Hawking and God on the Discovery Channel

By Sean Carroll | August 2, 2011 10:23 am

Last week I got to spend time in the NBC studio where they record Meet The Press — re-decorated for this occasion in a cosmic theme, with beautiful images of galaxies and large-scale-structure simulations in the background. The occasion was a special panel discussion to follow a Stephen Hawking special that will air on the Discovery Channel this Sunday, August 7. David Gregory, who usually hosts MTP, was the moderator. I played the role of the hard-boiled atheist; Paul Davies played the physicist who was willing to entertain the possibility of “God” if defined with sufficient abstraction, while John Haught played the Catholic theologian who is sympathetic to science.

The Hawking special is the kick-off episode to a major new Discovery program, called simply Curiosity. I predict it will make something of a splash. The reason is simple: although most of the episode is about science, Hawking clearly goes all-in with “God does not exist.” It’s not a message we often hear on American TV.

The atheistic conclusion is really surprisingly explicit. I had a chance to talk to someone at Discovery, who explained a little about how the program came about. The secret is that it was originally produced by the BBC — British audiences have a different set of expectations than American ones do. My completely fictional reconstruction of the conversation would go something like this. Discovery: Hey, blokes! Do you have any programs we could use to launch our major new series? BBC: Sure, we have a new special narrated by Stephen Hawking. Discovery: Perfect! That’s always box office. What’s it about? BBC: It’s about how there is no God. Discovery: Ah.

[Update: Alas, reality is intruding upon my meant-to-be-funny imaginary dialogue. The episode was actually originally commissioned by Discovery, not by the BBC, although it was produced in the UK. More power to Discovery!]

At first, I will confess to a smidgin of annoyance that an opportunity to talk about fascinating science was being sacrificed to yet another discussion about religion. But quickly, even before anyone else had the joy of pointing it out to me, I realized how spectacularly hypocritical that was. I talk about religion all the time — why shouldn’t Stephen Hawking get the same opportunity?

The more I thought about it, the more appropriate I thought the episode really was. I can’t speak for Hawking, but I presume his interest in the topic stems from similar sources as my own. It’s not just a coincidence that we are theoretical cosmologists who happen to go around arguing that God doesn’t exist. The question of God and the questions of cosmology arise from a common impulse — to understand how the world works at its most fundamental level. These issues naturally go hand-in-hand. Pretending otherwise, I believe, probably stems from a desire on the part of religious believers to insulate their worldview from scientific critique.

Besides, people find it interesting, and rightfully so. Professional scientists are sometimes irritated by the tendency of the public to dwell on what scientists think are the “wrong” questions. Most people are fascinated by questions about God, life after death, life on other worlds, and other issues that touch on what it means to be human. These might not be fruitful research projects for most professional scientists, but part of our job should be to occasionally step back and look at the bigger picture. That’s exactly what Hawking is doing here, and more power to him. (In terms of his actual argument, I’m sympathetic to the general idea, but would take issue with some of the particulars.)

Nevertheless, Discovery was not going to feature an hour of rah-rah atheism without a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. Thus, our panel discussion, which will air immediately after the debut of Curiosity (i.e., 9pm Eastern/Pacific). The four of us had fun, and I think the result will be an interesting program — and hopefully I did the side proud, as the only legit atheist participating. Gregory seemed to enjoy himself, and joked that he might have to give up politics to do a weekly show about cosmology. (A guy can dream…) But we all agreed that it was incredibly frustrating to have so little time to talk about such big issues. The show will run for half an hour; subtract commercials, and we’re left with about 21 minutes of substance. Then subtract introduction, questions, some background videos that were shown … we three panelists had about five minutes each of speaking time. Not really enough to spell out convincing answers to the major questions that have troubled thinkers for centuries. Hopefully some of the basic points came across. Let us know what you think.

  • Bryan

    Looking forward to the program

  • Phil

    What caused the Big Bang? Let us assume that there is no multiverse. What caused the Big Bang? Did time have a beginning? If time did have a beginning, how can the “laws of physics” cause a universe to exist from nothing? Nothingness implies no laws, hence no quantum mechanics, hence no universe. From nothing comes nothing. Hence, no universe.

    Now, let us assume that the multiverse exists and that, presumably, our universe originates as one of many in this multiverse. One cannot prove the multiverse exists, is that correct? Likewise, one cannot prove that God exists.

    So if it is proper for atheists to believe that a multiverse exists, then it is proper for others to believe that God exists.

  • Viper

    To add to the discussion about God, I recommend that everyone watches this video:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5Ylt1pBMm8
    entitled, “Lecture – Dr Peter Williams – New Evidences the Gospels were Based on Eyewitness Accounts”.

    Cheers!

  • http://voyagesextraordinaires.blogspot.com Cory Gross

    “The question of God and the questions of cosmology arise from a common impulse — to understand how the world works at its most fundamental level.”

    Yes and no. There are a lot of different ways one can take the phrase “how the world works.” You you mean physically? Morally? Spiritually? Socially? Economically? Metaphorically? Aesthetically?

    As a Christian, I think the cosmological argument against the existence of God on the grounds of necessity is one of the weakest of all arguments. It might blow the minds of Creationists, but that’s a fairly small subset of Christianity regardless of how threatening it happens to be in the United States. From a theological perspective, that argument is basically meant to disprove a “God of the Gaps,” which hasn’t been a relevant model for centuries. God’s lack of necessity for causally complete phenomena doesn’t blow my mind because I don’t treat God like a scientific hypothesis (in fact, I might be a bit disappointed if God were sloppy enough to be necessary to solve for a theorem). In my opinion, one of the most interesting fields of theology today is asking how the findings of science, whatever they may be, reflect on the character of God. For example, how does evolution impact our understanding of God as Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer (i.e.: those are the same thing) and the implications of that (i.e.: the problem of theodicy – why does God allow evil – has no meaning in a universe that is still in the process of being Created). The existence of God is assumed because I have compelling reasons for believing in Her that have nothing to do with scientific necessity.

    Anyways, just babbling incoherently. I’m more interested in your round-table than I am in the actual program preceding it!

  • Missy

    YAY I am glad to see you mention this. I saw it advertised but it was not showing on my guide yet. I will be setting a series record for the show. I am even more excited now that I know who will be on the opening episode :)

  • Viper

    By the way, as the above video shows, there is more evidence that the Gospels are based on eyewitness accounts than evidence in favor of the multiverse! :)

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  • David Brown

    Is the existence of God a fundamental issue in cosmology? The answer might be no from most of the working cosmologists (both atheists and theists) but yes from most of the general public.
    “The religion of the Latter-day Saints is not hostile to any truth, nor to scientific search for truth.” — Joseph Fielding Smith, “Quorum of Twelve”
    Mormonism and Islam claim 100% compatibility with every form of truth. No doubt there is “a desire on the part of religious believers to insulate their worldview from scientific critique.” However, attitudes to Milgrom’s Modified Newtonain Dynamics (MOND) show that a semi-anathema can exist in science.
    http://www.astro.umd.edu/~ssm/mond The MOND pages
    http://www.astro.uni-bonn.de/~pavel/kroupa_cosmology.html Pavel Kroupa: Dark Matter, Cosmology and Progress

  • Stephen Crowley

    Hawking isn’t creative enough.. the thing is, we need to create god… there’s already placeholders for it in everyones brain…and since time is illusion we’ll realize it was always there after its done

  • Arun

    I look forward to the program. However, I don’t think it will actually convince anyone. That’s just me.

    By the way, one question, which I think is related, that I always wonder about:
    Is the universe infinite?
    (I define universe to mean “contiguous space that follows the same physical laws.”)
    If the universe is infinite, then everything happens somewhere.

    Anyway, if you have a chance, I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.

  • http://www.darkbuzz.com Roger

    Hawking says that M-theory explains the creation of the universe. M-theory does nothing of the kind. M-theory does not explain anything. His story is no more plausible than the Bible.

  • Phil

    What is M-theory anyway? Nobody knows. It’s a mystery, just like God! M-theory is the god atheists believe in and Witten is their Pope.

  • Mean and Anomalous

    I really look forward to the program! To attempt an answer to Phil (#2): Neither god(s) nor the multiverse are scientific issues; you may consider these topics to be within the realm of metaphysics/philosophy. Finally, you *can* create something from nothing.

  • http://www.darkbuzz.com Roger

    Hawking denies that he is an atheist. He recently said, I am not claiming there is no God.

  • Shane

    Yawn

  • Phil

    Mean and Anomalous,

    So how does the origin of the universe obtain a scientific explanation?

    Please give me an example of something being created from nothing. You know I had to ask.

  • Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    @ Phil:

    It is very difficult to give a reply in the context since you don’t describe modern cosmology.

    For instance, you don’t “prove” in science, you test for faulty explanations, in the decade old standard cosmology inflation preceded “big bang” expansion, and multiverses may be testable. (This very blog had an article on observing the multiverse.)

    Moreover, you insist that there is something called “nothing”, which the article author has once described as a mistake – universes are distributions of something.

    The absolutely most simple model is that there is an inflationary multiverse that always existed. At the current state of knowledge we can’t reject that as invalid.

    As for a comparison with religion, we can’t test magic.

    I could stop there, but one may also consider: creationism inserts unnecessary, invisible and complex agents. In contrast to processes they can’t handle infinities; demanding creator agents demands previous creator agents to create the first ones by construction, so have the problem of infinite regress.

    Also, in nature processes creates complex structures from simpler, but creationism demands that the most complex structure, the agent, came first. So besides the problem that you can never show any of that, nothing of it seems very reasonable, even less a priori likely.

  • Chris

    @Gory Cross
    “The existence of God is assumed…”
    Well exactly. Science is more honest.

    As for your rambling about how evolution impacts on your god? – it shows that he didn’t do it.

    To all those asking how to create something from nothing – why don’t you ask your god?

  • Dr. Morbius

    Why is it that every time there’s a post about Global Warming or Atheism etc. all these people with extreme views show up? They’re never here when something else is posted. Is somebody putting up links on Reddit or Digg or something? That would explain it.

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  • http://voyagesextraordinaires.blogspot.com Cory Gross

    @18, Chris,

    “@Gory Cross
    “The existence of God is assumed…”
    Well exactly. Science is more honest.”

    You forgot the rest of the sentence, which is that I have compelling reasons for belief in God which are, by implication, not scientific. I don’t have a problem believing in things that aren’t covered by science, nor does anybody else if they are being honest (otherwise your marriages, romances and friendships must be… interesting…). That is why the existence of God is assumed in the context of the field of theology I described, in contrast to the assumption that God’s existence is a scientific question.

    “As for your rambling about how evolution impacts on your god? – it shows that he didn’t do it.”

    That is one interpretation of evolution, but certainly not the only. It does presuppose the non-existence of God, which is fair enough, but it’s not a scientific presupposition. Nor is my presupposition that God does exist. You and I both are making theological arguments.

    @19, Dr. Morbius,

    I just found Discover’s blogs the other day. I grant that so far all I’ve done is post on religion (being religious), in reply to someone’s specific question about Christianity and Transhumanism (being Christian), and reposted an article on the sociology of climate change denial to my Facebook (being a public science educator). I’ll try and do better in the future.

  • magetoo

    Cory:
    “I just found Discover’s blogs the other day. I grant that so far all I’ve done is post on religion [...]”

