Hawking is an atheist

Over at Cosmic Variance, Sean Carroll describes a panel discussion he had with two accommodationist scholars (Paul Davies and John Haught) following a broadcast of a new show on cosmology starring Stephen Hawking, “Is there a creator?”. That show and the discussion will air on the Discovery Channel this Sunday at 8 p.m. ET.

Carroll makes it clear that despite certain ambiguous statements by Hawking, the man is certainly an atheist, and the answer to the question posed by his show’s title is an unambiguous “no.”  This is also clear in an interview conducted with Hawking by USA Today.

Carroll is understandably peevish that a show about cosmology is so easily hijacked into questions of religion, but was happy to get in his licks.

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.)

While you’re over there, check out Sean’s two new posts on the water-on-Mars discovery and his new paper on the origin of the universe.

And if you watch the Hawking show, and the post-show debate, weigh in here with your take (I’m the only living American who doesn’t get cable television). I’ll be “debating” Haught in October (not a debate really, but two back-to-back talks on faith and science), and try to follow his views.

78 Comments

  1. Cody Porter
    Posted August 5, 2011 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Fret not — I know a lone ornithologist in bush Alaska who does not have cable either, putting you in great company.

  2. Posted August 5, 2011 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    I don’t have cable either! But I’m a college student, but I refuse to get cable because

    1-its way too expensive
    2- to get awful media.

    I’ll stick with my evo-devo blogs for now.

  3. Posted August 5, 2011 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    I’ll see your lack of cable and raise you a lack of TV….

    Actually, in on sense, I do have cable. It’s just that I only have it for Internet access and telephone service.

    b&

    • Grania
      Posted August 6, 2011 at 2:48 am | Permalink

      I can do better than that: no TV, no “landline” only a cellphone, and my Broadband is wireless.

      That said, I still seem to have an awful lot of wiring trailing out the back of my main computer (the non-laptop one): one for the box, one for the monitor, one for the speakers, one for the external hard-drive. They’re all for electricity though, so nowt I can do about it.

      • E.A. Blair
        Posted August 6, 2011 at 8:58 am | Permalink

        Eventually, someone will win this Luddite pissing contest by moving to a cave, but without a computer, he won’t be able to tell us about it.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted August 6, 2011 at 8:50 am | Permalink

      I’ll see your lack of TV and raise you a lack of US citizenship. :-/

  4. Rob
    Posted August 5, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    Cable? What’s that?

    Disconnected back in 2001 except for internet.

  5. Posted August 5, 2011 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    Butter kitteh told to tell you that we also don’t get cable TV. More substantive comment to follow after we talk it over with the cat.

  6. Posted August 5, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    I, too, am without cable, at least for the TV stuff. (I use cable for Internet access; it’s the best option here.)

  7. Paul of Catharsis
    Posted August 5, 2011 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    My guess is that the Stephen Hawking episode of Curiosity will contain all of about 5 minutes worth of commentary from Hawking himself, and maybe 30 seconds of that will be new material. The episode will contain corny narration and ultimately conclude with an open ended question about whether there truly is god. Place your bets.

  8. daveau
    Posted August 5, 2011 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    Alright, alright. I guess I’ll have to watch it for all of you. No wonder these shows are so low-rated, if none of their target market can watch them. Although cable is a huge time & budget black hole.

    Brian Cox’s “Wonders of the Universe” just dealt with the steady-state, high entropy universe at what we would think of as the end of time. The kind of place Carroll’s universe begins. Sorry, it was on cable.

  9. E.A. Blair
    Posted August 5, 2011 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    That show is the premiere episode of a new series titled Curiosity, which I’ve seen promoted rather heavily. The first episode is titled Did God Create The Universe, and now that I know that Hawking is involved maked the thought of watching it slightly more acceptable, but I probably won’t make up my mind until Sunday night.

    I really get tired of outlets that call themselves “History Channel”, Science Channel” and “Discovery Channel” either presenting pseudoscience and/or religion as fact. History Channel runs numerous programs rationalizing historicity of biblical legends, the “historical” Jesus and so on. Another program, Ancient Aliens, even blended the two, depicting the story of Jonah and the whale as an abduction by an aquatic UFO manned by extraterrestrials.

    • Posted August 7, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

      So are you seriously maintaining Jesus of Nazareth did not even exist?– I know of no scholar who takes this view.

      • Posted August 10, 2011 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

        You owe it to yourself to do a bit of investigation. Thanks to the ‘Net, that’s easier now than ever.

        Compose a theory of who Jesus was, and then see how well your theory stacks up with the evidence.

        All the evidence, not just the Gospels.

        That evidence would include all the sources contemporary to Jesus that I keep pointing to: the Dead Sea Scrolls, Philo of Alexandria, Pliny the Elder, the Roman Satirists, and so on.

