get sarcastic but this is getting really absurd.

  • MT-LA

    JimV: I suspected this was going to come down to semantics (honestly, how many real philosophy debates don’t come down to semantics?)

    Here’s my take: Asymmetry and symmetry are diametrically opposed; there is no middle ground. You either have symmetry, or you don’t. The analogy doesn’t quite translate to the theist/atheist argument for that reason alone, since there is a middle ground (agnostic).

    A theist believes God exists. An atheist believes that God does not exist. But “belief that God does not exist” is NOT the same as “lack of belief in God’s existence”. Those that “lack belief of God’s existence” (and, lack belief of God’s non-existence, for that matter) are called agnostics.

    I am agnostic about Zeus, Odin, and any others on the current roster of gods.
    [speculation] The difference between us is I am ok with being agnostic. But the atheist will not admit that deep down he is agnostic because he is so proud of his stance, and so afraid of seeming weak in front of the rest of his atheist tribe. Instead, he redefines atheism to include agnostics, and chooses to take all true meaning from the word “agnostic”. [/speculation]
    Why not just accept commonly held definitions, call yourself an agnostic, and be done with it?

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Gordon, since I’m a socialist who has some regard for Karl Marx, which I indicated, I think you need to read more of what you comment on. And I think you’ll find the New Statesman isn’t an American publication, nor is John Gray American, which you would know, so I know you didn’t try the link. And I’m fairly confident that you could find any number of other reputable sources for that information. So, Hitchens’ statement, was, as I’m sure he knows as a journalist, untrue.

    Oh, and I think you will find that Hitchens was a Trot who has a fleeting familiarity with the truth but not a deep one.

  • JimV

    “Here’s my take: Asymmetry and symmetry are diametrically opposed; there is no middle ground. You either have symmetry, or you don’t.”

    Yet one can lack symmetry without claiming that the existence of symmetry can be disproved, which seems to be what you think atheists are saying about the existence of gods. Name a god, or a pink unicorn: I don’t believe in it. I lack that symmetry. When I see convincing evidence that gods or pink unicorns exist, I will gain that symmetry (belief).

    In any case, I have defined what I mean by the term “atheist” and how it applies to me. This same definition is used by Richard Dawkins and Bertand Russell, and all the atheists whom I admire (and many, but not all, whom I don’t).

    “How condescending of you. I generally look at who is destroying the biosphere and what they’re doing it with and it’s not “primitive tribes” with animistic beliefs but those with access to science and technology…”

    I’m quite happy to compare my carbon footprint with yours, if that’s your phallic substitute of choice, but you seem to have strayed from the subject of this thread:

    I have never owned a car. I walk to work, to the library, to super markets, and to shopping centers, within a 5-mile radius.

    My apartment has central air-conditioning but I have never turned it on. For most of my life I have not had an air-conditioner.

    I got along without a TV for my first six years out of college, but then broke down and got a small portable to watch a Giants football game. In the small town I currently live in there is no reception without cable, but prior to three years ago I did not have cable TV.

    I don’t have a microwave or a coffee-maker. I do have a small toaster. I don’t have a stereo or a DVR. Okay, I do have a VCR, and a small collection of classic VHS tapes, such as “Gorky Park”, “Aliens”, “Blade Runner”, and “Broadcast News”.

    I like walking. I can do it mostly on autopilot, giving me a chance to ponder the questions of life.

    I still use more than my fair share of the world’s resources, but let him who is without sin cast the first stone, I always say. (I have a story about that – but some people don’t like stories, so I’ll skip it.)

  • MT-LA

    Very well, JimV, you have defined your version of atheism. Since you didn’t address the actual meat of the point, can you define your version of “agnostic” and differentiate that from your version of “atheist”? Furthermore, can you step outside of this thread, and outside of yourself, and define what both terms mean to the general public?

    I can define “blue” as “the color of the top light on a stoplight”…you know what, never mind. No more analogies. I tried to use the symmetry analogy, but that was also a car wreck.

  • Gordon

    “…the Society for Psychical Research is, I believe, one of the oldest academic societies): …”
    Yeah, that and the Wiccans–they just don’t use the adjective ‘academic” improperly.

  • Gordon

    Being a physicist or mathematician certainly doesn’t protect you from holding delusional
    thoughts (Bernard Carr)–look at Sheldrake and Brian Josephson, John Nash. There is nothing wrong with doing psychic research so long as the studies are properly done, but haven’t enough been done and debunked (Randi, Martin Gardner, etc) to bury it for awhile amongst the flaky detritus of New Age drivel. I suppose you think that Deepak Chopra is a deep thinker.

  • Gordon

    Since this is nominally a science blog, and seems to be hijacked by psychic faith-heads, I will
    stop posting. Perhaps then the blog will move on to discuss real phenomena.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Since this is nominally a science blog, and seems to be hijacked by psychic faith-heads

    Randi, Martin Gardner, etc)

    Martin Gardner, didn’t care for his puzzles and thought he was very capable of dishonest polemics but at least he had some scientific and mathematical credibility. James Randi. Oh, yeah, very sciency. If you happen to learn all of your science from TV and comic books. I haven’t been tempted to buy the magazine with that story about him up till now but I think you’ve changed my mind. And you turn your nose up at Brian Josephson.

    Jim V. I’m glad to see you’re energy efficient. Just imagine how energy efficient members of those “primitive tribes” are and I’ll bet they don’t look down on you.

  • Alan

    Anthony at 220

    Thanks for that, I never knew Richard Feynman spoke at the Parapsychological Convention in 1984! A measured comment by him as well. I will give your link as well:

    http://www.tricksterbook.com/ArticlesOnline/HymanReview.htm

    Gordon, this subject is now being taught at university level, alongside psychology. See the classic introductory university text by Drs. Watt and Irwin, Introduction to Parapsychology (5th Edition, 2007):

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Introduction-Parapsychology-Harvey-J-Irwin/dp/0786430591

    So you see the subject is being taught and studied as you quoted at 228: “There is nothing wrong with doing psychic research so long as the studies are properly done.” A bridge of agreement!

    So there is real science here. Again I say, can this be related to multiverse physics and does this all relate to the “God issue”, the actual subject of this thread? It is a physics issue not woo woo!

    BTW, Randi and the JREF are a peculiar phenomenon well left to their own devices.

  • Alan

    It’s two in the morning. The wife shouts down to her frantic husband on his PC, “What are you doing down there? Come to bed!”
    “Someone’s WRONG on the internet!”, he yells back.

    Two thousand miles away on the other end of the line, Fido (a dog) is bashing the keyboard of his master’s computer. He turns to his friend Rex (dog) and says, “On the internet nobody knows you’re a dog.”

  • Anthony McCarthy

    There was one other detail I skipped about the quote from Christopher Hitchens. It seems to elude the new atheist sloganeers that the suicide bombers and planners of 9-11 had a significant number of people with training in techology and science among them. Though, from what I’ve read, they didn’t have any who took the Islamic prohibition on killing the innocent or suicide seriously. They also ignore that they were uniformly men. So, why do they focus on that one characteristic to taint all religious believers, including those who died in the bombing? It’s bigotry of course. The kind that you can see if you go back and look at the literature of bigotry against any group, Jews and the Irish, for example. The literature of bigotry always assigns vicarious blame to people based on some aspect of identity, ignoring the ones they choose to. For people who like to categorize maybe that’s a good indication of where the new atheism should be placed.

  • JimV

    “Since you didn’t address the actual meat of the point, can you define your version of “agnostic” and differentiate that from your version of “atheist”? Furthermore, can you step outside of this thread, and outside of yourself, and define what both terms mean to the general public?”

    I defined agnostic (and gnostic, its opposite) in a previous comment (off the top of my head), but I’ll try again. As to what the general public thinks, let’s restrict that to the general public who has looked into the issue, which would be … wikipedia:

    “Atheism, in a broad sense, is the rejection of belief in the existence of deities.[1] In a narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities.[2] Most inclusively, atheism is simply the absence of belief that any deities exist.[3] Atheism is contrasted with theism,[4] which in its most general form is the belief that at least one deity exists.[5]”

    Hey, mine is the most inclusive definition! Who knew? It’s just the one that makes the most sense to me and is used by the people whose writing on the subject seems clearest to me. Anyway, if it is fair for there to be over 1000 varieties of Christian, and god knows (no he doesn’t – atheist joke) how many different religions, can’t there be a few different varieties of atheist?

