Catholic priest says that Hawking, while smart, didn’t solve the biggest questions of the universe

Stephen Hawking’s body was barely cold (or rather, his ashes were barely cold) when the religionists came muscling in with their tut-tutting and caveats about his accomplishments. For Father Raymond de Souza, a Canadian priest in Ontario (and Catholic Chaplain of Queen’s University), he did his kvetching in yesterday’s National Post. His column, as you see below, claims that “Hawking’s world was rather small.” Really? Why?

Well, because Hawking, while he made big advances in cosmology, couldn’t answer the BIG QUESTIONS about the Universe: namely, why does it exist? Why is there something rather than nothing? Read the good father’s lucubrations in this article (click on the screenshot):

Right now we know how a Universe—or many universes—can come from a quantum vacuum, which some people see as “nothing”, but if you want to go further, the question can be asked: “Why was there a quantum vacuum instead of nothing?” Father de Souza says that the answer is metaphysical, not physical and that’s not the territory of science. But in fact, the Universe could have existed forever, and that is within the territory of science.  Here’s what de Souza says:

In 2010, on his way to Canada for several weeks at the Perimeter Institute, Hawking gave an interview to Diane Sawyer, in which she asked him about the biggest mystery he would like solved.

“I want to know why the universe exists, why there is something greater than nothing,” Hawking explained.

That’s metaphysics. You can do metaphysics without theology, let alone Christian theology — see Aristotle. Nevertheless, the ideological atheism that dominates the hard sciences regards metaphysics as something of an occasion of sin, the sin being thinking that God might exist.

Well, no, physicists could entertain the possibility of God, and in fact there could be evidence for God’s existence (see Faith versus Fact for a discussion of such evidence). It’s just that there isn’t any, and so scientists, having seen that naturalism works just fine in helping us understand the cosmos, thank you, don’t entertain the possibility of God. Saying that God is beyond science is simply a falsehood. He’s invisible to science, but in principle there could be evidence for a theistic God.

But God is de Souza’s answer to this big question, and, further, the priest says that that answer is compatible with science. He winds up chiding Hawking for his limited world (Hawking was an atheist):

Professor Hawking was an ideological atheist, but unlike may of his contemporaries, was open to dialogue with a religious view of the universe which he studied with his equations. He served for 40 years on the Vatican’s Academy of Sciences, which includes scholars independent of religious profession. At the last meeting he attended in 2016 he spoke about the origins of the universe. He gave credit there to the Catholic priest who developed the “big bang” theory.

“Georges Lemaitre was the first who proposed a model according to which the universe had a very dense beginning. He is the father of Big Bang,” Hawking said.

Monsignor Lemaitre knew that the Big Bang and Christian faith were compatible. After all, where did whatever went “bang” come from? Science cannot tell you anything about what existed before anything existed.

Professor Hawking expanded the limits of what physics tells us. It is an elementary part of the philosophy of science that there are limits to what physics can tell us. Hawking insisted, by assertion and not evidence, that there were no such limits, that there was no metaphysics, just physics. Which means that Hawking’s world — despite the fact that saw farther than almost everyone else — was, in the end, rather small.

As Sean Carroll can tell you, the question of “what existed before the Big Bang?” is nonsensical, as the concept of time “before” the Big Bang is meaningless. Further, the Big Bang and Christian faith are compatible only if you think that Genesis is a metaphor, not a real account of creation. Father de Souza is clearly on the metaphorical side. But if we have to interpret Genesis metaphorically, why aren’t Adam and Eve, or the Original Sin, for that matter, also metaphorical? Why isn’t the story of Jesus, including the Ressurrection, a metaphor, too?

Those are some questions for Father de Souza, but I have more:

  1. What’s your evidence for God? And why do you adhere to the Catholic conception of God rather than the Muslim conception, which sees Jesus as a prophet but not a divine being? Why aren’t you a polytheist, like Hindus?
  2. If God created the Big Bang, who created God?
  3. If you say that God didn’t need a creator because He was eternal, why couldn’t the Universe be eternal?
  4. And if God was, for some reason, eternal, what was he doing before he created the Universe? And why did he bother to create the Universe? Was he bored?

These questions aren’t original with me; they’re a staple of religious doubters. And of course Father de Souza can’t answer them except by spouting theological nonsense.

Whenever there’s a lacuna in scientific knowledge (the origin of life is another one), some damn religionist sticks his nose in and says, “See! God did it!” But priests said that about lightning, epilepsy, smallpox, the Black Plague, and many other phenomena that we now can explain through naturalism.

If Hawking’s world is “small,” well, at least what he found was testable, and might be true. Father de Souza’s claims are either untestable or have already been shown to be doubtful, and he has no evidence for any of them. In requiring people to believe fairy tales, de Souza’s world is not just small, but nonexistent.

h/t: Thomas

107 Comments

  1. Posted March 22, 2018 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    “What’s your evidence for God?”

    Evidence? Douglas Adams put it rather well. If there were evidence, it would destroy the need for faith which would destroy the religion in a puff of logic. And if He’s by definition supernatural, then any evidence in the natural world would be entirely void.

