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Professor Edgar Andrews reviews The Grand Design

The following review has been kindly provided to Thinking Matters by Edgar Andrews, Emeritus Professor of Materials at the University of London and author of the highly recommended Who Made God?: Searching for a Theory of Everything (read our review here). Professor Andrews is an international expert on the science of large molecules and has published well over 100 scientific research papers and books. For a good introduction to his work, listen to Brian Auten’s interview with him at Apologetics315.

The Grand Design?

Cosmologist Stephen Hawking sold over nine million copies of his book A Brief History of Time. Now, 22 years later, he has co-authored The Grand Design which immediately hit the No.1 spot in the New York Times best-seller list. But the sequel is so inferior to the prequel in intellectual quality that a reviewer in The Times Saturday Review (11 September 2010) writes: ‘It reads like a stretched magazine article … there is too much padding and too much recycling of long-stale material… I doubt whether The Grand Design would have been published if Hawking’s name were not on the cover’.

So why is the new book a runaway best-seller? Because it claims that science makes God redundant. Let’s take a closer look at the claims advanced in The Grand Design.

Philosophical skulduggery

The introduction asserts that ‘Philosophy is dead’ (p.5) and science alone can provide ‘New answers to the ultimate questions of life’ (the book’s hubristic sub-title). But the authors then produce their own brand of humanistic philosophy, christen it ‘science’ and base their book upon it.

They say; ‘this book is rooted in the concept of scientific determinism which implies … that there are no miracles, or exceptions to the laws of nature’. But ‘scientific determinism’ is simply the philosophical assumption that the laws control all events. I argue precisely the opposite in chapter 11 of my own book Who made God? (WMG in further references).

Again, in chapter 3, They maintain that ‘reality’ is a construct of our minds — implying that there is no such thing as objective reality (Irish philosopher Bishop Berkeley had the same idea in 1710 but he wasn’t widely believed). They conclude that ‘there is no picture- or theory-independent concept of reality’ and propose what they call ‘model dependent realism’ as a ‘frame-work with which to interpret modern science’ (pp. 42-43). Clearly, an interpretive framework for science cannot be science but belongs in a different category altogether, namely, philosophy.

Since the mental models we construct ‘are the only reality we can know … It follows then that a well-constructed model creates a reality of its own’ (p.172). The problem with this, of course, is that it undermines the very concept of reality. Hawking’s ‘reality’ excludes God while my ‘reality’ majors upon God. These two ‘realities’ are mutually exclusive but both (according to Hawking) are equally ‘real’. This is postmodernism by the back door and it is wholly inimical to science, which depends on there being a genuine reality to investigate.

Determinism

 

The authors also embrace another philosophy, namely, scientific determinism. ‘Though we feel we can choose what we do, our understanding of the molecular basis of biology shows that biological processes are governed by the laws of physics and chemistry and therefore are as determined as the orbits of the planets’ (pp.31-32). So we are mindless automatons and everything we do or think is predetermined.

The reality is, of course, that biological processes are overwhelmingly ‘governed’ not by physics and chemistry but by structured information, stored on DNA and expressed through the genetic code. It is information which controls the physics and chemistry of the living cell, not the other way round.

Furthermore, if our minds are simply by-products of molecular processes in the brain, then all our thoughts are meaningless including the authors’ own theories. Thinking atheists such as Bertrand Russell and J. B. S. Haldane long ago recognised and admitted this dilemma explicitly (WMG chapter 16) but Hawking and Mlodinow seem oblivious to it.

Chapter 4 is devoted to explaining the ‘many histories’ formulation of quantum theory proposed by Richard Feynman. This is well done except that by ignoring other formulations of quantum theory the authors give the false impression that Feynman’s is the only valid approach. This is tendentious because they need Feynman’s idea as a springboard for their own multiverse hypothesis. To admit that ‘many histories’ is just one of several equally valid formulations of quantum mechanics would weaken their argument considerably.

