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Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow’s Inadvertent Proof for God

Stephen Hawking

There's an old saying about giving a man enough rope, and he'll hang himself. The idea is that if someone is wrong or lying, the longer they go on, the more obvious this becomes.  Well, Bantam Books gave Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow all the rope they wanted, and the result is The Grand Design, a new book in which they argue against the necessity (and existence) of God.  Here's the core of their argument:
 

“[Just] as Darwin and Wallace explained how the apparently miraculous design of living forms could appear without intervention by a supreme being, the multiverse concept can explain the fine tuning of physical law without the need for a benevolent creator who made the Universe for our benefit. Because there is a law like gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist.”

 
They then explain the basic theory behind the "multiverse," which presupposes that multiple universes exist:
 

“According to M-theory, ours is not the only universe. Instead M-theory predicts that a great many universes were created out of nothing. Their creation does not require the intervention of some supernatural being or god. Rather these multiple universes arise naturally from physical law.”

 
Let's leave aside the question of the "multiverse" theory, which John Haldane addresses in First Things. Hawking and Mlodinow have done a thoroughly sufficient job of defeating their own argument. Let's simply outline their three major claims above:

  1. Claim 1: Spontaneous Creation is the reason that there is something rather than nothing, including the Universe; (“Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists”).  This applies to all universes, meaning it applies to the entire multiverse.
  2. Claim 2: Spontaneous Creation requires the law of gravity; (“Because there is a law of gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing”; “Rather these multiple universes arise naturally from physical law”).
  3. Claim 3: The multitude of universes are responsible for producing fine-tuned physical laws (“the multiverse concept can explain the fine tuning of physical law”)

Reduced to its bare-bones, the argument looks like this:
 
Creation
 
The problem, of course, is that it's circular. You can't have a universe without it being created, you can't have spontaneous creation without physical laws, and you can't have physical laws without a universe.

As Hawking and Mlodinow concede, without Creation, there's nothing.  To have anything - a universe, a multiverse, the law of gravity, "finely-tuned" physical laws, anything - you have to first have Creation.  And they've shown pretty effectively that "spontaneous" creation is impossible, since it requires physical laws like the law of gravity. So we've established that there was Creation, and that the universe/multiverse didn't (and couldn't) create itself.

On this view, it seems the only two possibilities are "God" or "circular irrational nonsense."  Hawking and Mlodinow may be brilliant physicists, but at least in this book they present themselves as poor philosophers and logicians. Their futile efforts to outline an atheistic creation story lend more credence to theism than atheism.
 
 
Originally posted at Shameless Popery. Used with author's permission.
(Image credit: ABC News)

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  • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

    It seems to me there is a simple way out. Just eliminate Physical Laws from the circular sequence with the arrows and label the whole box All Possible Physical Laws. The assumption of the argument above is that physical laws come into existence when a universe comes into existence, and the physical laws of, say, our universe had to preexist our universe in order for our universe to come into being. But I am not sure that makes sense, since if time in our universe began with the Big Bang, it does not make sense to say the physical laws of our universe preexisted.

    All of these arguments, it seems to me, rely on the question, "Well, what happened before that?" But that may not be a meaningful question. Time may not be as fundamental as it appears to be. We already know there is no absolute time. When we have a deeper understanding of the laws of nature, the idea that something had to precede our universe in time may become obsolete (if it isn't already).

    • http://www.DeaconHarbey.com/ Dcn Harbey Santiago

      D.

      "The assumption of the argument above is that physical laws come into
      existence when a universe comes into existence, and the physical laws
      of, say, our universe had to preexist our universe in order for our
      universe to come into being."

      I don't think Mr. Heschmeyer makes an argument at all. It seems to me he is just showing a flaw in the logic used by Hawking and Mlodinow.

      "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
      DHS

      • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

        It seems to me he is just showing a flaw in the logic used by Hawking and Mlodinow.

        It seems to me Joe Heschmeyer paraphrases or restates Hawking's arguments in such a way that his own interpretation of what Hawking said is open to criticism, whereas I don't believe what Hawking actually said is vulnerable to Heschmeyer's criticism. I think Paul Rimmer puts it correctly when he says that for these kinds of matters, "you can't build diagrams of what needs to be temporally first, second, third, etc." I don't think Hawking would agree with Heschmeyer's diagram.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          If you are implying that a law of gravity or any law existing "before" the big ban isn't a problem, since time may be totally different than we think (from our temporal perspective, causes can come after effects), I think the issue is the "something."

          Hawking and Mlodinow are saying there is something and that something generates a universe. Something ain't nothing, so their argument can't be correct.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            Something ain't nothing, so their argument can't be correct.

            It might be "something" in some sense of the word, but it need not be something to which one can apply the old argument, "Everything that begins to exist has a cause." The "something" may not have "begun to exist." It may, in a sense, "always" have existed, or it may make no sense to think of it in temporal terms at all.

          • ziad

            david, you state:

            "It may, in a sense, [something] 'always' have existed"

            I believe (others can correct me if I am wrong) that theist believe the same way. We think that "something" is God, since only God always existed

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            We think that "something" is God, since only God always existed . . .

            One has to be careful of the word always here, because it indicates existence infinitely into the past and into the future. But according to theology, God just is, and past and future have no meaning when speaking of God. So it is not correct to believe that something (like God) had to exist before the universe so that something could create the universe. Nothing, not even God, existed before the universe. But that is not to say there was a time before the existence of the universe during which God did not exist. There was no time before the existence of the universe, since time came into existence as part of the universe. Or at least, that's how it appears.

            Also, what does it mean to say God is "something" or a "thing"?

          • ziad

            In theology, we actually say about God "he has been, is now, and always will be". He calls himself the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.

            Yes God just is, but with respect to the Universe, he existed before the inception. Not to say that time as we know it now is necessarily the same time we are talking about when talking about "before the universe", but its more of order of events. God was there before the universe came to be, when it was "nothing"

            I think we are just arguing on semantics here ;)

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            I think we are just arguing on semantics here ;)

            I appreciate the good humor, but I think on the one hand there is the language of theology and philosophy, and on the other there is the language of "everyday piety" (I am sure there is a better term), and I think they often flatly contradict each other. I think it is important that the difference be recognized in discussions like this. I think saying that God has been, is now, and always will be is not a theological statement, but a statement of popular piety. I'll go out on a limb here (not having read even a fraction of what Aquinas wrote) and venture the opinion that you will find nothing like it in Aquinas. I think it is a critical theological principle that God does not exist within time, and that for God there is no past, present, or future. It is impossible to really comprehend, but there are serious problems with the alleged attributes of God if there is a before and after for him.

            I think, for example, that people believe if they pray hard enough, and perhaps make a very attractive bargain, they can convince God to do something he would not otherwise have done. "Oh, God, if you just let me win $250,000,000 in the PowerBall Jackpot, I will give $100,000,000 to Catholic Charities!" But God cannot do something that he wouldn't have done otherwise because you make him a very attractive offer! God can't change his mind. God can't be persuaded.

          • ziad

            I agree with you that what I used was more of a piety language than theology. I would disagree with you on the example of the powerball because that was a bad piety

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            I would disagree with you on the example of the powerball because that was a bad piety

            How St. Jude Children's Research Hospital came to be built:

            More than 70 years ago, Danny Thomas, then a struggling young entertainer with a baby on the way, visited a Detroit church and was so moved during the Mass, he placed his last $7 in the collection box. When he realized what he'd done, Danny prayed for a way to pay the looming hospital bills. The next day, he was offered a small part that would pay 10 times the amount he'd given to the church. Danny had experienced the power of prayer.

            Two years later, Danny had achieved moderate acting success in Detroit, but he was struggling to take his career to the next level. Once again, he turned to the church.

            Praying to St. Jude Thaddeus, the patron saint of hopeless causes, Danny asked the saint to "help me find my way in life, and I will build you a shrine."

            His career took a turn for the better, and soon he moved his family to Chicago to pursue career offers. A few years later, at another turning point in his life, Danny visited a church and remembered his pledge to St. Jude. Again he prayed to St. Jude and repeated his pledge to build a shrine to the saint if he would show him the way.

            In the years that followed, Danny's career flourished through films and television, and he became an internationally known entertainer. He remembered his pledge to build a shrine to St. Jude.

            In the early 1950s, Danny began discussing with friends what concrete form his vow might take. Gradually, the idea of a children's hospital, possibly in Memphis, Tennessee, took shape. In 1955, Danny Thomas and a group of Memphis businessmen who had agreed to help support his dream seized on the idea of creating a unique research hospital devoted to curing catastrophic diseases in children. More than just a treatment facility, this would be a research center for the children of the world. . . . .

          • Linda

            Danny Thomas asked to be shown a way. He asked for a path, not to win the Powerball. He asked for guidance with his life, not a financial windfall. And that's what he received: opportunities to succeed if he put in the work. Which he did.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            Danny Thomas said, ". . . . help me find my way in life, and I will build you a shrine." To the best of my knowledge, the hospital Thomas built is an excellent institution, and it is a good thing he built it. However, he was clearly saying, "If you do something for me, I'll do something for you." He wanted to be a success in show business, and he promised St. Jude that if St. Jude helped him become a success, he would build a shrine. I see no difference in principle between asking for success in show business and asking to win the lottery. He was bargaining with St. Jude and implicitly with God. Do you think that St. Jude said to himself, "Boy, I want that shrine! I'll help Danny Thomas."

          • Linda

            Thanks for the PS; that was good clarification. The thing is, with Danny or anyone, is that it never needs to be a bargain. We have no position to bargain on anyway, as we have really rather little to offer. I agree that St Jude was probably *not at all* thinking: "Wow! Now I can get my shrine!" Danny prayed to find a path, and he was shown one. *He* added the bargain - and I, too, am glad he followed through on his word as it seems to be quite a wonderful hospital - but he didn't need to add that. God and St Jude would have helped him find his path in either case, because what he wanted was a *way* and he was willing to work for it. And anyone can ask to be shown the way, and that prayer will always get answered. And I'm sure lots of people pray to win the lottery, but that's not a way or a path or a surrendering if your will to God's; that is just greed plain and simple and I can't think that that gets answered with a "yes" to terribly often.

          • Joseph Heschmeyer

            "I think, for example, that people believe if they pray hard enough, and perhaps make a very attractive bargain, they can convince God to do something he would not otherwise have done."

            This doesn't follow from the simplicity of God.

            It's true that He doesn't change His mind. It's false that our prayers are therefore powerless.

            Take the example of a door with a passcode. The door itself is stable, but its operations include a built-in contingency: iff (if and only if) you put in the correct password, the door will unlock. If you do not put in the correct password, the door will not unlock.

            So our actions impact the behavior of the door, but it's not as if the door itself is changed in the process. It doesn't go from being a stern and inflexible door to a permissive one. It's the same door, with the same conditions built in the entire time.

            Likewise, there's nothing in God's simplicity that requires Him to be incapable of responding to prayers.

            God bless,

            Joe

          • Green_Sapphire

            Genesis 18

          • Shaun Ratcliffe

            To say "nothing created the universe" is theologically and scientifically sound (in their view), in my estimation. God is not a thing, and this "nothing" doesn't exist temporally. So, why argue when we both are on the same page semantically? ;)

          • ziad

            and to answer your question about the "something" attributed to God:

            You used the word something here: "The "something" may not have "begun to exist." It may, in a sense, "always" have existed, or it may make no sense to think of it in temporal terms at all."

            I probably shouldn't speak for you, but what I got from you is that you used the word to mean an entity that we do not know what (or who) it is, but we see the necessity of it always have existed and brought from nothing the universe. Please correct me if I was wrong.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            but what I got from you is that you used the word to mean an entity
            that we do not know what (or who) it is, but we see the necessity of it
            always have existed and brought from nothing the universe. Please
            correct me if I was wrong.