        It would also include all the heresies, too. How do you reconcile your own vision of Jesus with Marcion’s?

        You’ll also have to account for Justin Martyr’s comparison of Jesus to the numerous “sons of Jupiter.” And Lucian’s version of the origins of Christian myths — namely as having been fraudulently inserted by Peregrinus.

        You’ll also want to take a fresh look at the New Testament, too. Just how old are the oldest extant copies, and what’s their provenance? What’s the evidence that they’re what everybody says they are? How much weight should one really give to a book that describes a man who spent a month and a half wandering around Jerusalem with gaping wounds in his chest and limbs, doing exactly that which had gotten him executed in the first place, with nary a peep from those who executed him?

        There’s no charitable explanation for Jesus. He’s exactly as mythical as Osiris, Dionysus, Mithras, Perseus, Orpheus, and all the rest of the gang. Christianity is, indeed, the greatest chicanery ever sold.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Posted July 11, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

          Clearly you have not seen Bart Ehrman’s recent dismissal of this view. He names the only two biblical or ancient historians he knows who do not believe in the historical existence of Jesus. And Ehrman of course is not a religious believer himself, just a well known academic scholar. To repeat hardly any classical historians or biblical historians doubt the historical existence of Jesus. You are relying on dodgy websites created out of the work of the Professor Gernan Wells and outdated myth theories that do not understand the Jewish monotheiest anti-pagan ethos.

  10. Steve Smith
    Posted August 5, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    Hawking: “Because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.”

    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.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted August 5, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      This post is 928 words long; could you kindly try to limit the length in the future? A link to the analysis would suffice.

      • Steve Smith
        Posted August 5, 2011 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

        In ur quantumz, makin ur univerz [link]

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted August 5, 2011 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

      I don’t dispute your math, but I find this sort of argument unsatisfying as an answer to the question of why there’s something instead of nothing. You assume the prior existence of the laws of quantum mechanics, which surely count as something rather than “literally nothing”. To me, the “nothing” in question means nothing at all, no space, no time, no physics, without even the possibility of anything existing. I’m not sure this is even a coherent concept, and I certainly don’t see how God helps clarify it. But I’m afraid I don’t see how arguments based on quantum theory help either.

      • Steve Smith
        Posted August 5, 2011 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

        I find this sort of argument unsatisfying as an answer to the question of why there’s something instead of nothing

        Satisfying or not, it comes down to whether there are any gaps left for a god to fill, or as Einstein put it, “What really interests me is whether God had any choice in the creation of the world.”

        You don’t need a god to make 1  1 = 2, and you may not need a god to make physics.

        Whether this explanation is satisfying or not is irrelevant because the world is the way it is—it only matters if it’s right or not. Or as Feynman joked, “You don’t like it? Go someplace else!”

        • Posted August 6, 2011 at 5:49 am | Permalink

          Does anyone who reads German better than I have access to what Einstein actually said? I’ve always wondered about the ambiguity in the statement.

          That aside, the “something rather than nothing” is a pseudoproblem: why would one think there could have been nothing?

          • Gregory Kusnick
            Posted August 6, 2011 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

            I’m inclined to agree; that’s why I said the question may not be coherent. I just don’t think anybody who asks that sort of question will see this sort of answer as having any relevance to it.

          • Gregory Kusnick
            Posted August 6, 2011 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

            Although I might have phrased it “Why would one think nothing could be?”

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted August 6, 2011 at 8:22 am | Permalink

      I am not sure why you would want to call these theories “out of nothing”, when they suggest nothing [sic!] of the sort. Precisely Carroll likes to point out that since universes are distributions over something, there is no coherence in attributing “nothing” to cosmology.

      Nevertheless, you don’t need finetuning of inflation to have tunneling of new universes. FRW universes, the general type to which our universe belongs are precisely zero energy, they do that anyway.

      And as for Hawking and Vilenkin, they assume self-consistency in hitting the “right” physics. The idea to describe anthropic likelihoods or similar principles on a background of multiverse outcomes as “nothing” is truly an epic philosophy.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted August 6, 2011 at 8:34 am | Permalink

      The more interesting idea out of modern cosmology is that it supports eternal processes as the natural ground state of cosmological theories like eternal inflation.

      Linde points out that the set of backwards semiclassical worldlines that spawns a universe while inflating eternal forward has nu upper bound even if they have to run into a singularity akin to the old big bang. (From out of bounds increasing energy from the blueshift.)

      You don’t even have to regulate these singularities to ponder the interesting situation: do you need an initial condition on eternal processes? That would impose a symmetry breaking.

      Could be, the expansion itself is a symmetry breaking, but it is not an all out demand.