    Arguably not the best subjects if you want to have a calm, reasoned discussion, but to each his own I guess. :-)

    I had The Religion Discussion with a couple of friends of mine ages ago. In the end, it all boiled down to something like what you alluded to – “yeah, but I just *know*”, more or less. Keeping in mind that sometimes one’s fundamental assumptions isn’t everyone elses fundamental assumptions is hard, but can lead to interesting discussion once in a while. (On the Internet, maybe once in a decade.)

    By the way, Friendly Atheist ( patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ ) is another place that might be interesting if you want to talk religion with people who have a different perspective.

    Over here, be sure not to miss Bad Astronomy and Not Exactly Rocket Science!

  • Jackson

    I would like to thank you, Hawking, and Dawkins for pushing this argument and giving every psychotic preacher a rallying point to push anti-science out here in the bible belt. All these types of arguments do is preach to the choir and piss off every religious person who hears about your argument. So you take moderate religious people and turn them against you when you could have talked them into agreeing with you if you would have just left religion out of the argument.

    I respect you guys as scientists and I enjoy this blog and your appearances on documentaries, but at times it seems like you could either talk the majority of Americans into accepting science or you could argue against religion. I just think improving the understanding of science is more important than turning everyone into an atheist.

    PS Don’t get me wrong if they are pushing something easily provably wrong and dangerous ideas, such as creationism, faith healing, etc fight that. But if all they are saying is “I think there is a God” but I’m completely open to a rational explanation to our universe get them on your side, don’t alienate them. Get them on your side, and worry about the religious implications later, after everybody understands science

  • Phil

    @ #17, That article you linked to contained lots of bull&^%$. You can’t observe the CMB for signs of other universes. That’s just plain silly. Mind you, saying “God did it” does sound silly, I’ll agree. But if physicists can believe in a multiverse, then religious people can believe in God. It’s just silly to say “I need to convince those religious people that God doesn’t exist. But I believe in the multiverse.” That’s hypocritical. Multiverse ideas are untestable.

    So what came before inflation? What caused the cause of inflation? We don’t know. Maybe the multiverse idea can explain how our universe initially came to be and why the laws of physics and constants of nature are just right to admit life. Too bad you can’t test the multiverse notion.

    The inflationary multiverse always existed? Well, so did God.
    Do we know that our universe existed in some form before the Big Bang or inflation? No.

    By the way, I wasn’t talking about creationism. I subscribe to evolution whole heartedly.

    As for how one can explain that God did not have a creator, read the Summa Theologia by Thomas Aquinas.

  • JP

    I’m not sure it’s reasonable for anyone to make a claim that there “is” or there “is not” something on the other side. Established religions are undoubtedly skewed either by calculated manipulation of truths or centuries long games of telephone. Atheists are just as naive in their claims. Can one’s life experience, total knowledge and gut feelings replace actually going there? Sadly there’s no way to just peak your head in the door and check. As Jimmy Buffett says, “don’t try to describe the ocean if you’ve never seen it”.

    I’m sure the show is filled with great insight, but in the end, that insight is just hot air and bloated opinions. We all have one of those and any could be as valid as the next.

    Regardless of whatever is on the other side, we’ll all know for sure at one point or another. I for one hope there’s an afterlife… an afterlife absent of worry and full of naked women.

  • Mark Sediski

    I so love the angry theists who accuse atheists of believing in science as some sort of “god”. Yeah, nice try. Do you have a degree in sophistry, or are you merely an amateur?

    Anyway, the difference is that atheists who truly believe in science don’t blindly follow any scientific idea. From General Relativity to Quantum Mechanics to Evolution, you don’t ever literally hit the point where you believe 100% that the theory is an accurate model. When you teach the idea to others, you say essentially, “This is the best model we have so far; but it may not be perfect”. It’s open to reason and change.

    How’s that bible? Yeah, the one inspired by an “omniscient” being, but which even its adherents incessantly argue over.

    Oh, I almost forgot: Atheists who believe in the true scientific thought process also don’t fly airplanes into buildings or go on crusades to further their cause.

  • Low Math, Meekly Interacting

    I’ll echo the caveats of some above: Hawking’s argument would have force only against most varieties of religious textual literalists. At best, his cosmological speculations are correct, excluding what many would consider an archaic, fundamentalist view of how God governed His creation. At worst, his most provocative ideas are wrong, which would put him in a somewhat ironic position, given the force of his argument.

  • Phil

    @ #26,

    Yes, I do believe in God. But that doesn’t necessarily mean I believe completely in the Bible. Yes, I think some stuff in the Bible is derived from actual events. No, I don’t believe in the Genesis story of creation, nor do I believe that one must take everything in the Bible literally. Belief in God and belief in the Bible are two separate things.

    Yes, I do believe in God. I understand that no real scientist ever “believes” a theory as if it were 100% true. But many scientists believe in the multiverse as if it’s a scientific and testable idea. It’s not. Is there any evidence for it? No. Can one test for its possible existence? Most likely, no. Of course, that differs from the fact that you cannot test for God’s existence, at all. But many scientists go around acting as if they believe that M-theory and the multiverse can solve every problem even though there’s absolutely no evidence for it whatsoever. Well, there’s no hard evidence for God either. So if they can talk about M-theory and the multiverse being the answers, there’s absolutely no problem with me saying that God exists. Instead, you have folks who go around telling believers in God how wrong we all are. Do they have evidence for an eternally inflating multiverse? Nope.

    @ Larsson, #17, here’s an explanation from for those CMB observations that doesn’t rely on other universes.
    http://motls.blogspot.com/2010/12/why-penrose-and-gurzadyan-cannot-see.html

  • http://voyagesextraordinaires.blogspot.com Cory Gross

    @22, magetoo,

    “Arguably not the best subjects if you want to have a calm, reasoned discussion, but to each his own I guess. :-)

    *chuckle* Any discussion into which is brought a strong wallop of “don’t you see, it’s people who believe different things than me that are the problem?!?” runs the likelihood of being unfruitful, regardless of the topic. I’ve been in some pretty insane rows over Steampunk and how old kids should be before taking them to Disneyland ^_^

    “Keeping in mind that sometimes one’s fundamental assumptions isn’t everyone elses fundamental assumptions is hard, but can lead to interesting discussion once in a while. (On the Internet, maybe once in a decade.)”

    Indeed. I actually eased up a bit after paying more attention to neuroscientific study of belief and non-belief… Temproal lobe activity, connections to Asperger’s, and so on. It introduced me in a serious way to the idea that people might not just have different beliefs because of the way they were raised or the place they were raised or enculturated ideas about evidence or spirituality or whatever, but also because they might just not be ABLE to experience certain things. P.Z. Meyers thinks the emperor has no clothes because he genuinely can’t see them, so of course my talking about them just sounds like a courtier. I can’t begrudge someone who just hasn’t had a religious experience, especially if they physically can’t have one.

    The only thing I don’t have a whole lot of patience for is gross misrepresentation… When certain spokespeople of atheism make demonstrably false claims about religious believers or just launch into straight, purile ad hominems. It annoys me when Christian Fundamentalists do it too. It goes back to that demonization of people whose beliefs are different from one’s own… The problem isn’t people who are different than oneself; the problem is the intolerance, self-righteousness, absolutism and entrenched partisanship that prevents us from being able to cooperate in a civil, multicultural society. No one has a monopoly on that.

    Anyways, thanks for the recommendations! I tend not to lurk atheist blogs because I know when I’m not welcome. Around here I’ve bookmarked the whole blog list, all of which has been quite interesting.

  • Charon

    @Phil

    But many scientists go around acting as if they believe that M-theory and the multiverse can solve every problem even though there’s absolutely no evidence for it whatsoever.

    Do you actually know any scientists? Or science? Or, for example, have you read Sean’s popular-level book on cosmology and the arrow of time? Do you understand that some concepts of a multiverse are required by tested ideas like inflation?

    @Cory Gross

    I can’t begrudge someone who just hasn’t had a religious experience, especially if they physically can’t have one.

    This is why I can’t have fruitful discussions with theists – we fundamentally disagree about epistemology. I’ve studied enough psychology and neuroscience to understand how fallible our personal experiences are, and enough science and history of science to understand how science is designed to be the best tool we have at overcoming cognitive limitations and finding the truth (or good approximations thereof). But if people value personal experience over all science… we have nothing to talk about. I can point to plenty of examples where personal experience has led people astray, but… “you cannot reason people out of positions they didn’t reason themselves into” (Ben Goldacre).

    (This is true from your end as well. Don’t bother talking to atheists about personal religious experience, because we will dismiss it out of hand. We already know people have “religious” experiences, and we have a lot of evidence that these events are just being misinterpreted by those who experience them. We understand they’re emotionally powerful, and that’s all the more reason to doubt them – people don’t think clearly when overwhelmed by emotion.)

  • http://www.michaelthemagician.com Michael

    @Phil I suggest you google Lawrence Krauss’s lecture “A Universe from Nothing” to answer your question. (eg. In case you didn’t know it, virtual particles spontaneously appear in “nothing”/empty space all the time). As for the multiverse, that is a conclusion based on some explanations for experiments, ie. evidence, in quantum physics. Just because we can’t prove it now, doesn’t mean we won’t later, but we’re following the evidence. What is your evidence that a god exists???

    @ Viper Eyewitness accounts, particularly those of Bronze Age shepherds, are worthless. There are literally thousands of people who witnessed the “miracles” of Sai Baba in the 20th/21st century (many similar to those Jesus was reported to do, eg. water/wine) and believed him to be a living god. “Miracles” that any magician could duplicate – google him and prepare to be underwhelmed. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, not secondhand stories written decades after the actual events.

    @Jackson Where is your evidence that stating the scientific facts, and demanding evidence for the claims of religion, turns moderate religious people against science? In the cases I’ve read about, tiptoeing around the religious so as not to offend them, does not make them embrace science. More moderately religious types have been turned off religion when someone has stood up for reason, than have turned away from science.

  • Phil

    Charon,

    I’ve read Sean’s textbook on GR. I guess the notion that the existence of the multiverse is an inevitable consequence of inflation is NOT IMPORTANT because he failed to mention it. Or maybe it’s not an inevitable consequence. Or maybe I forgot (it has been many years since I studied his textbook). Yes, I do know science.

    Oh, we know so much about inflation (i.e. that it inevitably leads to the multiverse) that we don’t know what caused it or if there’s such a thing as the inflaton.

    There are other theories of physics that lead to inflation and are (I believe) compatible with CMB observations. Last I hear, the multiverse MIGHT be a consequence of string theory. I say “might” because we don’t even know what string theory is. Nor has string theory yet calculated the masses and other Standard Model constants (i.e. stuff measured in the real world).

    “But if people value personal experience over all science… we have nothing to talk about.”

    So, if you witnessed a miracle and had absolutely no scientific explanation for it, you would ignore it because you don’t value personal experience over science? Let’s say you got a cut, and I came up to you, put my hand on the cut, and the cut was gone. Would you disregard that as just “personal experience”?

    Looking at the way you are writing to Cory Gross, I really hope most atheists aren’t as arrogant as you seem to be.

  • Phil

    Michael,

    Virtual particle creation is not from nothing. There’s an already-existing space-time in which the particles appear, that has a non-zero energy. That’s not the same as nothing as in no spacetime whatsoever. If spacetime originated in the Big Bang, then does that mean spacetime had a beginning? If it had a beginning, does that mean the universe originated from nothing? If yes, then what caused it to be made from nothing? God can be an explanation. Maybe that’s a cop-out, but that’s how I think about it. And some scientists like to think about it with the multiverse approach. No evidence to back up either assertion.