Mighty M-theory

Chapter 5 surveys the development of physics during the past 200 years, including general relativity (which describes the large-scale behaviour of the universe) and quantum mechanics (which describes its microscopic behaviour). Although containing nothing new, this is by far the best part of this book.

The chapter concludes, however, with comments on M-theory that rang alarm bells (p.118). In the book’s opening chapter, M-theory is no more than ‘a candidate for the ultimate theory of everything, if indeed one exists’, and is ‘not a theory in the usual sense’ but ‘may offer answers to the question of creation’. Physicist Lee Smolin is doubtful: ‘… we still do not know what M-theory is, or whether there is any theory deserving of the name’ (The Trouble with Physics, Allen Lane 2007, p.146). Indeed, on p.117 the authors themselves admit that ‘people are still trying to decipher the nature of M-theory, but that may not be possible’.

But suddenly on p.118 this intractable mathematical model is somehow transformed into a theory so powerful that its laws are ‘more fundamental’ than the laws of nature and ‘allow’ for ‘different universes with different apparent laws’. This is a huge leap of atheistic faith.

Witches brew

The final three chapters rapidly descend into a witches brew of speculation and misinformation, confusingly blended with normal science. It certainly gave me a mental hangover — and I am no stranger to the territory. It is difficult to discern where science ends and speculation begins, but the key reasoning seem to be as follows.

1. The ‘big bang’ model predicts that the universe began life as such a tiny object that quantum theory must be applied to its origin (p.131). But hold on a moment! Quantum theory has only been validated under normal conditions of space, time, pressure, temperature and so on. We cannot know whether it applies to the supposed conditions at the origin of the universe, when space was intensely warped, time was at best fuzzy, and the pressure and temperature both approached infinity. What we do know is that massive objects do not exhibit quantum behaviour. No one can be sure that a new-born universe would obey quantum theory as we know it.

2.  ‘In the early universe all four dimension [of space-time] behave like space’ allowing us to ‘get rid of the problem of time having a beginning’ (pp.134-135). But if time and space were equivalent, and time did not begin, then space didn’t begin either! The universe was still-born. In fact the authors are appealing to the ‘no-boundary’ model described by Hawking 22 years ago in A Brief History of Time but are economical with the truth. The earlier book makes it clear that the model is valid only in imaginary time, not in real time (see WMG p.121). But here this caveat vanishes and imaginary time is misrepresented as real time.

The narrative then descends into farce. They claim that ‘the realisation that time behaves like space … means that the beginning of the universe was governed by the laws of science and doesn’t need to be set in motion by some god’ (p.135). So apparently the universe did ‘begin’ after all, but not in time. Confused? Me too.

3. Picturing the early universe as a quantum particle (something they themselves describe as ‘tricky’) the authors consider how it might evolve from point (state) A to point (state) B by applying Feynman’s sum-over-histories method thus:

‘[Since we are considering the beginning of the universe] there is no point A, so we add up all the histories that satisfy the no-boundary condition and end at the universe we observe today. In this view the universe appears spontaneously, starting off in every possible way. Most of these correspond to other universes.’

But by saying that point A does not exist they assume that the universe springs into existence somewhere between nothing (point A) and the present universe (point B). This tells us nothing about how or why the universe began; simply that it did begin. We knew that already.

4. Finally, p.180 does offer an explanation of spontaneous creation. The conservation of energy means that universes can only be created from nothing if their net energy is zero, with negative gravitational energy balancing out the positive energy of matter and radiation. This necessitates that a law of gravity must exist. Because a law of gravity exists it must and will of itself create universes out of nothing (no reasoning given).

So gravity is God. Unfortunately the authors have no time to tell us who created gravity (earlier they rule out God because no one could explain who created him). Nor can they tell us why matter and gravity should pop out of nothing, except to argue that ‘nothing’ undergoes quantum fluctuations. However, this requires that (like gravity) the laws of quantum mechanics pre-existed the universe and that ‘nothing’ possesses the properties of normal space, which is part of the created order and cannot be its antecedent.

