Imagine the day on which your bank account balance is zero. Then imagine a deposit the next day that raises it to one thousand dollars. A quantum theory of the creation of a universe (in Hawking’s version, or Vilenkin’s, or anyone else’s) is akin to this transition from an empty account to one full of money. Obviously, therefore, the “nothing” that Hawking makes part of his theory of the creation of our universe is not nothing in a metaphysical sense. The “no-universe” of his speculations is like the “no-dollars” in my account. It exists within the framework of a complex overarching system with specific rules. So we can see that, if true, the way of thinking put forward by Hawking does not threaten the classical doctrine of creation out of nothing.
Here is the Atom + Eve website, with links to video and transcripts:
Dr. Barr also writes for First Things. His article on Hawking (which he discussed in his lecture at the conference) can be found here:
In Dr. Barr’s presentation, and in this article, he pointed out that a younger Hawking stands in direct contradiction with the older Hawking on this issue of science disproving God. As Dr. Barr points out:
Physics, by its very nature, cannot answer these questions. And the funny thing is that Hawking himself is perfectly aware of this. Indeed, he said it himself in a previous book! In A Brief History of Time, Hawking observed—quite correctly—that any theory of physics is “just a set of rules and equations.” And he asked, “What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe? The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the question of why there should be a universe for the model to describe.” (Here he was using the word “universe” to mean what I called the “system of universes”: the entirety of physical reality described by the laws of physics.
Dr. Barr’s larger metaphysical point in the above article is in regards to the concept of nothing and the claim that the universe sprang into existence from “nothing” and what this might
mean. As a lifelong student of philosophy and admirer of physics, I must say that Dr. Barr is a wonderful teacher. The concept of zero was held back from Western mathematics for thousands of years because of a philosophical (metaphysical) objection to the concept of nothing. In the East, they had no such (Aristotelian) qualms and so as we know, India was able to give “nothing” to society. Meanwhile, the Greeks were in metaphysical denial that “nothing” could be “something” and mathematical development was stunted, especially after the Romans murdered Archimedes and Greek mathematical accomplishments were put on hiatus until the thirteenth century when the Western world finally started to catch up to the Greeks again. Hawking falls into the same problem, but Dr. Barr offers this helpful analogy to a bank account.
A checking account is a system that has many possible states: the zero-dollar state, the thousand-dollar state, the negative-thousand-dollar state (if one is overdrawn), the million-dollar state, etc. And this system can make transitions from one state to another. For instance, by a finance charge or by accruing interest. Even if your checking account happens to be in the zero-dollar state one day, the checking account is nevertheless still something definite and real—not “nothing.” It presupposes a bank, a monetary system, a contract between you and that bank—all being governed by various systems of rules.
On the Pale Blue Dot…
Another scientist, much like Carl Sagan, full of passion and awe in the face of the undeniable beauty of the universe was Richard Feynman. The creators of “The Sagan Series” have now created “The Feynman Series” which might be of interest (see below).
The video on that page is The Feynman Series: Beauty:
Here are a few more…
The Feynman Series: Curiosity:
The Sagan Series: The Frontier is Everywhere:
The videos and speeches in them are beautiful and I love them but Feynman, like Sagan, express the idea of religion that it is a primitive, outmoded way of knowing, which science replaces. This is an issue that I feel very passionate about. I think it is an important modern challenge for the times we live in.
I believe that scientists like Sagan, Feynman, Hawking and others who have adopted a positivist outlook on the world make a mistake when they reduce Christianity to a mere philosophy and analyze it purely in that way – which is to say, from the outside (as an idea, merely) – from the position of having never experienced the grace of God and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. And I agree with them, given these criteria. Christianity is not an argument that can be explained from the outside in the absence of God’s graces any more than love can be explained to a robot.
Arguments and experiences are certainly not the same thing and more importantly, the latter can never replace the former. For example, when you are in love, you seek to understand that love and you use reason (and even arguments, perhaps) in your search to understand your experience – but if you are not in love, no amount of reason will produce the love you do not have. If you close your heart and turn your back on God’s invitation to know him then there is nothing anyone can say – there is no argument – that will fill in the gap left by that refusal. If you have not experienced Christ then his story will not correspond, will not resonate in you. In the absence of the Holy Spirit, mere philosophy will not do. For Christians, it is a recognition, a correspondence of lived experience through the Holy Spirit that draw us to Christ, who we come to know as he reveals reality to us. It is reality, not mere philosophy that draws us. Christianity is a relationship with a person, not an idea.
I say this because it should not frighten or concern us that someone who has not met this person should try to dissuade us from our relationship with an idea, as if someone could argue a mother out of her love for her child.
I say this because I think we can watch these videos, and share the passion of these curious scientists without being threatened by their philosophical questions about the love affair we share with Jesus that they cannot understand. It is completely reasonable that they should not understand. Without the Holy Spirit, without the grace of God, what chance do they have of understanding? They rely entirely on themselves and their own abilities and as such, the path they have chosen simply does not lead to anything greater than themselves, the penultimate product of the universe they love. They understand only what they can explain.
For many people, this seems to be why religion-as-idea (philosophy) rings hollow. They are being given answers to questions they have not asked. It is as if all the reasons are given to understand an experience which has not occurred. And mistaking these reasons for the experience itself, they drift away because the true desire of their hearts has not been met, simply because they never properly identified it. As Pope John Paul II said, ““It is Jesus [who] you seek when you dream of happiness; he is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; he is the beauty to which you are so attracted.” Some people simply fail to recognize what attracts them, this logos of the universe, Jesus.
Moreover, they fail to understand what religion is, attacking it philosophically, as if it is a mere argument and not a love affair. Religion – the ritual and rules (the smells and bells) is the product of a love affair – these rituals are not the love itself, rather, it is what has grown out of the love. Like a couple in love who walks hand in hand on the beach as the sun sets, some people see this and so set out to walk the beach themselves so they too may experience love. In doing this, they mistake the original reason from which the lovers’ walk was made special. It is not the beach, nor the setting sun, but the love that made the walk transcendent. Yet there are so many among us who are walking the beach, thinking that to walk is to love. Going through the motions, they walk a treadmill to nowhere.
To Sagan and Feynman and Hawking, I say to them that trying to understand God while not in faith is like walking the beach while not in love. You can only eventually come to the conclusion that the beach holds nothing special, and is no better than a walk in the woods and so there is no “reason” not to leave the beach and go looking for other walks, all the while thinking that it is the walk which is the content of judgment in question instead of the love. No amount of walking will bring the love and so in the end all walks seems to be the same.
Feynman talks about a village visited by modern technology for the first time. After the interlopers leave the indigenous people to themselves once again, they go to great lengths building air strips, mistakenly thinking that this is what causes the planes to come. After all, they are just repeating what they saw with their own eyes. They even build elaborate airplanes, and towers (all made of wood), expecting it to bring forth what came before. They mistake the results for the cause. This seems so silly but how many of us do the very same thing with religion, faith, and reason? We think that we can produce faith by reasoning and that we can be religious with no love in our hearts, or that by being religious we are in fact in love. But this love would then be like the broken technology above, just wooden simulacrum.