    “As for the multiverse, that is a conclusion based on some explanations for experiments, ie. evidence, in quantum physics.”

    I don’t think so. You’re talking about the many worlds interpretation of QM, which has no evidence to back it up. There are other interpretations of QM which reproduce the observations of QM. There’s also the decoherence view of resolving those issues which many worlds purports to solve. So you really think that the universe splits when you make an observation? I can make a new universe by observing the spin of an electron? Silly.

    “Just because we can’t prove it now, doesn’t mean we won’t later, but we’re following the evidence.” That’s precisely what Michael Behe said. He is a biologist who believes in intelligent design (but I don’t). He came up with the argument from irreducible complexity. He’s following his own evidence. What evidence do I have that God exists? I guess I don’t have any. Just like people who spend their lives working on string theory and M-theory. Why do I believe? Well, I have a strong hunch that God’s existence is true. Just like string theorists and M-theorists. “String theory is so elegant…it must be true.”

  • Phil

    Charon, I wanted to edit my first paragraph to you, but I rant out of time, so here it is:

    Yes, I do know science. I’ve read Sean’s excellent textbook on GR. I guess the notion that the existence of the multiverse is an inevitable consequence of inflation is NOT IMPORTANT because he failed to mention it. Or maybe it’s not an inevitable consequence. Or maybe I forgot (it has been many years since I studied his textbook). Or maybe my knowledge of inflation is too shallow, or there have been recent developments showing that the multiverse (ie. universes which pre-exist our Big Bang) are inevitable for any model of inflation that agrees with CMB observations (as well as others).

  • Greg

    Can there be existence without consciousness? Can there be consciousness without eternal life? Do you believe in nothing or eternal life? Can artificial intelligence become God? Can computers simulate a New Earth? Are we living in a computer simulation? Are we conscious?

  • Tintazul

    @19, DrMorbius: no one’s posting links on Reddit to attract the rabid commenters here (I think). It’s the article itself that makes the readers rabid. I simply think that people tend to post their comments when the subject bothers them. So you can expect a divisive issue like equating science with atheism and religious belief with ignorance will get lots of comments. OK?

    Having said that, Hawking is waaaaay out on a limb. Completely biased. I’m not saying his science is wrong—but that his motives are clearly bent on disproving God. That should strike everyone, atheist or otherwise, as an unscientific endeavour.

  • Fujikoma

    Phil,
    Behe did not follow the evidence. He ignored evidence that contradicted his goal or he was a poorly trained in the scientific method. Kitzmiller demonstrated that.

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  • Anchor

    First of all, the question (“Did god create the universe?”) is horrendously unscientific: it cheats. It presupposes that god or a god exists.

    That makes it a lousy question from the get-go.

    First, theists must present evidence for the existence of the object of their belief, which is nothing more than a hypothesis at this point. The burden is on them, not on anyone else to supply evidence for the non-existence of someone’s flight of fancy.

    That is typical of how theists sneak it into the discussion. They do it without thinking (no surprise there) and are apt to protest with not-so-innocent mien when they are called out on it, as if it is their priviledge to bend the rules a little. But preconception is not evidence independent of the conceiver, and theists DON’T deserve any free lunch just because they place faith in their faith. Such god-like certitude is obnoxious.

  • http://www.miskeptics.org Chris Lindsay

    Phil,

    I may be wrong, but it seems to me that your understanding of the multiverse theory is coming from talking point/soundbyte information. I know because you’re pretty much saying what I use to say about it.

    There’s actually a lot of different independent observations that lead physicists to hypothesize about the multiverse theory. I’d never grasped the concept of the multiverse until I actually read a couple books that talked about it in detail.

    Before someone trashes it, one should actually read about it in detail. One can’t really appreciate the depth of the physics behind it from listening to interviews or reading blog posts or articles.

  • Mazen.J

    Dear

    Does Hawking really thinks that the creator of everything will be detectable with his quantum physics and mathematical calculations? Maybe some day, if Stephen behaves. God loves scientists to keep searching for the truth of things and advises people to go for scientific research based on constant study and observation to shed more light on his creations and its hints he sent us in his arabic version, ask your local imam or sheikh to show you some examples from the Qur’an. My opinion is that Stephen Hawking is blocked or needs attention. The only way to find god is to have unverified faith in him, then your science and research will be more fun and much more fruitful. But then again true believers don’t mind searching proofs for god, they don’t care cause they clearly feel and see it every day. Probably why most cosmology scientists are atheists! Allahu Akbar

    Mazen

  • John

    The ultimate oxymoron – life after death.

  • http://soundcloud.com/danlewis-2 Dan Lewis

    WHO ARE YOU, ‘SEAN’? Why can’t you identify yourself like normal people?
    Going for one name celebrity like Madonna, Cher and Liberace?
    Time to wake up and identify yourself well and fully.
    What have you done that could possibly make your name suitable for singleness?
    Until you grow up some and identify yourself like a standard adult, nothing you have to to say will interest me or mine. Wake up, ‘SEAN’.

  • Mazen.J

    John, your phone battery have life after death

    Mazen

  • Mike

    Here a Scientific American link where Alexander Vilenkin and Max Tegmark very briefly explain why the multiverse is a legitimate scientific idea:

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=multiverse-the-case-for-parallel-universe

    The multiverse conjecture may turn out to be wrong, but it is a logical extension of several physical theories, some of which have already made quite precise and verified predictions, or have otherwise provided very useful scientific explanations in regard to open problems. This conjecture is not without controversy, there are very good scientists on either side of the debate, but I would hope that reasonable people could agree that at least it’s not speculation of the same kind as the God conjecture — although from the tone and confusion evidenced in many posts, I recognize this may not be the case.

  • Pingback: A Universe Out of Chaos | Cosmic Variance | Discover Magazine

  • http://www.astro.multivax.de:8000/helbig/helbig.html Phillip Helbig

    Surely that should be parsed as (Hawking and God) on the Discovery Channel and not as Hawking, and God, on the Discovery Channel. (If the latter, I wonder what the Big Man’s fee is.)

    I’m reminded of someone who dedicated his thesis to “My parents, God and L. Ron Hubbard”. Usually, the “when in doubt, leave it out” rule about commas works, but here there really should be a comma before the “and”. (Pedants will note that the rule still holds since in this case there couldn’t really be any doubt.)

    So, a bit off-topic, but I figured I’d just eat, shoot and leave. :-)

  • David Weidner

    For all of the naysayers and theists, just keep in mind that this is the same channel that airs such tripe as “Ghost Hunters”, and “The Baby Whisperer.” The DC sure has gotten dumber and dumber over the years. They went from Science, science, science to motorcycles, crab fishing, and cash cab. *sigh*

  • Alan

    Rather a good interview for “atheist” types here. Dr. Peter Fenwick is about as good as you get as a neuropsychiatrist, is sure of life after death and has said so.
    The point about the experiences he speaks of here is that they are seen by the carer(s) and patient who is dying.

    http://www.victorzammit.com/evidence/endoflife.htm

    Also a good book here on this subject of “shared death experiences”. See also the video below the Dr. Fenwick talk with Dr. Moody.

    http://www.glimpsesofeternity.com/

    Of course this puts religion and God smack bang in the middle of physics, cosmology, biology, philosophy etc.
    I just don’t understand why Stephen Hawking hasn’t at least considered this. Perhaps no equation for it? – not meaning to be flippant!

    Hey, maybe it’s somewhere in E = A/4 . All that “stuff” going on the volume around us is actually sitting on the universe’s outer surface! God is out there! Yep, that’s it.

  • Mike

    “I just don’t understand why Stephen Hawking hasn’t at least considered this.”

    I’m sure he has. Every scientist seeking the truth will have thought about ideas like this that overturn so much of what we think is correct about the way the world works.

    When you say a scientist might not consider this because there isn’t an equation for it, I think you’re not far from the truth.

    There is no equation for it because there is no physical process that we know of that could cause it — and no proponent of these ideas has been able to give any testable, verifiable and, most importantly, falsifiable theory about how it occurs.

    If you have a theory — from the books you cite — or elsewhere, that is more than fundamentally anecdotal, with legitimate — repeatable — tests that verify such a theory, or if you have a theory that is based on what we know so far and goes on to answer open questions, then I would love to hear and see it.

    Absent such a theory, sorry but I don’t think you’ll ever see more than a handful of scientists taking it seriously.

  • Mean and Anomalous

    “So how does the origin of the universe obtain a scientific explanation?”

    I would explain, but I’m too lazy. Maybe Hawking will dwell on this on the upcoming program! He certainly explains this in his “A Brief History of Time”. Cheers.

  • Alan

    @Mike

    You missed it. Some of this “evidence” is veridical… “the experiences he speaks of here is that they are seen by the carer(s) and patient who is dying” is what I said.

    And I am afraid you are putting the cart before the horse. You concentrate on the phenomena first. If veridical you do not dismiss because you think they cannot be explained by physics. And just because these phenomena cannot be repeated “on demand” does not invalidate them – if it’s being observed in the universe it’s science.

  • Mike

    “If veridical you do not dismisss because you think they cannot be explained by physics.”

    I’m dismissing it because if one puts forward a proposal that overturns a vast amount of what we believe to be true based on our best available theories, which have in fact been subject to testing and verification, then whoever puts forward such a revolutionary proposal has to do better than anecdotal “proof” by way of experiences seen by the carer(s) and patient who is dying.

    It boils down to what you mean by “being observed in the universe.” I could trot out scores of people who claim to have seen or experienced almost anything you could imagine — some even you might claim were just not believable. This would never be accepted as proof of any worthwhile theory. I’m sorry, but extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. And, in fact, there is a lot of literature out there where folks have tried to replicate a whole swath of paranormal claims — always unsuccessfully.

    The main point is that if phenomena can’t be scientifically tested, or the theories that purport to explain them are not the logical extension of existing theories that we have good reason to believe are true, this does in fact invalidate them “as science” and is a very good reason for Hawking and others not to take them seriously.

    I suppose most scientists could be wrong about this conclusion, but there is no meaningful evidence so far that they are, and nothing you have said or pointed to changes any of that.

  • Mark

    I really appreciate that the dramatized/fictionalized production meeting between BBC & Discovery is done in the style of Douglas Adams; perfection

  • http://voyagesextraordinaires.blogspot.com Cory Gross

    @30, Charon,

    Fair enough if you think you can’t have furitful discussions with people whose interpretations of scientific evidence differ from your own. One of the things I find difficult about proponents of “Scientism” is how they conflate science with their interpretations of science (because science is just information, and how you choose to interpret that on religious questions is theology), and how they conflate these quite arbitrarily.

    You an I probably don’t disagree all that much on epistemology, except that I try to be conscious of ways of understanding outside of scientific discourse. I see far too many people being unconscious about those ways of understanding and just taking them for granted, which I fear you may be doing. You talk about people valuing personal experience above science and about fallible it is and it’s capacity to lead people astray, but it would be a more honest critique if you yourself did not rely on personal experience far more than you do science in your day-to-day life. We must rely on personal experience – as fallible and problematic as it may be – merely to get by. It is how our personal relationships function. It is how we are able to interpret art and literature. If you pay attention at all to the biographies and testimonies of great scientists, you will detect that their motivation tends to be a highly irrational reliance on personal experiences like wonder or a childhood happenstance. Even people’s atheism can originate in fallible personal experiences, like Christopher Hitchens’ “just knowing” it was all bunk when he was nine, or some sentimental ideas about suffering or infinity.