A grand design? Only in the sense that this book is grandly designed to bamboozle the unwary and cloak atheistic philosophy in the garb of science. Fortunately, the clothes don’t fit.

Did quantum fluctuations create the universe?

Given the discussion raised by Stephen Hawking’s latest book, some of our readers might find this reply, posted by Professor Edgar Andrews on an Amazon.co.uk discussion thread, useful:

[pk_box width=”600″ align=”none” text_align=”left”]

“Nobody made evolution. It arises as a natural and inescapable consequence of the laws of nature in the universe in which we find ourselves, which themselves are a natural and inescapable consequence of the completely random quantum fluctuation which caused the big bang, at which point the “laws” of causality break down so it is meaningless to enquire who or what caused that.”

“But that really doesn’t wash, does it? In the same breath you say the big bang was caused by quantum fluctuations and then claim that it is meaningless to enquire what caused the big bang. That may be post-modernism but it certainly isn’t logic (or physics for that matter). But there are deeper fallacies with your explanations, as follows:

1) The laws of nature, you say, are the “inescapable consequences” of “completely random quantum fluctuations”. By what logic can inescapable consequences arise from random events? Random events can only lead to contingent consequences but to be “inescapable” the consequences cannot be contingent but must be determinate (necessary).

2) For the laws of nature to be a “consequence” of anything, the principle of causality must operate. Without causality there can be neither causes nor consequences. But you then tell us that back beyond the big bang the laws of causality break down. You really cannot have it both ways.

3) You say the big bang was “caused” by “random quantum fluctuations”. Quite apart from reinforcing my last point by invoking causality prior to the existence of the cosmos, you have to answer a different question … fluctuations in what? Before the big bang there existed neither matter, energy, space nor time, so by definition there could be no fluctuations in any of these entities. (If you claim there was something of a material nature “there” before the big bang, we are no longer talking about the ultimate origin of the universe).

3) Next comes another question. Are not quantum fluctuations themselves a manifestation of natural law (e.g. the laws of quantum mechanics)? How then could quantum fluctuations be the ultimate cause of natural law as you claim? Did the laws governing quantum fluctuation invent themselves? Not even Stephen Hawking believes that.”[/pk_box]

Edgar Andrews is the Emeritus Professor of Materials at the University of London and author of the excellent book, Who Made God? Searching for a Theory of Everything. Who Made God? is available from Amazon and New Zealand bookstores (Grace & Truth Publications has copies available for $24 NZD).

Simultaneous Causation

In discussing the Kalam Cosmological argument[1] an objection is often raised against the conclusion that the universe has a cause. This is that there cannot be a cause of the universe because there were no prior instants of time before t = 0 in the initial Big Bang singularity. Similarly, for the universe to have a beginning requires there be a time before the universe existed, and since the universe includes time there is no “before” the universe, making the notion apparently incoherent.

One of the worlds leading philosophers of time and proponent of the Kalam Cosmological Argument, Dr. William Lane Craig, definitively answers this objection bellow.[2]

For he [Grünbaum] fails to consider the obvious alternative that the cause of the Big Bang operated at t = 0, that is, simultaneously (or coincidentally[3]) with the Big Bang. Philosophical discussions of causal directionality routinely treat simultaneous causation, the question being how to distinguish A as the cause and B as the effect when these occur together at the same time [Dummett and Flew (1954); Mackie (1966); Suchting (1968-69); Brier (1974), pp. 91-98; Brand (1979)]. Even on a mundane level, we regularly experience simultaneous causation; to borrow an example from Kant, a heavy ball’s resting on a cushion being the cause of a depression in that cushion. Indeed, some philosophers argue that all efficient causation is simultaneous, for if the causal conditions sufficient for some event E were present prior to the time t of E‘s occurrence, then E would happen prior to t; similarly if the causal conditions for E were to vanish at t after having existed at tn < t, then E would not occur at t. In any case, there seems to be no conceptual difficulty in saying that the cause of the origin of the universe acted simultaneously (or coincidentally) with the origination of the universe. We should therefore say that the cause of the origin of the universe is causally prior to the Big Bang, though not temporally prior to the Big Bang. In such a case, the cause may be said to exist spacelessly and timelessly sans the universe, but temporally subsequent to the moment of creation.