            I am speaking of a quantum state (if that is the right way to put it) that is itself devoid of space and time but from which universes with space and time can spring without cause. I wouldn't say that its existence is "necessary" in the sense that it is claimed God's existence is necessary. I would say it exists because it exists, not because its existence is necessary.

          • Micha_Elyi

            Call it the atheist's Non-god of the Gaps, eh?

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            Call it the atheist's Non-god of the Gaps, eh?

            It seems to me that certain people are trying to take science (in this case, the science of the origin of the universe) and drag it down to the level of religion. :-)

            The current theory about the origin of the universe is that it was a quantum phenomenon. So although this seems to offend people, it must be discussed in terms of quantum physics if it is being discussed as a scientific theory. It is just a fact that quantum phenomena seem very strange or even impossible if we hang on to our assumptions and intuitions based on our everyday experiences of the world above the quantum level. Statements such as, "Everything that begins to exist must have a cause," or, "there's no universe in which X can ever equal ~X," are not part of quantum mechanics. I think maybe they just get in the way of our understanding.

          • Josh Wiltshire

            The funny thing about science is that most scientists seem to be obsessed with coming up with 'possible' explanations, and they are happy to conclude that such 'possible' explanations might as well be fact, or at least accepted as fact, because they themselves don't see any theoretical problems in it that they know of.

            I find it ludicrous to base your beliefs off of finding a point where nothing makes sense and concluding that said 'point' was the creation of the universe. Back to those 'possibilities'. Theoretical possibilities are not truths in the way they are drawn to be. Just because you find a point at which nothing makes sense (therefore 'anything is possible') doesn't mean that that is the answer to the question of "Where did the universe come from?".

            I find it pathetic to rely on complete and unadulterated nonsense as a basis for where the universe came from. Is this how far atheism has sunk? They are willing to accept anything and everything as an explanation as long as it isn't God?

          • Michael Murray

            I find it pathetic to rely on complete and unadulterated nonsense as a basis for where the universe came from.

            Dammit. Every time I wander past here I lose another irony meter.

          • Josh Wiltshire

            Is this supposed to be clever? Calling the Bible nonsense? When the 'nonsense' I referred to was as nonsensical as you could get, and you somehow attempt to compare it to, at the very least, a product of civilization that contains language?

            Even if I do hand it to you that somehow the Bible is nonsense (which I am in no way saying it actually is). Why would it matter to you? "Oh, our explanation for the universe is nonsense, but its ok because I personally think that other explanation is also nonsense.". If you are atheist, and your naturalistic claims are based on nonsense, how can you defend that logic by simply calling alternative theories also nonsense (once again, even though they aren't literal nonsense in its purest form like yours)?

            So, basically, an appeal to ridicule? What I was saying was an actual factual statement, and what you are claiming is nothing more than slander. Yet you somehow think you are the one in the right here?

          • Michael Murray

            I'm not defending the theories of cosmologists like Hawking by claiming they are equivalent to religious creation myths. Quite the contrary. I think their theories are reasonable and the religious ones are just typical creation myths left over from a time when we didn't understand the universe as we do today.

            My understanding of what Hawking and similarly Krauss are doing is that they are speculating on possible ways the universe might have started by extrapolating using theories like quantum field theory and general relativity which have been well tested in other areas of cosmology. Of course we don't have a working theory of quantum gravity which is partly why this is speculative. But that's how science works. The obvious first thing to do is try to the theory you have at hand. If that doesn't work you have learnt something. If it sort of works you get some ideas about how the final real theory might look. Of course ultimately you need to test it with some sort of experiment but a fit to existing theory is usually the first test.

            To call this nonsense and claim instead the superiority of jewish creation myths from thousands of years ago is laughable.

          • Josh Wiltshire

            Don't really see how your first paragraph is founded on any observable evidence at all (rather, just biased opinions formed before the consideration of the topics at hand), so just going to skip that one.

            I don't really think you understood what I was saying. From what I understand, the point at which this 'creation' happened is a point where physics don't make sense, ie: conveniently tossing laws out the window, so things that normally couldn't happen under those laws 'can' happen, though such a state is actually more similar to complete nonsense and randomness than the order it would take to create the universe. I am not calling the theory nonsense, I am saying that the theory is relying on nonsense (and utter random chance, ie: random 'possibilities') as an explanation for how the universe 'might have' come about. Maybe that isn't what they were talking about (though that is what I have seen before as an explanation).

            Also, the Bible contains no myths. It is actually quite historically accurate. Of course, calling them myths is the typical unfounded atheist attack. If you want to make claims against the Bible, try to back said claims up with evidence rather than simple name-calling.

          • Michael Murray

            Yes the "beginning" in fact some time after the beginning in most big bang models, is a period where current theories don't really apply.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planck_epoch

            As I said we don't have a theory of quantum gravity. But if you are a very smart person like Hawking you can still try and think about how current theories might apply. That's why I called these ideas speculation. Not nonsense.

            Also, the Bible contains no myths. It is actually quite historically accurate.

            My reference to myth in the Bible was to "creation myths". Are you suggesting Genesis was some sort of historical record ?

          • David Nickol

            I find it ludicrous to base your beliefs off of finding a point where nothing makes sense and concluding that said 'point' was the creation of the universe.

            Tell that to all the theists here who seem to be convinced that the big bang was the moment of creation.

            I find it pathetic to rely on complete and unadulterated nonsense as a basis for where the universe came from. Is this how far atheism has sunk? They are willing to accept anything and everything as an explanation as long as it isn't God?

            Well, no scientist, no matter how devout a believer in God, is going to say—in his or her capacity as a scientist—that the universe exists because God created it. That's just not science.

            By the way, you sound very angry. Why?

          • Josh Wiltshire

            Whatever the moment of creation was, I don't think most theists agree that a non-theistic phenomenon was the original cause of the creation of the universe. First off, such a claim is quite vague and it could mean multiple things. Specify exactly what you mean.

            Exactly why can't a scientist say that? Because you said so? Because you personally think it is ridiculous? What if, truly, the universe does exist simply because God created it. Wouldn't a scientist then be correct in saying that? Why not? If a scientist would be correct in saying that, then why do you think that no scientist would ever say it? I am not sure what you are basing this conclusion off of, because I've known plenty of scientists who WOULD say that. Oh, that must be it, you just automatically wright off those scientists as 'not' scientists, because they have a differing opinion than you, am I right?

            Also no, I am not angry, but I applaud you for taking the mature route of the "U mad bro?" internet trolls. If you automatically register negative words such as 'pathetic' as a sign of anger, then perhaps you should strive to better understand, well... something else other than your own opinion on how everyone who disagrees with you must act.

          • David Nickol

            . . . but I applaud you for taking the mature route of the "U mad bro?" internet trolls.

            Find someone else to bait. I am not interested in continuing this conversation.

          • Josh Wiltshire

            So, either you are a troll, or you are pompous. Maybe you just don't want to swap book length comments back and forth, and I understand that (something that I engage in very often).

            Sorry but, you are the one who resorted to personal attacks. You are the one that was baiting, and quite clearly so as well. If you don't want to discuss the actual topic, then that's your choice, but don't be so petty as to ignore my entire post for the sake of getting angry and leaving or misplacing your own trolling onto me.

            You made a lot of unfounded claims in your last post. Explain them. If you want specifics, see my last post.

          • Caritas06

            Gravity can only meaningfully exist in relation to matter. Matter apparently came into being with the Big Bang. For this reason I find it difficult to agree that gravity or any other physical law existed always or that it makes no sense to think of it in a temporal sense.

        • Joseph Heschmeyer

          The chart is about logical sequence: that is, causality. It is not necessarily a temporal sequence (although causality ordinarily moves forward in time). For example, you could say:

          1. In 2040, I build a time machine.
          2. I travel in my time machine back to 2013.
          3. I return to 2040 at the exact moment I left.

          That would be a properly-ordered (and non-circular) logical sequence, even though the temporal sequence would be 2, then 1 & 3 simultaneously.

          The problem with Hawking and Mlodinow's argument isn't that it's temporally-circular, but that it's logically-circular. You can't coherently start the chain of causality at any point. Each of the three steps in their logic requires the pre-existence of at least one of the other two. That's the sense in which each step is its own grandfather, so to speak.

          God bless,

          Joe

    • Joseph Heschmeyer

      "The assumption of the argument above is that physical laws come into existence when a universe comes into existence, and the physical laws of, say, our universe had to preexist our universe in order for our universe to come into being. But I am not sure that makes sense, since if time in our universe began with the Big Bang, it does not make sense to say the physical laws of our universe preexisted."

      The physical laws either (1) logically precede, (2) logically follow, or (3) are logically independent of, the universe. Which of these three possibilities gets Hawking and Mlodinow out of the circular logic, in your view?

      Joe

      • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

        The physical laws either (1) logically precede, (2) logically follow, or (3) are logically independent of, the universe.

        I don't know what Hawking would say, but it seems to me that the laws of each universe can be thought of as coming into existence when that universe comes into existence. I am not sure exactly what your three possibilities mean. There may be a large but finite number of possibilities for what laws a universe may have when it does come into existence, but since time itself comes into existence when a universe comes into existence (or in any case, time came into existence when our universe came into existence), I don't think it makes sense to say physical laws precede the universe temporally, and I am not sure what it would mean to say they precede logically.

        As currently understood, the coming into existence of a universe is a quantum phenomenon. Our "common sense" notions of time and causality simply don't apply to quantum phenomena.

        • Joseph Heschmeyer

          David,

          1) If the universe and the laws of the universe arise simultaneously, and neither are the cause of the other, they're independent effects. These effects require some third thing to act as the cause for one or both of them. If the laws of the universe arise as a property of the universe, then they are logically after the universe, and you need to point to what causes the universe (it can't be its own properties, obviously).

          2) Quantum physics isn’t magic. If causality and logic didn’t apply to quantum physics, we couldn’t study it scientifically. Nor are causality and logic just “common sense.” They’re necessarily true statements about all reality (they're not observations about the reality that we currently live in; there's no universe in which X can ever equal ~X). There is still a lot we don't know or understand on the quantum level, but what we do know is that it can't be contrary to what's knowable through pure logic.

          If your quantum flux creation myth belief requires you to abandon causality and logic, it’s literally irrational.

          God bless,

          Joe

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            If the universe and the laws of the universe arise simultaneously, and
            neither are the cause of the other, they're independent effects.

            I think it may be a mistake to think of the universe and the "laws" of the universe as separable.

            These effects require some third thing to act as the cause for one or both of them.

            This is begging the question. The whole issue is whether a universe can come into existence with no cause. The possibility that I am entertaining is that the coming into existence of a universe is a quantum phenomenon that happens without cause the way we believe other quantum phenomena (for example, the coming and going of virtual particles; radioactive decay) happen without cause.

      • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

        I don't think Hawking worries much about what is logically prior, but The Grand Design seems to say that you start with a law like Gravity, which at low energies looks like all the fine-tuned laws we have, each one manifest in a different universe.

        In other words:
        Super-law state -> Bunches of universes with bunches of fine-tuned laws.

        Since this super-law state (the one with a law like gravity) is timeless, nothing can be temporally prior to it. Maybe something or someone needs to be logically prior, but that's for the philosophers to argue. I don't see why this sort of super-law state can't explain its own existence.

        To answer your question, it's (1). Because of this law, we get our universe, and in our universe the single law looks like a given set of fine-tuned laws. In a different universe, this law will look different.

        • Joseph Heschmeyer

          So this law (gravity, or something like it) simply precedes the universe (and all universes)?

          If gravity logically precedes any universe, it doesn’t need those universes to exist (if it’s dependent upon them, it’s not logically prior). How could that possibly be for a law like gravity, that describes the behavior of objects within a universe? That doesn’t make sense. How could gravity (an expression of material relations) exist without a universe in which to exist?