    Science is as successful as it is exactly Bbecause it has such a narrow focus and deals with relatively uncomplicated subjects. Calculating the laws of the physical universe is pretty direct compared to the complexities of every other feild of inquiry, from the arts and humanities to economics to interpersonal relationships to history (in large part because our only means of inquiring is fraught with fallibility). Where we seem to differ on this subject most of all is that I don’t automatically assume that because religious experience reflects in someone’s brain chemistry, it is automatically a product of brain chemistry. I think it might actually be reacting to a real stimulus, and it is far easier for me to excuse the minority who do not have such experiences than to call the majority of humanity crazy.

    That’s part of why I find the research linking hardcore atheist beliefs with Asperger’s to be intriguing. A connection between strong religion non-belief and a limited capacity to navigate complex interpresonal relationships or interpretive subjects would actually make a great deal of sense. It wouldn’t be true of all atheists, or even most, but it would certainly go a long way to explaining what is essentially the argument that it’s actually most of humanity that is crazy.

  • Sean

    This guy with the eyewitness accounts lol. I wonder who witnessed noahs arc. Didn’t everyone on earth die except Noah and his family? Oh and I wonder how Noah managed to get the komodo dragon on his ship, considering they are found nowhere in the world besides the island of komodo which is thousands of miles from where Noah lived. Also what about the innocent people god killed with this supposedly great flood? I find it hard to believe there weren’t any good people in the entire world at the time. But hey which cares the bible can say any crazy story it wants and contradict itself over and over because who are we to question gods word. He didn’t give us brains to think he gave us brains so we can worship him more effectively.

  • Alan

    Mike

    You probably have not heard of this. Here are multiply witnessed phenomena, seen in the UK, Europe and by NASA scientists in California. I knew some of the researchers 12 years ago and they told me of what they saw. You won’t like it but it’s there, on the record. The research was over 3 years and they wrote a 300 page report. This is so mindblowing it is rejected because some cannot handle it but as I said many scientists witnessed this.

    And also for the record the light phenomena, in their character and range of type, have been seen in other settings over the past century – many times.

    http://www.theafterlifeinvestigations.com/

    I would seriously watch this too – from one of the scientists who witnessed these phenomena, Prof. David Fontana.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TGV8aQxCsCI

    Tim Coleman, the producer, wrote this about a previous critique of Scole:

    “This skeptical analysis is well intentioned, but so full of inaccuracies it completely discredits itself. I produced and directed the documentary -The Afterlife Investigations – in which I thoroughly examine all the evidence for the Scole Experiment. I spent several years interviewing all the leading participants and I got to know them all well. As unbelievable as the activities at Scole are I found no evidence of fraud. The authors arguments like – I consulted with a colleague who told me its possible to remove a luminous arm, therefore all experiments which used this control at Scole are fraudulent- are childish in their logic. Given the space I could demolish this entire analysis – but its easier if you watch the documentary http://www.theafterlifeinvestigations.com

    As to an explanation? Physics must try to explain observed phenomena. Doesn’t physics speak of parallel universes and the nature of space being fundamental? Maybe therein lies some explanations.

  • Viper

    @ Michael, #31

    Did you even look at the video I linked to above? That’s the whole point! New evidence that they were based on eyewitness accounts. It’s not proof, just evidence. I suppose pre-historic cave drawings of saber-tooth tigers are also worthless. Watch the video and prepare to be OVERwhelmed. :) It’s a very interesting talk, I assure you.

    @ Sean, #56,

    Did you even bother to watch that talk? Or are you too blinded by your anti-religious, closed-minded view of the world? And when I say “closed-minded” I don’t mean closed-minded to religion or the divine, but closed-minded to the possibility that the Gospels are eyewitness accounts told by Jesus’ first followers. At least watch the video before commenting because that lecture has nothing to do with Noah’s Ark. It’s about the Gospels in the Bible. Even the lecturer mentioned that not every story in the Bible is to be taken literally. That is, not every story in the Bible is based on eyewitness accounts, but there is evidence that the Gospels are. Aren’t you curious? Trust me, watch the video, it’s very interesting!

  • docwillie

    the theological discussions here are interesting but futile. What disturbs me is the blatant degree in which the Discovery Channel promotes its distain for religion by the promotion of this programming. This is consistent with the current administration’s removal of religion from the public arena. Less faith in God, more dependence on government. Its important in the Marxist/Socialist mindset.

  • Goodkind

    @docwillie

    But given that the separation of church and state is established in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America – which comfortably predated Marx by a good half-century – couldn’t you argue that it is in keeping with the very founding principles of the United States of America to focus on keeping religion out of the affairs of government, lest it cloud the impartiality of any given administration?

    Additionally, the same Amendment guarantees the right of the Discovery Channel to say whatever it likes about religion – and believe me, from where I’m standing (across a very large body of water from the USA), it’s hardly leading the charge when it comes to an assault on the church. There’s certainly plenty of programming providing adequate redress to the balance, for which you merely have to reach for Fox or talk radio. Moreover, challenging people’s ideas is an excellent way to build the population’s thinking skills, as it leads them to ask difficult questions of themselves that they would otherwise never consider. Critical thinking is an important skill in this age and history has taught us that blindly following anything is clearly not a good idea.

    I’m not a Christian (probably evidently), but I would hazard that if I were to question a belief in God and find that actually I did still believe, my faith would be stronger. In a sense, the Discovery Channel is doing religion a favour by allowing people the opportunity to decide whether or not what they believe is true. Everyone loves the truth, right?

    (As an aside, you’re right about a separation of church and state being important in a Marxist or Socialist mindset – but that’s in part thanks to the United States itself and the enlightenment thinking that founded it. The principles upon which the USA was founded provided, in part, inspiration for the revolutionary mindset that prevailed throughout Europe in the early 19th Century that seeded the ideas of Marx in the first place. It’s probably worth noting that just because something is believed in by an opposing political stance to the one you hold, it doesn’t make it an entirely terrible thing. Nobody disagrees that Stalin’s Russia was an unpleasant sort of place, but his government still made it illegal to kick babies – does this mean that people of opposing political views should support the kicking of babies?).

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  • amphiox

    What caused the Big Bang?

    Something simple. And that is the point.

    God was once used as an explanation for complexity. It is the magnificent complexity of the modern mature universe that seems to call for the grandeur of a creator god in the theist mind. But the triumph of all science is the demonstration of how the complex emerges from the simple, automatically, through the blind undirecting working of natural laws. And the laws themselves emerge from simpler laws.

    There has been a continuing regress of explanation, wherein every level of complexity is explained through emergence from a simpler underlying substrate. And that underlying substrate is explained by emergence from a yet simpler underlying substrate still.

    We have not yet reached the end of this regress. We do not know if it is infinite, or if it will ultimately end at some ur-substrate that becomes the ultimate cause of everything. But every subsequent substrate is simpler than the level above it, and we have worked all the way down to the simplicity of a singularity, with the Big Bang theory.

    I see no theological comfort is sticking a god into this final infinitesimal gap. The Big Bang could have been set off by something no more complicated than a random quantum fluctuation. A creator entity that need be capable of nothing more than triggering random quantum fluctuations hardly warrants the title of “god”. And the further down in the regress you continue to reach, the less profound, less sophisticated, and less impressive does the creator entity, even if it exists, need to be.

    The concept of god the super-designer and all-powerful engineer has been already rendered obsolete a thousand times over. If theists want to cling now to the metaphor of god the mindless bubble-popper of quantum foam, they are, as far as I am concerned, welcome to.

  • ORAXX

    Simply asking the question, ‘what caused the big bang’? doesn’t validate anybody’s religion.

  • Phil

    @ amphiox,

    The Big Bang could have been set off by something no more complicated than a random quantum fluctuation.

    What evidence do you have that that was the case? You have none. Sure, it’s a possibility, but we don’t even know physics well enough at that scale to determine whether or not this possibility is likely. Maybe I’m wrong on that latter point, I’m no expert. But if that’s true, then so is the possibility that a god exists and maybe it was this supernatural entity that created the seed from which the Big Bang, inflation, etc., emerged if there was absolutely nothing pre-existing it (i.e. no multiverse). It’s a possibility, albeit a nonscientific one, and a possibility it will remain, until we have clear evidence for a mechanism that “set off” the Big Bang, resulting in the universe we inhabit.

  • Mike

    Phil @ 64,

    “What evidence do you have that . . . [a random quantum fluctuation set off the big bang] . . ? You have none. . . . Maybe I’m wrong . . . [b]ut if that’s true, then so is the possibility that a god exists and maybe it was this supernatural entity. . .”

    The possibility that the origin of the universe was triggered by a random quantum fluctuation is one conjectured possibility that arises through the extension of other physical theories that we know are accurate to a great extent. As I said earlier, the main point is that if phenomena can’t be scientifically tested, or the theories that purport to explain them are not the logical extension of existing theories that we have good reason to believe are true, this does in fact mean that we shouldn’t take them too seriously.

    The same is simply not the case with respect to theist explanations and no one posting here, or writing or speaking anywhere else I’ve ever seen, presents evidence other than anecdotal “proof”. This would never be accepted as proof of any worthwhile theory. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. The claims made for God (or anything paranormal) don’t even come close to that.

    All scientific conjectures will in time either gain additional supporting evidence (scientific conjectures are never finally “proven”), or may be falsified. Each piece of additional evidence usually helps fill in gaps in our existing body of knowledge. And, if no evidence is forthcoming, even if the conjecture is never falsified, the conjecture will be taken less and less seriously.

    So, I think you’re wrong, they are not logical the same thing. Is a theist explanation a “possibility” — well, of course it is, it’s just not a serious one that can be evaluated in any meaningful way. Just as there are any number of other explanations — Greek myths, Roman gods, extraterrestrials at work and other possibilities that can change or be modified at a whim to explain the same set of facts, and which we don’t take seriously.

    In the end, I suspect that my reasons for not taking God (however defined) seriously are probably not that different than your reasons for not believing in Zeus or Poseidon.

  • Phil

    Mike, @ #65,

    ” Is a theist explanation a “possibility” — well, of course it is”

    Thanks for agreeing with me. Cheers!

  • Mike

    Phil @ 66,

    Happy to oblige — but keep in mind, using your logic, so is Zeus ;)

  • Phil

    Zeus? But we figured out the true source of lightning long ago!

  • Mike

    Is that your only reason for not believing in Zeus? Never fear then, we will eventually figure our what caused the big bang as well. In the mean time, however, I think you should drop your theist explanation, just as those who believed in Zeus should dropped their explanation, even before we discovered the true source of lightening. It was, for a variety of reasons, always a bad explanation :)

  • Jf

    I agree the rationale of God as a First Cause has been increasingly discredited, but what about God as a Final Cause?

  • Jf

    I should point out it’s a consensus among neo-Darwinists that evolution isn’t teleological. So why did an intelligent species evolve? What explains the evolution of evolvability? And why did advanced human civilizations evolve? That human civilization would appear and progress is hardly inevitable or natural, from either a sociological or psychological standpoint. Is human history teleological?