My favorite example of simultaneous causation is that of a submerged log which causes the water to be displaced. Another example is of a man who from eternity has been standing, and by sitting (the cause A) creates a lap (the effect B). In these there is no question of the causal directionality, even though the cause and effect are operative at the exact same instant.

So the so-called problem of it being impossible for the universe to have a cause is not at all insuperable. As Craig says, it is “pretty clearly a pseudo-dilemma.”[4]


Footnotes

[1] 1.) Everything that begins to exist has a cause,

2.) The universe began to exist

3.) Therefore, the universe has a cause.

[2] William Lane Craig, “Creation and Big Bang Cosmology.” Philosophia Naturalis 31 (1994): 217-224.

[3] – coincidentally in case “simultaneity” is strictly defined in terms of occurrence at the same time. Since the singularity is not an instant or moment of time, but a boundary of time, a cause producing its effect at the singularity could not be strictly said to be simultaneous with its effect. Nonetheless they both occur coincidentally (in the literal sense of the word), that is, they both occur at t = 0. Ibid., Craig, “God and Big Bang Cosmology.” Footnote 1.

[4] Ibid., Craig, “God and Big Bang Cosmology.”

An Atheistic Argument from the Big Bang

The Big Bang event may be one of the most important scientific discoveries about the origin of our universe. Observations by American astronomer Edwin Hubble in 1929 and the final discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation in 1964 confirmed predictions by Friedmann and Lemaître and convinced scientists of the expansion of the universe from a denser, hotter, primordial state. It was a turning point in the history of science. No longer was the universe thought to be a static, timeless, unchanging entity. The Friedmann-Lemaitre model gives the universe a backstory and more than that: a beginning. Physicist P. C. W. Davies explains: “most cosmologists think of the initial singularity as the beginning of the universe. On this view the big bang represents the creation event; the creation not only of all the matter and energy in the universe, but also of spacetime itself.”

The idea of an expanding universe has not only revolutionized the field of science and been a unifying theme in cosmology but has had profound implications beyond those disciplines. According to the British astronomer Stephen Hawking, “If the universe is really completely self-contained, having no boundary or edge, it would have neither beginning nor end: it would simply be”. But he admits, “so long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator”. This has been too uncomfortable a conclusion for some. Robert Jastrow, physicist and founding director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, comments:

“There is a kind of religion in science. . .This religious faith of the scientist is violated by the discovery that the world had a beginning. . .as a product of forces or circumstances we cannot discover. When that happens, the scientist has lost control. If he really examined the implications, he would be traumatized. As usual when faced with trauma, the mind reacts by ignoring the implications – in science this is known as ‘refusing to speculate’ – or trivializing the origin of the world by calling it the Big Bang, as if the universe were a firecracker.

Consider the enormity of the problem. Science has proven that the universe exploded into being at a certain moment. It asks, what cause produced this effect? Who or what put the matter and energy into the universe? …And science cannot answer those questions…The scientist’s pursuit of the past ends in the moment of creation.” (God and the Astronomers, pps 113-15)

But while the fact that our universe both has a beginning and arose from nothing provides powerful evidence for a personal Creator (see Stuart’s post on the Kalam Cosmological Argument), Quentin Smith, philosophy professor at Western Michigan University has put forward the unique claim that the Big Bang is incompatible with God’s existence. In the book Atheism, Theism, and Big Bang Cosmology, Smith sets out this argument:

1. If God exists and there is an earliest state of the universe, then God created that earliest state of the universe.

2. God is omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly benevolent.

3. A universe with life is better than a universe that does not contain life.

4. Therefore, if God created the universe then the earliest state of the universe must either contain life or ensure that life will eventually emerge.