          And on what basis would anyone reasonably conclude that this description of gravity is actually true?

          God bless,

          Joe

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            Joe,

            First you start with this pre-universe state (called an "instanton" in the literature). This instanton is the high-energy solution of M-theory. There's no time before this instanton. The instanton requires space, time, matter and gravity. Once the instanton exists, it will evolve into every low-energy solution to M-theory, or 10^500 universes.

            Or, as Turok, one of the theorists behind this idea, says:

            Think of inflation as being the dynamite that produced the big bang. Our instanton is a sort of self-lighting fuse that ignites inflation. To have our instanton, you have to have gravity, matter, space and time. Take any one ingredient away, and our instanton doesn't exist. But if you have an instanton, it will instantly turn into an inflating, infinite
            universe. ( http://web.uvic.ca/~jtwong/Hawking-Turok.htm )

            Why say that our universe arises out of nothing, then? This instanton is clearly not nothing!

            It's because nothing can precede the instanton, and since within the instanton there is no direction to time, there's no need for a temporal cause for the instanton, anymore than the earth needs a surface to hold it up.

            Does the instanton still need some sort of explanation for its existence, even if it does not require an efficient cause? I think so. It's like the big translucent ball in the middle of the forest. Why is it there? Saying that it caused itself, if you can physically justify that answer, satisfies me. But it doesn't say why translucent spheres that cause themselves exist in the first place.

            Why does the instanton exist in the first place? I don't know. Hawking doesn't address this question at all, as far as I can tell.

            But Hawking seems to be right in what he actually says. God isn't necessary to start the instanton.

            Do you get this from The Grand Design? Maybe. I thought this is what Hawking and Mlodinow were saying, but I had background information. Most of this actually comes from two papers:

            Hawking and Turok, 1998, Physics Letters B, 425, 25

            Bremer et al, 1999, Nuclear Physics B, 543, 321

            You ask good questions, and I don't want to mislead you, and I worry that my answer is simpler than maybe it really is. This is my understanding, and I'm not an expert, but the best thing is to say this, and this is the way it makes sense to me, and wait to be corrected by the experts (which may more likely happen in my conversations at work than here).

      • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

        The physical laws either (1) logically precede, (2) logically follow, or (3) are logically independent of, the universe.

        I wonder if physical laws can actually be said to exist, or whether human beings (and other intelligences, if they exist) make them up. The same question can be asked about mathematics. I think there is a tendency to think that mathematics "logically precedes" the physical world, but it may very well be the case that mathematics is a human invention used to describe the physical world.

        • Joseph Heschmeyer

          If the physical laws were simply made up, we could make up new ones. If you don't know whether the law of gravity actually exists, try flying.

          Mathematics and the hard sciences discover reality, but they don't create it. This is a long debate within the philosophy of science, but the "social invention" argument is weak, and has been losing for a rather long time.

          For that matter, if math and the sciences are things we're simply making up, they're not objectively true, and we're wasting our time with them.

          God bless,

          Joe

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            If you don't know whether the law of gravity actually exists, try flying.

            Now, now. :-)

            I am not saying that the phenomena we attempt to describe when we formulate scientific "laws" are not real. I am saying (speculating, actually) that the laws themselves may not be real. There was a time when it was thought that heavier objects fell faster than lighter ones, and that belief was part of the "laws of nature." Newton's understanding of gravity was different from Einstein's (general relativity), and now although it appears that general relativity and quantum mechanics are both "true," they cannot be reconciled.

            I certainly can't settle this question, but it seems to me the whole way we think about it might possibly have a built-in bias that makes your arguments possible. If there are physical laws, where do they come from? How can there be a law without a lawgiver or a lawmaker? But that is "thinking inside the box."

            For that matter, if math and the sciences are things we're simply making up, they're not objectively true, and we're wasting our time with them.

            I don't agree. Science and math are attempts to describe the physical world, and those descriptions can be immensely useful. We are not "making stuff up" randomly. If two or more people witness the same event, the descriptions they give later are bound to be different, but that doesn't mean they are "making them up."

            I believe it is true (or at least it used to be) that NASA, in doing the necessary math for spaceflight (say, the moon landings) used Newtonian calculations and totally ignored relativity. We now know that Newton was "wrong," but for even such a complicated and large scale an endeavor as a trip to the moon, Newtonian calculations do just fine. On the other hand, if we didn't have a deeper understanding of time and motion, GPS satellites and devices would yield incorrect results, because relativistic effects come into play.

    • Howard

      If you're going to do that, you have to explain what you mean by "possible" physical laws. If you mean, "Any laws whatsoever that may be imagined by a human being or any other intelligence," that includes the Harry Potter universe, the Bugs Bunny universe, and many others that are yet stranger. It certainly includes physical laws in which M-theory is wrong (as it almost certainly is in the world we live in). If not, what are the conditions that must be satisfied for a physical law to be "possible"? And why must THOSE conditions be satisfied, instead of some other?

      The real temptation of a creative mind is to spend too much time in his sub-creation and not enough in God's creation of which he is part. Given the excruciating trivia that Tolkien created as back-stories for Middle Earth, I suspect he succumbed to this temptation. I'm afraid that is also what has happened here, and to a remarkable degree. M-theory, superstring theory, and the like may be interesting, but there is more hard evidence for the existence of Bigfoot than for these theories actually being correct. Yet for the argument of Hawking and Mlodinow, it must not only be correct, it must be unavoidably correct, like the law of noncontradiction.

      To answer my question in the first paragraph, I think the condition that Hawking and Mlodinow would set for "possible physical laws" would be "laws that generate at least this universe spontaneously without any divine input or intervention". They need this to explain a universe without (they are confident) any God. It is not really clear that any conceivable physical laws could actually do that, or whether those laws, if conceivable, govern the real world. The real problem, though, is that a belief that there is no God is used to determine what are "possible physical laws", and then an argument is constructed from the "possible physical laws" to show that there is no God.

    • Josh Wiltshire

      Think of it this way:

      A universe requires what? Creation.
      Creation requires what? Something to cause said creation that isn't absolute nothingness.

      Conclusion: Whatever caused the creation is not something that exists as part of the creation.

      I suggest trying to make an actual argument, rather than just saying "No, you're wrong because you can't do that because I said so." Relying on humanity's inability to grasp what we don't even know to exist is silly. If we cannot interpret creation through our own understanding then there is no point in trying to interpret it in the first place. You can't just say that all theories are wrong because "time might not have existed in the way we though yadda yadda yadda".

      The problem is that hawking and whoever that other dude is was trying to explain origins, and they failed. The article makes it clear, and all people trying to defend it can do is say "No, no, you can't do that because reasons." Assuming that reality just melts down at some point is utterly meaningless. We have to assume that creation makes sense in some way, shape or form (after all, the created universe also makes sense, so it would be logical to assume that the cause of said creation would either make as much or more sense than the creation).

  • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

    I think that this is a terrible misrepresentation of Hawking's and Mlodinow’s
    arguments in The Grand Design, but I cannot blame Joe because he's not a cosmologist and because The Grand Design did not present Hawking's and Mlodinow's arguments were not presented very well.

    There's this talk about what comes first logically, and people like Ed Feser and other competent philosophers spend time worrying about this idea, about how I can push the cart and the cart moves at the same time. That's not the sort of priority Hawking and Mlodinow are talking about.

    They're talking about temporal order. What came first in time? In that case, near the time of the big bang, looking at two events, A and B, and asking which came first is like looking at two people, me and Joe, and asking which one is closer to the north pole. According to Hawking's (and most physicist's) understanding of time, when we think about soon after big bang time has no direction and so you can't build diagrams of what needs to be temporally first, second, third, etc.

    It would be better to say that the universe does not create itself out of nothing, but instead that there's always been gravity and everything else emerged from that. You can't point out any time during which there was no gravity. There are people who are even more radical, like Verlinde, and argue that gravity is emergent too.

    • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

      "It would be better to say that the universe does not create itself out of nothing, but instead that there's always been gravity and everything else emerged from that. You can't point out any time during which there was no gravity."

      This is very interesting, but it is precisely the opposite of what Hawking and Mlodinow clearly argue. They claim the universe *did* create itself out of nothing and that it was *not* past-eternal.

      I'm interested in what you believe personally about this, Paul. Do you think the universe has existed forever in the past?

      PS. From what I understand, cosmologists don't typically separate "the universe" from "gravity". The typical definition of "universe" includes gravity.

      • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

        This is very interesting, but it is precisely the opposite of what Hawking and Mlodinow clearly argue. They claim the universe *did* create itself out of nothing and that it was *not* past-eternal.

        It's not past eternal, that's right. It just existed for all time and you can't point out any time during which it wasn't.

        I'm interested in what you believe personally about this, Paul. Do you think the universe has existed forever in the past?

        I don't know. The best evidence we have suggests that all geodesics are past-incomplete. In other words, if I start walking north I'll eventually end up going south. It's not north forever.

        I think that the universe has existed for as long as time has, and that you cannot point to a time during which there was no gravity.

        • Sean Alderman

          This is probably way off topic, I'm not a philosopher, scientist or theologian.

          Dr. Peter Keeft made an interesting point between God and gravity. You'll have to forgive my poor paraphrasing...

          If we (Christians or perhaps just Catholics) can understand that God is love, that love is a form of attraction between people (be it romantic or not), and that gravity is an attraction between objects, then we can understand gravity as a sort/type of love, and thus gravity as a manifestation of God acting in the universe.

          Anyway, I thought it to be an interesting way to understand gravity...the idea that objects (like us, the moon, and apples) are attracted to the earth, the earth is attracted to the sun, and so forth very much relates to us being attracted to each other, although on a different level.

        • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

          "It's not past eternal, that's right. It just existed for all time and you can't point out any time during which it wasn't."

          Thanks for sharing your view on this, Paul! If you haven't already, I'd encourage you to check out the celebrated Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem (2003), which implies that even if our universe is just a tiny part of a so-called “multiverse” composed of many universes, the multiverse must have an absolute beginning. It was a watershed discovery.

          As far as I've been able to discern in my own reading, done admittedly as a layman, the mainstream scientific consensus today is that the universe began to exist. As Vilenkin himself concluded, "All the evidence we have says that the universe had a beginning."

          (Note: I'm only focused on the scientific evidence for a finite universe. There is plenty of philosophical evidence for why an actual infinite regress is impossible.)

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            Thanks for the reference. I'd been asked about that paper before, and have looked through it pretty carefully.

            There are a couple ways to get around the results of Borde et al (2003), Carroll and Chen present one way around it, although Vilenkin (2013) shows that their method actually meets the physical definition he uses for beginning, even though the universe is both past-infinite and future-infinite (or, as he says, infinite in both time-directions). http://arxiv.org/abs/1305.3836

            I don't accept Carroll and Chen's model. I think it is difficult to find sufficient physical motivation for it, but that's more of an opinion than any substantive objection.

            Hartle and Hawking's model (which I tentatively accept) satisfies the proof from Borde et al. (2003) and still has it that gravity has existed for all time.

          • josh

            The mainstream scientific consensus is that the universe as we know it has been expanding from an extremely dense, hot state that can be located around 13.7 billion years ago in a certain frame of reference. Before that we don't know what happened, including whether or not it makes any sense to speak of 'before'. However, If the universe in fact has a finite length in time from the past to the present, it doesn't follow that it 'began' in anything. There is a finite distance from any point on the earth to the north pole, but the earth doesn't begin at the north pole.

            (People may think 'but coming from a certain direction in outer space can't we say that the earth begins in space at the north pole?' First, that would make the beginning point arbitrary since it could equally be said of the south pole. Second, the earth in fact exists embedded in a 3+1 dimensional space, but a space may be curved without implying a higher dimensional space to be embedded in. I.e., in the abstract there is nothing wrong with describing the earth's surface as a 2-d object without appealing to a surrounding 3-d plus space, and more to the point at hand, the 3+1 space we seem to live in doesn't imply something else in which it can be said to begin to exist.)