  • Alan

    “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. The claims made for God (or anything paranormal) don’t even come close to that.”

    The first is the Carl Sagan comment. Also this is interesting.

    This is the remote perturbing of a highly shielded (electrically, magnetically, thermally, and deeply buried) magnetometer used in a quark detection experiment. (when it was thought quarks could maybe exist singly).
    This was an unannounced “test” on the artist Ingo Swann by Dr. Hal Puthoff at Stanford University in 1972. Some other physicists involved said to the effect that it would be impressive if Swann could disturb this device. Swann did this three times (the results were measured) then drew a pretty good diagram of the (unpublished) details of the device. After this the device functioned normally, nicely cycling to order.
    See below for Report + talk.

    http://www.scientificexploration.org/journal/jse_10_1_puthoff.pdf

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=2261890462723894860#

    This result led to the beginning of the Stanford Research Institute CIA-funded remote-viewing programme, 1972-1985. Ingo Swann was one of the top RVers recruited.

    “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof” – the Carl Sagan comment.

    Now Sagan also wrote this in his book “The Demon Haunted World” (1997):

    “At the time of writing there are three claims in the ESP field which, in my opinion, deserve serious study: (1) that by thought alone humans can (barely) affect random number generators in computers; (2) that people under mild sensory deprivation can receive thoughts or images “projected” at them; and (3) that young children sometimes report the details of a previous life, which upon checking turn out to be accurate and which they could not have known about in any other way than reincarnation. I pick these claims not because I think they’re likely to be valid (I don’t), but as examples of contentions that might be true. The last three have at least some, although still dubious, experimental support. Of course, I could be wrong.”

    In the first he was presumably referring to the PEAR experiments, the second is remote viewing and the third is the (vast) reincarnation studies by Professor Ian Stevenson on children from Virginia State Uni. – now being continued by Professor Jim Tucker + team (mostly professors).

  • Mike

    Alan,

    I have no problem with people continuing to research paranormal claims if that’s what they want to do. I just don’t think there is even “remotely” ;) enough evidence to overturn what currently are very successful and tested physical laws. And, all this has nothing to do with whether there is a God.

    Here is more from wiki regarding the remote viewing tests at Standford. Being as skeptical as I am on this, I particularly like the last paragraph. I would think that someone would want all of that money. Anyway, here it is:

    “According to psychologist David Marks in experiments conducted in the 1970s at the Stanford Research Institute, the notes given to the judges contained clues as to which order they were carried out, such as referring to yesterday’s two targets, or they had the date of the session written at the top of the page. Dr. Marks concluded that these clues were the reason for the experiment’s high hit rates.

    Marks has also suggested that the participants of remote viewing experiments are influenced by subjective validation, a process through which correspondences are perceived between stimuli that are in fact associated purely randomly. Details and transcripts of the SRI remote viewing experiments themselves were found to be edited and even unattainable.

    Others have said that the information from remote viewing sessions can be vague and include a lot of erroneous data. A 1995 report for the American Institute for Research contains a section of anonymous reports describing how remote viewing was tentatively used in a number of operational situations. The three reports conclude that the data was too vague to be of any use, and in the report that offers the most positive results the writer notes that the viewers “had some knowledge of the target organizations and their operations but not the background of the particular tasking at hand.”

    According to James Randi, controlled tests by several other researchers, eliminating several sources of cuing and extraneous evidence present in the original tests, produced negative results. Students were also able to solve Puthoff and Targ’s locations from the clues that had inadvertently been included in the transcripts.

    Professor Richard Wiseman, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire and a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) has said that he agrees remote viewing has been proven using the normal standards of science, but that the bar of evidence needs to be much higher for outlandish claims that will revolutionize the world, and thus he remains unconvinced:

    “I agree that by the standards of any other area of science that remote viewing is proven, but begs the question: do we need higher standards of evidence when we study the paranormal? I think we do. (…) if I said that a UFO had just landed, you’d probably want a lot more evidence. Because remote viewing is such an outlandish claim that will revolutionize [sic] the world, we need overwhelming evidence before we draw any conclusions. Right now we don’t have that evidence.” Richard Wiseman Daily Mail, January 28, 2008, pp 28–29

    Wiseman also pointed at several problems with one of the early experiments at SAIC, like information leakage. However, he indicated the importance of its process-oriented approach and of its refining of remote viewing methodology, which meant that researchers replicating their work could avoid these problems. Wiseman later insisted there were multiple opportunities for participants on that experiment to be influenced by inadvertent cues and that these cues can influence the results when they appear.

    Psychologist Ray Hyman says that, even if the results were reproduced under specified conditions, they would still not be a conclusive demonstration of the existence of psychic functioning. He blames this on the reliance on a negative outcome—the claims on ESP are based on the results of experiments not being explained by normal means. He says that the experiments lack a positive theory that guides as to what to control on them and what to ignore, and that “Parapsychologists have not come close to (having a positive theory) as yet”. Ray Hyman also says that the amount and quality of the experiments on RV are way too low to convince the scientific community to “abandon its fundamental ideas about causality, time, and other principles”, due to its findings still not having been replicated successfully under careful scrutiny.

    Science writer Martin Gardner, and others, describe the topic of remote viewing as pseudoscience. Gardner says that founding researcher Harold Puthoff was an active Scientologist prior to his work at Stanford University, and that this influenced his research at SRI. In 1970, the Church of Scientology published a notarized letter that had been written by Puthoff while he was conducting research on remote viewing at Stanford. The letter read, in part: “Although critics viewing the system Scientology from the outside may form the impression that Scientology is just another of many quasi-educational quasi-religious ‘schemes,’ it is in fact a highly sophistical and highly technological system more characteristic of modern corporate planning and applied technology. Among some of the ideas that Puthoff supported regarding remote viewing was the claim in the book Occult Chemistry that two followers of Madame Blavatsky, founder of theosophy, were able to remote-view the inner structure of atoms.

    Various skeptic organizations have conducted experiments for remote viewing and other alleged paranormal abilities, with no positive results under properly controlled conditions. Some of the organizations would provide large monetary rewards to anyone who could demonstrate a supernatural power under fraud-proof and fool-proof conditions. For the largest paranormal research institution, the James Randi Educational Foundation, out of all of the applicants who applied for the One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge, nobody has even passed the preliminary tests.”

    By the way, regarding Richard Wiseman quoted above, his web-site puts it pretty clearly. It says: “Richard Wiseman is clear about one thing: Paranormal phenomena don’t exist. But in the same way space travel yields technology that transforms our everyday lives, so research into telepathy, fortune-telling and out-of-body experiences produces remarkable insights into our brains, behaviour and beliefs.” And the title of his most recent book (I think perhaps he spices up his quotes (like the one quoted in Wiki) to help sell his books) is: “Paranormality: Why we see what isn’t there.” That about sums it up for me.

    Anyway, I wish those who want to keep investigating this stuff the very best — it would certainly change much of what we believe to be true. I’m just not going to hold my breath, and in the mean time I’m not going to base my world view on these types of things.

    There is more on the wiki page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Remote_viewing

    And here is a wiki link on Ingo Swann whom you mention: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ingo_Swann

    And regarding Peter Tucker, this is how he explains reincarnation (also from Wiki):

    “Although critics have argued there is no physical explanation for the survival of personality, Tucker suggests that quantum mechanics may offer a mechanism by which memories and emotions could carry over from one life to another. He argues that since the act of observation collapses wave equations, consciousness may not be merely a by-product of the physical brain but rather a separate entity in the universe that impinges on the physical.”

    What do the physicists out there say about this?

  • Rick

    Not a physicist, but as far as I know, quantum mechanics has no mechanism for consciousness being a separate entity in the universe that impinges on the physical.

  • Alan

    Mike

    1.

    You didn’t address Ingo Swann’s perturbing, three times, of the multiply shielded magnetometer or his accurate drawing of it – both fairly spectacular. Dr. Puthoff stands by this from the video above.
    Frankly I also think it is beyond the pale the way you attempt to smear a fine theoretical and experimental physicist. I read his excellent “Quantum Electronics” book as an undergrad. physicist and then went on to study particle phys. You should be ashamed.

    2.

    As to the assessment of the SRI research, Professor Jessica Utts carried out an overview and concluded – real.
    …”Using the standards applied to any other area of science, it is concluded that psychic functioning has been well established… It is recommended that future experiments focus on understanding how this phenomenon works, and on how to make it as useful as possible. There is little benefit to continuing experiments designed to offer proof, since there is little more to be offered to anyone who does not accept the current collection of data.”

    See here: http://anson.ucdavis.edu/~utts/air2.html

    3.

    As to Randi – I believe JREF is not credible.

    4.

    It’s Professor Jim Tucker BTW not Peter (?) Tucker. ; – )
    I certainly credit your mentioning of his attempt at an explanation that you give. This has actually been fleshed out more theoretically by the quantum physicist Professor Henry Stapp. See his site for detailed quantum physics papers re this. Also note this:

    Prof. Stapp is the physicist on the AWARE team – an international team of doctors/scientists studying near-death experiences – peer reviewed results out next year. It is uncertain which way this will conclude as yet but Dr. Jeffrey Long, a radiation specialist, has also studied this and concluded an afterlife is real.
    I urge you to read this:

    http://www.horizonresearch.org/

    5.

    Richard Wiseman. I went to the “Scole Study Day” with colleagues in 1999 where Richard Wiseman and Matthew Smith were there. He stated the evidence was “very impressive”. Wiseman also contributed a “Wiseman Bag” to the Scole studies, used for precluding fraud for the plastic-encased film studies.
    In over 3 years and seen internationally, no fraud was EVER discovered. Three professional magicians stated that the phenomena seen could not be reproduced under the conditions.

    6.

    Scole Experiment. You totally fail to address this massive, important study. There are plenty of links for this but this gives you a flavour:

    http://www.afterlife101.com/Light_display.html

    and of course:

    http://www.theafterlifeinvestigations.com/

    The conclusion, quite frankly, is non-material intelligences making themselves known to scientists/researchers – but the conditions must be correct, “empathic” shall we say, not dismissive.

    7.

    I will finally give you a link by two professors which argues why some phenomena “cannot” be discussed, especially by many ivory tower scientists – they are taboo.

    http://ptx.sagepub.com/content/36/4/607.full.pdf

    “Modern sovereignty is anthropocentric, constituted and organized by reference to
    human beings alone…” – they begin…

    I trust you see my point here. Man cannot handle the idea of other kinds of intelligences, especially superior or at least spectacularly “other” being in our faces. It’s just too much.

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  • Steve Smith

    Stephen Hawking‘s favorite idea is that the universe came out of “nothing” — it arose (although that’s not really the right word) as a quantum fluctuation with literally no pre-existing state. No space, no time, no anything.

    These ideas are receiving a lot more attention in the popular media and press, and I think that a few pointers to the technical ideas that motivate them are necessary. So here’s some scientific background and links on universe ex nihilo theories, a background that isn’t presented widely enough, even at scienceblogs that address the subject specifically.

    Guth’s Inflationary Universe is a must-read, in which Guth explains ex nihilo theories with the colorful statement:

    The question of the origin of the matter in the universe is no longer thought to be beyond the range of science—everything can be created from nothing … it is fair to say that the universe is the ultimate free lunch.