    Here’s my second try at agnostic, from an online dictionary:

    gnostic – possessing intellectual or esoteric knowledge of spiritual things
    agnostical, agnostic – uncertain of all claims to knowledge

    The big stumbling block here, I think, is the idea of “proof” or “certainty” – in mathematics there is proof that flows from initial axioms – assumptions – by a rigorous chain of logic; in science, there is no proof, no certainty, because we don’t know what the axioms are. They are always subject to change, as we delve more deeply into the universe’s workings. In science, there are hypotheses which may become theories if the evidence for them mounts up and stands up over time – but tomorrow someone may discover something deeper. As I see it, all good scientists are agnostics – at least in their own fields of research. Yet most scientists are atheists, which puts them in my category.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    From my experience of atheists, they seem to fall into two general categories, the liberal atheists and the fundamentalist atheists. Liberal atheists are, generally, those who say ” I don’t believe there is a God” the fundamentalists say “I know there isn’t a God”. The really hard fundamentalists hold that anyone who doesn’t claim to know there isn’t a God is unworthy of respect. Oddly, they seem to fall into categories that are very similar to those that religious believers fall into. And, as with with religious believers, it’s the liberals who are the most reasonable and easy to get along with.

    What is really interesting is the atheist fundamentalist pretense that all religious believers are the worst of hard line religious fundamentalists. Which is more convenient than observing real life and taking into account the enormous variability of religious expression, which is so variable that it would take several paragraphs to just outline it in simple terms. But why the idea that “religion” is the expression of a genetic complex is absurd was talked about already.

    These lapses in rigorous observation and logic among the self-appointed owners of science are one of the most interesting things about the new atheist phenomenon, mirroring the lapses in moral integrity of religious fundamentalists. It’s also one of the things about them that seems to generate an enormous amount of irony of exactly the sort that their polemics against all religion consists of. Which is just one more irony.

  • Gordon

    Since you don’t seem to even need me to keep drivelling on, all sorts of crap is taught now at universities–there seem to be whole departments of it I don’t really think at this point, psychic research should be done to any degree–it has been debunked by experts like Randi (not a scientist, sure, but an expert debunker and a professional at deceiving naive and self-deluded researchers.)
    Now it has a cult-like following and it generates its own hagiographic literature —it is similar to the UFO cults, and, say, Lysenkoism. Really, we do not have any bridges. It is to the shame of any University (Duke) that this is taught other than, say, mesmerism, or cold fusion, as a passing mania for historical purposes.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Jim V, why should it surprise anyone that people who spend their lives looking only at the physical universe would come to have a point of view which saw little if anything else? While I wonder about those polls that your assertion relies on, it wouldn’t surprise me if, in today’s culture of science, atheism wasn’t a predominant strain of thought that people in science might be influenced by.

    What is irrational is that anyone would think that a career which focuses exclusively on the physical universe that is treatable by science would gain any credibility in matters entirely outside of their professional field. I wouldn’t go to a scientist if I needed a lawyer or a carpenter if they didn’t have any professional credentials in those fields. Why should I think what they have to say about religion would be any more credible than what a carpenter or farm worker would think about it?

    I think that the phenomenon of those who have constructed theories of multiverses or evolutionary psychology or memes, might be a clue into what happens when they try to move their science past where there is any evidence to support what they want to find, a further synthesis of their systems. Perhaps their emotional investment in materialism and their faith that there is a discoverable further synthesis leads them in a general direction where people head when there isn’t evidence available, speculation based on their experience and what has given them the most edification in the past. In which case you wonder why they’re so critical of other people, in other walks of life, doing the same thing. Though I’ve never encountered a farm worker or a carpenter who would mistakenly think that their line of work was relevant to it in anything but a metaphorical sense.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Alan, in light of Gordon’s hectoring, I would like to give you some more information. Please write to me

    amatechidnes@gmail.com

    I do have a lot of spam filters that cut out most invective so just send me a place I can send that to you.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    I know it’s bad of me but I can’t help but point out that Lysenkoism was an anti-Darwinist theory that was adopted and promoted by an anti-religious, atheist government. I don’t know what religious ideas Lysenko might have held but it would be surprising if someone who practiced religion could have held his position at the time. I’ve always been curious about anything that Corliss Lamont might have had to say about it during the time that Stalin was in power.

  • Gordon

    Lysenkoism was mentioned just as another crazy idea, like psychic phenomena (sic). Somehow now you are conflating psychic delusions and religion—hmmm I guess they arise from the same source.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Gordon, not endorsing your adjectives and one noun, I think you’ll find that’s been done on this thread already and it wasn’t by me.

    I was under the impression that Richard Dawkins was indicating that he was moving in the direction of accepting some of it, now that, as he always has to first, he’s invented a term to cover himself. “Perinormal” or some such construction? Though he seems to have reassured James Randi that his fraudulent challenge is safe as he can still weasel out of making an honest man of himself.

    I think that Jerry Coyne’s a better writer than Dawkins, though he’s less measured and ruder, albeit less inclined to invent stuff out of thin air.

    Friday’s my slow teaching day. And I did admit I was being bad.

  • JimV

    Scientists study reality – in all its aspects. They are biased against unreality, because history has taught us how easy it is to cling to primitive* notions and rationalize away the conflicting evidence. Unreality is very pernicious. That might even be stated as the first rule of science: beware unreality. (Feynman said it differently and much better: don’t fool yourself.)

    This is pretty thin, elementary stuff for a science blog. No wonder all the usual great commenters are avoiding this thread.

    * There’s that word again. In context here, it is a relative term meaning less-developed. The turbines I designed 20 years ago are more primitive than the ones I design today. No condescension to my previous self is implied. I did the best I could with the tools and skills I had then.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Jim V. I have that effect on new atheists. Usually when I ask for the evidence they insist they’ve got but don’t seem to want to share. They don’t like persistence.

    “Scientists study reality”

    I was always told they observed phenoema, measured and quantified what they observed, anaylzed that, published it and waited for the reviews and responses to come in. Though as seen on this thread, that’s terribly out of fashion.

    As to the charge of unreality, your spinning that yarn and when asked for your evidence that it was real, calling it a story would seem to give you nothing to complain of on that count.

  • RodReynolds

    This isn’t the first time Stephen Hawking has made some grandiose claims. Remember when he destroyed math?

    http://aspoonfulweighsaton.blogspot.com/2006/04/great-hoax_21.html

  • Anthony McCarthy

    RobReynolds, I liked that. The line about everyone seeing a paper by Hawking and assuming it’s right does, actually, say just who he is for most of the people who talk about him with absolutely not the first clue as to what his work consists of. I’ve seen it all over the internet, the new atheists figure they can say “Hawking says” and they’ve won the entire argument.

    I guess I’ll have to ask Lawrence Krauss or someone else if physicists have a comprehensive and exhaustive knowledge of even one of the objects they study because the physicists here don’t seem to want to answer it. “We don’t know” would be a perfectly valid answer, by the way. As long as it was the honest one.

  • Gordon

    Answer what, exactly? And what Hawking says has nothing really to do with “new atheism”. Also, physicists don’t assume automatically that his papers are “right”. There is always a vigorous debate, and he has admitted errors, unlike the Pope, for example.
    His comment about God is simply like Laplace’s to Napoleon–that he has no need of that hypothesis.
    All the arguments for God’s existence have been refuted. Now the religious should provide some evidence for a God, or they should shut up. Sean should close this thread before it melds into
    the psychic hotline.
    If you think that physicists don’t have knowledge of even one of the objects they study, you had better move to a cave and eat roots and berries ( you are using a computer—-the level of the discussion here would improve immensely.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Gordon, the refutation of your first line is to be found all over many blogs of the English Speaking Peoples where new atheists seem to believe that all they have to do is say “Hawking said” to win the argument hands down. They seem quite puzzled when the problems with their faith statements are pointed out.