          • josh

            Also, can I laugh at the term 'philosophical evidence' without tripping the censor-sensors?

        • Josh Wiltshire

          We can't point to a time with no gravity, that we know of. Couldn't we also not be able to point to a time with no universe? No energy? No existence?

          Why is gravities observed pseudo-eternal existence an explanation for the existence of the universe?

      • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

        They claim the universe *did* create itself out of nothing and that it was *not* past-eternal.

        I think it's important to be clear when talking about the universe and also about nothing. Hawking is talking not just about our universe, but many universes. In a certain sense, our universe had a beginning from nothing, but that nothing wasn't the philosopher's nothing, but it also wasn't something that preexisted our universe in time. As I said, time may very well be a property of our universe. It may not make sense to ask what preexisted our universe in time, any more than it would make sense to ask what is above our below our universe. Time is in our universe, and may have meaning only within our universe, just as above and below have meaning only inside our universe. It may make as much sense to ask what came before our universe as it does to ask what lies outside our universe.

        • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

          "[O]ur universe had a beginning from nothing, but that nothing wasn't the philosopher's nothing"

          And hence the fundamental problem with the Hawking/Mlodinow book and thesis: they equivocate on nothing. They try to show the universe arose from nothing but then equate "nothing" with "the law of gravity." So in essence they argue that "the universe arose from something" which still, of course, begs the question.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            So in essence they argue that "the universe arose from something" which still, of course, begs the question.

            Here's how I would look at it. There is the claim that "everything that begins to exist has a cause." I would say that the universe arose from something that did not begin to exist and did not have a cause. It is some kind of quantum state devoid of time and space. It did not begin to exist, because for this quantum state, time is an irrelevant concept. While I am not an atheist, it is still a lot easier for me to conceive of a quantum state in which time is irrelevant, which did not begin to exist, and which did not have a cause than a personal God who did not begin to exist, who didn't have a cause, and who exists outside of time. So if every thing that begins to exist has a cause, the quantum state I imagine not only did not begin to exist and had no cause, but it is not what you would call a "thing." So it is no thing, or nothing. :-)

            I really don't see that it is necessary to show that the universe came from the philosophers' nothing. I don't find it "against reason" to believe that it came from the physicists' nothing. Again, it is easier to believe in a timeless physicists' nothing than in a timeless omniscient, omnipotent being. Asking where the physicists' nothing came from is just as pointless as asking where God came from.

          • Randy Gritter

            But if this quantum state produced the entire universe then it is quite something :-)

            Really, whatever you call it. If it is the source of the universe then it demands an explanation. Was it itself created by an intelligence?

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            If it is the source of the universe then it demands an explanation. Was it itself created by an intelligence?

            Why does it demand an explanation? It seems to me that most things don't have an explanation. The "explanation" is that they just are the way they are. Why is an electron the size it is? Why is it that the elementary particles that exist as the result of the Big Bang naturally form 92 chemical elements instead of some other number? (I suppose there is a partial answer to that, but if you keep asking "why," eventually the answer will be, "That's just how it is.")

            Why is it easier to believe an omnipotent, omniscient being exists than a timeless, nonspatial quantum state from which universes may spring for no reason? It seems to me philosophers and theologians have been working for millennia to make it sound like dumb question to ask, "Well, where did God come from?" Maybe physicist can work on making it a dumb question to ask where the quantum vacuum (or whatever it would be called) came from.

          • Randy Gritter

            Maybe they are the same thing. The uncaused cause. The essence existence. You are not the least bit curious about what sort of entity it might be?

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            You are not the least bit curious about what sort of entity it might be?

            Well, I am not an atheist. I think it is possible that there is a Creator, but I think it is also possible that there is not. I am not really arguing against the idea of a Creator so much as arguing that I don't find "proofs" convincing. I waver back and forth, but in the moments when I conclude there is probably a God, it is really not because somebody thinks Stephen Hawking (the joke's on him!!!) has accidentally proved it. I think consciousness is more difficult to explain than the existence of the universe (although I hasten to add that I am not convinced consciousness can't exist without an immaterial soul).

            In my book, a proof demands assent or belief. A proof for the existence of God would be like a proof for there being no largest prime number. Once you understood it, you would have to say, "Well, this demonstrates that there is no highest prime number, or this demonstrates that there is a God." If Aquinas had proved the existence of God, we wouldn't be arguing about it almost 800 years later. If you can argue about an alleged proof for eight centuries, then I don't think it's a proof. It may be a powerful argument, but it isn't a proof.

          • Randy Gritter

            If your quantum state is the fabled uncaused cause then St Thomas' proof does work to that point. Then we must examine his further reasoning about what sort of properties we can deduce about such an entity. Does it have to have the properties we normally associate with God?

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            If your quantum state is the fabled uncaused cause then St Thomas' proof does work to that point.

            I don't believe the quantum state I am talking about is an uncaused cause. I think the quantum view is that things can happen without a cause. However, they can't happen without the appropriate prerequisites. For example, in a given sample of carbon-11, every 20.334 minutes, half of the atoms of the sample will decay. But you need a sample of carbon-11 for that to happen! The decay of any given atom would be totally unpredictable, but if you want to argue that when it decays, the "cause" of the decay is that it was a carbon-11 atom and carbon-11 is unstable and decays, that is, I suppose, some kind of cause. If you want to argue that a quantum state from which universes randomly and unpredictably spring is a "cause," I suppose it is a kind of cause, in that without it there would be no universes. But I wouldn't call it a cause.

    • geekborj

      Hawking et al. actually *presupposes* the existence of gravity (and other physical laws) while dismisses the "non-existence" of our physical Universe. Whether which gravitational constant (and combinations of other natural constants) is best or will work is an outcome of several multiverses (versions of universes) that evolved or have gone back to nothingness.

      However we fail to ask as to the cause of the laws of nature. That cause we attribute to God. In fact, however they try to theorize, it will always require a being that will have to only say "Let there be" laws of Nature and the Universe existed out of nothing.

    • Josh Wiltshire

      So, the argument relies on gravity always existing? Is there a basis for this claim? Or do they just grasp onto whatever seems to have always existed and conclude that the universe must have been caused by it... somehow?

  • 42Oolon

    Universe origins will always seem weird. Either something arose our of nothing, or there is an infinite regress. A god timelessly existing is no more implausible than M-theory.

    The multiverse is a good response to the Teleological argument, but unproven. We just do not know why or how these constants came to be. They were either intended, random or necessary. Hawking is pointing to speculation on how it might be necessary. The god explanation is an argument from ignorance.

    • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

      "The god explanation is an argument from ignorance."

      I was mostly with you right up to this last line, 42Oolon. Without me outlining some of the many arguments from God based on reason and logic, would you at least concede that *some* Christians see God as the Creator of the universe for reasons *other* than ignorance? Or are you convinced that the only reason to believe in a transcendent cause of the universe is because of ignorance (i.e. some sort of "God of the Gaps" explanation)?

      • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

        I believe Hawking's position is that "the God hypothesis" is not necessary to explain the existence of the universe. This does not mean God does not exist. It doesn't even necessarily mean there are no good arguments or even proofs for the existence of God. It means that if you believe in God for the sole reason that you think there would be no universe without God, your belief in God is unfounded.

        It seems to me that very few people's belief in God is based on the belief that there has to be a God, or there wouldn't be a universe. It is certainly a fundamental belief in Christianity that God is the creator. But I think that is one belief that Christians generally have about God. I don't think it is the basis for belief in God.

        I believe we have argued about this on Strange Notions before, but the creation account in Genesis, most modern translations interpret it, has God's creation beginning with a preexisting world, of sorts. For example:

        When God began to create heaven and earth—the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water—God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light.

        God doesn't create the waters. They are already there. He goes on to separate them, but he is bringing order out of chaos, not creating all matter from scratch.

        • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

          God doesn't create the waters. They are already there. He goes on to separate them, but he is bringing order out of chaos, not creating all matter from scratch.

          One could make an argument—it seems to me—that Genesis read this way is closer to the modern scientific view of the coming into existence of our universe.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            There you go, trying to give Genesis a literalistic, scientific reading!

            How could the "waters," whatever they are, preexist or be co-extensive with God?

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            There you go, trying to give Genesis a literalistic, scientific reading!

            I do not take the creation account in Genesis to be an account of the beginning of our universe. I take it to be a creation myth, perhaps more sophisticated than some other creation myths, but not based in any way on the origin of the universe.

            However, I am pointing out that while most people claim God created the world/universe ex nihilo, that is not what Genesis says. So if the universe came out of a formless but eternally existing void (like Genesis says) instead of from nothing (like most people think Genesis says), I don't see why it should be a great stumbling block to believers.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I know. I'm kidding you.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            How could the "waters," whatever they are, preexist or be co-extensive with God?

            Let me point out, by the way, that since God is said not to exist in time (and if that is a meaningful assertion), nothing can preexist God. It's not that it is impossible. It's that it is meaningless. Whatever translation of Genesis 1:1 you go with, strictly speaking it can't be accurate. "In the beginning, God created . . . " puts an action of God in the past tense, but for God there is no past or future. It does not even make sense to say that if the Big Bang is the creation of the universe, God created the universe 14.8 billion years ago. If God is outside of time, he didn't do anything 14.8 billion years ago.

      • 42Oolon

        No, I was speaking only of the teleological or cosmological arguments here.

    • Matt

      There is much more empirical evidence for God than for M-theory. Through history, many people have claimed experiences of God or lesser deities. Claims of experiences of other universes are either far less common, or non-existent (I'm not an expert on the history of claims to other worldly experiences, so I don't know if any of these occur). Though not all of these accounts can be trusted, they certainly constitute at least a weak kind of evidence, which is more than M-theory as described has.

      God is also philosophically better than an infinite regress or creation out of nothing since since He is Being Itself so that He gives an adequate account for the existence of all other being (neither a regress or everything from nothing do this).

      Really, Hawking and Mlondinow don't even prove that creation from nothing is possible since the law of gravity is something.

      • 42Oolon

        I don't understand what you mean by "being itself" this seems to me to be a concept that requires a mind. Whatever it is, saying it always existed and created the universe seems more or at least equally implausible to m-theory, but both are speculation, as far as I can tell.

        • Matt

          By calling God Being Itself I am claiming that His essence is identical with His existence. That part of my post was poorly argued; I just threw the conclusion of a bunch of arguments out there without providing even a hint at the arguments. Here are a bit of the arguments leading to this:

          There are contingent things in the universe which may exist or not exist; they are not necessary. They depend on other things for their existence.

          If all things are contingent then there could have been a time when none of them existed, so nothing would have existed. Nothing comes from nothing, so if this were the case, nothing would exist. Therefore necessary things must exist.

          Every necessary thing either has it's necessity caused by another necessary thing or not. Now in a series of things things that cause necessity, the first thing must give necessity to the intermediate things which must give necessity to the final thing. But if there were no first thing which does not receive its necessity, the intermediate things which must receive their necessity would not be necessary. Therefore there must be a thing which is necessary in itself.

          If this thing received it's existence from "existence" which is not itself, it would not be necessary in itself. Therefore this thing must be existence itself, which is understood to be God, as it is said "I Am Who Am".

          Hope that clears up what I meant.

          • 42Oolon

            Okay, this is both the ontological and kalam argument. They do not work. There is no reason to believe that the material Universe is itself contingent or necessitates a creator. You have said SOME things in the Universe are contingent and IF all things are contingent... But you have not demonstrated that ALL things ARE contingent.

            Have a look at this You Tuber for a full rebuttal, we just can't hash this out in this space. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YbRSGYRQqic

          • Matt

            It's really important in dialogue to listen closely to what your opponent has to say rather than simply trying to categorize them. If I were simply to categorize you as a typical "New Atheist" and pay little attention to your actual arguments since new Atheists have been disproven, I'd certainly be in the wrong.