      The remaining problem is that a system rarely starts out near its stationary point. Again, anthropic principles voids likelihood problems, and an exponentially dynamic phase space like eternal inflation would rapidly loose any memory of ‘initial conditions’.

      If you are stuck in a big bang (or worse, creationist) mentality, you may think an initial state is a compelling situation. I don’t think modern cosmology is so simple that you can analyze it in those terms.

    • Posted August 6, 2011 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      Definition: Nothing is what rocks dream about

      (I can’t remember where I heard this)

  11. Phosphorus99
    Posted August 5, 2011 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    “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.”

    Very interesting.

    Is this unexpected since, at least in my ignorance, I thought that matter,space and time are what defined the universe and must therefore arise from something which is other than themselves ?

    what are quantum fields and where do they come from ?

    • Posted August 5, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      There are physicists who grace these pages, but Jerry’s a biologist, and I doubt he has more than an advanced layman’s knowledge of the field.

      There is, however an excellent “blog” called “Starts With a Bang,” run by a theoretical astrophysicist named Ethan Siegel. Back in February he posted on this very topic:

      http://scienceblogs.com/startswithabang/2011/02/can_you_get_something_for_noth.php

      That should be more than enough to get you started.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • murci3lag0
        Posted August 5, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

        You can also check out these wonderful documentary: BBC “Everything and nothing”:

  12. Bob Carlson
    Posted August 5, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    Jerry’s lack of cable leaves me mystified over his disappointment concerning the demise of Olbermann’s Countdown show on MSNBC back in January.

  13. KP
    Posted August 5, 2011 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    “I’m the only living American who doesn’t get cable television”

    No, you’re not.

    • Jacob
      Posted August 5, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

      It was a metaphor. There was a very subtle, sophisticated point being made, which I’m not going to share with you.

  14. Posted August 5, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    By definition atheists must always have believed in purely scientific explanations for the existence of the universe. How then do these later versions of the singularity concept advance the argument. On the other hand theologians from Aquinas on have believed in a creator who works entirely through secondary physical causes. Only unsophisticated believers think God is the scientific cause of the universe

    • Steve Smith
      Posted August 5, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

      Only unsophisticated believers think God is the scientific cause of the universe

      This question comes down to whether there are gaps left for a god to fill, or as Einstein put it, “What really interests me is whether God had any choice in the creation of the world.”

      You don’t need a god to make 1 1 = 2, and you may not need a god to make physics.

      And even if the origin of physics is forever a mystery, the burden will always be on believers why they would replace the relatively simple mystery of physics with the infinitely greater mystery of a sentient god.

    • Andrew B.
      Posted August 5, 2011 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

      Kind of like Poseidon. He doesn’t actually create hurricanes by PROPELLING ocean water towards the shore with his Godly Biceps. Only a fundamentalist would believe that! No, Poseidon is much more clever! He just uses his magic powers to manipulate air pressure and ocean water temperature in such a way that a hurricane of desired size, velocity and intensity develops. Oh, and he does this through quantum physics so it’s totally undetectable. See? Sophisticated.

      • Posted August 7, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

        See reply to Sastra post — logically speaking there are different levels of causation, and spiritual purposes (spirit being a form of energy) coexist with other levels of causation. The claim was obviously not that God manipulated the scientfic realities directly (but secretly)– that is not what ‘secondary causes’ are. Scientists blogging on this site need to do some work in philosophical logic. Otherwise, as I said before, just stick to the science instead of attacking religion– you ought to find enough there. Creationists are attacking science, so that is a different matter. If you are going to attack other forms of religious discourse then you will have to do some study of it first, or you won’t seem very open-minded.

    • PeteJohn
      Posted August 5, 2011 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

      Unsophisticated believers would happily vote for Michelle Bachmann in November of 2012. Pardon me for taking a sizeable portion of the American populace’s beliefs seriously.

    • Grania
      Posted August 6, 2011 at 3:02 am | Permalink

      “By definition atheists must always have believed in purely scientific explanations for the existence of the universe”

      Errrr, no. Atheists “must have always” absolutely nothing of the sort.

      A lot of atheists used to be theists so your statement crashes and burns right there. But being an atheist only means you don’t find the idea of supernatural interfering entities plausible.

      The fact that many atheists also think that being scientifically literate is important is usually an off-shoot but not a necessary “credo” of their disbelief.

      Also, atheists by definition don’t usually do “belief”. We understand that the scientific method offers humanity the best explanations for the natural universe for what is known about it at the moment. We also understand that as more knowledge is acquired our understanding may grow or deepen or change.

      Seriously, stop reading Aquinas, start reading Hawking, Weinberg, Feynman or Cox or Krauss. Citing Aquinas as some sort of authority on the universe is rather like claiming that Ptolemy pretty much wrapped it up for astronomy.

