Thursday, September 16, 2010

Gottfried Leibniz vs. Stephen Hawking

Simon Rwoney shares an email he received — Stephen Hawking's God gaffe:
    “Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason why there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.”

    In this quote the reference to “why there is something rather than nothing”, alludes to Leibniz’s version of the cosmological argument for the existence of God. In this small paragraph are a number of confusions and questionable inferences including the following:
    Hawking confuses two senses of “the law of gravity”. The first sense refers to the concrete entity known as “gravity”, this entity is the well know force of attraction that acts on matter. Being a concrete entity, gravity is part of the known universe and therefore (according to Leibniz) is as much in need of an explanation as to why and how it came to exist as the rest of the concrete universe. The second sense refers to an abstract entity more commonly called “the law of gravity”. This law governs the way gravity behaves. Being a law, it is an abstract entity. It is not a force, in fact it has no causal power at all. It can not even make two material bodies attract each other, it is even less capable of “creating something from nothing”. As far as I’m aware this confusion is original with Hawking.

    Even the abstract entity known as “the law of gravity” needs explaining. That is unless we assume that physical necessity is the highest form of necessity. In other words, unless we assume that physical necessity is equal to, or higher than metaphysical necessity. This is a very big assumption and has the weight of most of the philosophical tradition against it. It also has some truly bizarre consequences. For example, Hawking would be forced to say that being subject to the law of gravity is as much a part of a human being’s essence as is his or her rationality. I can't see how this could possibly true. The failure to distinguish the types of necessity is common to many recent physicists.

    Hawking fails to grasps Leibniz's great insight that the universe must have a contingent cause. Without positing a contingent cause everything is necessary. For example the fact of "high winds in NSW on Fathers' Day" is just as necessary as "the law of gravity". Of course this is just bizarre and goes against our ordinary intuitions. It is also contrary to much of modern science. Leibniz was brilliant enough to discover a contingent cause in God's free choice to create the universe. Hawking doesn't have a contingent cause, he offers a (physically) necessary cause and so fails Leibniz's criterion. This error is again common to many recent physicists.

    Hawking added to his confusion with the following:

    "it is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going"

    This argument confuses the one, true Creator with the mere creature known as the God of the Gaps. This creature was invoked by Newtonians to explain all the physical phenomena unexplained by current science. This idea is very much like the ancients, who would envoke dieties to explain lightening, volcanoes and other natural phenomena. Such a being has been called a demiurge and is simply another creature. The demiurge is not God. God is the creator not just another physical cause.

    With this quote Hawking reveals just how little he knows about the theistic tradition and the real insights contained in the Cosmological argument and other philosophical and theological thesis.

    Hawking may have rational grounds for not believing in God. I am not privy to his private thoughts, I don't know what he has read, what he has been taught nor what insights he has had. But the reasoning, as presented to us, is confused at best and is well below the standards appropriate for a former Cambridge professor.
A previous post of mine on the man whom I, as a Lutheran convert to Catholicism, should perhaps adopt as my patron philosopher — Leibniz, Theodicy, and Ecumenism.

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5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know why the Big Bang happened, therefore God did it, and specifically the Abrahamic God, and specifically the Christian God, and specifically the Catholic God, and specifically my interpretation of the Catholic God.

QED

7:53 PM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

Is that Leibniz' argument? What a dumbass! How did he ever invent calculus?

Keep building and burning those strawmen.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, in contrast, has a more detailed synopsis of the Cosmological Argument.

You might disagree with Leibniz, but be intellectually honest enough to address what he actually says. We still remember his name; you won't even put yours in a combox.

11:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you had actually read the SEP article you'd notice it gives several objections and observes that more than one religion uses a cosmological argument.

There are lengthy, meticulous rebuttals of the "Kalam argument" on YouTube as well.

None of these cosmological arguments even if tenable give us much ground to make legitimate inferences about the nature of the creator.

And LOL @ you for pretending SEP is pro-Catholic.

"Is that Leibniz' argument? What a dumbass! How did he ever invent calculus?"

Or was it Newton? The guy who believed in astrology. Hurr durr.

Many people are quite legitimately debating the merit of things Leibniz said or tried to achieve. Many of their names will not be remembered by posterity. HURR LEIBNIZ SED IT DEREFORE IT'S TRUE is just as dumb as if I were to say HURR RUSSELL SED IT DEREFORE IT'S TRUE HURR HURR.

Of course you're used to treating knowledge like catechism or the Analects or something so what would you know about critical thinking

2:15 AM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

Of course there are objections and of course more than one religion uses a cosmological argument.

I deliberately selected the SEP because it is a non-Catholic source and to show you that real thinkers take arguments into account unlike your risible "I don't know why the Big Bang happened, therefore God did it, and specifically the Abrahamic God, and specifically the Christian God, and specifically the Catholic God, and specifically my interpretation of the Catholic God" characterization.

Catholic apologists usually begin with several of the arguments for the existence of God, then move on to claims about the nature of that God, then examine the claims of the Old Testament, the New Testament, and finally the Church. If you'd like to see how it's done, I suggest Ronald Knox' The Belief of Catholics.

For me, it took more than one book; it was a fourteen-year process that began with the discovery of Count Leo Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God is Within You at an anarchist "unconvention" in 1988 and ended with John Henry Cardinal Newman's An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine in 2002, with dozens of volumes in between.

9:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The bottom line for me is that the cosmological argument or whatever is a feeble attempt to "prove" the existence of an invisible dragon (story due to Carl Sagan).

And of course in the case of Pascal's wager, it's threatening you with an invisible dragon, based on a faulty and hugely undersized decision matrix.

2:00 AM  

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