            (Although I don't accept it, I must confess that I love learning about Anslem's argument so I went on a huge monologue about it below. Fell free to skip down until where a put some dashes)

            ___________________________________________________

            I've read several articles about the so called "ontological argument" (henceforth refered to as Anselm's argument) and my argument is certainly not that one in any respect.

            Anselm's argument in his Proslogion is typically represented like this:
            1) God is that which nothing greater can be thought
            2) That which nothing can be thought, can be thought (it exists in the mind)
            3) It is greater to exist in reality than to exist in the mind
            4) If that which nothing greater can be thought did not exist in reality, it would not be that which nothing greater can be thought
            5) That is absurd, therefore that which nothing greater can be thought must exist in reality

            Now the first criticism of this was by Guanillo the monk who pointed out that similar arguments could prove the existence of an island that no greater can be thought (which is absurd). The merits of this counter are debatable (being an island imposes limits on greatness so an island which no greater can be thought is a contradiction) but I'd agree that this form of Anselm's argument has no force since existence is not a perfection.

            However, there is a good case (based on Anselm's reply to Gaunillo. See Thomas Williams and Charles Hartshorne the former a modern scholar who is Catholic and rejects the argument and the latter an older scholar who doesn't seem to be religious from what I read, but accepts the argument) that that is a misrepresentation of Anselm's argument. His real argument goes something like this:
            1) God is that which nothing greater can be thought
            2) That which nothing greater can be thought can be thought (this means that it is possible within Anselm's metaphysics)
            3) When you think that which nothing greater can be thought you will see that it is necessary (Anselm gives several examples which are too long to relate here)
            4) If a necessary thing is possible, it necessarily exists

            St. Thomas Aquinas gives the most cogent disproof of this. He says that since we cannot know God's essence, we cannot see that the phrase "God exists" is self evident (that is how he interprets Anselm). That puts an end to the 3rd point in my outline (I'd say the 2nd is also false).

            Thanks for sharing the video, it was interesting (I am an Anselm's argument junkie). The form he was considering seemed rather weak to me since the first point didn't have anywhere near the power of saying "that which nothing greater can be thought" (especially considering Anselm's goal was to prove the divine attributes, not just define them). That weakness was just asking for someone to do the demon thing (which doesn't work with the two formulations I've mentioned since "that which lesser worse can be thought" would be a really insignificant thing that doesn't exist).

            ___________________________________________

            Anyway, I do not accept the ontological argument and my argument was certainly not a version of it. I have never heard of the kalam argument (and your video was only about the ontological argument), so I doubt that that was my argument. I'd love it if you could provide me with information about it though!

            I was attempting to express St. Thomas Aquinas' 3rd way: the argument from contingency. If you reread my previous post, you will see that my argument did not depend on all things being contingent, I discussed necessary things as well.

            Below is a famous debate about the contingency argument. Fr. Copleston presents Leibnitz's version of the contingency argument and Bertrand Russel critiques it. They get into the distinction between cosmological arguments (like the one from contingency) and ontological arguments too.
            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hXPdpEJk78E

          • 42Oolon

            Ok sorry I got you wrong. I don't buy the arg from contingency either if it is in fact distinct.

          • Matt

            Where do you think it goes wrong?

  • Greg Convertito

    Except that he absurdly reduces the "law of gravity" and "the fine tuning of physical law" into the same category and names it "physical laws." That's ridiculous. That's like saying me owning a car and me bringing it in for a tune-up to make it run better are the same thing. They're not even the same type of thing. One is a law and one is an action regarding a set of laws. I can get to the auto shop just fine with my badly running primitive car, but bringing it in to the shop would let me race next week, which I couldn't do if I didn't bring it in to be tuned up.

    • Peter Piper

      Yes, this seems to be the key misunderstanding in the OP. Although you probably understand very well what is going on, I want to say it again in a different way which avoids the difficulty that `fine-tuning' of physical laws is, on this model, very unlike `tuning up' of a car, in that it requires no `fine-tuner'.

      The quotes in the OP appear to me to be saying that because you have a law of gravity (a very abstract and simple sort of thing which doesn't show signs of fine-tuning) you get the possibility of spontaneous creation of universes. Lots of universes. So many universes, in fact, that some of them will be hospitable for life. In those universes, you will get living creatures, who will promptly be surprised at how `fine tuned for life' their universes are. In the others, you won't. But this fine-tuning isn't comparable to the law of gravity so there is no circularity here. For clarity: as pointed out by other commenters, the dependences in this paragraph should not be taken to imply temporal ordering, since temporal ordering may only make sense within particular universes.

      • SaludoVencedores

        Au contraire. Our gravity is indeed in the set of "fine-tuned" properties of this universe (see Rees: "Just SIx Numbers"). The far more interesting question, not explored by Hawking as far as I know, is where the 'information' came from which guided the formation of our or any other universe.

        • Peter Piper

          I assume you are referring to what Rees calls N, the ratio of the fine structure constant to the gravitational coupling constant. First, the fine structure constant is not related to gravity, being the coupling constant for the electromagnetic force. Second, even the gravitational coupling constant is, I would expect, a feature of particular universes, not a part of the abstract structure referred to by Hawking and Mlodinaw as the `law like gravity' in the quotes. I hope this deals satisfactorily with your first query.

          As for your second query: It's so long since I read the book that I don't recall the details in this case, but I sincerely doubt that the theory allows for any external injection of information. Do you see any difficulties with the idea that the only fundamental information to be specified is the abstract theory, variously referred to as a `law like gravity' and `physical law' in the OP?

          • SaludoVencedores

            Yes, you're basically on to it. I'm simply saying that a more effective challenge to Hawking's thesis than that proposed by the OP would be to question how, exactly, the information was created that informs how our, or any other, universe is to behave. One cannot site an example of a system based on information -- physical laws -- as requiring no creation without explaining where that information itself comes from. The ontology is defective..

          • Peter Piper

            A good principle here is: an explanation which relies on less complex assumptions is better than one which relies on more complex assumptions. This is basically what you are saying, since we could rephrase `complexity of assumptions' loosely as `amount of information needed to specify the assumptions'.

            However, I don't think that this means we should dream of an explanation with no assumptions whatever (what might that even mean?) or be unsatisfied until we have one. Instead, I'm pleasantly surprised at the huge reduction in complexity of assumptions that has been achieved already over the last couple of centuries, and I hope and expect that eventually we will have an `ultimate explanation' whose assumptions are so simple they could be encoded in just a few pages: I don't think it is reasonable to expect more than this.

            As I understand it, Hawking and Mlodinaw are talking about what such an `ultimate explanation' might look like. This leads to the following questions:
            1. Do you agree with me in my hopeful expectation that there is such an explanation to be found?
            2. Do you think such an explanation would be enough, or would you still want to know `where the information itself comes from' in such a case?

          • SaludoVencedores

            You may have misunderstood me. The 'information' I refer to is the set of laws governing this, or any other, universe. Unless these authors, or any others, can show that such information can arise somehow spontaneously, then any theory such as theirs will be defective. And since this is not the realm of physics, I suspect we'll have to rely our philosopher brothers for answers. Joy.
            Of course there is an explanation to be 'found'. The question is whether we can stand to hear it. What I am not and will not be satisfied with is the sideshow of very bright people promoting their own personal cultural agenda as science. It's one thing for physicists to ache under the challenge of pre-Planck and and the singularity, and pine for a way around it so that they can professionally carry on. It's quite another to hype a theory as proof of something -- anything. We used to call such people charlatans.
            Please excuse my rant. Nothing personal is intended. I'm just a little tired of the current pop-physics charade.

          • Peter Piper

            Your rant is excused. Since you say `this, or any other, universe', I'm going to assume that the issue you are worried about is the information encoded in the laws of particular universes, such as our own, within a hypothetical multiverse.

            The main counterintuitive point to grasp here is that it is possible to have a structure such that the parts of the structure need more information to specify them than the whole structure does. Consider for example a structure like that in Borges' short story the Library of Babel. Simplifying a bit to make the point clearer, this structure consists of all possible strings of characters of length 1,312,000 in which each character is either a letter, a comma, a full stop or a space.

            It is clear that individual strings can contain huge amounts of information. There must be one, for example, which includes the complete text of Hamlet. On the other hand, the structure itself is so simple that I was able to specify it in just one sentence. Yet given this simple structure there is no need for a further explanation of how the individual strings each `arise spontaneously': despite their complexity, they are already all present.

            As I understand it, an analogous phenomenon renders it unnecessary to explain how extra information gets `smuggled in' to give the individual universes of a multiverse: there is no need for such smuggling. Does this help, or have I misunderstood what you were trying to get at?

          • SaludoVencedores

            " I'm going to assume that the issue you are worried about is the information encoded in the laws of particular universes, such as our own, within a hypothetical multiverse."
            No, that's not it. In your 1,312,000-length string example YOU are the information author. Who, or what, is Hawking's?

          • Peter Piper

            Since that isn't it, I guess you must be asking for an explanation of the original laws of the hypothesised multiverse. But explanations have to stop somewhere, and if the laws are very simple then I think we should be satisfied with that. What more could we hope for? An explanation with no assumptions?

          • SaludoVencedores

            Thanks for the interchange. Just to be clear, I don't have a question, or a need for an explanation. I simply posit that Hawking has not answered anything, other than that his hubris is immense in claiming to have shown that our universe is without need of an intelligent creator. He has shown no such thing.

          • Peter Piper

            I'll take the claim that Hawking has not answered any questions whatever except whether or not he is arrogant to be hyperbole. The statement that he is arrogant is not one that I think either of us has enough of a basis to make a judgment on.

            I'm not completely sure what the weaker claim you wanted to convey by means of hyperbole was. Perhaps there is some question that you think he gives the misleading impression that he has answered, but that he has not in fact answered? If so, please try to formulate such a question and we can discuss it.

  • Loreen Lee

    You 'guys' have given me a lot of work to do today, reading the articles to the point where I can say 'I am beginning to understand the 'physics'. But I am also participating in a series of meditations with Ophra and Deepak, which bring me back to the time I spent with the Buddhists. One of the mantras was 'Existence. Consciousness. Bliss.' That Bliss would be the peace of 'Nirvana' experienced even within our lifetime on 'earth'.
    So maybe I am denying to these physicists that they actually 'manifest', a certain kind of humility, although they seem 'ignorant' of same as it would possibly go against the scientific call for objectivity. Yet all of their theories, presume/assume the consciousness, at least as the 'explanation' of their thought, which derives these theories from their mind/brain. Of course this too could be reduced to a physical explanation through the denial of consciousness, again. But indeed, without the acknowledgement that they actually thought up these ideas, would not these theories, even that of consciousness reduction, be accountable to a logical infinite regress. Indeed we could also assign 'an infinite regress' to a description of the world/worlds in response to the first antinomy of Immanuel Kant. Does 'beginning' have to refer to the physical 'start' of a particular universe? Could not 'beginning' refer to the 'foundational' (not going to define) basis for any cosmology, time order, whatever? Could not 'beginning' be another word for something 'beyond' both existence and consciousness, even? Am I being a pan-theist, Spinozian here. If so, Brandon, please 'forgive'.

    So they are leaving consciousness, perhaps outside of their 'hypothesis'; not only their own 'consciousness' but that of a supreme/ultimate/absolute consciousness, which could be contrasted with 'existence', as a Being/No-thing/Pure Being/Emptiness, call it what you will. I see, in my own personal attempt to 'understand', no apparent difficulty in finding some kind of correlation between these scientific explanations and within my understanding, thinking of the, as distinct from a 'final explanation' to Be the 'existence/consciousness of God'.