    You want the discussion shut down? Why? Because no a-deus ex machina has swooped in to save your ideology from its most basic contradictions?

    Your resort to the hobby horse of frat boy “skepticism” doesn’t hold for what I said, as anyone with an ability to read would see. Though it has given me an opportunity to try, try and find out what Dawkins was indicating with his neologism “perinormal” which he seems to be walking away from. Oddly, walking back stuff he invented seems to be a habit with Dawkins.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Oh, and as it was the topic of my blog post this morning:

    — All the arguments for God’s existence have been refuted. Now the religious should provide some evidence for a God, or they should shut up. Gordon

    Call me old fashioned but for the people who are always demanding evidence of the supernatural they seem to have exempted themselves from having any for their assertions about the natural universe. If they want to construct self-referenced, scholastic models of possible universes that’s their affair*, though as pointed out in Physics World if they want funding for it, that makes it everyone’s business.

    But if they want to extend their speculations past physics and into religion, they either have to give up their demands for evidence from religious believers** or they have to put up their evidence relevant to the subject of religion. They’re not going to get to have it it both ways from anyone with a sense of fairness and integrity. That is one rule in real life that they are not going to get away with changing in their favor anymore. No more than I’d accept it by those claiming to be able to use science to confirm their supernatural beliefs.

    I don’t fault science for not being able to dispose of God, it never having been the subject matter of science anymore than it is double-entry accounting to begin with. Hawking and the others should realize that they are relieved of that task and take the opportunity to look for that missing confirmation in the physical universe that they obviously so much want to have.

  • Peter John
  • Gordon

    No, I only want Sean to consider capping this thread because you keep posting boring and totally irrelevant posts even when there are no responses. As far as I am concerned, science has mostly disposed of god in the sense that that hypothesis is highly improbable. I guess you can go on talking to yourself, but there are medications for that.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Sean, am I boring you with the question I keep trying to get answered? I’d at least like to have an explanation of why it isn’t relevant to the quest for a Theory of Everything. I am persistent but isn’t that supposed to be a virtue within the search for knowledge?

    Gordon, you want to take a stab at whether physics comprehensively and exhaustively knows at least one object in the universe? Of maybe you’ll tell us how a Theory of Everything could withstand an answer of either “no” or “we don’t know”? Not to mention how physics can, then, dispose of questions about proposals outside of the natural universe. I doubt you’re a physicist or even a scientist but, go on, take your shot.

  • Gordon

    There is nothing outside of the natural universe. You can doubt all you like. I don’t know if you are boring Sean, but you sure are boring me. Is knowing something to, like 16 or so decimal places good enough for you? I am finished posting. You are an annoying troll with no conception of the scientific method.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    I didn’t ask Sean about anything outside of the physical universe because as a physicist I wouldn’t expect him to have any professional competence to answer questions on that subject.

    My question was entirely about the subject matter of physics and entirely relevant to a ToE. It was on topic and appropriate. It wasn’t even impertinent in an ironic sense.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    You can doubt all you like. Gordon

    I think this is, beyond doubt, the most ironic thing ever said to me by a new atheist.

    Possibly the most ironic thing ever said on a blog.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    I don’t think there’s much else to say here. Though I’ll check later to see if anyone wants to continue. I hope someone has found something useful in what I said about these points.

  • Geoff

    It seems Stephen Hawking’s new postulation that the universe creates itself argues for the existence of god. If the classical debate still holds true, the universe is that which is preceded by nothing; it is the prime mover. Hence god is the universe. The ancients have been correct all along.

  • Paul Sheldon

    Yeah, I said maybe something like this in #13, but I want the hypothesis that good students/teachers saying namaste to each other are one up on the universe to being God, but this is probably a projection of my insecurities.

    I think Penrose’s needle at big bang or earlier was too improbable for our scholars or even Carl Sagan’s library in Dragons of Eden, something bigger…

  • Paul Sheldon

    I should have spelled Ginott in #13

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Geoff, I’d have thought it’s possible that the universe might be a part of God, just as what we might take as a “personal God” might be that part of God that we could relate to, the impersonal God being unavailable to our experience. Though neither of those ideas could possibly be reduced down to where they could fit into science, there are ideas too big to fit into its net as well as others they can’t catch with it.

    Scientists should stick to producing physical verification for their theories, none of which seem able to produce a total system anymore than mathematics or logic seem to. If we don’t end up killing ourselves with science, technology and commerce I think this quest for complete systems will be looked back at as one of the quaint follies of our age.

    I really wish a real physicist would have the guts to answer that question honestly. I think pretending it hasn’t been raised several times speaks volumes but an unambiguous statement might get me to stop pointing it out. Though I doubt it would be helpful to materialist fundamentalism.

  • Duderino

    Sean,
    It’s all great but I advise to invest in a lav mic or something. You sound echoey like you’re in a parallel universe brother. Big fan and thanks.

  • tobyvoss

    i didn’t watch the video because i don’t want to watch any more videos than i already am forced to.

  • MyrtleParker

    I wonder if Sean ever read Feynman’s cargo cult science speech?

    “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself–and you are
    the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about
    that. After you’ve not fooled yourself, it’s easy not to fool other
    scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way after
    that.

    I would like to add something that’s not essential to the science,
    but something I kind of believe, which is that you should not fool
    the layman when you’re talking as a scientist. I am not trying to
    tell you what to do about cheating on your wife, or fooling your
    girlfriend, or something like that, when you’re not trying to be
    a scientist, but just trying to be an ordinary human being. We’ll
    leave those problems up to you and your rabbi. I’m talking about
    a specific, extra type of integrity that is not lying, but bending
    over backwards to show how you are maybe wrong, that you ought to
    have when acting as a scientist. And this is our responsibility as
    scientists, certainly to other scientists, and I think to laymen.

    So I have just one wish for you–the good luck to be somewhere
    where you are free to maintain the kind of integrity I have
    described, and where you do not feel forced by a need to maintain
    your position in the organization, or financial support, or so on,
    to lose your integrity. May you have that freedom.”

    Too bad the guy who inherited Feynman’s seat doesn’t have this kind of integrity. Sean, you really should do some soul searching and see if you can find it.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Myrtle Parker, what Richard Lewontin said about the dangers of overselling science in this review has always stuck with me.

    http://www.drjbloom.com/Public%20files/Lewontin_Review.htm

    And it’s not just science, overselling, making unsupportable claims is a widespread problem. Perhaps that’s due to the desire to gain attention and funding, but it’s not healthy and it will come back to cause problems.

  • Gordon

    My Gawd, are you still drivelling on and on? There must be some religio-psychic blogs to
    infest somewhere.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Are you still reading?

    If Sean Carroll and Stephen Hawking hadn’t entered into an area where, obviously, real science couldn’t take them, I’d never have posted the first comment here. Before, I’d only occasionally lurked here to read about a scientific controversy that was a little bit interesting. If you, James and a few others hadn’t brought up practically the entire, intellectually baseless program of the new atheism I would have probably stopped at the first two comments. I’ll leave it to others who might read this without a controlling bias to judge if what I’ve said is unhinged or irrational. I know it seems odd that someone is so persistent in these arguments but I really have put a lot of work into understanding the issues and it surprises me when it become clear that most of the dedicated antagonists really haven’t done that.

    I generally write about politics, how progressives can advance our agenda in the United States, this fad has been a hindrance and a distraction from far more important issues but one I had to think through, which I’d suggest to anyone interested in it. Unfortunately, thinking about it more since Hawking’s PR stunt has taken time from that effort due to a number of people in the left wanting to insert this form of bigotry into the platform. I wish that all of the effort of some rather smart people in this ridiculous fad, which is based in an ignorance of the diversity of religious belief and practice and the arrogance of a the unfounded faith of scientism, would have been better spent on reality. You know, things like saving the biosphere and establishing a just political and economic system.