      • Posted August 6, 2011 at 5:54 am | Permalink

        Worse, “existence of the universe” is ambiguous. I don’t recognize that one has to even give an answer to where everything comes from – by definition it doesn’t *come* from anything at all. (Nor is it sustained in existence, have a “ground of being” or any other theological bafflegab.) That does not stop one from asking where any particular stage, part, component, etc. comes from, e.g., the local hubble volume, cats, or iron atoms.

      • Posted August 7, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

        I was citing Aquinas as an expert on philosophical logic — specifically the logic of secondary causes, not as an expert on cosmology.

        • Posted August 7, 2011 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

          The more I read of and about Aquinas, the more I become convinced that he wasn’t an expert in anything but bafflegab designed to convince himself and others to eat Jesus crackers.

          His magnum opus is nothing more than a transparent exercise in special pleading. It was entirely devoid of evidential support at the time and has been so soundly refuted since it’s not even funny.

          It’s not a case of Euclid or Newton whose works remain profoundly applicable to human-scale experiences despite being superseded for extra-human-scale domains. It’s not even like Ptolemy and his epicycles; they at least had some predictive power. Rather, it’s a bad rehash of Platonism filtered through the lens of Christian theology. Plato at least was entertaining to read. Aquinas? Ha!

          Cheers,

          b&

    • Sastra
      Posted August 6, 2011 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

      Tom Woodman #14 wrote:

      On the other hand theologians from Aquinas on have believed in a creator who works entirely through secondary physical causes. Only unsophisticated believers think God is the scientific cause of the universe.

      The form of causation which is supposed to be “outside of science” is agent causation: specifically, psychokenesis, the purported ability of the mind to move or create matter and energy simply by willing that it be so. Because it was internal and private, what the mind was and how it worked was thought to forever lie outside of objective analysis.

      Wrong.

      Minds are not outside of science and “agent causation” isn’t some special case.

      Let’s see how sophisticated you can be. Take all mind-like aspects out of God. What’s left?

  15. Neil
    Posted August 5, 2011 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    I shudder whenever physicists use the term god. Hawking is an atheist, but he is not above getting the word god into the title of his books. Likewise, Lederman and his damn “god-particle”

    Worst of all is that uber-accommodationist Einstein quote about science being lame without religion. How the theists love that one. Einstein should have said “Science without religion is science,religion without science is blind,and religion with science is lame.”

    • Grania
      Posted August 6, 2011 at 3:16 am | Permalink

      I am always amazed when people think that Hawking or Einstein using the word “God” think that this is a solid basis for wondering about their personal philosophies. I can’t claim to have read Einstein, but I have read Hawking, and it is extremely clear that he uses the word mischievously, it is nothing more than a semantic place-holder. Those who try to plead some sort of other meaning from his words are either deliberately misreading the text or haven’t read it.

      Einstein wrote: “I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”

      Hawking wrote: “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going”

      How much more clear do they need to be?

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted August 6, 2011 at 8:42 am | Permalink

      Wow. That urban myth is persistent.

      Lederman didn’t originate the term, an editor did;

      “The Higgs boson is the particle that is thought to give everything else in the universe mass, but that bit of theoretical physics is unlikely to be the reason most people have heard of it. Its theistic nickname was coined by Nobel-prize winning physicist Leon Lederman, but Higgs himself is no fan of the label. “I find it embarrassing because, though I’m not a believer myself, I think it is the kind of misuse of terminology which I think might offend some people.”

      It wasn’t even Lederman’s choice. “He wanted to refer to it as that ‘goddamn particle’ and his editor wouldn’t let him,” says Higgs.”

      Personally I think someone at LHC should come up with a Goddamn particle.

      • Neil
        Posted August 6, 2011 at 9:06 am | Permalink

        I do not find it credible that an editor could insist over the will of the author what the name of his book is going to be. Can you imagine an editor telling JC that his book will be titled “Evolution–the God Mechanism.” We all know why god is in the title of so many science books–it sells the books. If JC would have titled his book this way, he probably could retire now.

        • Posted August 6, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

          sez neil: “I do not find it credible that an editor could insist over the will of the author what the name of his book is going to be.”
          If so, you reveal yourself as being rather ignorant of how the publishing business works. It is far from uncomnmon for publishers to insist on making changes to… pretty much any and every part of a book, from characters’ personalities to titles to descriptive passages and then some.

          “We all know why god is in the title of so many science books–it sells the books.”
          And here we have a fine example of one of the reasons why a publisher might insert “God” into a book’s title against the wishes of the book’s author: The publisher thinks that insertion will help sales.