  • http://robertkroese.com/ Rob Kroese

    The author doesn't point out a circularity in Hawking/Mlodinow's argument. He points out a circularity in nature that would result from the argument being true. Circularity in logic is a bad thing, but circularity in nature is not. It happens all the time. ("The top of the wheel goes down because the bottom is coming up, and the bottom is coming up because the top is coming down."). Simply to point out that C is dependent on B and B is dependent on A and A is dependent on C entails no logical problem. The author mistakes a series of related factual statements for an argument.

    • Stallbaumer

      The coincidence of two events does not necessarily point to circular cause. The top and bottom of the wheel must move together, but the rotation of the wheel must have an origin from outside of the wheel itself. Simultaneous motion does not equal mutual cause.

      • http://robertkroese.com/ Rob Kroese

        Sure, any circularity you point to within the universe is going to have an outside cause, because that's the way the universe works. But the idea that the universe itself can't be the result of circular causation is an unproved proposition.

        The point remains that Hawking/Mlodinow are simply looking at the universe and saying it's the result of a circle. You can argue that's counterintuitive, but it isn't true that they've made some kind of logic error simply by making this statement.

        • Stallbaumer

          ...unless you consider circular reasoning a logic error.

          Even if it could be established that there is a multiverse that follows the cyclical pattern outlined, the question of the origin of this system still remains. Even if the whole universe is our metaphorical "wheel" some cause had to have spun the wheel.

          • http://robertkroese.com/ Rob Kroese

            Again, the reasoning isn't circular. It's simply pointing at a circularity that (according to the authors) exists in nature.

            You say that "Even if the whole universe is our metaphorical "wheel" some cause had to have spun the wheel." That sounds reasonable, but it's an unsupported premise. Presumably Hawking/Mlodinow wouldn't accept the premise.

          • Stallbaumer

            "Presumably Hawking/Mlodinow wouldn't accept the premise."
            It appears that they don't. I guess where I differ from Hawking/Mlodinow is that when I see a spinning wheel I feel it is safe to assert that someone spun it.

          • http://robertkroese.com/ Rob Kroese

            Sure, and that's a reasonable assumption. But of course the universe isn't a wheel, and it's risky to infer qualities from objects within the universe to the universe itself.

          • Stallbaumer

            If an attribute is shared by all objects within the universe, would you consider that evidence that the universe itself also shares the attribute?

            Specifically, if all observable objects have external causes, isn't it also likely that the universe shares this quality?

          • http://robertkroese.com/ Rob Kroese
          • Stallbaumer

            Haha. Okay, I guess I walked right into that one.

            As an attempt to save face I'll ask one more question.

            If the behavior of objects that we can observe cannot give us any evidence as to the behavior of the universe as a whole, how is it possible for us to derive any information about the universe at all?

          • http://robertkroese.com/ Rob Kroese

            Man, that's an excellent question. And it's beyond my primitive understanding of cosmology. :)

          • Stallbaumer

            Mine too I guess.

            Well I've got nothing left. It's been refreshing.

          • josh

            The universe is the sum of the 'objects' in it, or if you prefer, the objects are parts of the whole which is the universe. So one part is telling you 'something' about the universe. What observing the parts can't do is point you to something outside the universe, which is why cosmological type arguments fail so badly.

            Going 'outside' would require observing a new 'part' which isn't one of the original 'universe' parts, and then one could see how the universe and non-universe parts relate to each other as part of a meta-universe. But that meta-universe would of course be complete by itself unless you could observe a non-non-universe, etc. You can't argue from relations between the parts in one system (the universe) to the existence of a meta-system.

    • Joseph Heschmeyer

      Rob,

      Saying "The top of the wheel goes down because the bottom is coming up, and the bottom is coming up because the top is coming down" is circular logic.

      You can say that the top and bottom of the wheel are simultaneously in motion, and that's no problem, because it's just making an observable, empirical claim that doesn't require any logical correlation (e.g., the top of the wheel is going down at the same time the bottom of a wheel on the other side of the world is going up). But when you start making "because" claims, you're ascribing causality.

      So if you were to seriously suggest that wheels move because the top of the wheel goes down, and that it does this because the bottom of the wheel goes up, and that it does this because the top of the wheel goes down, ad infinitum, that would be a logically impossible explanation. You can't just say "A causes B causes A infinitely." And labelling that as "circularity in nature" doesn't get you out of that conundrum.

      God bless,

      Joe

      • http://robertkroese.com/ Rob Kroese

        It's circular causation, not circular logic. 2 different things. If I said "I know that the universe was sneezed out of the nose of the Great Green Arkleseizure because the Great Green Arkleseizure sneezed out the universe," that would be circular logic. Saying that the universe is the cause of something that causes the universe is an example of circular causation, which may be counterintuitive but does employ circular logic.

        • Joseph Heschmeyer

          I understand the distinction you're making, but I don't see how you're answering my point. If A requires the existence of B, B requires the existence of C, and C requires the existence of A, you can’t posit A, B, or C as a cause of the existence of the set of A, B, and C. What we call “circular causality” only works if there’s an additional (typically unstated) cause that causes A, B, and/or C. And this is true in all possible universes.

          So Hawking and Mlodinow’s argument would only work if there’s some other Cause independent of the universe, physical laws, etc.

          God bless,

          Joe

          • http://robertkroese.com/ Rob Kroese

            The short answer is that you haven't proven that circular causation is impossible.

            "If A requires the existence of B, B requires the existence of C, and C requires the existence of A, you can’t posit A, B, or C as a cause of the existence of the set of A, B, and C."

            Why not? That is, it's true that you're probably never going to observe this happening in nature, but what proof is there that it's *logically* impossible? As far as I know, there isn't any. I'll admit that A causing B causing C causing A is *counter-intuitive*, but counter-intuitiveness isn't a valid test.

            We simply don't know whether circular causation is possible. The authors apparently think it is, and given what we know about the non-linear nature of time, it seems reasonable to me.

          • Joseph Heschmeyer

            You can't both affirm "A requires the existence of B" and "A is the cause of B." You're violating the principle of non-contradiction, the most basic principle of logic.

            The Arabic philosopher Avicenna dismissed the possibility of having a logical discussion with someone who violated this principle. He suggested this prescription (jokingly, I hope): “As for the obstinate, he must be plunged into fire, since fire and non-fire are identical. Let him be beaten, since suffering and not suffering are the same. Let him be deprived of food and drink, since eating and drinking are identical to abstaining.”

            God bless,

            Joe

          • http://robertkroese.com/ Rob Kroese

            It's only a contradiction if you assume time is linear (which we know it isn't). A causes B, and then B goes back in time and causes A.

          • Joseph Heschmeyer

            Rob,

            “It's only a contradiction if you assume time is linear (which we know it isn't).” Leaving aside what we know and don’t know about the linearity of time, what you’re proposing is a logical contradiction. As I said to David Nichol above:

            “The chart is about logical sequence: that is, causality. It is not necessarily a temporal sequence (although causality ordinarily moves forward in time). For example, you could say:

            1. In 2040, I build a time machine.
            2. I travel in my time machine back to 2013.
            3. I return to 2040 at the exact moment I left.

            That would be a properly-ordered (and non-circular) logical sequence, even though the temporal sequence would be 2, then 1 & 3 simultaneously.

            The problem with Hawking and Mlodinow's argument isn't that it's temporally-circular, but that it's logically-circular. You can't coherently start the chain of causality at any point. Each of the three steps in their logic requires the pre-existence of at least one of the other two. That's the sense in which each step is its own grandfather, so to speak. No, you don't have to assume time in linear (we'll leave aside the question of whether or not we "know" non-linear time is true). “

            So you’re not solving for the very real contradiction. You
            suggest that it can be solved this way: "A causes B, and then B goes back in time and causes A." Laid out logically:

            1. A causes B.
            2. B goes back in time.
            3. B causes A.

            But it can't be solved that way, because your
            first logical step requires a prior step. In other words, step 1 can't occur (because A requires B to exist, and B doesn't exist in step 1). It would be like suggesting that you could go back in time and be your own grandfather. It’s literally impossible, because there’s no place to start the logical sequence. What you're describing is the Bootstrap Paradox, and it's logically impossible.

            I think we both agree that what Hawking and Mlodinow propose is temporally circular, and we both agree that this isn't itself fatal to the theory. My point is that it's also logically circular, and this point has nothing particularly to do with whether or not time is linear.

            God bless,

            Joe

          • http://robertkroese.com/ Rob Kroese

            Again, you're conflating logical circularity with temporal circularity: "Each of the three steps in their logic requires the pre-existence of at least one of the other two."

            No, it requires the *existence*, not the pre-existence. By sneaking in the "pre", you're once again smuggling in a linear conception of time. Try to phrase your point without using any words like "pre" or "before" and you'll see what I mean.

          • Joseph Heschmeyer

            Rob,

            I'm using "pre" in the sense of logically prior, not temporally. I realize that we normally use "pre" temporally, but that's not its meaning here. (e.g., Marty McFly is in 1985 prior to being in 1955).

            And you're not refuting that you're still committing the Bootstrap Paradox.

            God bless,

            Joe

            P.S. Even if we treat A, B, and C as one (rather than as three distinct things), you're not actually accounting for where any or all of them come from: saying "each other" just isn't an explanation (since none of them are necessary or non-contingent).

          • alexander stanislaw

            Consider a one dimensional universe consisting of a ball bouncing between two walls. This universe is periodic: the state of the universe at time t = 0 is the same as the universe at time t = n*c (n = ... -1, 0, 1, ...). As such it would be appropriate to model time using the circle group rather than the real number line.

            This universe is self stable, self consistent and free of logical contradiction.

          • Joseph Heschmeyer

            Alexander,

            I've heard that claim before, but it still confuses causal sequences with temporal ones. Your example helps illustrate this: even if the universe is periodic, you could number the times that the ball has hit each wall. You could also the number of cycles that the universe has gone through, just as we can count the number of seasons (even though they're periodic). But in each of these cases, the appropriate modelling would be a real number line.

            This also shows the impossibility of what you're describing: to say that the ball has already hit the wall an infinite number of times, or that the universe has returned to a particular state an infinite number of times, or that we've had an infinite number of summers -- all of these require postulating that we can (and have) traversed an actual infinite. That's mathematically impossible.

            I.X.,

            Joe

          • alexander stanislaw

            In order to show that my universe is logically contradictory, there are two ways to go about it. the first is to show that it implies A and ~A. The second is to show that it implies B which is false. However, that second way isn't particularly helpful if B is the premise that is under question.

            Could you demonstrate that my universe implies A and ~A? All of your examples fall into the second (unhelpful) category and invoke notions of time and causation that were derived from observing _this_ universe and may fail in other universes.

            Another way of asking my question, is - Do you think that my one - dimensional universe is internally self-consistent? Is there an internal logical contradiction?

            PS: Your arguments also invoke the A theory time, which is also questionable. You could try to defend the A theory of time, but in order to demonstrate the impossibility of my universe you would also have to demonstrate that the B theory of time is not only wrong but logically contradictory - which would be rather difficult.

          • Joseph Heschmeyer

            Alexander,

            Let me try a slightly different approach. You say that:

            "This universe is periodic: the state of the universe at time t = 0 is the same as the universe at time t = n*c (n = ... -1, 0, 1, ...). "

            Let's accept this premise, and let's label as P0 the location of the universe at time t = 0.

            a) In your "B theory of time," how many times has the universe reached P0?

            b) And if you were to chart this, would you chart the number of times the universe reached P0 linearly, or cyclically?

            God bless,

            Joe

          • alexander stanislaw

            Admittedly my initial descriptive of the 1D universe is poor - it can be thought of as being analogous to a ball bouncing between two walls, however, that's not a perfect analogy. A more precise formulation is as follows:

            This universe is described by a static space time with an unusual geometry in that time wraps around itself. Points in space can be thought of as coordinates with a time dimension (where the set of possible times is the circle group) and a corresponding space dimension. For each time value there is some position associated with it, however there is no present, past or future, all points in space time coexist within the static space-time structure.