    Though what I’ve learned about the general lack of consideration to the intellectual foundations of science by even some quite sophisticated scientists has taught me a lot about just how little any of us can actually know in depth about any issue, even about those things we have concentrated on. Life is not a matter of rigorous application of scientific principles, not even for the most pretentiously fundamentalist of pop materialists. All of us constantly proceeds without that level of consideration of evidence. Some of us are honest about that, others aren’t.

    The issue that came together here, that the scientific face of the new atheism largely seems to want to junk the requirement of evidence in science as they proudly proclaim that as the proof that science is supreme, has had some interesting implications that I hope to follow through after the election.

  • Gordon

    I read what you say, but it doesn’t make much sense. As Samuel Johnson said in a similar instance, “Sir, I have found you an argument, but I am not obliged to bring you understanding”. Of course, atheism (the “New” stuff is redundant) values evidence. That is the main reason it rejects a god—there is no evidence—-don’t you get it? How many times does it have to be said.? Hawking’s thoughts here are speculation, but speculation based on theories that provide cogent explanations for reality, not tribal myths. …..like arguing with a brick….Saying we (I) havent thought about things or read or researched things is ludicrous. Some things, like homeopathy, astrology, psychic phenomena, iridology, reflexology, etc require only cursory glances. Any more is evidence of mental illness. Religion requires more scrutiny simply because it infests so many more minds with its viral meme.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    You’ll have t0 excuse me if I don’t consider you to be an impartial reader who doesn’t begin with a controlling bias.

    While you’ve been doing whatever it is you have, I’ve been looking more at that issue of Jefferson’s alleged deism. Considering what he said to John Adams about his agreement with Joseph Priestley’s theological writings, I looked at those. I’d think they would pretty much refute the nonsense that Jefferson was a deist. Certainly, Priestley, one of the greatest of the early chemists, was definitely not one.

    http://books.google.com/books?id=bQ-Ca3cNFdoC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

    It’s too bad that more science folk don’t take looking at the actual historical record and what people actually said as seriously as they do garbage like Dawkins and Harris on things like that, since they have an obvious controlling bias that gets in the way of the truth. I was sorry to run across something that shows that even Lawrence Krauss does that. I used to have more respect for him than I do after finding his recommendation to rely on unreliable second and third hand sources. But taking short cuts is just another necessity when one doesn’t have time to look at even the available evidence. This is especially true of things one has strong opinions about. In the case of even as fine a scientist as Krauss, who should know better, that leads us to accept mere prejudice in place of evidence.

  • Gordon

    Read some more of the correspondence between Jefferson and John Adams. …google it. Or read
    Harris and Dawkins and Hitchens for direct quotes. BTW Hitchens has written a book about Jefferson–worth reading so you can learn something about his religious non-beliefs.

  • Gordon

    lol of course I have a bias, as do Dawkins and Harris. That bias is to evaluate garbage and reject it along with the whole farrago of supernatural tripe.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    And apparently, as they do, you reject both physical evidence in science and the complete documentary record in matters outside of science.

    Other than presenting a few possible ways of thinking about the dimensions of a possible God, I don’t think I’ve presented any of my opinions about anything supernatural, except to point out that science wasn’t invented to deal with anything other than evidence of the physical world and that it can’t be used for anything else. Or do you also reject that, the rock bottom requirement of science?

    For all anyone here knows, I could be a pretty conventional agnostic.

    If I have time this weekend I’m going to have to see if anyone has written about the underlying metaphysical basis of ideological materialism. I hadn’t really thought about it before looking at this rash of popular scientism which is based, rather obviously, about assumptions that have no evidentiary basis and so would almost certainly have to be metaphysical in nature. Horgan talks about an age of ironic science but I think it’s really more an age of ironic scientism, there still being a lot of scientists who haven’t junked the requirement of evidence out of their professional interest and a faith in materialist fundamentalism.

    I did warn you last week that I’ve got a lot of free time on Fridays.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    I am anxious to see the doctrine of one god commenced in our state. But the population of my neighborhood is too slender, and is too much divided into other sects to maintain any one preacher well. I must therefore be contented to be an Unitarian by myself, altho I know there are many around me who would become so, if once they could hear the questions fairly stated. Thomas Jefferson,

    http://ead.lib.virginia.edu/vivaead/published/uva-sc/viu01679.document

    I know that someone who hasn’t bothered to read more on these subjects than what they’ll find in new atheist erudition, such as that is, would gleefully believe that they understood Priestley’s ideas about the soul to be identical with materialism, but reading him more, as I’m in the process of doing, doesn’t lead there. I read it and think it has more in common with Sri Aurobindo’s ideas than it does Hume. I believe that Priestley wasn’t a fan of Hume.

    http://muse.jhu.edu/login?uri=/journals/journal_of_the_history_of_philosophy/v015/15.4popkin.pdf

    Though I haven’t read it yet, I’m wondering what this will reveal about Jefferson’s opinion of Hume.

    http://www.jstor.org/pss/1922407

    He clearly didn’t think he was authoritatively infallible in the way so many of the pop materialists of today do

    http://oll.libertyfund.org/?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=673&chapter=159422&layout=html&Itemid=27

    If anyone thinks this is getting ugly I’ll consider letting him go.

  • Gordon

    “Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man.” Jefferson
    There are too numerous to quote. Jefferson’s views depend on whether they are in private correspondence or for public consumption. Most point to his being a deist, but Hitchens etc think possibly atheist. Certainly Thomas Paine was. But all this is irrelevant. Science has progressed since
    Priestley and is making religion more and more irrelevant. Also, it is safer now in countries other than say, Iran or the USA to disbelieve religious dogma. As an exercise, try explaining religious beliefs to aliens who have just landed :) Freud’s essay, “The Future of an Illusion” is worth reading, as is “The Portable Atheist”, which has wonderful essays and quotes (John Stewart Mills’ , Bertrand Russell , Ibn Warraq, John Stuart Mill, Freud, Stenger, etc etc—basically a candle in the dark…
    There is really no point in my posting any more, since it seems to provoke mcCarthy’s incoherent logorrhea.

  • Gordon

    p.s. Your lurking status was much appreciated :)

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Gordon, you clearly aren’t very familiar with Jefferson or the topic of the internal criticism of Christianity, or the slightly external one from those who hold Jesus in high esteem:

    No one sees with greater pleasure than myself the progress of reason in its advances towards rational Christianity. When we shall have done away the incomprehensible jargon of the Trinitarian arithmetic, that three are one, and one is three; when we shall have knocked down the artificial scaffolding, reared to mask from view the simple structure of Jesus; when, in short, we shall have unlearned everything which has been taught since His day, and got back to the pure and simple doctrines He inculcated, we shall then be truly and worthily His disciples; and my opinion is that if nothing had ever been added to what flowed purely from His lips, the whole world would at this day have been Christian. I know that the case you cite, of Dr. Drake, has been a common one. The religion-builders have so distorted and deformed the doctrines of Jesus, so muffled them in mysticisms, fancies and falsehoods, have caricatured them into forms so monstrous and inconceivable, as to shock reasonable thinkers, to revolt them against the whole, and drive them rashly to pronounce its Founder an impostor. Had there never been a commentator, there never would have been an infidel…. I have little doubt that the whole of our country will soon be rallied to the unity of the Creator, and, I hope, to the pure doctrines of Jesus also.

    http://books.google.com/books?id=kNIcAQAAIAAJ&pg=PA210&lpg=PA210#v=onepage&q&f=false

    You are familiar with the well known story of how Jefferson produced his own personal version of the gospels, keeping the teachings while cutting out the stuff that offended his 18th century rationalist mind. He seems to have had quite a deep regard for the teachings of Jesus.

    I believe the book of Channing he might be referring to later in that passage is Unitarian Christianity:

    http://www.historytools.org/sources/channing-unitarianism.pdf

    Freud. I’m sorry, I’d thought you were one of the “only evidence” men. I didn’t realize you were a devotee of pseudoscience.

    Thomas Paine, well, of course you can find people who were less religious than Jefferson was. The only reason I was dealing with Jefferson was that you seemed to think I was required to take him as an authority on the subject. I look at his slave holding and figure he’s no one I’d think had any special authority on religious morality. I’m pretty sure you could comb through my entire online archive and not find much more than one critical mention of him in something I wrote a long time ago under my old pseudonym. While Paine was in many ways morally superior to Jefferson, I don’t think he’s superior to John Woolman.

