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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Stephen Hawking's singularity at the beginning

When people start using terms like singularity, my brain generally goes into neutral.

Stephen Hawking, one of the most famous scientists of our time (he holds the same professorial chair that Isaac Newton did, and appeared, as a holographic simulation of himself, on an episode of Star Trek: Voyager) wrote A Brief History of Time, a best-selling book (there are those who claim that not many who own the book have actually read and understood it!). In that book, he claimed, as I understood him, that the universe sort of started up by itself -- without a singularity, a special event, at the beginning.

I have recently read a chapter, "In Defense of Rational Theism," by William Lane Craig, in Does God Exist: The Debate between Theists & Atheists (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books. J. P. Moreland and Kai Nielsen are given as senior authors. The chapter is pp. 139-161). As part of this chapter, Craig, a philosopher, criticizes Hawking's idea that there was no** singularity at the beginning of time. He states that Hawking was on questionable ground on two points, which, he says, are among Hawking's assumptions, not his facts:
1) He assumes that there must have been (be?) multiple universes*, in fact, all possible universes, but we only know about the one we are in now. Craig says that the reason for this particular part of Hawking's metaphysics is that quantum physics would suppose that there was indeterminacy in the universe to begin with, but it collapsed to one particular state, and this collapse -- which is related to the Big Bang, would have required some sort of observer, which, says Craig, quoting Hawking, "smacks of divine intervention," (p. 147 of Craig) which Hawking wanted to deny.

*Philip Pullman used this idea in his His Dark Materials series.
**On October 17th, I changed "of a" to "that there was no," after suddenly realizing that I had written the opposite of what I had wanted to say. Sigh. Thanks, Steve, for your comment. Without it, I wouldn't have noticed this.

2) Craig says that Hawking misused mathematics in his model, specifically that he uses imaginary numbers inappropriately.

I am not equipped to evaluate Craig's claims, but, at least in part, they make sense. Hawking starts out, apparently, by not believing that there is a supernatural God who began the universe. So it is no wonder that he comes out "proving" this! Hebrews 11:3 says that we understand God's work in creation by faith. Hawking seems to have a different sort of faith. (See also this post.)

Thanks for reading.


Steve said...

Hebrews 11:3 says that we understand God's work in creation by faith.

That seems to be the sticking point, doesn't it? And since faith is akin to divination by rooster entrails for most on the secular side, there will always be chasm between.

Off topic: I moved my Careful Thought blog to Please update your links, if you have any!


Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Steve. There are, indeed, some strange beliefs that some of us have, and my beliefs may seem strange to you, and vice versa. Those on the "secular side," or at least some of them, have faith that the universe (or universes) either has always been here, or that it just appeared somehow. Some of us believe that that is about as incredible as consulting rooster entrails.

Thanks again for your comment, Steve. Without it, I wouldn't have noticed a glaring error in the post. Was this chance, or providence? (Whichever, it was original stupidity on my part!)

Rob Rumfelt said...

I think if I were an atheist I would have to find it immensely funny that the universe took billions of years to evolve a creature capable of understanding that all is meaningless.

Living punchlines to the ultimate cosmic joke!

Martin LaBar said...

Indeed. Thanks, Rob.

Anonymous said...

Stepthen Hawking meant that singularity was outside both space and time; not that it does not exist.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Anonymous. I've recently done some further reading on Hawking, and I think you are right.

Pierce said...
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