            Onto the question - how many times has the universe reached P0? Can be more precisely rephrased as - When the universe is at time t = x, at how many points of time prior to x was the ball at P0?

            And the answer is that there is no past, just points in space-time, however, there is a single point in space-time in which the ball was at P0.

            Also, I suppose I never described what the A and B theory of time are - are you familiar with them?

            Disclaimer: I don't think this disclaimer is necessary, however, I am not arguing that the universe is anything like my hypothetical universe - merely that my hypothetical universe is _possible_.

          • http://robertkroese.com/ Rob Kroese

            I just don't see how it's logically contradictory. It contradicts our normal understanding of causality (or contingency, if you want to call it that), but I don't see the logical contradiction. What's wrong with A being contingent on B and B being contingent on A? The idea that there MUST be C out there supporting A or B or both is intuitive, but it isn't logically necessary.

          • http://robertkroese.com/ Rob Kroese

            In the end, your argument seems to be just a rephrasing of the standard cosmological argument that the universe can't exist without a cause. You've just adapted it to say that a causal circle can't exist without a cause. To either of these claims, the skeptic just says, "Why not?" And you're left saying, something like, "Well, it's counterintuitive." But again, counterintuitive isn't necessarily wrong (or logically flawed).

            The bootstrap "paradox", by the way, isn't technically a logical paradox either. It's just a contradiction of our normal understanding of causality.

          • http://robertkroese.com/ Rob Kroese

            Again, try phrasing your argument without using any time-related words. Every time you rephrase it, you find a different way to sneak a linear concept of time into it (unconsciously, I'm sure). For example, the phase "logical sequence" and "logically prior" have no meaning. There is no sequence in logic.

            For example, I can say 1+1=2 because 2=1*2 and 2=1*2 because 1+1=2. It's completely valid and completely circular. To demand that 1+1=2 be true *before* 2=1*2 would be ridiculous because math and logic are a priori constructs not dependent on anything "being" at any particular time.

            The "contradiction" appears as soon as you start talking about actual, temporal objects. But it appears *not* because suddenly the logic has gone bad; it appears because of certain assumptions that we have about temporal objects ("if A is dependent on B, B must precede A in time"). If you acknowledge that those assumptions (while possibly correct) are based on our experience with temporal objects, then you've admitted that causal circularity is not logically impossible.

  • Randy Gritter

    I guess I get stuck on the law of gravity. It can't be what I think of when people talk about it. That is a force of attraction between 2 objects directly proportional to the product of the masses divided by the square of the distance. That concept reduces to zero when there are no masses so the law of gravity in a vacuum is trivially zero. So saying the law of gravity should produce a universe from a vacuum makes little sense. Not only that, it should produce many universes with different physical laws. It seems like there must be something else they are calling the law of gravity.

    I do find it interesting that Peter Kreeft talks about gravity as an expression of the creator's love. Objects attract. They pull towards each other. They want to be together. That is not surprising given that God is love and God made these objects. Even the stones want to express love.

    So I find it interesting that physicists think gravity is central in creation. It is like saying love is what the world is all about. Of course it is.

    • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

      I guess I get stuck on the law of gravity. . . . . So I find it interesting that physicists think gravity is central in creation.

      There are two problems. First, the OP slightly but critically misquotes Hawking and Mlodinow. Second, the excerpt is too brief. The quote in the OP is, "Because there is a law of gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing." What Hawking and Mlodinow actually say is, "Because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will
      create itself from nothing in the manner described in Chapter 6." The meaning is different if you say, "There is a law of gravity," than if you say, "a law like gravity." Here is the quote from the OP corrected and in larger context.

      If the total energy of the universe must always remain zero, and it costs energy to creaet a body, how can a whole universe be created from nothing? That is why there must be a law like gravity. Because gravity is attractive, gravitational energy is negative: One has to do work to separate a gravitationally bound system, such as the earth and moon. This negative energy can balance the positive energy needed to create matter, but it's not quite that simple. The negative gravitational energy of earth, for example, is less than a billionth of the positive energy of the matter particles the earth is made of. A body such as a star will have more gravitational energy, and the smaller it is (the closer the different parts of it are to each other), the greater this negative energy will be. But before it can become greater than the positive energy of the matter, the star will collapse to a black hole, and black holes have positive energy. That's why empty space is stable. Bodies such as stars of black holes cannot just appear out of nothing. But a whole universe can.

      Because gravity shapes space and time, it allows space-time to be locally stable but globally unstable. On the scale of the entire universe, the positive energy of the matter can be balanced by the negative gravitational energy, and so there is no restriction on the creation of whole universes. Because there is a law like like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing in the manner described in Chapter 6. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, not why the universe exist, but why we exist. It is not necessary to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.

      As I understand it, the authors are saying, "Because there is a law like gravity as we describe it here . . . . a law that allows space-time to be locally stable but globally unstable . . . a law that allows the positive energy of matter to be balanced by the negative gravitational energy (in a whole universe) . . . ."

      • Randy Gritter

        Thanks for that. Still not quite there. It is like ripples. They balance from the center. Still it seems you need something to disturb the water. Empty space is stable. Somehow a whole universe can just appear. But how? What controls what type of universe appears?

        • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

          Empty space is stable. Somehow a whole universe can just appear. But how? What controls what type of universe appears?

          It seems you could be similarly skeptical about virtual particles, but we know for a fact that they do come into existence for no reason. So why not universes?

          • Randy Gritter

            We know there is no reason or we have not yet figured out the reason? Is this a particle of the gaps?

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            We know there is no reason or we have not yet figured out the reason? Is this a particle of the gaps?

            When I say "for no reason" I mean "randomly." I assume (but do not know for a fact) that physicists actually know the randomness is true randomness. It is certainly known for a fact that other quantum phenomena are truly random and don't merely appear to be random because of hidden variables.

          • Randy Gritter

            How can you know that? Things always appear random until we correlate them with the right thing. Then they are predictable. So how can we know something is truly random? That no rule will ever be found that explains it?

            Atheists often assert that what is unexplained today might have an explanation tomorrow so we should not call it a miracle. Here we have a documented physical thing that scientists are basically calling a miracle by saying ti can never be explained?

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            So how can we know something is truly random? That no rule will ever be found that explains it?

            You agree with perhaps the greatest physicist who ever lived—Albert Einstein. You are maintaining (as he maintained) that "God does not play dice." But if you read any good history of 20th century physics, you will find out that Einstein spent a lot of time during the last two decades of his life trying to prove quantum mechanics was wrong (or incomplete), because it viewed the world as truly and fundamentally probabilistic, whereas he thought there had to be "hidden variables" that determined what quantum mechanics wrongly viewed as probabilistic. But Einstein utterly failed. And, in fact, it has actually been proven that there are no hidden variables. I would be greatly exaggerating if I claimed to understand this in any depth, but Einstein's greatest challenge was a paper published by Einstein, Podolsky, and Rosen in 1935, and the most stunning answer involved Bell's inequalities set out in a 1964 paper by John Stewart Bell and the experimental work done as a result of in in the 1970s and 1980s. Bell's inequalities showed that certain experiments would yield results in one range if there were hidden variables and in another range if there were not. The experimental results proved that there were no hidden variables and that Einstein was wrong, and you, too! ;-)

          • Randy Gritter

            I am not saying I understand it all. I am just saying that if you make no assumptions about nature of the hidden variables then I can't see how you can design an experiment to prove they are not there. The wikipedia link you give actually talks about assumptions called locality and realism. That makes sense to me. Bell can design an experiment to test the assumptions. They were found to be false. That does not mean there is no cause. Just that the cause violates our intuition in some important ways. Interesting.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            I am not saying I understand it all. I am just saying that if you make no assumptions about nature of the hidden variables then I can't see how you can design an experiment to prove they are not there.

            Since I am able to follow only popular accounts of these kinds of issues, I can't answer your objection. I can only say that the vast majority of people who understand the issues believe that there is conclusive proof that there are no hidden variables, not that Bell made assumptions about hidden variables, his assumptions were proven wrong, and someone else who makes different assumptions and formulates an experiment will find there are indeed hidden variables.

            What it boils down to is that quantum physicists and philosophers of science have concluded that our expectations and intuitions about the everyday world of our normal experience simply don't apply at the quantum level. That is very difficult to accept, and Einstein, for one, never accepted it. But to side with Einstein, it is pretty much necessary to conclude that physicists since the 1930s are fundamentally mistaken about the nature of their own field of study.

          • Randy Gritter

            It is Einstein who made assumptions about hidden variables and Bell who proved them wrong. Reading some wikipedia does not make me an expert but it does seem like they have not given up on the notion of causality. How could they? It is at the heart of science. So they talk about Quantum entanglement. That violates the principle of locality described by Einstein. That is 2 particles separate yet they still continue to effect each other. Weird. But they are not saying the concept of cause and effect does not apply in quantum mechanics. If they said that then there would be nothing for them to describe.

      • Joseph Heschmeyer

        David,

        Good catch on the typo ("law like gravity" v. "law of gravity"). I don't think it makes any functional difference in context, but I've corrected it in the original post on my blog.

        God bless,

        Joe

        • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

          (Fixed on this post, too.)

    • josh

      Randy, when Hawking and other physicists talk about gravity they are talking about (at least) an Einsteinian understanding of gravity, i.e. the warping of space time in a general relativistic sense. In this theory objects are not attracted to each other, rather they follow the shortest paths on a curved space-time. It's intuitively difficult to grasp. Anyhow, that curvature depends on the energy distribution of the universe so it isn't as simple as a 1/r^2 law proportional to masses. Once you add in a cosmological constant, (or something with an equivalent effect), the effects of gravity are not strictly attractive even from our everyday perspective.

      I'm afraid physicists don't believe love is what the world is all about. Love, like belief in God, is a human phenomenon. We as humans can appreciate it but the universe at large is indifferent. It's like saying that popcorn is what the world is all about because physicists talk about the rapid expansion of the universe from an earlier state.

      • Randy Gritter

        I don't think Kreeft thinks physicists believe that. I think he just sees the fingerprints of a loving God even in inanimate objects.

        • josh

          Since the objects of the universe are on average receding from each other, will you or Kreeft now conclude that you see the fingerprints of a repellent God? I doubt it, which leads me to conclude that the argument/observation/whatever-it-was was rather empty of content. Sorry if this sounds harsh but the point is that comforting platitudes don't make for a reasonable belief.

          • Randy Gritter

            Empty of content in a pure scientific sense. But that is the point. Science tends to have a certain poetry to it.

  • Dan Carollo

    George Ellis of University of Cape Town, South Africa (who, by the way, co-wrote the book "The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time" with Stephen Hawking) has written several devastating critiques of multiverse theory -- particularly in its use as an "explanation" for why our particular universe has the fine-tuned values it does.

    One major assumption behind the multiverse idea is that these multiverses are necessarily of an infinite variety. Appealing to multiverses ONLY has force if these multiple universes can be shown to actually exist, AND that they exist in statistically-meaningful distribution of near-infinite variety (of laws, expansion rates, etc.)

    We have no idea experimental data (even in principle) of what these multiverses are like. Secondly, to appeal to a near infinite number of multiverses to explain why we shouldn't be surprised that our OWN just happens to takes on the fine-tuning characteristics, strains the usual criteria of Ockham's Razor

    Resources...