        • whyevolutionistrue
          Posted August 6, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

          Actually, my experience is that authors have NO final authority to decide on the title, just as we have no authority to give titles to our articles or book reviews. Deciding on a title is a process of mutual negotiation between author and publisher.

          • Neil
            Posted August 7, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

            Yes, and Lederman should have negotiated harder. My point is that, IMO, too many authors writing esoteric physics books seem to succumb to the commercial pressure to put god in the title, or let the publisher put god in the title, in order to appeal to readers looking for god in science.

    • Steve Smith
      Posted August 7, 2011 at 4:14 am | Permalink

      I shudder whenever physicists use the term god.

      Others agree. From Gerald Holton’s essay “Einsten’s Third Paradise“:

      Other hints come from the countless, well known quotations in which Einstein referred to God—doing it so often that Niels Bohr had to chide him. Karl Popper remarked that in conversations with Einstein, “I learned nothing … he tended to express things in theological terms, and this was often the only way to argue with him. I found it finally quite uninteresting.”

      This stuff certainly tarnished Einstein’s scientific judgment (“God does not play dice”). But Holton goes on to make a point it would be difficult to disagree with:

      But two other reports may point to the more profound layer of Einstein’s deepest convictions. One is his remark to one of his assistants, Ernst Straus: “What really interests me is whether God had any choice in the creation of the world.”

      This is a deeply scientific question asked by many people: is the physics we observe necessarily true? If it is, then this question, especially the way Einstein posed it, obliterates god.

  16. Posted August 5, 2011 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    I am glad that you mentioned, at least in passing, that science/religion is not a debate. My experience is that way too many non-science folks misunderstand how science actually works, believing that we sit around debating whether or not evolution is true, whether or not amalgams release mercury, etc. We actually do the work to demonstrate that evolution is true, that amalgams release mercury, etc. The debates arise when there are differences of opinion as to what to do with the scientific data. Re origins, YECers choose to ignore the data; IDers throw in a designer; TEers acknowledge the data but add a deity, and atheists say the data are all that are required. However, all interpret and internalize the data through a lifeview lens, and hence if there is a debate, it is about how we live in light of the data.

    • andyo
      Posted August 5, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think there’s evidence that amalgams aren’t safe, if that’s what you meant.

      http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/mercury-must-be-bad-if-not-in-vaccines-in-teeth/

      • Posted August 5, 2011 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

        andyo – is that what I said? No – my example was ‘does it come out’, which the ADA proclaimed as fact without any data. The data clearly show that it does. Is it safe? I surely wouldn’t appeal to Harriet Hall’s opinion, but rather would look at the publications that actually examine the biological effects. In some ways, you prove my point – the debate is about differences of opinion, and in this case, opinions of vested interests, than on the data. As a scientist, I have seen enough data to conclude that non-mercury containing dental materials are safer than amalgam. But we digress…..sorry Dr. Coyne.

        • andyo
          Posted August 5, 2011 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

          It’s not what you said, hence the “if that’s what you meant”. But now you’re saying it (or something equivalent). Well the people at SBM, (Gorsky and Novella) seem to agree with Hall, and what makes you think they’re “opinions of vested interests”? You’re using the same phrasing as anti-vaccine people.

          I have as much reason to trust the folks at SBM, or Orac at SciBlogs on medicine as I have to trust Jerry Coyne or PZ Myers on biology.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted August 6, 2011 at 8:47 am | Permalink

      “atheists say the data are all that are required”

      No – that is what an agnostic would say. An atheist would say that the theory is sound, and the theory has no creator.

      Similarly evolutionary creationists (“TEers”) has a creationist theory, not a simple adding of an untested hypothesis.

  17. Notagod
    Posted August 5, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    This is an interview of Leonard Mlodinow co-author with Hawking of “The Grand Design”:

    http://ttbook.org/book/leonard-mlodinow-grand-design

    Description from the site

    Stephen Hawking is shaking the universe again with his new book, “The Grand Design,” which says that you can explain the existence of everything without requiring God. Steve Paulson talks with Hawking’s co-author, Caltech physicist Leonard Mlodinow about how they wrote the book and what it really says, and doesn’t say.

    Its just over 10 minutes. He also explains what is meant by “the mind of god” at the end of “A Brief History of Time”

  18. Andrew
    Posted August 5, 2011 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

    Just wanted to speak up that I as well don’t have cable TV. I’m hoping it will be viewable on Discovery’s website the next day.

  19. Posted August 6, 2011 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    My point was simply a logical one: if the latest Hawking’s version finally disproves the need for God then those who say this must have been agnostics before, not atheists. No theologians for centuries (at least since Kant) have argued that ‘creation’ or ‘design’ are the reasons for believing in God. If you want to dismiss belief in God then read the people who write about it, including Aquinas. Otherwise just keep to the science.