  • Gordon

    Hmm an expert generator of oxymorons apparently–“rational Christianity”, “religious morality”.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    You’re the one who cited Jefferson and now you’re impeaching him?

    The intellectual integrity of the new atheism on display.

  • Gordon

    No, I am just pointing out the vapidity of your incredibly prolix posts.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Since your model “deist” Thomas Jefferson said it, it’s really dishonest of you to disown him now.

    But, then, it’s typical of fundamentalists to do that. I’m just trying to keep to the evidence.

  • Gordon

    Who is disowning him? What evidence? This is like arguing with a Creationist.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    This is like arguing with a Creationist.

    Well, I have been pointing out that there really is only a conclusion that separates the methods of the fundamentalists and the new atheists.

    What evidence?

    You see those lines that begin http:?

    Who is disowning him?

    Am I arguing with a trinity of Gordons?
    275. Gordon Says:
    September 17th, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    Hmm an expert generator of oxymorons apparently–”rational Christianity”,

    “No one sees with greater pleasure than myself the progress of reason in its advances towards rational Christianity”. Thomas Jefferson @274, see link immediately below the quotation.

    So much for the pop-atheist use of Thomas Jefferson, though not really since like the Tea Party, FOX TV crowd, it’s not really about evidence and the truth is it, not when it’s all about ideology.

  • Gordon

    No, I am cavilling with your use with approval of that quote or purported quote “rational Christianity”….there are sooo many Jefferson quotes that go against this….and it is a classical oxymoron. You are the ideologue. I will admit there is a god if there were any (that is any, one iota, epsilon) evidence for one. I think Jefferson means by that quote that the progress of reason advances towards “rational christianity” i.e. rational Christianity is when deluded Christians admit that Jesus was mortal, and denies superstitious dogma. The new atheists are the same as the old ones…those folks who can use their cerebral cortex who haven’t been unalterably brainwashed as children, or “born-again” as so-called adults.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    It made perfect sense to me when I saw it. You don’t understand what he means because you are not informed about non-conformist Christianity of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. If you’d bothered to inform yourself outside of the polemical anti-religious literature you might know more. Since he endorsed Priestley maybe you should read that book I linked to from googlebooks. Both volumes.

    But, as I said about Hawking and Carroll, Jefferson on the topic of God isn’t any more authoritative than the clerk at the grain store down the road from me. Belief in God is the most non-authoritative matter, since it relies entirely on personal experience and not on reputation or how many letters you can tack onto your name. You seem to still be laboring under the mistaken idea that I’m trying to convert you to faith. I am not because, 1. that’s none of my business, 2. if it was I’d have no idea how to inspire that kind of experience in you.

    My only motives in this are 1. keeping the new atheism from being a problem for the political left through the massive bigotry against the large majority of people by a small and obnoxiously conceited faction, 2. the irritation at seeing such arrogant people being so demonstrably wrong.

    I know a number of atheists who very much want to distinguish between themselves and the new atheists. My brother calls himself an agnostic now for just that reason.

    Born again. As I wasn’t raised in that tradition that’s about as far removed from my thinking as Muggletonianism. I think you might be laboring under media induced stereotyping of Americans.

  • Gordon

    I agree, any fool can have an opinion on God. Belief in God is “non-authoritative and relies entirely on personal experience.” That is why it is entirely unreliable and insupportable. There is absolutely no
    evidence for it, but then religious folk do not seem to need evidence when they have blind faith. Faith without evidence leads to monstrous results as has been apparent since religion first evolved. I very much doubt that you know many atheists personally. Atheists are not such a small minority, even in the religiously surfeited USA. It is just that in the USA, it is still somewhat dangerous to admit that you are a rational person, and certainly no politician can do so. The fall all over themselves grovelling over their supposed belief. The USA is perhaps even more religiously polluted than the Middle East.
    Look at all the rapture-apocalypse Palin clones. “Massive bigotry against a large majority…” lol
    If you came across a delusional mentally ill patient, and you pointed out their delusions, how is that bigotry. Once again, paraphrasing Sam Harris-“When a large number of people have delusional thoughts, that is religion. When one person has delusions, he is mentally ill. Religious people are not insane, but their core beliefs absolutely are.”

  • Anthony McCarthy

    I think I’ve been over the “evidence” question, showing how widespread the desire to dispose of that requirement in science is among the new atheists, rather definitively. I could have linked to a previous post on this blog which makes a case for doing just that but was trying to be polite. I did when I wrote about it on the blog I write for.

    For you to endorse Hawking’s statement, contained in a book in which he explicitly calls for changing the rules that have governed science since its beginning in favor of materialist scholasticism because it suits his professional field, which has painted itself into a place where the evidence they need is not and likely will never be available, is hypocritical.

    Other than your fellow fundamentalists on the other side of the aisle, religious believers don’t assert to a scientific knowledge of religion, they call what their religion produces belief. Which is certainly has more intellectual integrity than asserting that the fervently desired and professionally advantageous belief in evidence free things is science.

    Quite often in religion, it is belief in things that are inconvenient for believers and so can’t be dismissed as a mere opinion. The requirements that are included in Jewish law and Christianity are often at odds with personal preference.

    While people whose work requires long periods of time concentrating on details about the physical universe find it convenient to dump all of religion into a category of thought, as you do in your last paragraph, what they are doing has nothing to do with the reality which is extremely complex. “Religion” can’t be reduced into a statistical average and considered as such, it has no characteristic that can be generalized in that way. I can fault some of the real scientists among the new atheists for being ignorant out of personal necessity, though those people should certainly realize, once informed of their mistake, that they shouldn’t continue with it. Most new atheists have no such excuse and their bigotry is exactly the mirror of Sarah Palin’s.

    You do know that by a large majority, Americans don’t have a very high opinion of Sarah Palin, and if the surveys are correct, that majority consists largely of religious believers, just as the majority of Americans who accept evolution are religious believers. There are more religious believers in the United States of whom that is true than the surveys indicate are atheists. And, hard though it might be for you to believe, there are atheists who are enthusiastic fans of Palin and her ilk. Your Christopher Hitchens supported George W. Bush, after all. I’m not sure if Sam Harris might have supported him but he certainly supported his invasion of Iraq, which, as mentioned, is responsible for the deaths of well over a hundred thousand Iraqis and others, has turned back the clock on womens rights, and has immeasurably strengthened the power of theocrats inside Iraq and in Iran. Some of those are reasons many religious people, including myself, opposed the invasion from before it began. For all my criticism of John Paul II, Iraq was one thing where he was mostly right.

    What do you call Sam Harris when he supports an insane policy such as the invasion of Iraq? Or some of the things he said in End of Faith which are so bad that he’s walked them back, not terribly convincingly? What do you call Christopher Hitchens with his insane attraction to violence – vicarious in his soft-handed case — going back to his time as a Trotskyite and on into his neo-conservative period? Dawkins and Dennett, with their beliefs in memes and their Just So stories, explanatory myths with no evidence…. I’ll leave it to any objective witness to judge those. And yet you think someone who believes in God is automatically mentally ill. I really did mean it when I said that Lawrence Krauss lost my respect when he endorsed them, I hope out of ignorance, but I can’t assume that someone of his intelligence doesn’t actually know what they have said and stood for.

  • Gordon

    Yes, and any rational objective witness will come to the conclusion that they are correct. Just like an American to pull out the “Trotsky” stuff. Gee, I bet you loved Senator McCarthy. When it comes to defending irrational, superstitious ideas, you are of Sarah Palin’s “ilk”. The thing you are not seeing about Iran and Iraq is that the problem is the Islamic religion and the mullahs. They will have to be dealt with before the whole region is subsumed in conflagration and Israel is destroyed ( which is the neo-con Palin Apocalypse favored by many americans. As far as Krauss goes, you are simply finding out that a whopping majority of good scientists are atheists, as he is. People like Francis Collins are anomalies and merely look foolish. Look at the AAS polls. Those who are not are basically innumerate humanists and music teachers..
    Religion poisons everything. For example see how a science blog has been hijacked by a deluded Crusader.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Gordon, I think you really should look at Chris Hitchen’s bio and look at his role in Trot politics in Britain in the 60s. You really are quite ignorant of American politics as well. I guess you’d have similar things to say about my distant cousins Mary McCarthy and Eugene McCarthy. It really is the name that’s getting to you, isn’t it. I’ve found that some Brits have trouble with it.