    Guth provides technical reasons for this claim:

    Now we can return to a key question: How is there any hope that the creation of the universe might be described by physical laws consistent with energy conservations? Answer: the energy stored in the gravitational field is represented by a negative number! … The immense energy that we observe in the form of matter can be canceled by a negative contribution of equal magnitude, coming from the gravitational field. There is no limit to the magnitude of energy energy in the gravitational field, and hence no limit to the amount of matter/energy it can cancel. For the reader interested in learning why the energy of a gravitational field is negative, the argument is presented in Appendix A.

    Guth goes on to explain a simple argument for all this that if you grasp, you will understand a fact of gravity that evaded Newton. Unfortunately, Google books doesn’t have Appendix A online.

    Guth’s technical explanation above is what is meant by the nontechnical, poetic description, like Hawking’s: “Because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.”

    Here are some pointers to a quick technical explanation of the creation of a universe from literally nothing subject to the laws of quantum mechanics.

    A technical account of the universe ex nihilo, following Vilenkin, “Creation of universes from nothing”. Physics Letters B Volume 117, Issues 1-2, 4 November 1982, Pages 25–28. Available here.

    1. Observe the Friedmann–Lemaître–Robertson–Walker metric for universal expansion:

    ds² = dt² – a(t)|dx

    This is the space-time geometry with the spatial scale term a(t) describing the growth/contraction of the universe. This is Vilenkin’s equation (2).

    2. Solve the evolution equation:

    a(t) = (1/H)cosh(Ht)

    where H² = (8π/3)Gρ is the Hubble parameter.

    This is Vilenkin’s equation (3). So far, there is no explanation of a universe from nothing because the de Sitter space isn’t nothing, as everyone agrees.

    3. Observe that at t = 0, the physics has the same form as a potential barrier, for which it is known that quantum tunneling is possible. The description of quantum tunneling involves a transformation tit, with i² = –1.

    Now the evolution equation is

    a(t) = (1/H)cos(Ht) [the cosine "cos", not the hyperbolic cosine "cosh"]

    valid for |t| < π/2/H. This is Vilenkin’s equation (5). Space-Time is simply the 4-sphere, a compact, i.e, bounded space. At the scale a(t) = 0, this space is literally nothing. No space-time, no energy, no particles. Nothing. The interpretation of (5) is quantum tunneling from literally nothing to de Sitter space, the universe as we know it. See Figure 1a in Vilenkin’s paper for a depiction of the creation of the universe from nothing using this explanation.

    Vilenkin says in the paper, “A cosmological model is proposed in which the universe is created by quantum tunneling from literally nothing into a de Sitter space. After the tunneling, the model evolves along the lines of the inflationary scenario. This model does not have a big-bang singularity and does not require any initial or boundary conditions. … In this paper I would like to suggest a new cosmological scenario in which the universe is spontaneously created from literally nothing, and which is free from the difficulties I mentioned in the preceding paragraph. This scenario does not require any changes in the fundamental equations of physics; it only gives a new interpretation to a well-known cosmological solution. … The concept of the universe being created from nothing is a crazy one. To help the reader make peace with this concept, I would like to give an example of a compact instanton in a more familiar setting. …”

    This is what physicists mean by “nothing”. Nonexistent space-time, subject to the laws of quantum mechanics.

    Guth provides a nontechnical explanation:

    Alexander Vilenkin … suggested that the universe was created by quantum processes starting from “literally nothing,” meaning not only the absence of matter, but the absence of space and time as well. This concept of absolute nothingness is hard to understand, because we are accustomed to thinking of space as an immutable background which could not possibly be removed. Just as a fish could not imagine the absence of water, we cannot imagine a situation devoid of space and time. At the risk of trying to illuminate the abstruse with the obscure, I mention that one way to understand absolute nothingness is to imagine a closed universe, which has a finite volume, and then imagine decreasing the volume to zero. In any case, whether one can visualize it or not, Vilenkin showed that the concept of absolute nothingness is at least mathematically well-defined, and can be used as a starting point for theories of creation.

  • Chris

    Here’s another brief, skeptical look at the Scole experiments. Note in the comments one person claiming to be from SPR who largely agrees with the criticism.

    http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4179

  • Phil

    @ Steve Smith,

    “This is what physicists mean by “nothing”. Nonexistent space-time, subject to the laws of quantum mechanics.”

    What the heck does that mean? How can something which is nonexistent be subject to anything, let alone “laws of quantum mechanics.” What does “laws” even mean in the absence of anything?

  • Mike

    Alan,

    Thanks for the info.

    I’m going to bow out now on this one — these types of discussions always seem to degenerate.

    Only one point: regarding Dr. Puthoff you say:

    “Frankly I also think it is beyond the pale the way you attempt to smear a fine theoretical and experimental physicist. . . You should be ashamed.”

    This is why rationale discussions sometimes become difficult. All I did was copy from the wiki page, and I gave the link if others wanted to read more.

    It wasn’t an attempt to smear anyone. The wiki section I copied was not edited to make it conform to my view, and it also contained statements somewhat favorable to paranormal research.

    Sorry, but it wasn’t beyond the pale and I’m not ashamed, only a little disappointed.

  • Alan

    Chris

    I’ve seen that. If you scroll up on the comments in that article you’ll find Tim Coleman’s comment. He produced the documentary in my second last link at 75 above. He says he could “demolish” the arguments in the initial article you give …”childish in their logic”, he says.

    Better though is a 3 page article written by the independent referee, Dr. Crawford Knox, within the Scole Report (1999). I am afraid you can’t find his article online but I’ll quote a little:

    1. “The report is long, detailed and clearly presented and demands, I believe, to be taken very seriously.”

    2. “If it is read as a whole, I think it is likely it will mark an important step in attempts to place on a firm footing evidence for the existence of a spirit world and its impact on our everyday world and for survival of death.”

    Mike

    Thanks for your comments but I think one must really concentrate on phenomena only, even unpalatably, subjective ones. If you didn’t mean to “smear” then fair enough but I have seen attempts, though not just aimed at him.
    As for the links my aim was only to indicate that there seem to be converging lines of evidence in this subject – some physicists at least are trying to model. Cheers.

  • Phil

    Here’s a nice post by Peter Woit in which is comments on the multiverse hype using, as an example, looking for evidence of eternal inflation in the CMB data. Null results. http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=3879

  • Phil

    Here’s a paper, http://arxiv.org/abs/1012.3667, co-authored by someone who wrote a guest post on this blog about looking for evidence of bubble universes in CMB data:
    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2010/12/22/observing-the-multiverse-guest-post/

    They found nothing.

  • http://cornea.berkeley.edu Stan Klein

    I strongly recommend going to another Discovery Magazine site:

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2011/07/13/free-will-is-as-real-as-baseball

    Buried in that article was a clickable word “duality”. So I clicked on it, bringing one to:

    http://twistedphysics.typepad.com/cocktail_party_physics/2011/01/dueling-dualities.html

    There you will find an amazing essay by Jennifer Ouellette who is Sean Carroll’s partner. If Sean chats with her about such matters it is surprising that he takes such a narrow-minded view on what God is about. There are many versions of God other than the old-fashioned literalist version. Ouellette’s subtlety on this issue is most welcome (it involves a bit of quantum mechanics thinking). The narrow Carroll-Hawking atheism position has the downside that many people who have some sense of God (not necessarily purely literal) will conclude that scientists are narrow-minded and possibly wrong on important issues like climate change. That’s not healthy for science education.

  • Chris

    Alan,

    The fact that Tim Coleman says that the arguments are ‘child-like in their logic’ doesn’t really mean anything, since he doesn’t bother to demonstrate this and the article in question isn’t really making any ‘arguments’ – it’s pointing out the obviously unscientific procedures involved in the experiment, procedures that are comically bad, in my view. There’s no way to obviate the terribleness of these procedures, and all I see in their ‘defense’ from proponents are quotes like ‘Person X said it couldn’t have been faked,’ and the like. That is just meaningless personal opinion.

    The experiment is worthless, since the experimenters did pretty much everything wrong – indeed, their procedures could be used as a textbook case of how NOT to run an experiment (as the article points out).

    I would be completely happy to see good evidence of life after death – I’d like to survive death as much as everyone else. But an experiment like this isn’t it, even on a minimal level, much less as some sort of ‘strong’ evidence.

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  • Alan

    Chris

    “…procedures that are comically bad…”, “…terribleness of these procedures…” …”worthless”…

    I am really trying to understand this comment not from the point of view of the “procedures” but from the viewpoint of yourself, how you think and what you would consider evidence.

    “procedures” – multiple light displays, including lights entering crystals, variable “sheet light forms” and “golden moving globes”, and on two occasions flying pea-sized lights entering/exiting investigators bodies took place – ALL in a bare searched stone cellar. Also incredibly detailed information from the mediums of knowledge they did not possess and also at locations in Europe and two places in the US. Only with the four sitters present BTW with scientist investigators and others.

    What “procedures” were lacking that allowed such phenomena to occur?
    I honestly ask this question.

    The four sitters wore shirt sleeves and light dresses (two ladies) and the cellar was searched repeatedly. See the above links for this.

    “faked” – this must be nailed as a comment because there are two possibilities, fake or real.
    There must be clarity on this as there is NO third answer. Fraud was never found.
    Only REAL is left – nonmaterial intelligence manifested and at many locations but only in the presence of the four “Scole sitters”, but with the investigators.

    A very senior physicist was a witness and has tried to model the space around us in a way that includes “information spaces” wedded to the higher dimensional spaces of physics – all to try to explain phenomena like this. I met him once at a meeting in London and he spoke about this. Also he gave a talk about it at a very prestigious UK scientific Society. I find this so interesting – an attempt to model a reality where non-material intelligence can manifest, no less.

    Chris, consider this – we have been brought up on such a “bad diet” of poor shows on TV regarding this subject that it is very difficult to consider as real what is implied here, especially in a techno world where all is apparently known. We tend to “default out” and make a run for it. One must not do this.

    Finally if you were there you would have seen the same incredible light displays, photographic phenomena, levitating crystals, heard direct voices etc. I wonder what you would have made of it? I would have been awed.

  • http://www.groupsrv.com/science/about193612,html Anthony A. Aiya-Oba

    Cosmos is God; the equator of All in all.-Aiya-Oba (Philosopher).

  • Chris

    Alan,

    I don’t know if you saw the comment by Peter Wadhams, purported member of SPR, but here it is:

    “I am an SPR member, but regretfully must agree with your critical article about Scole. And there is one further item which you didn’t spot, but which is clear evidence of fraud (it is mentioned in the report): the fact that one of the exposed film canisters contained a strip of impressive-looking kabbalistic writings and drawings, which the intrepid investigator Tony Cornell showed as having been traced from a popular book on kabbalism. Cornell showed how the material could have been put onto tracing paper then exposed to produce an image identical to that obtained. He even found the marks where the tracing paper had been fixed against the film and exposed to create the fraud. This was a film which was in the easy-to-open box created by one of the mediums. It is clear proof of fraud and really shows that the SPR people at Scole were taken in. Yet Keen and Fontana would never admit that they may have been fooled. Very sad.”