    Me, I’m an apatheist – I really don’t care if there is one or not. However if you wanted to know God, Hawking had the math and knowledge to get him a lot closer to seeing him than any priest.

    • W.T. Effingham
      Posted March 22, 2018 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      Perhaps Hawking’s strong knowledge of physics is a major part of his ability to beat his prognosis by such a large multiple.

    • Posted March 22, 2018 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

      That sounds a bit like Jonathan Miller’s view? I seem to recall… no time to check but you may like to watch this on You tube – trying not to embed…
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S2J232lPZno

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted March 23, 2018 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

      “What’s your evidence for God?”

      Evidence? Douglas Adams put it rather well.

      I’ve not been round here much for a while. Has anyone pointed out that there’s a 6th series of Hitchhiker being broadcast on Wednesday evenings?
      Yes, the Babel Fish are back. And having just seen angler fish getting jiggy, I dread to think how Babel Fish breed, while buried in mammalian ear canals.
      Then again, given the number of parasites that even I have head of that live exclusively in the gills of cephalopod molluscs, I’m confident that evolution would find a way.

  2. Posted March 22, 2018 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    How to make a Canadian rude: give him religion.

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 23, 2018 at 12:30 am | Permalink

      lol!

  3. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted March 22, 2018 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    Let me take “his world was rather small”

    Has it occurred to Mr. de Souza that making the world small could itself take an enormous effort? And that there is good reason to make the world “small”? Namely, being “small” might be a consequence of framing questions, inventing methods to make the world understandable?

    Then I’ll lastly take the “what was there before the beginning” notion:

    I recently listened to this Star Talk Radio episode where Hawking himself describes a small part of this idea:

    https://www.startalkradio.net/show/universe-beyond-stephen-hawking/

    … it comes down to imaginary numbers, and once you warm up to that idea (I can imagine how this might be funny to some), it simply makes time like a spherical shape you can visualize… IIRC!!

    • Posted March 22, 2018 at 10:46 am | Permalink

      Hawking was not above having a bit of fun with his explanations at the public’s expense. Mathematicians have funny names for things but “imaginary numbers” aren’t imaginary in the everyday sense. Perhaps all of mathematics is imaginary as we still have no real answer to why math is good at describing the universe.

      • Posted March 22, 2018 at 11:10 am | Permalink

        Math *isn’t* good at describing the universe. *Language* is, and the *form* gets borrowed from mathematics in the case of factual science, when it is “convenient” to do so.

        (For example, one can use “fields” to describe “fields”, to deliberately pun.)

        • Posted March 22, 2018 at 11:29 am | Permalink

          I was thinking in terms like those of Eugene Wigner in his article, “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences”. There are also some like Max Tegmark who believe that reality itself is pure mathematics. This resonates with me though it is going to be hard to prove.

          • David Evans
            Posted March 22, 2018 at 11:57 am | Permalink

            Mathematics is good at describing the universe because the universe consists at bottom of a few kinds of objects which consistently follow a few simple laws. If it didn’t, we probably wouldn’t be here to argue about it.

          • Posted March 23, 2018 at 11:54 am | Permalink

            It can be shown to be wrong – the argument I mentioned above can be put in the context of a theory of reference. (Bunge does this in vol 1-2 of the _Treatise on Basic Philosophy_.)

      • Mark Joseph
        Posted March 22, 2018 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

        When I was doing my math degree, and taking a course in complex analysis, I remarked to my mother that I was studying imaginary numbers. The next time I saw her, she asked how I was doing with “those mythical numbers”.

  4. Posted March 22, 2018 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    Some physics theories do allow for time to exist before the big bang, though perhaps it was a different “time” before the Big Bang. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Bounce. There are variants of the theory that posit a cyclic bouncing and others that have the bounce only occurring once. It is clear that much of the theory surrounding the Big Bang is not settled science.

    • Liz
      Posted March 22, 2018 at 11:09 am | Permalink

      This also talks about time before the big bang (Sean Carroll and two-headed time. Alan Guth also I believe). The following is about causality, though.
      “Significantly, most quantum cosmologists do not believe that anything caused the creation of the universe. As Vilenkin said to me, quantum physics can hypothesize a universe without cause — just as quantum physics can show how electrons can change orbits in an atom without cause. There are no definite cause-and-effect relationships in the quantum world, only probabilities.” –
      What Came Before the Big Bang?
      https://harpers.org/archive/2016/01/what-came-before-the-big-bang/4/

  5. glen1davidson
    Posted March 22, 2018 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    It is an elementary part of the philosophy of science that there are limits to what physics can tell us. Hawking insisted, by assertion and not evidence, that there were no such limits, that there was no metaphysics, just physics.

    It’s true that philosophy of science recognizes that there are limits to what physics can tell us, but I hardly think that it knows of limits to what it “can tell us.” Unless you’re just talking about issues of logic and mathematics, which would hardly be fair, since physics rests within the logical universe that has these.

    The point is not that we know that there is no metaphysics, it’s that we don’t have justification to say that there is. We are justified in saying that physics exists.