    Obviously you don’t understand what the Ba’ath party in Iraq or Syria were all about or that before the invasion that Hitchens and Harris supported the government was quite secular, with women generally having considerably more liberty and freedom than in other countries in the region. Now, of course, due to the brilliant regional-political analysis that they signed on to, the theocrats in both Iraq and Iran are far more powerful than they were.

    I really don’t mind if a majority of scientists are atheists at a time when it’s fashionable among them, they can follow the materialist faith to their graves, for all I care. I don’t care if they all drive a particular model of car or think anything else unconnected with those topics in which they have any professional credibility. I also wouldn’t necessarily ask one about an area in science in which they have no professional or avocational expertise either. In fact, if they’re foolish enough to not see that their professional credentials in examining the physical universe gives them no credible insight into religious questions unrelated to the evidence that science has developed, I’d be far less likely to take them seriously on those topics. Though they have every right to their own ideas, just as everyone else does, though they seem inclined to not extend those rights to people who disagree with them. Who does that remind you of? Hint: not Francis Collins.

    Trying to promote the incredibly sloppy standards of psychology within the real science of biology is one of the most irresponsible things that has been done within science in the post-war period. Well, that is if you don’t count things like weapons science and petro-geology. I don’t think extending that trend into the core of the hard sciences is going to do anything good. And it doesn’t seem to me that the big names in those efforts are religious believers.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Oh, and that Crusader remark, ironic considering how the Iraqi insurgents use that word for the invading forces. And even more ironic since I’m not a Christian.

    If Sean Carroll wants me to stop posting comments here he can ask me to stop and I will. I wouldn’t have posted one after 263 if Gordon hadn’t decided he wanted to try again.

  • Gordon

    lol, so you want the last word desperately…so, if you are not a Christian with an Irish name, you must
    be a stealth atheist or a new age flake. The psychic research remarks lead towards the latter.

  • Gordon

    Finally, an apology to Sean and to Anthony for indulging myself here and using many
    ad hominem attacks, but I was having fun and being trollish. I do believe in what I said, and suggest Anthony chkdsk and defrag his brain to remove corrupt files :)

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Oh, I thought you took this seriously. Maybe that explains it. I can assure you I did.

  • Gordon

    As I said, I do believe in what I said.

  • Doc Lalana

    It’s been 5 months into my recovery from 3 weeks loss of of consciousness due to a neuromuscularimmune-respiratory-circulatory collapse. “Thanks” to medical technology I survived; when I woke up I could not talk due to a tracheotomy, my vision was a total blur, and I my hands were strapped to the bed. I endured countless venipunctures, intravenous lines, blood transfusions and medical what-have-you just to bring me back to quasi-normalcy. Being a scientist investigator hacker, I accept technological advances and their contribution to the advance of society. However, I am also a skeptic and sometimes still struggle about all the efforts to keep me alive. I have always believed in God though. I didn”t have any Out of the Body Experience as others have reported. Thanks to badly needed lens implant in both eyes I can now see, read and go back to my reasearch using the Internet as one of my resources. Still stuck in a wheelchair though, like Hawking. Sincerely, I don’t think he has settled the issue of God, that is, by using physics. Scientists have to think a bit harder. Scientists and Creationists seem to polarize society leading to extremism in opposing directions. God is beyond either theology or physics. Take it from somebody who has just survived death and now living with the still vivid memory of scientific process and spirituality. Alas, I’m still my old self, and continue my research on tne relationship between neuroscience and religious experience. it’s time for both scientists and creationists to come to the bargaining table and work together for the advance of society. After all, isn’t it all that”s worthwhile?

  • Gordon

    Sympathies for your horrible ordeal, but clearly Creationism is demonstrably false, and most science is
    largely verifiable. They cannot work together to “advance society”. Science advances society; creationism retards it by promoting blind and irrational superstition, interfering with the education system by brainwashing children and hijacking curricula. Also, I think that it is difficult to
    call oneself a skeptic and have “always believed in God”.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    I didn’t see anywhere in Doc Lalana’s comment where “promoting blind and irrational superstition, interfering with the education system by brainwashing children and hijacking curricula.” is advocated. I mean,Gordon, come on, you seem to be unwilling to look at evidence to corroborate a point and especially evidence produced that refutes you and the common wisdom of the new atheism, but unless your screen was incredibly tiny it was still on the same screen while you made your baseless association to a commentator whose comment criticizes creationism. I think it’s fairly clear it’s not a demand to change the meaning of science, unlike creationists or some scientists are, as we have been discussing.

    If I’d said that what I read in the comment was far more compatible with genuine skepticism, it being explicitly a personal conclusion based in personal experience, than your repeated and baseless accusations of mental instability, based in your ideology, I’d have the obligation to base it on your comments made here. Tedious though that would be and would become as you denied it.

    I decided to re-read the thread because I am engaged in an argument with someone making similar accusations about me or I’d not have seen that Gordon is still drawn to this argument like a moth to a candle flame.

  • Gordon

    Anthony: “Its time for Creationists and scientists to come to the bargaining table and work together for the advancement of society”. That is the statement. My comment about this is what Creationism
    is and does. Yes, he criticises Creationism, but suggests that it somehow “come together” with science.
    That is impossible and you know it. BTW you might be interested in a debate on youtube between Christopher Hitchens and David Berlinski called “Does Atheism Poison Everything?” Hitchens absolutely and totally annihilates ID’er Berlinski –it is almost as embarrassing as your comments on this blog…

  • Gordon

    You don’t seem to be able to understand that the extraordinary claim is not that there is no evidence for a God. It is that a God exists. Your demands that I provide “evidence” of some sort makes absolutely no sense. Where is your evidence for your claim? Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. But Noooo. You use the squid defense—you escape in a cloud of ink.
    The mistake you make is saying you make an argument. You make statements. I am beginning to think that you are a shill for the inappropriately named “Discovery Institute”.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Oh, no. That line that Carl Sagan lifted from Marcello Truzzi again. You want me to point out some problems with it?

    1. If the regular methods of science aren’t sufficient to dispose of claims that someone decides are “extraordinary” then they aren’t reliable to test any other claim either. I’ll point out in passing that multiverses is a massively extraordinary idea without any evidence at all.

    2. The nature of a claim isn’t defined only by what someone decides is extraordinary but what is actually claimed. If someone claimed that you can use probability to prove that God almost certainly exists, then you could look at their argument and find problems with it, as has been done with such claims in the past. Oh, by the way, Dawkins’ mirror image of that fails for the same reason. You just don’t seem to be able to put God to the test of probability anymore than you can the probability of alien life. Insufficient data that is of known relevance, and that’s just a start. If someone claims that God is spirit and so not susceptible to physical testing, I’d like to know how you would refute that idea.

    I’ve read that some of Truzzi’s friends said he was thinking of repudiating the line just before he died. It’s too bad he didn’t because, while it sounds good, it’s really sloppy thinking. I’d recommend people look up Truzzi because he was quite a few marks deeper at thinking about skeptical issues than the guys who threw him out of CSICOP.

    I wish you guys wouldn’t mistake Carl Sagan’s Demons as a logic textbook.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    As a long time subscriber to The Nation magazine, I got my fill of the Hitchens act over about two decades. “Atheism poisons everything” sounds like a rather bigoted proposition to me, and one that is probably guilty of the same kind of dishonest reductionism that the new atheism practices so I’d probably think anyone on either side was participating in a dishonest exercise. That the eternal Oxford boy wonder does well at that silly sport doesn’t surprise me. I’d rather go hammer and tongs on a blog which isn’t quite as much dependent on show biz.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Oh, and “the advancement of society” isn’t the same thing as “science”. There was the instance of Pat Robertson making an anti-climate change spot with Al Sharpton for Al Gore, just for instance.