    Slideshow:
    http://www.slideshare.net/UnitB166ER/the-multiverse-ultimate-causation-and-god-by-george-ellis

    Search "Multiverse" lecture on the Faraday Institute Site (you can download his 2007 lecture here):
    http://www.faraday.st-edmunds.cam.ac.uk/Multimedia.php

    • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

      I recommend reading a thread over on First Things by Stephen Barr, a deeply committed Catholic and also a well known physicist. The whole thread [The Large Hadron Collider, the Multiverse, and Me (and my friends)] is worth reading, but here is a response he gave to the question of whether the multiverse was an invention of atheists trying to explain away fine tuning:

      You are right that many theists see the multiverse idea as a “desperate invention” of atheists. But that is indeed, as you imply, an oversimplification of the situation. Attitudes about the multiverse cut across religious-atheist lines. Most physicists (including most of those who are atheists) dislike the multiverse idea for several reasons: (1) It is probably untestable, and thus dismissed as “not science.” (2) If correct, then some numbers we thought were “constants of nature,” and thus perhaps calculable from a fundamental theory, may be just descriptions of conditions in our part of the universe.

      True, some physicists who are atheists do welcome the multiverse idea as explaining some “anthropic fine-tunings” without invoking a God who tunes the universe for life.

      The paper that my friends and I wrote in 1997 is one of the most well-known (among physicists) papers proposing the multiverse as a solution to a theoretical puzzle. The authors include an atheist and two Catholics (including me).

      The multiverse idea has real physics arguments in support of it. To the extent that physicists are beginning to take it seriously, it is in spite of the strongly held feelings of most of them, including most atheists.

      Does the multiverse undercut the argument for God based on the “anthropic fine-tunings”? It weakens it, but does not destroy it, as I explain in my book “Modern Physics and Ancient Faith”.

      Here is a link to the Scientific American article he refers to. Here is a link to Barr's paper referred to by him and by the Scientific American article. Here is a link to Barr's book.

      • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

        Steve Barr is excellent. We were just exchanging emails today, in fact. Look for an upcoming guest post (or two) from him on quantum physics.

        • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

          Look for an upcoming guest post (or two) from him on quantum physics.

          In a talk I heard him give about the Higgs Boson, he summed up all of particle physics in comprehensible terms in under a half hour! I very much look forward to whatever he will have to say.

      • josh

        Just want to point out that 'anthropic fine-tuning' as an argument for god is destroyed on entirely other grounds. The multiverse is an interesting idea but is in no way necessary to debunk the anthropic argument.

      • Dan Carollo

        There could very well be Multiverses. That idea in itself is not problematic-- in fact, I find it quite an exciting idea. (Why should God, in his creative plentitude, NOT create multiple universes?).
        But the idea that multiverses has some bearing at explaining away "fine-tuning" in our own universe, contains some very problematic assumptions. (again -- see the Ellis lecture).

    • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

      I agree that it wouldn't be reasonable to invoke a bunch of multiverses in order to explain the fine-tuned parameters in this one. I don't think Hawking does this. Hawking accepts M theory, and M theory predicts a whole bunch of universes, around 10^500. Ellis is right that this isn't yet a very good explanation for fine tuning, because we don't know whether our universe is one of the 10^500 universes M theory predicts.

  • Tim Dacey

    Suppose for a moment that M-Theory is true. It is not at all obvious (to me at least) that this should count as evidence *against* the existence of God. It does seem that the prior probability for fine tuning would now be exceedingly low (enough to reject the argument), however it shouldn't be assumed that an argument for the existence of God rests on fine tuning alone. Consider this kind of modal argument, which would count as evidence against the problem of evil (i.e., that belief in God is epistemically unjustified given the presence of evil and suffering)

    P1. If M-Theory is True, then there is an infinite amount of logically possible universes.
    P2. If there is an infinite amount of logically possible universes, then there exists an infinite amount of universes in which no evil and suffering exist.
    C. Therefore, Theism is epistemically justified.

    Of course by Theism, I mean belief in an all-powerful, loving, etc. God. Perhaps some more premises is necessary, but hopefully you catch my drift.

    Thoughts?

    • 42Oolon

      It would also mean that God did not intend any one specific universe or creation, including a Universe where Jesus did not rise from the dead, but people lied about it in writing the Bible and convinced some people that Jesus was God.

      • Randy Gritter

        I am not sure why it would mean this universe was not intended by God for this or that. Just like the realization that our sun was one of many stars did not mean this planet was not intended by God for the unfolding of salvation history.

        • 42Oolon

          It means that our salvation was not God's choice, it is the result of him choosing to create all possible worlds, most of which there is no salvation for humanity.

          But the main point, it would disprove the Teleological Argument.

          • Randy Gritter

            Why? If God created 10^500 universes how does that imply that he had no purpose in creating our universe? We already know creation is hugely complex and diverse. This would increase that by many orders of magnitude. So God is extravagant and gives us many universes when one would do.

          • 42Oolon

            Imagine hearing a song you like on the radio, you think hey a DJ decided to play that song. Then you find out that this radio station plays every single song ever recorded in alphabetical order. It is more difficult to say that the intention or purpose was to play a particular song. But I guess anything is possible when you are God. But again this is a side point to the article.

      • Tim Dacey

        If Jesus is God, then there is no logically possible universe where Jesus did not rise from the dead. I.e., there is no logically possible universe where Jesus is not God. It is important that we keep in mind that "logically possible" does not equate to "anything goes".

        By Christian definition, Jesus is God. Therefore, there is no logically possible universe where Jesus is not God in the same way there is no logically possible universe where bachelors are married men.

  • GreatSilence

    Does the multiverse theory not simply leave more origins of universes to explain?
    Now, instead of explaining the start of this one we end up having to explain (or ignore) the start of a multitude of universes. I can see how the multiverse can be a great short-term answer to those pesky origin questions, but at the end of it all there is the start of it all.

    • 42Oolon

      Sure, it would be easier to believe many other things and many simpler models of the Universe. But M-theory is trying to explain what we observe, not what we want to see or what is easier to understand. I actually think if M-theory and string theory could be proven it would leave us with a much better understanding of what we observe, not less.

      • GreatSilence

        Fair enough, but we may end up with having to explain the origin of the multiverse, not just the origin of our single universe. It just seems, from that perspective, like a moving of the goalposts, which will end up with us ( at least the non-believer) facing an even bigger problem.

        A multiverse may explain the origin of this one, but how did the multiverse come about.

        Nevertheless, we must see what there is to see. Fascinating stuff.

        • 42Oolon

          From my perspective, not being able to explain the origin of the Universe or multiverse is simply not a problem. I think M-theory IS the explanation of how it may have come about.

          But there will never be a final satisfying answer to why, why, why? if you want one, have 42!

          • GreatSilence

            I actually agree with theists like Bill Craig who argue that the theistic explanation makes the best sense given our present data, and he / they present that so that it does not come across as a god-of-the-gaps argument. I find theism explains all of this, but of course I agree that it is by no way proof of theism. I am starting to believe that we will never know with any great certainty. That position, if it is true, keeps the scientific mind occupied throughout the ages, and it keeps the hidden God of Christianity just there, hidden.

          • 42Oolon

            Actually, aliens, or that the universe is a simulation created by beings in another universe is a better explanation, this does not require any abrogation of the laws of physics or timeless omniscient beings. But both are conclusions from ignorance.

          • GreatSilence

            Ah, but who created the aliens now?

            ;)

    • Agni Ashwin

      And what started the start?

  • Dalin Drake

    No offense, but your God says he made you in his own image. A mammal that thinks very highly of itself, constantly sins, and thinks it UNDERSTANDS things like these topics. we all know ourselves and know that we aren't as complicated as all of everything. And what are humans other than incredibly confused, angry, and scared cyclical patterns. Simply observe any human or yourself and you will see that we work in circles. It's in your life, it's in therapy, it's in the bible. Endless circles. I think these scientists have used mathematical FACTS to try and best guess the reality behind what NOBODY knows. I would argue this is a fine theory in that -- like the rest OF EVERYTHING -- it too works cyclically and gives ACTUAL proof of how something like pi (remember the original finder of pi was put to death by the religious fear of the idea of infinity by humans who have done this in circles again and again and... yet again) can exist and NOT BE GOD. Praying and meditation is a healthy practice that should be undertaken by all. That being said it is simply a state of relief our brain requires to act more civilly towards one another. You are still simply just convincing your brain for about 20 - 30 mins that there are no circles, that temptations cannot return or effect us, that we won't make that same mistake, or that we'll feel safe. Notice about 3 hours after praying the heart rate returns to normal and the brain returns to functioning in a standard cyclical pattern, only now convinced that it is somehow healthier, and has given itself chemical patience we call "courage" to "face the day". Because those who are religious can fall back on the word FAITH to explain any theory that cannot be directly and factually explained, I think you should have a little more imagination and give more credit to those who are attempting to solve REAL questions without being able to just ASK you to BELIEVE blindly. I understand that IS THE POINT of your religion, but others like to dabble in the how using only known facts.

  • Micha_Elyi

    Once upon a time the atheists insisted that the Bible was obviously false because, to use the modern vernacular, settled science says the universe has always existed and did not have a beginning. In the 20th century, atheists mocked the contrarian observational evidence and the theory that followed from it by dubbing it "The Big Bang". Atheists clung to their Spontaneous Creation model (it was featured in school books well into the 1970s, at least).

    Now, here we are with another troupe of atheists trying to impress us with their Spontaneous Creation 2.0 bunk. I laugh as atheists, who are often quick to call upon Occam's Razor in other circumstances, substitute an infinity of invisible universes and invented "branes" for the One God. Time to shave your beards, atheists! Heh heh.

    • 42Oolon

      Once upon a time Catholics insisted that the sun went around the earth. In the 17th century scientists easily showed that this was wrong, but scientist who challenged them was put in house arrest...

      This is not a troupe of atheists. This is the most respected theoretical physicist in the world. String theory is not science, it is speculation and no one is saying that it has been demonstrated. It is being pursued to try and understand how quantum mechanics and relativity might work together. An incredibly difficult question. It has nothing to do with proving or disproving a god, it is all about trying to explain observation. "God did it" or, "some perfect mind did it" doesn't explain anything and it raises many more questions, what is this god, how did it "create" the Universe, if it was immaterial where did the material come from, out of nothing? Out of itself, if the latter it isn't immaterial is it? How can it intend something without time, how could it create or change anything without time? And so on.

      I can't speak for all atheists, but I do not know how the Universe ultimately originated, but I respect the endeavours of scientists who are actually trying to figure it out. If they didn't, why not accept that what look like moons orbiting Jupiter, are actually demons tricking you and that the Universe is heliocentric and we could have stayed pious and ignorant.

  • Junior Brum

    the universe is not espontaneous. see http://teoriaaocubo.blogspot.com.br/2012/12/homeostatica-anderson-b.html
    in portuguese.

  • Guest

    The atheist should be taking two paths of attack: 1.) destroy the notion of physical laws, most especially those we take to be constants, and 2.) the very word "law" itself.

    As long as the physicist uses the word "laws," it implies a lawgiver.

    • Agni Ashwin

      And "lawgiver" implies a creator of the lawgiver.

  • 2005wsoxfan .

    So much for Occam's Razor.

    • Susan

      So much for Occam's Razor.

      What do you mean?

  • Lauren MacKay

    I really enjoyed this on his book on this subject last night, and felt very discouraged at the finality he placed on his notion. Even going so far as to then rebuff the belief of there being an afterlife or heaven. Your counter is sensible, clear, and concise. Thank you.

  • Lauren MacKay

    I really enjoyed this counter argument on Hawkings theory. I watched the movie based on the book on the subject last night, and felt very discouraged at the finality Hawking placed on his "No God" notion. Even going so far as to then rebuff the belief of there being an afterlife or heaven. Your counter is sensible, clear, and concise. Thank you.

  • Tom Izzo

    I have a lot of respect for this man truly a great mind. I think that or shall I say for me there is a God and if you really believe there is a God then there is. That's why we have both people who believe in a higher power and those who don't. I'm terribly sorry for his physical well being but don't blame it on God.

    • Milton Platt

      Thinking does not make it so.