    • Drosera
      Posted August 7, 2011 at 4:01 am | Permalink

      Why on earth would I need to read about what fairy-believers have written to accept the idea that there are almost certainly no fairies?

      If I remember correctly, Aquinas never presented any evidence for his god.

  20. Notagod
    Posted August 6, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    There is no God without a human mind to suppose It. What god has ever disagreed with the christian that possessed It? Which god has ever agreed 100% with any two christians?

  21. Posted August 7, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    Because unlike belief in fairies belief in God has been and still is supported by the testimony of all kinds of people in all kinds of societies in all periods, including many great scientists of the past and the present and because of the varieties of well recorded evidence for it– found, in Aquinas, among others — see my website — I will send you a free link to the document if you wish. The ‘fairy’ analogy is a very poor one, and a real cliche– I don’t mean to be rude — genuinely I don’t– but come on. And as a matter of fact if you didn’t want to believe in fairies then why should you read up about the subject, but if you were going to continue to post about the non-existence of them in a proactive way then you probably would need to show your open-mindedness by doing some research about the subject including about those like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (admittedly, deceived) or W.B.Yeats or William Blake who did believe in them.

  22. Posted August 7, 2011 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    This is a complete misunderstanding of what I said and of what causation is — see philosophical discussion of levels of causation. The same phenomenon can have a variety of different levels of causation eg falling in love– chemical, biological, cultural, psychological. God’s activity is clearly not ‘outside of science’, not psychokinesis. It works in and through scientific causes, so that God’s ultimate purposes can be achieved through them. Spirit works through material causes: it is a form of energy. I claim no sophistication myself, but I have read the works of highly sophisticated scientifically-trained theologians and theologically-trained scientists. So should people who want to write about these matters– otherwise, as I said, just stick to the science: I should have thought you would find enough there.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted August 7, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

      Okay, now it’s your turn to tell us exactly what your evidence is for accepting the existence of God. If you don’t answer, you’re gone.

    • Posted August 7, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

      Spirit works through material causes: it is a form of energy.

      This is a directly testable claim.

      What particle carries the energy associated with spirit? What is its mass and composition? What sort of trace does it leave in the target of an accelerator?

      Think this through even the tiniest bit, and you should quickly realize that either those are perfectly reasonable questions, or “spirit” necessarily entails a violation of the law of conservation — that is, either we can measure “spirit” or it’s prime power source for a perpetual motion machine.

      Cheers,

      b&

    • H.H.
      Posted August 7, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

      Spirit works through material causes: it is a form of energy.

      Yes, they are made of N-rays.

  23. H.H.
    Posted August 7, 2011 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    So the program was AWESOME. Hawking pretty much laid the smack down. He took us through the history of man’s understanding of the Universe, at each stage indicating how the religious explanation popularly accepted at the time always turned out to be dead wrong.

    He then went on to demonstrate how the Universe could come from nothing and that god–defined as a being which existed before the universe and actively created it–is not only useless and unnecessary as an explanation, but actually runs contrary to the evidence, which suggests there was no “before” the beginning of spacetime. He calls the question “What happened before the beginning of the Universe?” a conceptual error, and considers it to be as nonsensical a question as asking “In which direction lies the edge of the Earth?”

    He ends by saying everyone is free to believe as they wish, but in his view there is no god and no afterlife and that’s that. There was no mealy-mouthed equivocating or comforting words of appeasement offered to the religious at all. Hawking is no accommodationist. It was beautiful.

  24. Dale Franzwa
    Posted August 7, 2011 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

    H.H, #23. Very good summary. I think you’ve nailed it. Here on the Pacific coast, I was able to lead in to the Curiosity show by first watching Into the Universe With Steven Hawking. These two shows fit together quite well. As for the God question panel afterword…well, interesting to watch Haught try to save his religion by resorting to a God of the Gaps argument–where do the laws of physics come from. Pardon me but Hawking answered that in The Grand Design, those laws arose spontaneously with the universe, actually the multiverse, each universe having its own laws/constants-variables. I’ve pointed out before, we may already have evidence for the existence of the multiverse. Google Dark Flow. Jerry, good luck with Haught. P.S. I was very disappointed with M. Kaku’s remarks.

  25. vel
    Posted August 8, 2011 at 6:34 am | Permalink

    I was essentially pleased with the show. I think it could have gone into more detail on the claims about black holes being a region with no “time” but all in all, it was much better than the usual stuff the Discovery conglomerate makes with its giving far too much credance to the theists, conspiracy theorists, and other nutters. I did not bother watching the discussion afterward since I knew that would get the usual magic decoder ring nonsense.