    Glen Davidson

    • glen1davidson
      Posted March 22, 2018 at 10:45 am | Permalink

      I even screwed up the correction. Right place:

      Was supposed to be: “It’s true that philosophy of science recognizes that there are limits to what physics [does] tell us…

    • Posted March 22, 2018 at 10:53 am | Permalink

      Right. Our science is limited but we don’t know exactly where the limits are. It is not yet time to give up on physics explaining everything.

    • rickflick
      Posted March 22, 2018 at 11:51 am | Permalink

      The next step in this line of reasoning is that while Physics has limits, religion is no better and in principle hopeless at answering some of these difficult issues of cosmology. Positing a deity is no help in resolving those questions since there is no evidence for that hypothesis. The only reasonable position to take is simply to say we don’t yet know the answers but physics is working on it. While there is no guarantee of ever finding an answer, science, not religion is the only possible means to an answer.

  6. glen1davidson
    Posted March 22, 2018 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Was supposed to be: “It’s true that philosophy of science recognizes that there are limits to what physics [does] tell us…

  7. GBJames
    Posted March 22, 2018 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    sub

  8. Posted March 22, 2018 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Why is it that these people feel that thought with no reality limitations should be favored over thought with them? Basically they are claiming that imagined concepts are more important than knowledge. (Please note that Einstein said that the ability to imagine (imagination) is more important than knowledge, which is a quite different claim.)

    And just how does one show a metaphysical concept is valid, other than to use the tools learned from reality.

    Metaphysics is where you hide ideas that don’t hold water in reality. It has that in common with God being located beyond space and time, when the Bible clearly shows “Him” within space and time. This transition occurred when we acquired the ability to check to see if their god was anywhere in space and time and puts their god safely in a place where “He” cannot be found.

    Anyone claiming a metaphysical argument is valid is at best a con man and worst a philosopher.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted March 23, 2018 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

      This transition occurred when we acquired the ability to check to see if their god was anywhere in space and time and puts their god safely in a place where “He” cannot be found.

      I know where to gfind good. He’s where I put my keys.
      Where’d I put my keys?

  9. Posted March 22, 2018 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    … the question of “what existed before the Big Bang?” is nonsensical, as the concept of time “before” the Big Bang is meaningless.

    That’s not necessarily the case, we don’t know. It is indeed possible that time and space both originated in the Big Bang, and that there was “nothing” (in the most complete sense of the word) “before” that.

    But it’s also possible that the Big Bang originated, say as a quantum-gravity fluctuation, out of some pre-existing space.

    • glen1davidson
      Posted March 22, 2018 at 10:55 am | Permalink

      Yes, for all of its meaninglessness, it’s been asked a lot. The following is predicated on the fact that it’s not a meaningless question:

      Right now we know how a Universe—or many universes—can come from a quantum vacuum, which some people see as “nothing”, but if you want to go further, the question can be asked: “Why was there a quantum vacuum instead of nothing?

      It’s a good question of why there was a quantum vacuum, nevertheless the above statement includes the assertion that the quantum vacuum preceded the universe, or at the least there’s good reason to think that it may have.

      Glen Davidson

      • Posted March 22, 2018 at 10:59 am | Permalink

        It should be pointed out that while we experience time moving in one direction only, many physics equations do not contain that restriction. The possible bidirectionality of time puts the concept of causation at risk, making mincemeat of questions like, “But who created the Big Bang if not God?”

      • Posted March 22, 2018 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

        My question is always, why should we think that there was ever “nothing” to begin with?

        /@

        • ThyroidPlanet
          Posted March 22, 2018 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

          I like it!

        • Diane G.
          Posted March 23, 2018 at 12:36 am | Permalink

          Excellent!

        • darrelle
          Posted March 23, 2018 at 7:42 am | Permalink

          Exactumundo.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted March 22, 2018 at 11:06 am | Permalink

      “That’s not necessarily the case, we don’t know. It is indeed possible that time and space both originated in the Big Bang, and that there was “nothing” (in the most complete sense of the word) “before” that.”

      Right

      But the reason this … what, chestnut?… comes up again and again has something to do with either a lack of understanding or a willful desire to ignore, that there are limits of a model, and understanding that a model is necessary to be simple, and “small”.

      So your idea is fine – saying “we don’t know”, and I’m confident you’d come up with some interesting approach to learn more about it, to throw out bad ideas, to pursue other ideas … somehow (I’m not a cosmologist)

      BUT that’s not what de Souza, or anyone else is doing, when this notion of “what was there before time existed”. In a nutshell, they seem to raise the issue, as you do, that we don’t know, but stop right there before going down the path of “let’s find out”, to take another path of “ergo my God”….

    • Posted March 23, 2018 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

      Sean Carroll argues, or at least suggests,

      that the Big Bang originated, say as a quantum-gravity fluctuation, out of some pre-existing space.

      in From Eternity to Here. In this hypothesis our observable universe is one of many (grand)daughter universes of some proto universe with a more symmetric entropy profile over time.

  10. eedwardgrey69
    Posted March 22, 2018 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    “ideological atheist”
    Because saying “I don’t believe in a magic man in the sky who created everything and is watching us all the time while not interfering in the horrible shit happening” is an ideology now.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted March 22, 2018 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      Another term of disparagement I’ve heard : “Professional Atheist”

      • Posted March 22, 2018 at 11:24 am | Permalink

        It’s pretty mild as terms of disparagement go. While “professional” often means the person gets paid for their work, it also can be applied to those that devote a significant part of their working hours and are particularly competent.

        • ThyroidPlanet
          Posted March 22, 2018 at 11:26 am | Permalink

          This was directed at Richard Dawkins

      • Diane G.
        Posted March 23, 2018 at 12:38 am | Permalink

        And then there’s always, “self-proclaimed atheist.”

    • Kiwi Dave
      Posted March 22, 2018 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

      Possibly ‘ideological’ is not being used as a sneer; de Souza might just mean Hawking is atheist by conviction rather than by accident of birth. Does de Souza see himself as an ideological theist?

  11. Posted March 22, 2018 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    And if God was, for some reason, eternal, what was he doing before he created the Universe?

    Like Augustine, de Souza would probably say that He was busy preparing Hell for people who pry into such mysteries. 🙂

    • Posted March 22, 2018 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

      Lots of time in project planning and budgetary meetings.

      /@

      • Richard
        Posted March 23, 2018 at 3:56 am | Permalink

        One has to wonder how many prototypes this god went through before he settled on the working one. Or perhaps this universe that we live in is actually one of the prototypes, and the pieces don’t fit together very well? That might explain a number of things, such as why physicists are having such problems in getting general relativity and quantum mechanics to fit together.

        Or perhaps this is just a student project, and God hasn’t passed his finals yet.

  12. Posted March 22, 2018 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    The juxtaposition is so terribly ironic. On one hand we have a great thinker who sought to find deeper Truths about reality. He actually made some progress in that effort. He meanwhile gazed into and openly speculated about the Known Unknowns. He did not get there but he helped to point us in their direction and outline some of their possible nature. He will never be forgotten.
    Meanwhile we have another individual who has spent his life promoting a complete sham. He is a curator of a library of mythology. His life has been spent in advocacy for a subject without an object. None of what he claim is real, and a small child can possess the common sense to see that. But he doesn’t see it.

    • darrelle
      Posted March 22, 2018 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      +1

    • Mark R.
      Posted March 22, 2018 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

      This is good…but I feel I need to make one small edit. Last sentence: But he doesn’t see it, and he will be forgotten.

      • Posted March 22, 2018 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

        Oh, I put in typos all the time, just to make sure people are paying attention 🙂

        • Mark R.
          Posted March 22, 2018 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

          I’m stealing that!

  13. Posted March 22, 2018 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    There can’t have been nothing; the Leibniz-Heidegger question (as Peter Simons puts it) is a pseudoproblem created (ahem) by creationist cosmologies.

    The big bang is the origin of the local hubble volume, “nothing else”.

  14. Randall Schenck
    Posted March 22, 2018 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    If g*d knows all this stuff, why did he get it so wrong in the bible? I know, he was just kidding, right?

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted March 22, 2018 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

      I’ve looked and looked but no sacred text has details of how to build a fusion reactor, or for that matter a polio vaccine.

      • Mark Joseph
        Posted March 22, 2018 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

        But, the bible *does* tell you that bats are birds! And that witches are real! And the koran talks about Jews being turned into apes!

  15. Steve Pollard
    Posted March 22, 2018 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    Father Raymond J de Souza, sitting in his no doubt well-upholstered Canadian armchair, feels confident enough to chide Hawking on his failure to insert God anywhere in his theories, on the basis of exactly what experimental data, observational evidence, or alternative explanation of Hawking’s own evidence? Zilch. That’s theology for you: a discipline without a subject and without evidence.

    And as far as I am aware, Lemaitre took great care to separate his cosmological hypothesising from the dogmas of his priesthood.

    • Posted March 22, 2018 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      Hawking, what a dumb ass. He couldn’t answer the question of existence.

      Perhaps it is simply a brute fact predicated by the apparent fact that we are here to ponder it.

  16. Larry Smith
    Posted March 22, 2018 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    It’s a small world, after all…

  17. BJ
    Posted March 22, 2018 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    The esteemed Father’s opinion can be summarized in a single sentence: “Stephen Hawking wasn’t that great because he didn’t prove God’s existence, and we know God exists, so this was an enormous failure on his part.”

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted March 22, 2018 at 11:41 am | Permalink

      There you go.

    • Posted March 22, 2018 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

      Nuff said.

  18. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted March 22, 2018 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    De Souza:
    “Hawkings world was rather small”

    Richard Dawkins (in joint interview with Francis Collins in TIME magazine, 2006):
    (emphasis added)

    “When…we were talking about the origins of the universe and the physical constants, I provided what I thought were cogent arguments against a supernatural intelligent designer. But it does seem to me to be a worthy idea. Refutable–but nevertheless grand and big enough to be worthy of respect. I don’t see the Olympian gods or Jesus coming down and dying on the Cross as worthy of that grandeur. They strike me as parochial. If there is a God, it’s going to be a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything that any theologian of any religion has ever proposed.”

    Touché!

    • P. Taylor
      Posted March 23, 2018 at 4:44 am | Permalink

      Let me add a quote from Carl Sagan:
      “A general problem with much of Western theology… is that the God portrayed is too small. It is a god of a tiny world and not a god of a galaxy, much less a universe.”

      https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Carl_Sagan

      Pete

    • Posted March 23, 2018 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      I’m reminded of _Gene Roddenberry: The Last Conversation_. Haigographical, but it has some interesting bits. One place, Roddenberry asks his “interviewer” what she fears. She claims she fears that if there is a cosmic truth (in the religious-like sense) it will be too incomprehensible for her to avow allegiance to it. And this is a woman who had been a nun! A nun who watched _Star Trek_ in a convent, mind you.

  19. mirandaga
    Posted March 22, 2018 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    At some point, I think we need to separate belief in a specific religion and belief in a Creator or God. It’s true that all religions are based on a belief in a god or gods, but that doesn’t mean that religion and a belief in God are co-equal.

    It’s also true that there’s no evidence for the existence of God, but only if we define “evidence” as “testable by the methods of science.” But such a definition itself is based on a non-testable assertion—namely, that there is no limit to what science can explain. If we start with the assumption that only matter exists and then use that assumption to determine what constiutes evidence, then obviously we’re going to reach the conclusion that there’s no evidence for anything other than the material. But just as obviously, this is circular. All we’ve really established is that scientific materialism can explain everything that scientific materialism can explain.

    Bottom line: 1) whoever gets to define what constitutes evidence wins the game, and 2) any definition of what constitutes evidence is necessarily based on a faith claim—i.e., something for which there is no evidence. In effect, a preference.

    • Kiwi Dave
      Posted March 22, 2018 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

      Different faith claims or preferences as to what is evidence have different consequences.

      Science-based evidence has been extremely productive, reliably informative and beneficial for humanity, tending towards consensus in distinguishing between the real and unreal; belief in gods, not so much. Faith still has to distinguish false gods from true gods, if any.

      Unfortunately, the sort of faith whose central axiom states ‘there are more things in heaven and earth than dreamed of in your philosophy,’ even though it might have a limited grain of truth, can’t usefully distinguish between the probable and the wildly improbable.

      • mirandaga
        Posted March 23, 2018 at 1:48 am | Permalink

        “Different faith claims or preferences as to what is evidence have different consequences.”

        Well stated, as is the rest of your post. And since you seem to implicitly agree that scientific “evidence,” like that for a belief in God, is based on a faith claim or preference, I have no argument with the rest of what you say, since that was my main point.

    • Posted March 22, 2018 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

      “If we start with the assumption that only matter exists and then use that assumption to determine what consti[t]utes evidence, then obviously we’re going to reach the conclusion that there’s no evidence for anything other than the material.”

      But that’s not an assumption we make nor what we find. There exists both matter (which turns out to be composed of fermions, particle fields with half-integer spin) and forces (which turn out to be carried by bosons, particle fields with integer “spin”).

      We have an extraordinarily well-tested model – the Standard Model – that explains how matter and forces interact. And experimental results (LHC) indicate that there is nothing that interacts with matter at the energy scales of everyday life other than the forces of the Standard Model.

      If you want to propose a supernatural force by which God intercedes in the material world you have to explain how that can interact with matter yet remain invisible to our experiments – and without dismantling the Standard Model.

      /@

      • Liz
        Posted March 22, 2018 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

        +1

      • mirandaga
        Posted March 23, 2018 at 12:37 am | Permalink

        Hey, I’m philosophizing here! If you’re going to start dragging in real science, I’ll take my business elsewhere! 😊

      • Posted March 23, 2018 at 11:59 am | Permalink

        It is amazing how people haven’t moved on from Descartes, who “cheated” by suggesting that the universe (to speak in physics-ese) preserved |mv| not mv. (I.e., the amount of the momentum, not its direction)

        He was wrong, of course.

      • mirandaga
        Posted March 24, 2018 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

        “If you want to propose a supernatural force by which God intercedes in the material world you have to explain how that can interact with matter yet remain invisible to our experiments”

        Now that I’ve recovered from the fermions and and half-integer spins, I’ll try to answer your challenge. Your entire argument is based on asking an opponent to accept a faith-claim—that only science can answer questions about what’s real. In short, you want to set the rules of the debate based on your definition of “evidence.” By the same token, a theist might ask you to accept his—for example, that God “remains invisible” because he prefers us to accept him on faith rather than coercing us to believe in him through “our experiments” and reasoning. That there are mysteries we can’t explain and will never be able to explain is a faith claim, but no moreso than its opposite.

        • Posted March 24, 2018 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

          “only science can answer questions about what’s real”

          Epistemic humility is all very well, but I think it’s fair to say that science has been immensely successful in converging on a description of matter and forces that agrees to an exceptional level of confidence with everything that we can consistently, repeatedly, and objectively ascertain about the universe.

          No other way of knowing has had any such success.

          I think it’s rather more than a faith claim at this point.

          God (if such an entity exists) is not only invisible but wholly imperceptible. The world revealed by physics and biology looks exactly as if God doesn’t exist.

          How would anyone know that God prefers us to accept him on faith? Certainly God cannot have communicated the notion to anyone as that would directly contradict it.

          In any case, the God of the Bible was never so shy, in either Old or New Testament.

          It’s an utter nonsense.

          /@

          • mirandaga
            Posted March 25, 2018 at 1:22 am | Permalink

            I would never argue with the successes or benefits of modern science; modern science does what it was designed to do better than any invention of humankind (though religion, also an invention, has a far longer track record). Nor would I argue that confidence in science to do what it was designed to do is a faith claim. The faith claim is that science, because it has explained much about what’s out there, is the sole arbiter of reality; that it can and will in time explain everything about what’s out there; and that whatever the methods of science are unable to explain doesn’t exist. There’s no more evidence for this than there is for the existence of God. It’s a preference of belief, pure and simple.

            Granted, if you restrict the definition of “evidence” to that which can be arrived at only through scientific methods, then it follows as night follows day that there’s going to be “no evidence” for what can’t be explained by science. But this is circular reasoning. For that matter, the belief that night will follow day or that the rules of logic we’re using to counter each other’s arguments are reliable or that the universe is orderly and therefore comprehensible by the methods of science are all faith claims. No shame in it, since there’s no alternative.

            In short, I’m neither denigrating belief in science nor defending belief in God; I’m simply suggesting that we would all do well to examine the preferences that constitute the foundations of our world views.

  20. glen1davidson
    Posted March 22, 2018 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    If we start with the assumption that only matter exists and then use that assumption to determine what constiutes evidence, then obviously we’re going to reach the conclusion that there’s no evidence for anything other than the material. But just as obviously, this is circular.

    And who did that? Not most scientists, not Hawking, not Einstein. It’s a trivial fact that it’s not true that only matter exists, we have energy, of course, but also space and “fields.” Find evidence for it, and fine, it exists.

    2) any definition of what constitutes evidence is necessarily based on a faith claim—i.e., something for which there is no evidence. In effect, a preference.

    So is it impossible to achieve justice? Or is the empirical standard that works for the judiciary something that also works in doing science.

    The idea that evidence is based on a faith claim is just nonsense, we know what provides reasonable evidence when a crime has occurred, and what provides reasonable evidence in science. Engineering of planes and bridges relies on such evidence all of the time. I can’t “prove” that empiricism works, I can just point to huge amounts of evidence that it does.

    Glen Davidson

    • Posted March 22, 2018 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

      “Science works. Bitches.”

      /@

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 23, 2018 at 12:59 am | Permalink

      I found myself restating your third to last sentence as, “…we know what provides reasonable evidence when a crime has occurred, and what provides reasonable evidence when a universe (/multiverse) has occurred…”

      🙂

    • Posted March 23, 2018 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      Fields are matter (because they possess energy) and energy is not a stuff.

      • Posted March 23, 2018 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

        Boson fields are not matter. See my comment above (or maybe below – I”m commenting via email, so I can’t see).

        /@

        • ThyroidPlanet
          Posted March 23, 2018 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

          I never thought of this before

          Which fields are not boson fields, and are they matter?

          • Posted March 23, 2018 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

            Fermion fields are matter. https://goo.gl/kN3D3h

            /@

            • ThyroidPlanet
              Posted March 23, 2018 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

              Printed. At last.

              I use this table as an example of something I’d rather recall fluently, than, say, a piece of minutiae that happened 3 months ago, or the names of famous people.

              So I look at the mass, and gluons and photons are zero, but others are non zero…

              • Posted March 23, 2018 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

                Zero *rest* mass. E = hν, so m = hν/c², where h is Planck’s constant and ν is the frequency. Thus blue-light photons are more “massive” than lower-frequency red-light photons.

                /@

              • ThyroidPlanet
                Posted March 23, 2018 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

                Ahhh, I see …

                Aaaaand the field is…. at…. a velocity… of…. Is that how that works?…

              • Posted March 23, 2018 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

                Think of ripples (a wave packet) moving through the field with a velocity c. The blue ripples are bunched closer together, thus the blue photon has more energy (and thus mass). (Feynman’s caveat applies.)

                /@

              • ThyroidPlanet
                Posted March 23, 2018 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

                This is a GREAT way to start the weekend

                But I need to know

                Electric fields, magnetic fields – matter?

              • Posted March 23, 2018 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

                Light. Photons. Bosons. A force: electromagnetism.

                See Feynman on “how do magnets work” on YouTube.

                /@

          • ThyroidPlanet
            Posted March 24, 2018 at 11:46 am | Permalink

            doing some brain housekeeping today – here’s something from Reddit I post here for myself, being a Bear Of Little Brain, wondering if fields are matter, if fields are made of something, and those types of thought goblins – user ididnoteatyourcat says:

            “First of all, it is currently a philosophical question whether the fields are “real” or whether they are merely a mathematical model (and to some the distinction itself has no meaning).

            Second of all, asking “what are they made of?” is to present a false dilemma. Would you still ask the question if the field was made out of atoms? But then what are atoms made of (and so on)? Ultimately the feeling you have that things are made out of some palpable “substance” and that there is a distinction between that “substance” and abstract mathematical relationships, is a confusion. Feelings of “substance” are nothing more than an expression of the fact that fields attract and repel one another. Do these fields actually exist? Obviously in some sense they do! But it is a philosophical question whether they are merely an effective mathematical description of something else, or if our description is in some sense a “true” representative of reality.

            As for your last question, different fields have different properties. There are scalar fields (like temperature — it has a single value at each point in space), there are vector fields (like the wind — it has a direction at each point in space), there are tensor fields (gravitational, electromagnetic). Imagining, say, a trampoline, fields can have different tension. They can couple to other fields (or themselves) to greater or less extent (put one trampoline next to another — does the one vibrating cause the other to vibrate?), and so on. One of the big differences between the electromagnetic field and the chromodynamic field (associated with the “color” charge carried by quarks and gluons) is that the latter is strongly self-interacting. It is so strongly self-interacting that you cannot even separate two quarks from each other; you always find quarks bound into hadrons (like the proton or neutron).”

            Source:

  21. Christopher
    Posted March 22, 2018 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    Hawking’s world was so “small” it fills whole libraries with scientific books and articles while de Souza’s “big” world fits between the covers of one book (and a few scraps of papyrus, but those aren’t canonical). I think I’ll stick with the “small” world after all.

  22. Posted March 22, 2018 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    The religious question ‘where did we come from?’ turns out to really be ‘what is the nature of matter’? And science has pretty well answered the latter.

    Meanwhile the religious keep on asking ‘where did we come from?’ like a broken robot.

    rz

  23. mirandaga
    Posted March 22, 2018 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    “Or is the empirical standard that works for the judiciary something that also works in doing science.”

    In a word, no. Judiciary “evidence” is anything legally presented at trial (allowed by the judge) that is intended to convince the judge and/or jury of alleged facts material to the case. This includes: 1) real evidence (tangible things, such as a weapon), 2) demonstrative evidence (a model of what likely happened at a given time and place), 3) documentary evidence (a letter, blog post, or other document), and 4)testimonial evidence (witness testimony). Surely you’re not suggesting that this definition of evidence is comparable to that accepted as “scientific.”

    • glen1davidson
      Posted March 22, 2018 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

      Surely you’re not suggesting that this definition of evidence is comparable to that accepted as “scientific.”

      Of course they’re comparable. They’re all about empiricism, and any one of those forms of evidence can be used in science in certain instances.

      Obviously science is less given to using (accidental) witnesses and the like, mainly because it doesn’t have to, since most phenomena can be repeated or further instances of the evidence can be found (like multiple examples of fossils). But the point in either science or in judicial matters is to use sound evidence and valid logic to come to reasonable conclusions.

      Because basically the same standard exists in the judiciary as in science, the former is typically keen to use the latter.

      Glen Davidson

      • mirandaga
        Posted March 22, 2018 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

        In that case I have to assume that you would accept the Bible (documentary evidence) and the witness of millions of religious folks (testimonial evidence) as valid “evidence” for the existence of God. To tell the truth, I might be inclined to agree, but I can assure you that we are in the minority on this one.

        • glen1davidson
          Posted March 22, 2018 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

          Why would you assume that? Do you think that courts or science will defer to tales in old books and people relating their revelations as if those were evidence?

          We’ve already tried following the “testimonial evidence” of people claiming to be receiving revelations. Look up the Salem witch trials. Since then courts have generally decided that if it isn’t observation that is potentially open to everyone, it’s not going to count as evidence.

          Nice try to conflate acceptable witness testimony and documents with known provenance with revelatory flim-flam and ancient fables. Most of us aren’t about to be fooled by it, though.

          Glen Davidson

  24. Posted March 22, 2018 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    “These questions aren’t original with me; they’re a staple of religious doubters.”

    …A staple of small children too, as long as they haven’t internalized the rule that while the man in the funny clothes is talking in that odd hushed voice, the polite thing to do is remain silent and look at your shoes until he’s finished.

  25. grasshopper
    Posted March 22, 2018 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    How a big question transubtantiates into a BIG QUESTION is beyond my ken. Why the universe exists is an interesting question for sure. “Does god exist?” is another interesting question, but it should be preceded with another question “Does the universe require a god?” Not as far as I can tell.

  26. James Walker
    Posted March 22, 2018 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    Having grown up Catholic, I found *that* world very small – a medieval mindset with its roots in a little corner of the Middle East and an inordinate preoccupation with people’s sex lives. Science opened up a wider world, and finding out that, actually, we *don’t* know all the answers, was much more exciting.

  27. Posted March 22, 2018 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    An old argument from where, exactly,I dunno.

    From nothing, nothing can come to be. (Parmenides?)
    Ergo, if ever there was nothing, there would be nothing now. But there is something now.
    Ergo, never was there nothing.