  • Gordon

    You should read all his essays online in Slate magazine. They are incredible.
    Don’t get into “climate change”. Climate is and always has been changing and Gore is a
    self-promoting moron. Pachauri, head of the IPCC is a corrupt fraud. Robert Laughlin, a Nobel winner (like Gore, only deserving it) in condensed matter physics, has jumped into the fray on the side denying that human contribution is significant, and that, anyway, meliorating attempts are like spitting in the ocean.
    Back to the religion thing, are you sure that Anthony McCarthy isn’t a pseudonym for Dwaine Gish?
    Actually, religion poisons everything. Carl Sagan wasn’t perfect, but he was a hell-of-a-lot better than any religious delusional. Bertrand Russell was once asked “What if there is a Heaven and you get there and God asks why you didn’t believe. He replied “Not enough evidence.” He could have replied
    “No evidence”.

  • Gordon

    Oh, I just bought and read “The Grand Design”. As usual with Hawking, it is a model of clarity.
    I think he writes so clearly because it is such an effort to be incredibly profligate with language, like
    Anthony. The book is totally non-technical, so should be understood by virtually everyone.

  • Peter

    I am a person of faith and have a great interest in the objective truth that science brings to life. I am not a creationist and believe in the truth of evolutionary process. I find the process of evolution and Darwin’s theory to be a very intelligent design. Study of the objective truth of science inevitably leads me God – there is a granduer that science uncovers that touches me spiritually.

    People of faith, who are not fundamentalists, realize that any talk of God is by analogy only. Several posts back a person spoke of the “incomprehensible jargon of the Trinitarian arithmetic.” Truthfully, I never understood that jargon either. But one day I remembered back to my chemistry classes in which we learned that there are three states of matter. Gas, liquid and solid. Now the doctrine of Trinity states that there are three person in one God and further that each of these persons is fully God. Just like there are 3 states of matter but only one molecue. Water is fully H2O, Ice is fully H2O, and Steam is fully H2O. To continue the analogy, Christians claim Jesus is fully God, the Holy Spirit is fully God, and God the Creator is fully God. Like matter, God has three different manifestations and each is fully God. Water, Steam and Ice are each fully H2O. Science gives me useful analogy to better understand the Trinity.

    I am not looking for Science to prove the existance of God to me. Science also cannot disprove the existance of God either. Faith in God is not strictly a rational intellectual activity like science, but at least for me the rationality of science, does enrich my spiritual life and understanding.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Chris Hitchens? I’ve always figured his pathological hostility to Bill Clinton might have had something to do with envy from back when they were at school at the same time. I can imagine that it must have rankled, a kid with an Arkansas accent and a lower class background, obviously smarter than the silver tongued Trot. Though I actually wonder if it might all be due to the seeming probability that Bill Clinton might have had more romantic success than Hitch. Needless to say it’s hardly surprising that Al Gore as Clinton’s VP would share in the aura of Hitchens’ hostility. Funny he doesn’t seem to have had similar problems with George W. Bush. At least not when it suited him. As to his stuff on slate, I can well believe its incredible, a lot of what he’s produced is incredible. In its literal meaning. I wonder how much of that would stand up to the Sagan level of verification.

    Actually, religion poisons everything. Gordon

    Well, that would be confirmation of my point, in a way.

    Oh, a climate change denier. You get that off of Randi? Or that other great “skeptic” and champion of “science” and “reason”, Penn Jillette? Not only leaned logic in the Sagan school but science from Cable TV.

    I have wondered if Bertrand Russell’s career in cribbing Thomas Huxley didn’t have its origin in his possible anger with Kurt Godel’s very rapidly rendering Russell’s masterpiece a far lesser achievement than he had intended. Or he could have just given up on really serious work. He admitted that he was pretty much shot after the effort of producing the Principia. Or maybe it was pique at Wittgenstein who was also somewhat critical of his work. Of course, it could have had something to do with his collaborator on that great work, A. N. Whitehead who was religious. Though I’m certainly fond of Bertie and he was a giant of logic, he could be pretty unfair in his criticism, he sometimes bent the truth about those he wanted to hurt and at times he could be really catty.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Did you like this passage in Hawking (as quoted by Peter Woit)?

    “We seem to be at a critical point in the history of science, in which we must alter our conception of goals and of what makes a physical theory acceptable. It appears that the fundamental numbers, and even the form, of the apparent laws of nature are not demanded by logic or physical principle. The parameters are free to take on many values and the laws to take on any form that leads to a self-consistent mathematical theory, and they do take on different values and different forms in different universes.”

    I’ll give him points for using the phrase “the apparent laws of nature” which he asserts “are not demanded by logic or physical principle”. Maybe he’s bowing to the signal interference from all those memes that are in the way.

    I wonder what do you make of that? Especially in light of your parroting the “Extraordinary claims” line. It seems like a pretty massive departure from the ordinary. How much evidence are you going to exact as the price of its extraordinary content?

  • Gordon

    I think that you do not really understand science or the scientific method. Do you understand terms like model-dependent reality, and duality? Yes, I support that quoted speculation, and it is speculation based on, for example, the Standard Model, which has many free parameters and has been extraordinarily confirmed. Also, the many universes interpretation of QM is now largely the mainstream interpretation because it has the least assumptions, believe it or not. Stick to Bach…he is magnificent enough for anyone. Wittgenstein was an obfuscator who just played language games(hmmm like a poster here.) You would benefit from reading Russell’s essay ” An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish” because you seem to be an expert on it.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    I understand a proposal to cut physics loose of its subject matter and to exempt its theoretical division from the vulgar necessity of demonstrating that its product has some actual, physical existence. Mathematics envy, perhaps? Math, though, is, at least, about itself in the pure line of things. if physics isn’t about physics anymore, what is it about? And if it’s about no knowable, physical entity, it’s become metaphysics of an entirely useless variety. A hobby, in other words.

    “Not demanded by logic or physical principle” Alas, poor Russell, not even attached to logic.

    Gordon, if I’d learned how to argue from the regular new atheist sources I would start to scream “ad hominem” at this point.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Peter, you might want to read A. S. Eddington’s Science and the Unseen World, A Swarthmore Lecture he gave in 1929. Its science is pretty dated (as he pointed out it would become in the lecture) and a popular presentation, but he makes some interesting points about the limits of science which are still valid and probably will remain valid. I typed it out a while back so you’ll find some typos, one thing I’m not is an editor.

    http://anthonymic.blogspot.com/2009/07/science-and-unseen-world.html

    I’d suggest that Gordon go look at Bertrand Russell’s sort of review of his “The Nature of the Physical World,” though, if it’s read through the imaginary memetic prisms of the new atheism I’d guess its impossible to really understand it.

    http://dwardmac.pitzer.edu/anarchist_archives/bright/russell/twilight-of-science.html

  • Gordon

    Hmm, “new atheism” is the new buzzword, I see. Totally meaningless, of course, as is the torrent of your writing. What it seems to be in your mind is an atheist who simply doesn’t think that religion is a special category that it is somehow impolite to criticize. BTW, Eddington went rather strange as he aged. Likely, what you call “interesting points”, I would call strange.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Gordon, you might want to review, among others, the writings of Jerry Coyne for his use of the term “new atheist”. Go lecture him and others who have left evidence of their use of it for their ideology before you pull that one on me.

    I think you’ll find that Eddington’s lecture dates from the same year as Russell’s review, in which he defers to Eddington’s credibility in physics to the point where he has to take seriously things that Russell obviously hates.

    And, if you can count, I believe you’ll find that Eddington was ten years younger than Russell, which would have made him younger than Russell was when he launched his career in anti-religious invective. See what reliable information you can find out when you look at the documentary record and don’t just go on seat of the pants “skeptical” propaganda?