    So let’s look at what we have here. We have a field, mediumship, that is highly implausible in its claims to begin with (talking to the dead, for example), and where there is already a great deal of documented fraud. We have a poor experimental protocol, in which the mediums design their own experiment, in essence (this here is enough to invalidate any experiment, not just this one). We have a typical magician/medium set-up in the mediums’ very own ‘performing space’, in the dark (where concealment is easier), with supposedly locked boxes, glowing wristbands (as the article notes, common tricks of the trade). We have no film documentation and no real attempt to catch the mediums cheating (Did anyone violate the rules and sneak a night vision camera in? Did anyone even jump up and turn on the lights? ¬– many a medium has been caught by this very simple method.). Then we have a group of people, probably already believers in psychic phenomena (and thus susceptible to suggestion and trickery in that regard), wowed, however sincerely, by some lights and some likely bogus photographic effects. And we have, possibly, evidence of fraud right in the SPR’s own report.

    You seem to take the reports of the phenomena at face value, and to be impressed by them. Let’s grant that they were impressive. But couldn’t they be impressive, yet fake? Impressive but fake phenomena is the very stock of the mediums’ trade historically. If it weren’t ‘impressive’, even the credulous wouldn’t believe it. So the personal impressiveness of phenomena is no guide to its reality. Even scientists are easy to fool (and this has also been amply documented in the history of paranormal fraud). For someone to assert ‘it couldn’t have been faked’ is simply absurd. Really, it couldn’t have been faked under any circumstances? Or is ‘couldn’t have been faked’ simply equivalent to ‘I personally don’t know how it could have been (or was) faked’?

    In the same vein, not finding evidence of fraud doesn’t mean that there was no fraud. It could mean there was no fraud; but it could also mean that the fraud was successful. You can see this, right? If the fraud were successful, obviously no evidence would be found. So Tim Coleman’s assertion that he didn’t find fraud doesn’t mean a thing (and this is leaving aside any questions about his investigative abilities, which might very well be extremely poor, however well-meaning).

    So, to my mind, not only is Scoles not good evidence for the paranormal, but it is in fact as dismal an effort as can be imagined. You may find that view unfair – I would’ve agreed wholeheartedly with you a few years ago. But Scoles just looks like fraud and credulity to me now.

  • Phosphorus99

    Are discussions such as “Hawking and God” to shed light or stimulate controversy ?

    My understanding of what science such as cosmology does is provide descriptions of the composition and functions of parts or all of the universe which is subject to measurement and analysis by the tools available to us.

    Merely being able to describe in increasingly accurate detail a 747 surely does not and cannot exclude a designer / maker (Boeing ).

    I doubt that “the God Hypothesis” can be falsified by more accurate descriptions of what exists .
    It may be falsified by our being able to accurately detect the presence of nothing i.e no quantum fields … etc , really nothing and demonstrating that something arises from it. We must also demonstrate – not believe – that intelligence can arise spontaneously from the laws of physics and chemistry.

  • Leigh

    @Phil 79

    “What the heck does that mean? How can something which is nonexistent be subject to anything, let alone “laws of quantum mechanics.” What does “laws” even mean in the absence of anything?”

    It means mathematics. t → it at t = 0 + i. Nothing here means the universe at time i; imaginary time.

    Liberal theology accepts all the findings of science and simply adds on God. So evolution is just God’s way of creating species. Let’s just say quantum tunneling is how God does it, shall we? Now, shall we all go home?

  • Phil

    @ Leigh,

    You’re full of %^&* and living your life in imaginary time in an imaginary world where your arguments make any sense whatsoever.

  • Alan

    Chris

    1.

    Peter Wadhams comments are from his reading only of the Scole Report – selective reading which is totally disingenuous. He was not a witness. The authors give a detailed reply to this, in fact a 23 page reply to all commenters to the Report. If one doesn’t read this by getting the Report itself you cannot judge. Make that step. Go to spr.ac.uk

    Also these are sealed films, rolled up inside plastic containers, inside locked boxes, which are then developed. Detailed writing and images are found from extremely obscure literary references. I have seen the images and they are reproductions but not copies.
    I must say that comments like Wadhams give people “hope” that things will return to normal!

    2.

    Peter Wadhams ignores the light phenomena – I don’t know why. Why do you? The descriptions I give above are detailed so please read. Wadhams also ignores the fact that the phenomena were seen at multiple locations around the world.

    Could I ask you to read this carefully and come back? I honestly ask for mechanisms of reproduction of the lights – remember no equipment ever found in a bare stone cellar, searched by an electrical engineering professor, Arthur Ellison and others or at other locations.

    http://www.esalenctr.org/display/confpage.cfm?confid=9&pageid=91&pgtype=1

    3.

    You say “we have a field, mediumship, that is highly implausible…” You are closing this off from the outset. Why?

    4.

    Also you have to prove how to reproduce ALL the phenomena seen, high speed blue-green lights hovering in front of investigators, entering their boodies, sheet light forms, golden hovering/moving globes, photographic images, detailed knowlege from the mediums, glowing crystal levitations and materialization/dematerialization of crystals. And there is more.

    5.

    You also have to account for why some scientists who were witnesses or who know about Scole are spending years of their lives trying to model reality to account for these and related phenomena, e.g. NDEs, remote viewing etc. – converging lines of evidence, as I said above for the existence of non-material intelligences and the possible survival of bodily death.

    6.

    Fraud. Fraud is a human phenomenon and is everywhere, in business, science (though hopefully little), mediumship and human life in general. But one must also recognize truth when it appears.

    7.

    One thought – if there was nothing to all this, nothing would be seen. And yet it was.

  • Alan

    Chris

    In fact Professor Fontana answers Tony Cornell’s (and others) criticisms in the link I give above:

    http://www.esalenctr.org/display/confpage.cfm?confid=9&pageid=91&pgtype=1

    This link is from 2000.

    “Criticisms of the investigation are fully detailed in the Report, and come primarily from three distinguished and highly experienced SPR members, namely Dr. Alan Gauld and Professor Donald West (both to whom had a sitting with the Group at which no sign of possible fraud was detected) and Tony Cornell. These criticisms contain no charges of fraud and no direct evidence for it, and focus upon the fact that as the controls were imperfect, fraud could theoretically have taken place. These criticisms can be summarized and answered as follows.

    * The vulnerability of the Alan Box which contained some of the films used during the sittings. Experiments by Dr. Gauld revealed that even when padlocked the lid could be opened by swiveling the sockets holding the hasp through which the padlock was threaded. Anticipating this danger we had ensured that paint seals were applied to the screws holding the sockets as a safeguard. When the box was returned to us after Dr. Gauld’s experiments these seals were seen to be broken (although Dr. Gauld informs us that this did not happen on his initial openings).

    However, the challenge is to take the box from the table (or from Walter Schnittger’s grasp in the experiment detailed above), to open the box under the conditions operating during the sittings, to abstract the film contained in the box and to substitute it for a prepared fake, to place the arms of the hasp back in their sockets (a difficult maneuver even in daylight), to replace the box in its exact position on the table (which on occasions was carefully marked prior to the sittings), and to effect all this without detection and without breaking the paint seals.

    To date, no critic has undertaken to attempt this feat.

    * Some of the images on the films have the appearance of being faked on acetate before being transferred to the films. This criticism is less weighty than it appears. It applies only to one particular film, and the similarity of the images concerned to those obtainable by the acetate method does not constitute direct evidence of fraud. The challenge to critics is to reproduce the filmed material, using this method, under the conditions operating during the sittings.”

    And then there are ALL the other phenomena to also explain.

    One must take comments like Peter Wadhams’ not on their face value, which would be a serious error, but in the context of a 3 year investigation. They are strange in the sense that if one can prove (which nobody has) or even strongly infer fraud, then the whole of the investigation collapses. Clearly this is not true.
    An honest reader, even if not a witness to the investigations, will say this is not true.

  • Chris

    Alan,

    I didn’t deal with the light phenomena largely due to space considerations, since that would involve bringing in psychological and perceptual issues, which would take forever to elaborate. The fact that some scientists are dedicating their lives to it, etc., is fine by me, but again, it doesn’t make the phenomena any more ‘real’ – it just means that they were really, really impressed by it, i.e.. it was a great fake. Bravo, then. But I can’t be impressed by it on their behalf. There’s lots of ‘impressive’ testimony about Bigfoot, too, but I don’t believe in that either, due to lack of physical evidence. Personal testimony is the worst form of evidence – again, due to the psychological/perceptual issues involved.

    Mediumship is all about performance. If these mediums can reproduce this phenomena under actual scientific investigative conditions (and then repeat it several times), that would be more meaningful. But to produce it only under conditions they control invalidates the entire thing – again, that is just a minimum investigative standard, not met at all here. This is my main point. The standards were so bad that it’s not even necessary to try to ‘prove’ it was faked; the entire experiment easily allowed fakery at each and every point. Let’s see these mediums do this with, for example, hidden cameras around. Wouldn’t you rather see that? Aren’t you a little suspicious about the conditions as they were? I think you should be.

    As to mediumship being implausible by nature, well, that seems to me a perfectly fair and earned view. First, the history of mediumship is filled with exactly the same story we’re getting here: impressive phenomena that are ‘impossible to fake’, scientists astounded, dedicate their lives, etc. Then somebody has the bright idea to turn on the lights, and the whole thing collapses. And we already have at least some evidence of fraud, with a seal broken and manipulated film.

    Second, it IS implausible that people can speak to dead people, or conjure spirits, etc. That should be the default view, in my opinion. It’s not ruling it out, it’s just being critical at the outset. What are the assumptions behind speaking to the dead? The existence of immaterial souls, the existence of an afterlife, the maintenance of consciousness without a physical brain, possession of another’s mind, various violations of the laws of physics, etc. Every one of those things is implausible in itself (not to mention totally unproven) and when you stack them together, well…it seems like a critical view is warranted.

    So, to reiterate, the conditions ruin the entire experiment. No amount of ‘rebuttal’ to criticism (which, by the way, seem weak to me, but I won’t get into it) can overcome this problem. There was so much opportunity for fraud that it is unnecessary to try to ‘prove’ fraud. Only reproducing the phenomena under more stringent conditions would be meaningful. I’ll bet that either the mediums would not agree to such conditions, or would fail if they did. And then we would hear all over again how it doesn’t work when skeptics are present, etc….

    Thank you for the discussion. I’ll give you the last word.

  • Tim

    Calling the series “Curiosity” seems a bit disingenuous when the purpose of the BBC/Discovery launched affront to people of faith, is to extinguish anything but a mind-numbed adherence to the atheist/evolutionist worldview.

    Hawking may be the most brilliant scientific mind that rolled down the pike, but a one-sided worldview pretending that science is the end-all, be-all to human existence, is as ludicrous as the notion that any discipline (science included) that has virtually opened it’s eyes 18 seconds ago, is apprised of sufficient sagacity to rule out the need for discovery any further than our limited five senses will take us. What if science later shows us that we have three other human senses yet undiscovered?

    Discovery? Tommy-rot.

  • http://j.mp/drb123p Dr. Dennis Bogdan

    Please Note: This Is A Re-Post Of A Comment I Made On A More Recent Thread (“Water on Mars”) ( http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2011/08/04/water-on-mars/ ) – This Post May Be More “On-Topic” Here Than There?