  26. Posted August 8, 2011 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    No, it is energy, and therefore just as real as other forms of energy

  27. Posted August 8, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    You are entitled to your opinion of course, but I note that even Dawkins feels it necessary to try to provide a refutation. However, the 13th century can hardly be expected to provide the final answer to most things. As noted before I was pointing to his disinction between different kinds of causes, which comes from Aristotle and is still invoked when he we talk about secondary causes etc. If you want to read contemporary discussions of evidence for faith there are some very good ones around. I have found most contemporary espousers of scientism (Not the same as science) very ignorant of religion. And why should they bother you may ask? They needn’t, but it is not very open-minded to disparage that of which little is known. Is Dawkins an ‘expert’ on religion (and, of course there are many atheist experts on the subject)? No, obviously, not I’m afraid, yet he writes pretty lengthy books on the subject.

  28. Posted August 8, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    I think you are rather confused about physics aren’t you? Science is only just beginning to try to measure some forms of energy. As far as I understand it there is a great deal of inference involved in it. Various kinds of energy are posited on the basis not even of their effects but through mathematical theories of great complexity. (I though that was how this whole discussion of God began, with his replacement by a new theory of something that certainly can’t be measured). However, as the great psychologist William James points out and tries to prove in his famous book, spiritual realities can be known through their effects in the historical and material world. Neuroscience is even beginning to measure these effects by analysing the neurological consequences of prayer, meditation etc.

  29. Posted August 8, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    If a creationist asked you to reply in a short e-mail with your evidence for evolution (which I certainly believe in, by the way) I doubt whether you could spell it out. I imagine you would say it is to be found out by seeking it for yourself in various sources. After all why have a big website with that title if it is all so simple? The second thing I need to say is that Evidence is not a scientific word but a legal one, and in the law we have various kinds of evidence (not just forensic science) but circumstantial evidence, testimony of witnesses and so on. I have published on this topic myself, and include a free link (lest you think I am marketing myself) to the short document. One small document is hardly enough in itself to do justice to the vast range of accounts of Christian evidence by contemporary writers, but I could name some if you want. People who attack religion publicly ought really to find out about it before they do so. If you want a very brief mention here of what I regard as the crucial evidence I will say that it consists in the life of Jesus and what can be established (though hardly in the format of a post) as his continued activity in the Christian community. As a young nun said to me,’It is still possible to access Jesus Christ today’. So it’s not about how the world began at all really. LinK

    If it doesn’t work let me know. Cheers

    • Posted August 8, 2011 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

      If a creationist asked you to reply in a short e-mail with your evidence for evolution (which I certainly believe in, by the way) I doubt whether you could spell it out.

      I think you would be surprised. Personally, I would point out that interspecific DNA comparisons reveal all extant species to be related in a giant family of the web of life in the exact same way that DNA comparisons can accurately predict the relatedness of individual family members. This DNA evidence is an excellent match with the fossil record, which clearly shows gradual morphological changes in multiple species, and the timescales all line up — DNA clocks, dendrochronology, sedimentary layers, ice core samples, and radiometric dating. Yes, there are error bars, but well-defined error bars, with new revelations refining the theory and making it even more precise. I’d also include Dawkins’s thought experiment of a girl holding her mothers hand, up through the generations, with a chimp doing likewise and the two lineages merging some millions of years ago.

      Your evidence, on the other hand, can be categorized three ways: personal revelation, personal incredulity, and the historicity of Jesus.

      Personal revelation can and must be immediately dismissed, else all forms of insanity must be granted equal presumption of reality. For every Christian with a personal relationship with Jesus, there’s a Hindu with a personal relationship with Krishna, or a Muslim with a personal relationship with Mohammad, and so on. You rightly dismiss all those other forms of personal relationships as delusions, just as they dismiss your relationship with Jesus as a delusion.

      Personal incredulity is likewise something to be ashamed of, not proud of. Invoking a god to explain the origins of the Big Bang because you can’t conceive of any other way it might have happened is exactly as much of a silly superstition as invoking faeries playing billiards to explain the origins of thunder and lightning. If you don’t know or don’t understand, the proper response is to admit ignorance or incomprehension, not to make shit up just so you can have an answer — any answer will do.

      And, lastly, the historicity of Jesus cannot be any more sustained than the historicity of all the other gods you reject. Specifically, first century Judea is perhaps better documented than any other period and region of the Classical era. We have an entire library of original extant documents in the form of the Dead Sea Scrolls — a truly unprecedented find, and it’s the actual writings of Essenes Jews living in Jerusalem and writing before, during, and after all possible dates of Jesus’s ministry. The Scrolls are silent, as is Philo of Alexandria, brother-in-law to Herod Agrippa, and Pliny the Elder, and the Roman Satirists — really, think of any aspect of Jesus’s ministry, be it philosophical, religious, political, miraculous, whatever, and we’ve got people who were there at the time writing about exactly such things, and not a one of them even hinted at a remote possibility of somebody who could possibly be maybe mistraken for Jesus. And, on the flip side of the coin, we’ve got the earliest apologists, such as Justin Martyr himself, going to great lengths to explain how Jesus is indistinguishable from all the other pagan demigods popular at the time. In excruciatingly specific and exhaustive detail, no less.