  • Anthony McCarthy

    And I’ll make a prediction. Though, from what I’ve read of it, Eddington was quite wrong in his Fundamental Theory, much of what he was saying in the 1930s will become increasingly interesting to current arguments in physics. I think it was anti-religious bias that was responsible for some of the things popularly said about him. His work in the epistemology of science is extremely interesting. I’m always recommending that people go look at what he had to say about the idea of “existence”, as I did in a comment above.

  • Gordon

    Interesting to you, perhaps. Historical works can be interesting though–look at “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds” by Charles Mackay, published in 1841 and still relevant in debunking, for example, your verbose rants.

  • Bob

    …to the point where we don’t need to invoke God to explain the existence of the universe. This is not exactly a hot flash — I remember writing an essay making the same point for a philosophy class my sophomore year in college …

    I think I read a proof of it once (that matter can appear out of nothing and given infinite time and space…) in The Journal of Irreproducible Results, but my memory could be faulty…

  • Gordon

    On the first page of chapter 1 of Hawking’s book, he says that philosophy is dead. I thought that was extreme, but given the example on this blog, I am coming around to his (and Feynman’s) view.
    Russel’s History of Western Philosophy was great, but it is now history. The only philosophy of value now is subsumed by neuroscience and game theory. Religion tries, but is just silly. I find even Daniel Dennett to be somewhat boring.

  • Gordon

    Russell (typo)

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Gordon, I think you should hustle over to the CFI blogs and inform them that philosophy is dead as many of them seem to be making their living on its dead corpse, you’ll want to stop by Daniel Dennetts and tell him the news too, Peter Singer, etc. I think Alonzo Fyte will be devestated, though so you might be kind and not tell him. However, I’d imagine they might want to find out where Hawking gets his authority to sign its death certificate. They might also point out that as Hawking seems to want to hog metaphysics as the property of theoretical physics and cosmology that he’s going to have a legacy fight on his hands. Considering what Russell pointed out about the direction that physics seemed to be headed in, in that review, and the present state some of its theoretical wing, they might find it a bit ironic for him to say that.

    I haven’t seen anything in your comments that would lead me to conclude you were any more reliably authoritative in the matter of what is worthwhile and what belongs to who, and I generally figure people are the best judge of that for themselves. And Hawking said just the other week that authority was the business of religion and he shunned it as beneath the standards of science, as he authoritatively declared God unnecessary. Which leads me to think he has forgotten a thing or two about logic, though, as you point out, yourself, sometimes physicists go a little off after a certain age.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Um, I’d really like to know if Sean Carroll wants this to stop because I could go into what Gordon said about neuroscience in quite a bit of detail but it will take many, many comments to go back and forth. Gametheory, I am unprepared to go into that as its an area in mathematics I’ve never entered, though I doubt Gordon has the slightest idea about it, himself. He could probably wiki faster than I could go looking for information on that one. I just hate having to go up against wiki rangers as I’ve got to go find what they’re leaning on and then go looking for sources with more reliably objective editing, and they don’t care much about quality in documentation anyway.

  • Gordon

    Anthony, obviously I should have used the word “vacuous” instead of verbose, though that adjective
    applies also. I do not know why you think I don’t know math etc. I have published in J Math Phys, have equations named after me (by Stephen Hawking :)) , graduate theoretical physics degree…..and you?? But you are correct in that
    this argument is going nowhere. As I said ( Samuel Johnson),”I can bring you an argument, but I cannot bring you understanding. ”
    Go ahead and have the last word or set up your own blog so that you can drivel on and on and on…..

  • Anthony McCarthy

    OK, where’s your mathematical evidence that God doesn’t exist. Maybe it was the quality of your logical discourse that led me to conclude you were just another sci-scout who had learned what they did from Sagan and Randi. I’m really finding it interesting to see the kind of product that science and math departments are turning out these days. Overspecialization. I’ve been trying to remember who I heard say that cosmology was the science that told us nothing about everything.

    Though, unless Carroll wants to step in, I’d like to know what you imagine neuroscience has to add to the present debate.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    I asked a friend about the ideas I threw out about why Russell might have started his third career, in anti-religious invective. He said that he’d put his money on the Wittgenstein theory, pointing out that Russell had said that his critique of Russell’s work had been devastating and was what had convinced him that he was not going to produce any good work in philosophy. I remember what he said about being entirely flummoxed about L. W’s abandonment of the lime light in favor of becoming a rural school teacher. Just as the guy he figured was going to finish his work for him was becoming famous after the Tractatus had made a splash.

    I had another one that I didn’t mention, just as today, it’s a real attention getter if you crave attention. I mean, how many of the new atheists faithful would have heard of a host of relatively unknown scientists, mathematicians and philosophers if they hadn’t taken it up? It can guarantee you a following, of a sort. If you want that kind of thing. Coyne is a good example, his book on evolution is great, far better than what Dawkins has written, but its his anti-religious blog of the same name that has gained him a cult.

  • Doc Lalana

    I don’t think that science and religion are mutually exclusive. Staunch proponents of either side have been at odds for centuries and will be for sometime. No need to go into apologetics. “Belief in God” and technological advance are coexisting hallmarks in the of in the history of human society. There have been atrocities commited by both sides – dark moments in progress. But we have to learn how to work together for the common good. Let’s teach our children to think creatively and intelligently, and of course, act responsibly without any bigotry. These are the things that have stood the test of time. Science does not have to prove or disprove God. And theologians should not throw Stephen Hawking out the window either. I think he has made a revolutionary and conceptual leap. His opinion is not doctrine though. But I warn against prophets of doom and “end-times” campaigns. Let’s all think clearly and stay curious. After all, that’s the spirit of true discovery. Discovery that will help us all, that’s of course if want any help.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    Doc Lalana, most of the long time critics of Hawking I’m aware of are atheists within science and mathematics. As are many of the long time critics of Richard Dawkins. It’s only been since Dawkins has begun his fall back career in religious bigotry that the number of his religious critics have outstripped those of his scientific pronouncements.

    I read at least one paper that Woit linked to that made an argument for some theistic advantage from multiverse theory, though I didn’t really see it, myself. I do have to say that the first time I ever heard the idea it reminded me more of the phrase in the account of the Buddha’s first sermon to the five monks when it talks about the ten thousand world system being shaken. But I certainly don’t think it has any relevance to science.

  • Doc Lalana

    Scientific developments have time and again challenged religious beliefs and pre-concieved notions. Understanding the universe, about its beginnings, workings, and its end, have posed questions that man has tried to answer. Philosophosers, scientists (particularly physicists and cosmologists) and theologians have developed theories to settle the issues. Efforts have been made to find a simple concept that will explain everything. It could be an easier pill to swallow. But forces are diverse and a unified theory might not be realistic. As we improve our analytic component by observing, measuring and studying data provided by new imaging tecnology we could be closer to answering serious questions. We also have to keep filtering information, separating the useful from the useless. Likewise, we have to be able to detect intellectual malware and corrupt files that are continously bombarding our minds, thanks to the explosion of networking. Mental security is crucial and has to be guarded.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    I generally try to avoid using metaphors for things because people have such a bad habit of imagining their metaphors are what’s really there. But other people find other things useful.

  • matt

    Isn’t this completely circular? If all possibilities must exist, then God must create all possibilities in one of those possibilities, then all possibilities must exist. We are back to where we started – the same chicken egg debate we’ve always had. What is new here?

  • http://www.alphacentauriandbeyond.com D. Wayne Dworsky

    This is quite profound. If you would like to speak as a guest on my radio talk show or appear as a caller to discuss the God Question live on the air, you may at 646-378-0539 October 18, at 8 pm EDT or visit the show blurb at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/alpha_centauri_and_beyond

  • http://google vinay

    Main aap se ye kahna chahta hoon, ki ye duiniya god ne nahi banayi hai. ye idea sach hai[this is true]. lekin stephen ji aapka idea wrong hai is main bhi jyaada matbhed nahi hai.jaise ki aapne bataaya tha ki past main jaana namumkin hai kyunki birodhabhas hoga, lekin aisa nahi ho sakta hai!
    Thik again!

  • Moko Rily

    Kern:
    Do you believe in God, Sergeant?

    Sargeant Steiner:
    I believe God is a sadist, but probably doesn’t even know it.

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .

ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »