Sunday, October 4, 2009

It Doesn't Make Sense Without God

"It would be very difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just this way, except as the act of a God who intended to create beings like us."

Stephen Hawking, "A Brief History of Time (New York: Bantam, 1996) 131


Nick Covington said...

Stephen Hawkin says it, so it must be true!

/argument from authority/

Makarios said...

Stephen Hawking said it so it's worth listening too - good advice.

Only a fool would look for reasons to ignore it.

Gorth Satana said...

This is a tough one to put in context. Hawking is discussing a number of origin models, and their implications about God. Reading the whole chapter is a good idea, but here's the whole paragraph at least:

excerpt from :

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

Chapter 8 The Origin and Fate of the Universe

Einstein’s general theory of relativity, on its own, predicted that space-time began at the big bang singularity and would come to an end either at the big crunch singularity (if the whole universe recollapsed), or at a singularity inside a black hole (if a local region, such as a star, were to collapse). Any matter that fell into the hole would be destroyed at the singularity, and only the gravitational effect of its mass would continue to be felt outside. On the other hand, when quantum effects were taken into account, it seemed that the mass or energy of the matter would eventually be returned to the rest of the universe, and that the black hole, along with any singularity inside it, would evaporate away and finally disappear. Could quantum mechanics have an equally dramatic effect on the big bang and big crunch singularities? What really happens during the very early or late stages of the universe, when gravitational fields are so strong that quantum effects cannot be ignored? Does the universe in fact have a beginning or an end? And if so, what are they like?

Throughout the 1970s I had been mainly studying black holes, but in 1981 my interest in questions about the origin and fate of the universe was reawakened when I attended a conference on cosmology organized by the Jesuits in the Vatican. The Catholic Church had made a bad mistake with Galileo when it tried to lay down the law on a question of science, declaring that the sun went round the earth. Now, centuries later, it had decided to invite a number of experts to advise it on cosmology. At the end of the conference the participants were granted an audience with the Pope. He told us that it was all right to study the evolution of the universe after the big bang, but we should not inquire into the big bang itself because that was the moment of Creation and therefore the work of God. I was glad then that he did not know the subject of the talk I had just given at the conference – the possibility that space-time was finite but had no boundary, which means that it had no beginning, no moment of Creation. I had no desire to share the fate of Galileo, with whom I feel a strong sense of identity, partly because of the coincidence of having been born exactly 300 years after his death!

In order to explain the ideas that I and other people have had about how quantum mechanics may affect the origin and fate of the universe, it is necessary first to understand the generally accepted history of the universe, according to what is known as the "hot big bang model." [...]

[Hawking discusses the hot big bang theory, and objections to it]

The general theory of relativity, on its own, cannot explain these features or answer these questions because of its prediction that the universe started off with infinite density at the big bang singularity. At the singularity, general relativity and all other physical laws would break down: one couldn’t predict what would come out of the singularity. As explained before, this means that one might as well cut the big bang, and any events before it, out of the theory, because they can have no effect on what we observe. Space-time *would* have a boundary – a beginning at the big bang.

Science seems to have uncovered a set of laws that, within the limits set by the uncertainty principle, tell us how the universe will develop with time, if we know its state at any one time. These laws may have originally been decreed by God, but it appears that he has since left the universe to evolve according to them and does not now intervene in it. But how did he choose the initial state or configuration of the universe? What were the "boundary conditions" at the beginning of time?

Gorth Satana said...

One possible answer is to say that God chose the initial configuration of the universe for reasons that we cannot hope to understand. This would certainly have been within the power of an omnipotent being, but if he had started it off in such an incomprehensible way, why did he choose to let it evolve according to laws that we could understand? The whole history of science has been the gradual realization that events do not happen in an arbitrary manner, but that they reflect a certain underlying order, which may or may not be divinely inspired. It would be only natural to suppose that this order should apply not only to the laws, but also to the conditions at the boundary of space-time that specify the initial state of the universe. There may be a large number of models of the universe with different initial conditions that all obey the laws. There ought to be some principle that picks out one initial state, and hence one model, to represent our universe.

[discusses weak and strong anthropic principles, and objects to the latter]

One would feel happier about the anthropic principle, at least in its weak version, if one could show that quite a number of different initial configurations for the universe would have evolved to produce a universe like the one we observe. If this is the case, a universe that developed from some sort of random initial conditions should contain a number of regions that are smooth and uniform and are suitable for the evolution of intelligent life. On the other hand, if the initial state of the universe had to be chosen extremely carefully to lead to something like what we see around us, the universe would be unlikely to contain any region in which life would appear. In the hot big bang model described above, there was not enough time in the early universe for heat to have flowed from one region to another. This means that the initial state of the universe would have to have had exactly the same temperature everywhere in order to account for the fact that the microwave back-ground has the same temperature in every direction we look. The initial rate of expansion also would have had to be chosen very precisely for the rate of expansion still to be so close to the critical rate needed to avoid recollapse. This means that the initial state of the universe must have been very carefully chosen indeed if the hot big bang model was correct right back to the beginning of time. It would be very difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just this way, except as the act of a God who intended to create beings like us.

[discusses the inflationary model, and its limitations]

[discusses the new inflationary model, and its limitations]

[proposing a solution to the inflationary models' boundary problems:]

If Euclidean space-time stretches back to infinite imaginary time, or else starts at a singularity in imaginary time, we have the same problem as in the classical theory of specifying the initial state of the universe: God may know how the universe began, but we cannot give any particular reason for thinking it began one way rather than another. On the other hand, the quantum theory of gravity has opened up a new possibility, in which there would be no boundary to space-time and so there would be no need to specify the behavior at the boundary. There would be no singularities at which the laws of science broke down, and no edge of space-time at which one would have to appeal to God or some new law to set the boundary conditions for space-time. One could say: "The boundary condition of the universe is that it has no boundary." The universe would be completely self-contained and not affected by anything outside itself. It would neither be created nor destroyed, It would just BE.

Gorth Satana said...

It was at the conference in the Vatican mentioned earlier that I first put forward the suggestion that maybe time and space together formed a surface that was finite in size but did not have any boundary or edge. My paper was rather mathematical, however, so its implications for the role of God in the creation of the universe were not generally recognized at the time (just as well for me). At the time of the Vatican conference, I did not know how to use the "no boundary" idea to make predictions about the universe. [...]

[details the implications of his proposal]

The idea that space and time may form a closed surface without boundary also has profound implications for the role of God in the affairs of the universe. With the success of scientific theories in describing events, most people have come to believe that God allows the universe to evolve according to a set of laws and does not intervene in the universe to break these laws. However, the laws do not tell us what the universe should have looked like when it started – it would still be up to God to wind up the clockwork and choose how to start it off. So long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator. But if the universe is really completely self-contained, having no boundary or edge, it would have neither beginning nor end: it would simply be. What place, then, for a creator?

Rabhimself said...

But still, Hawkin himself is an atheist, and he understands alot more about the beginnings of our universe than you do or ever will.

Makarios said...

Hawking is also the one who calculated the odds of the universe coming into being by accident to be 1 chance in 10^1,230

With the number of sub-atomic particles in the universe estimated to be 10^80, that's some pretty long odds.

Nevertheless, Hawking remains an atheist. Why? Since when has counter evidence ever changed the mind of an atheist?

Glen20 said...

"Hawking is also the one who calculated the odds of the universe coming into being by accident to be 1 chance in 10^1,230"

I thought that was Roger Penrose.

Adam said...

Please do show us the counter evidence, Rod. Have you been holding out on us? You do know what evidence means, right? Your assurances that you know god exists don't count.

Makarios said...

They did it in partnership. I use Hawking because his name is better known. I write one because it's easier than two.

Rabhimself said...

Yet he is STILL an atheist.

The man you claim who calculated these slim odds still refuses to believe a god is responsible for it.

He acknowledges how easy it would be to assing it to a god, but he's more sensible than that.

Makarios said...

Since when has counter evidence ever changed the mind of an atheist?

Adam said...

Maybe you missed my comment above. I'll reprint it in full:

Please do show us the counter evidence, Rod. Have you been holding out on us? You do know what evidence means, right? Your assurances that you know god exists don't count.

Gorth Satana said...

Roger Penrose is a friend of Hawking. I don't think Hawking had anything to do with that number. I think the number is from Penrose's "The Emperor's New Mind".

Makarios said...

So who wrote the numbers is more important to you than the numbers themselves?

Gorth Satana said...

"So who wrote the numbers is more important to you than the numbers themselves?"

You're the one trying to make the argument from authority.