5. There is an earliest state of the universe and it is the Big Bang singularity.

6. The conditions of the earliest state of the universe (infinite temperature, infinite curvature, and infinite density) were hostile to life.

7. The Big Bang singularity is inherently unpredictable and lawless and consequently there is no guarantee that it will produce a universe where life can emerge.

8. Therefore, there is no guarantee that the earliest state of the universe will produce a universe where life can emerge.

9. Therefore, God could not have created the earliest state of the universe.

10, Therefore, God does not exist.

Does this argument succeed? There are several problems that are immediately apparent (for a full discussion read William Lane Craig’s response in that book), but two weaknesses are serious enough to undermine its conclusion:

Firstly, God is not obligated to create a universe that contains life. It does not follow from premise 2 and 3 that God must create a universe with life. God could indeed have a reason for creating a world with life. He may, in fact, freely choose to create a world because of the good He may want to bring about. But just because God possesses a reason for creating a universe, this does not impose a necessity on Him. Furthermore, the Christian theist will deny that in order for God’s goodness to be expressed, He must create a universe with life. Apart from creation, God is neither lonely nor in need of objects for his benevolence. Within the Trinity and the fellowship of three persons united in one nature, God’s benevolence is fully and perfectly expressed.

Secondly, God could guarantee life through His subsequent intervention. The assumption that God must pre-programme life-hospitable conditions into the initial stages of the universe is perhaps the most significant problem for this argument. Why must God embed this capacity for life into the universe from the very start? It is not at all illogical for God to causally direct the evolution of life through his subsequent providence and care. This is, in fact, quite consistent with the classical Christian view that God not only created the world but remains living and active within it (Matthew 6:26; Ps 147:8-9; Job 38:41, etc).  According to Smith, however, this would be “a sign of incompetent planing . . . The rational thing to do is to create some state that by its own lawful nature leads to a life-producing universe.” However, this is an arbitrary and anthropocentric constraint on God. Why think that God is incompetent because he does conform to our standards of efficiency? In his response to Quentin Smith, William Craig cites the American philosopher and professor at the University of Notre Dame, Thomas Morris:

“Efficiency is always relative to a goal or set of intentions. before you know where a person is efficient in what she is doing, you must know what it is she intends to be doing, what goals and values are governing the activity she is engaged in… In order to be able to derive the conclusion that if there is a God in charge of the world, he is grossly inefficient, one would have to know of all the relevant divine goals and values which would be operative in the creation and governance of a world such as ours.”

Not only is efficiency proportional to the ends desired, but efficiency is only a significant value to someone who has limited time or power.  For a God who lacks neither, Smith’s complaint against God’s intervention into the natural order of causes is unwarranted. Furthermore, there are many reasons why God might choose to be causally engaged in the activity of creation. Craig points out two: (i) God could delight in the work of creation and (ii) God might want to leave a general revelation of Himself in nature.

Smith has failed to show that the Big Bang is logically incompatible with God. Instead, the theistic explanation of the initial cosmological singularity remains superior to its atheistic  rival. To believe that our universe simply came into being out of nothing without a cause, furnished with a set of complex initial conditions so bizarrely improbable as to to ridicule comprehension, then accidentally evolved to fall into delicate balance with life-permitting conditions must be taken as wildly implausible at best, and plainly absurd at worst. The Big Bang, rather than taking us away from God, brings us closer to the Creator of Christian theism.

Notes:

Reason and Religious Belief by Michael Peterson,  William Hasker, Bruce Reichenbach and David Basinger, Oxford University Press, 2009.

Atheism, Theism, and Big Bang Cosmology by William Lane Craig and Quentin Smith, Oxford University Press, 1995.