    If Interested – A Related Discussion About “Hawking And God” May Be Found On Wikipedia At the Following -> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Stephen_Hawking#Stephen_Hawking_-_does_not_believe_in_god

    One Comment Posted To The Wikipedia Discussion May Summarize The Current Thinking:

    FWIW – Great Discussion – AFAIK – And At The Moment – Stephen Hawking ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Hawking ) Himself Has Not Denied There Is A God – ( See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Hawking#Religious_views ) – Hawking May Very Well Believe, Like Einstein ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Einstein ), In An Indifferent (and/or impersonal) God ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Einstein#Political_and_religious_views ) – As One Defined, For Example, By Spinoza ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spinoza ) – ( See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spinoza#Panentheist.2C_pantheist.2C_or_atheist.3F ) – In Any Case – Enjoy! :) Drbogdan (talk) 03:00, 10 June 2011 (UTC)

    In Any Case – Enjoy! :)

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  • Alan

    Victory through sheer quality! – re the tweet.
    Now these are scientists who have actually done the investigations. You know, been there, seen it, done it – ; – )

    First up, Prof. Jim Tucker of the University of Virginia.
    Took over when Prof. Ian Stevenson died a short while back. Calm, clear, very focused.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VZTtU7akrfQ

    Professor Robert Almeder, Georgia State Uni.
    On why reincarnation is “difficult” for some but actually many parents don’t have a problem hearing this. Mmm…
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZhMDU9GcVg

    Professor Ian Stevenson (the Man).
    Pick up this video for him at 05.55 – Stevenson’s strongest statement on his research? – “the evidence is suggestive of reincarnation”. Cautious and measured.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tPNcwXVOQFM

    Professor Carl Jung.
    Fascinating comments from one many would regard as a great “intuiter” of the human condition. He’s been in there deeper than most. I love his comments on older folks.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LOxlZm2AU4o&feature=related

    Professor David Fontana – Scole Group scientist.
    Psychologist par excellence and witness to the Scole phenomena in the UK and abroad. Clarity, scholarship, focus.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TGV8aQxCsCI

    Montague Keen – Scole Group classics scholar.
    Here is a skeptical scholar of depth, doubting and focused, yet totally clear about what was seen by all in those investigations. Conclusion? LOD is real.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mti3oWINgY0&feature=relmfu

    Drs. Peter Fenwick and Sam Parnia.
    Parnia is in charge of the ongoing AWARE study – huge scientific NDE study with some data out next year. Still uncertain, which is good. Fenwick speaks here about deathbed visions and has researched clear evidential cases of “shared death experiences”. Here the carer and experiencer see the same thing. These are difficult to deny – also very clear about life after the big D.
    http://www.victorzammit.com/evidence/endoflife.htm

    Dr. Jeffrey Long, radiation oncologist.
    More of the same with a large database and concludes once again that there is an afterlife. “I’ve become convinced that near-death experiences establish the reality of life after death…” he begins.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mptGAc3XWPs

    Dr. Eben Alexander, neurosurgeon.
    After a remarkable and prolonged NDE he concluded after ruling out all “physical”, normal possibilities that there is life after death. Had experiences which as he says could NOT have come from “memories laid down in the brain.” Pick this up at 02.45 in the video.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qFvzHEepPQE&feature=related

    The common thread among these scientists? They have done the research and concluded, some tentatively, that the mind/awareness can exist without a physical body. Not sure I’m looking forward to it – bit of a leap in the dark. Arghhh…!!!

    But needs an explanation and seems to show we are living in a special place.
    (And thanks for the edit facility BTW!)

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  • PhilG

    “The question of God and the questions of cosmology arise from a common impulse — to understand how the world works at its most fundamental level. These issues naturally go hand-in-hand. Pretending otherwise, I believe, probably stems from a desire on the part of religious believers to insulate their worldview from scientific critique.”
    Nice rhetorical shot, but I think your assumption is wrong: the “question of” God” does not arise from a “impulse” to understand how the universe works! Science does, but it a misunderstanding to contend that religion aims at understatnding how the universe works.
    Cosmogonies question the origins of man and the universe in search for meaning, not its laws as science does!
    How this affects your conclusion as to the relationships between science and religion I will leave to the reader… but suffice it to say that if we admit that they stem from diferent sources and intents, not only do we understand better what religion and science are about, but we avoid a number of vain debates about wrong questions!

  • Jen M

    I, once upon a time would have wrote a post very similar to many of these as a scientist and atheist. I spent years as a neurobiological researcher, studied anthropology and believed completely in rational science. I would go around with “narrow-minded Christians” who I fully believed blocked out the desire to understand science because they thought that it would disprove their beliefs. I would get angry because I felt they were holding back our country from moving forward. I said some pretty awful stuff and felt very self-assured. I was smart, they were ridiculous and out-dated–end of story. Then I got saved. I wish I could tell you how it happened but in the midst of my pride, my intelligence and my self-importance God loved me anyway. I feel blessed beyond measure at being a well educated scientist who is also a Christian. As I stood on my pulpit of science and told Christians that they were too narrow-minded to learn science I realized I knew very little about Christianity. I was arguing against it and was not well studied in it. Now, being well versed on both sides, I can say it is completely possible for both to exist. What I am about to say is for my fellow Christians who feel that scientists are their enemy:First of all, Christians must accept the fact that psychology, psychiatry and all physical and biological sciences are sciences ordained by the Lord which He also uses to glorify Himself. Period. That some things wrought forth through these sciences are erroneous and absolutely irrelevant to a Christian walk is a fact as old as the Fallen state of Man. That calls for us to exercise biblical discernment and wisdom. Furthermore, Man has corrupted everything he has gotten his hands on and the sciences are definitely no exception. Saddly, even the pulpit has been corrupted so no one can weep in it’s defense. I think it is important as a Christian to understand this and not turn your eyes from the sciences. They tell us about our God created world, they help us to understand our origins. There is nothing in the bible that speaks against many of Darwin’s theories for example. Survival of the fittest/natural selection is very much a way in which nature regulates itself. Why wouldn’t God create a world with order, the ability to regulate and so forth? Again, I am blessed to have knowledge in both areas and to have been able to see where they meet. For those who are agnostic or atheist. I do challenge you to step into a bible study, to learn more. What is there to be afraid of? It will either give you more wisdom to argue your point or you may begin to think differently. The only reason not to do it is out of fear that you might be wrong. Again, I hated Christians with every fiber of my being before I understood. My heart breaks for who I was and how close I was to utter ignorance when I felt so incredibly rational and intelligent. Examine both sides always whether you are a Christian against science or Scientist against Christianity. I value S. Hawking’s greatly and have read everything he has written. He is an amazing mind but don’t fool yourself that he has not created his own theology with him as his own God.

  • Udaybhanu Chitrakar

    In olden-golden days the saying was: When there was nothing, there was God. When there will be nothing again, there will still be God.
    But then came the scientists and changed everything. The above saying also changed to this: When there was nothing, there were quantum laws. When there will be nothing again, there will still be quantum laws.
    These quantum laws are spaceless, timeless, changeless, eternal, all-pervading, unborn, uncreated and immaterial. Only that these laws lack consciousness. In every other respect they are just like God.
    These quantum laws are spaceless, timeless and immaterial, because when there was no space, no time and no matter, there were still these quantum laws. (Vilenkin’s model)
    These quantum laws are all-pervading, because these laws act equally everywhere.
    Quantum laws are scientists’ God.
    Amen.

  • Jason Tannery

    The following are the evidences to prove that Stephen Hawking has abused science to support his Big Bang theory in which gravity could exist prior to the formation of the universe to create something out of nothing since his theory has contradicted not only Isaac Newton’s principle, but also Eistein’s theory:

    The following is the extract of the second paragraph under the sub-title of “Negative Pressure” for the main subject of the ‘Nature Of Dark Energy’ as shown in the website address http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_energy:

    According to General Relativity, the pressure within a substance contributes to its gravitational attraction for other things just as its mass density does. This happens because the physical quantity that causes matter to generate gravitational effects is the Stress-energy tensor, which contains both the energy (or matter) density of a substance and its pressure and viscosity.

    As the phrase, the physical quantity that causes matter to generate gravitational effects is mentioned in the extracted paragraph, it gives the implication that physical quantity of matter has to exist prior to the generation of gravitational effects. Or in other words, it opposes the principality that gravitational effects could occur at the absence of matter. As it is described pertaining to Dark Energy, it implies that Dark Energy could only be derived from the existence of the physical quantity of matter. This certainly rejects Stephen Hawking’s theory in which dark energy could exist prior to the formation of the universe as if that dark energy could exist the support or influence from the physical quantity of matter.

    The following is the extract of the third paragraph under the sub-title of ‘Cosmological Constant’ for the main subject of the ‘Nature of Dark Energy’ that has been extracted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_energy:

    The simplest explanation for dark energy is that it is simply the “cost of having space”: that is, a volume of space has some intrinsic, fundamental energy. This is the cosmological constant, sometimes called Lambda (hence Lambda-CDM model) after the Greek letter Λ, the symbol used to mathematically represent this quantity. Since energy and mass are related by E = mc2, Einstein’s theory of general relativity predicts that it will have a gravitational effect..

    E = mc2 has been used to be related to Dark Energy. As energy and mass are related in according to General Relativity and if m = 0, no matter how big the number that c could be, E (the dark energy) would turn up to be 0 since no matter how big the number c is E is always equal to 0 when 0 (that is the mass) is multiplied by c2. Or in other words, E (the dark energy) should be equal to 0 at the absence of substance (the mass). Stephen Hawking’s theory certainly contradicts Eistein’s theory in the sense that he supports that dark energy ( E > 0) could exist even though there could not be any matter (that is m = 0) existed prior to the formation of the universe.

    Refer to the website address pertaining to Isaac Newton’s theory pertaining to The Unversal Law of Gravitation: ttp://csep10.phys.utk.edu/astr161/lect/history/newtongrav.html

    Every object in the universe attracts every other object with a force directed along the time of centers for the two objects that is proportional to the product of their masses and inversely separation between the two objects. Fg = G(m1 m2)/r2. (Fg is the gravitational force; m1 & m2 are the masses of the two objects; r is the separation between the objects and G is the universal gravitational constant. From the formula, we note that Fg (the gravitational force or in replacement of dark energy) has a direct influence from two masses (m1 & m2). If either of the m is equal to 0, Fg would turn up to be 0. Isaac Newton’s theory certainly opposes Stephen Hawking in which gravity or the so-called, dark energy, could exist at the absence of matter prior to the formation of this universe in this energy or gravity could create something out of nothing.

    Stephen Hawking might comment that Eistein’s and Isaac Newton’s principles are wrong. However, Stephen Hawking was not born at the time prior to the formation of this universe to visualize how the universe could be formed initially. To jump into the conclusion that the gravity could be created from something out of nothing is simply out of his own imagination. Not only that, his theory contradicts both Eistein’s and Isaac Newton’s principles pertaining to gravity.

  • http://universalrule.info Shahidur Rahman Sikder

    From the time of the very auspicious inception of the civilization, mankind is continuing to find out the correct answer to the question about universe creation or creator. Aborigines have taking up the considerations of the causes by religious thoughts in different ways as consolations as there was no real answer or solutions to the questions. Professor Hawking announced “There is no place for God in theories on the creation of the Universe” As a result of the progress of the civilization in the present situation, it became possible to find out the correct solutions to the questions about nature, universe and question about the creation in the majority of the cases according to the rules or provisions of science. See into- Religious at http://t.co/OQDPbAg See vision- Religious & Science Logic- http://shahidurrahmansikder.wordpress.com/2011/04/27/science-religion-logic/

  • Shantanu

    Btw did anyone watch yesterday’s episode of curiosity. it was about cosmology

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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 .

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