      So, I hope you won’t be surprised when I state that I find your “evidence” to be most wanting, indeed. I suspect Jerry would agree, but we can let him answer for himself….

      Cheers,

      b&

      • E.A. Blair
        Posted August 8, 2011 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

        “…faeries playing billiards to explain the origins of thunder and lightning…”

        To that’s what it is! My parents always told me that it was angels bowling (maybe that’s the Catholic version). My father looked like he’d crapped his pants when I said (at thge tender age of five) “No, dad, it’s the shock wave of superheated air.” (I learned to read at the age of three, and the only books in the house were the family bible, my sister’s Nancy Drew mysteries and a set of encyclopedias. I spent a lot of time with my nose in the encyclopedias before I ever set foot in a classroom.)

  30. Posted August 9, 2011 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    You do a very good job of summarising the evidence for evolution in post length, but of course you naturally are unable to present the evidence, merely mention it. The reader would have to do a lot more work in order to confirm any of it. I found it rather unreasonable to expect me to do more at the same length. Still, you made an impressive try. I have not been impressed with some of the other comments. On this site as a whole the supposedly rationalist and scientific posters use a great deal of rhetoric, reductionist and dismissive metaphors and reductio ad absurdum arguments. In common with the other poster you make false assumptions about the beliefs of Christians — why assume I dismiss the religious experiences of other religions? I don’t, and the form of Christianity I belong to specifically asserted in the second Vatican Council that all great world faiths reveal God. As I protested in advance even my short post was obviously too long for the job, since you didn’t bother to read the place where I spelt out that belief in God does not depend on arguments for creation and among university theologians very few would say that it did. You do a good try on the historical Jesus, but you have left out Tacitus, Josephus (partly reliable), and are quite wrong about Pliny. (See Professor Luke Timothy Johnson The Real Jesus.) Finally, you seem to identify all personal experience of other persons as being as unrealiable as madness. What a strange view! Of course, it can be, which is why it needs the checks and balances provided by a present and historical community –in which respect it becomes more than just personal anyway. Thanks anyway

    • Posted August 9, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

      You do a good try on the historical Jesus, but you have left out Tacitus, Josephus (partly reliable), and are quite wrong about Pliny.

      Pliny the Elder was contemporary with Jesus (though much younger) and wrote nary a word about Jesus. His nephew, “The Younger,” wasn’t born until 61 CE and his letters with Trajan describe Christians as a whacked-out bunch of lunatic nutjobs.

      Josephus wasn’t born until 37 CE and he didn’t mention Jesus at all; Eusebius found this omission so troubling that he forged the Testamonium as a remedy for the oversight.

      Tacitus wasn’t born until 56 CE, the passage Christians often cite of his is a likely forgery, and, like Pliny the Younger, it describes Christians as a whacked-out bunch of lunatic nutjobs. “Chrestus” is given as the origin of the cult’s name, and nothing more — just as one might reference “Buddha” as the origin of the name of Buddhism to somebody who’s never heard of them before.

      In contrast, all the sources I cited were actual contemporaries of the alleged life of Jesus, writing at the time, many of them actually in Jerusalem, about current events of the same nature as those the Gospels are most concerned with.

      So, nobody at the time noticed a thing. Nobody but whacked-out lunatic nutjobs noticed anything until a couple generations later, and it was yet another couple generations more before anybody else noticed that the whacked-out lunatic nutjobs had noticed anything. And this is how news of the greatest story ever told is supposed to propagate?

      By the way, I’ve got a great deal going on some prime Arizona beachfront property that I’d be more than happy to let you in on….

      I don’t, and the form of Christianity I belong to specifically asserted in the second Vatican Council that all great world faiths reveal God.

      Then be prepared to burn in Hell for all eternity as Allah turns his wrath upon you for worshipping Jesus as a god and for failing to recognize Muhammad as the final prophet.

      Ecumenicalism is pleasant-sounding, but it instantly runs into fundamental and intractable differences between religions. You cannot be a Christian and reject the divinity of Jesus; you cannot be a Muslim and accept the divinity of Jesus. You might make pleasant noises about this, but I bet nothing would convince you to renounce your faith in Jesus and submit to Muhammad, any more than a Muslim would dismiss Muhammad as irrelevant and pray to Jesus for forgiveness of sin.

      Gotta run….

      Cheers,

      b&


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