    So far, seems OK to me. But to add, as many do, ergo God – ‘way too much of a stretch!

    • Posted March 23, 2018 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

      Democritus discovered the first conservation law. It is immortalized (!) in Lucretius’ great poem:

      “Confess then, naught from nothing can become, Since all must have their seeds, wherefrom to grow, Wherefrom to reach the gentle fields of air. Hence too it comes that Nature all dissolves. Into their primal bodies again, and naught. Perishes ever to annihilation.”

      • Posted March 23, 2018 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

        ex nihilo nihil fit!

        /@

      • mirandaga
        Posted March 23, 2018 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

        “Democritus discovered. . . .

        As I recall, it was Parmenides,not Democritus, but I might be wrong.

      • Posted March 23, 2018 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

        Absolutely love this poem. Anyone who hasn’t read it should. It’s amazing.

  28. Posted March 22, 2018 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    Georges Lemaitre was undoubtedly a great scientist as well as a Catholic priest. He deserved far more acclaim than he received for his big bang theory. But while Lemaitre saw no conflict between science and religion, he did strongly resist the attempts by some to use the big bang as evidence for God.

  29. Mark Joseph
    Posted March 22, 2018 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

    Hi, my name is Raymond, and I’ve never done shit. Never made a contribution to pure or applied science, agriculture, or medicine. Never created a work of art. Never even loved a woman or cooperated in the conception and raising of a child. I’ve never thought deeply; just accepted what I was told to believe. Even if it is ridiculous. I don’t know what other people believe, just that they’re wrong.

    Having realized that my life is as close to a complete state of nothingness as is possible, and desperately hoping for fifteen minutes of fame, I’ve decided to say “nyaah, nyaah, nyaah” to one of the foremost minds of our time, despite the fact that I have no idea what he’s talking about.

    Thank you for listening. Please leave a donation on your way out.

    • phar84
      Posted March 22, 2018 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

      Good one. Ray is not even embarrassed.

  30. eric
    Posted March 22, 2018 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

    Small in answers /= small in striving, or small in contribution, or small in intellectual curiosity.

    Hawking earns our respect for his efforts at improving our small understanding, and how he conducted himself. De Souza’s comment is as ignorant and offensive as Trump saying he doesn’t respect McCain because he prefers soldiers who don’t get caught.

  31. Posted March 22, 2018 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    “But there are questions that are literally “beyond” physics. Why is there something there to study in the first place? Why is there something rather nothing? It’s called “metaphysics.””
    Apparently de Souza hasn’t heard of this field called “cosmology”.

    “But how can there be a law of gravity before anything exists? It would be literally nonsense, and likely Hawking knew it.”
    I find it funny that the person who, judging by his article, doesn’t understand gravity is telling someone their theory based on spacetime is “literally nonsense”.

    And finally, “Monsignor Lemaitre knew that the Big Bang and Christian faith were compatible.”
    Which is why he told the Pope at that time NOT to use it in support of their god.

  32. FB
    Posted March 22, 2018 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

    “Nevertheless, the ideological atheism that dominates the hard sciences regards metaphysics as something of an occasion of sin, the sin being thinking that God might exist.”

    Well, the ideological theism that dominates theology regards naturalism as a mortal sin, the mortal sin being thinking that God might not exist.

    The burden of proof is on the theologians.

  33. Michael Waterhouse
    Posted March 22, 2018 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

    Same smarmy drivel from a stupid person, trying to sound deep, and failing totally.

  34. Posted March 23, 2018 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    SO, the good Father’s ultimate complaint is that Hawking made the universe “too small” – a clear reference to Giordano Bruno’s complaint about the church itself. A complaint that led to Bruno being burnt at the stake by the church for saying “Your God is too small!”

    The Church knows a lot about small gods.They certainly take every opportunity to disparage any epistemological attempt to understand it. Theirs is the realm of pseudoscience, false epistemology, theology, metaphysics, and special pleading. Their methods are not merely small, they’re non-existent! They’re rhetorical vaporware.

    Yes, indeed, Christianity or any religious cosmology for that matter, have no recourse but to critique the limits of ad ignorantium ad infinitum.

    What’s clear is The Good Reverend has no idea that Hawking and Penrose have compelling theories about the smallness and bigness of the universe and how they can be paradoxically one and the same and how this condition can lead directly to a singularity, inflation and a theoretical pre-CMB condition.

    At the moment in which the Universe has stretched to Infinity, and all matter, time and energy do not exist anymore is the same moment before the big bang in which the Universe and all matter, time and energy are squashed altogether in singularity. Stretched Universes and squashed Universes are one and the same thing because when there is no mass, time and space left, there is no difference between small and big since there is no matter compared to which, or relevant one thing can be called smaller or bigger than any other thing. There is just no-thing and all that no-thing is happening all at the same time, or rather no time.

  35. Posted March 23, 2018 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    “Hawking’s world was rather small.”

    I much prefer Hawking’s small world to that of father de Souza’s. And, I find it rather “small” of de Souza to disparage Hawking after his death rather than engaging with him in life.


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