Mad Scientists

Edward Feser’s book review of The Grand Design in NR (subscription required) is a good one, and includes the tidiest philosophical summary of the “First Cause” argument I’ve ever read.

The English philosopher C.D. Broad once noted that “the non-sense written by philosophers on scientific maters is exceeded only by the nonsense written by scientists on philosophy.”  You might think that there cold be no better illustration of Broad’s dictum than Richard Dawkins’s unhappy forays into the philosophy of religion.  If so , you should take a look at the latest volume from Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow.

Feser does praise the authors for a “fairly lucid exposition of the central theories of modern physics” while wondering if  yet another popular account of relativity, quantum mechanics, and string theory was entirely necessary.  He then turns to their grander claims, concluding that they “don’t even rise to the level of simplistic summary”:

Before nemesis comes hubris, and in the case of Hawking and MLodinow, that means a basic failure to grasp the philosophical ideas they airily dismiss.  Like the village atheist whose knowledge of theology derives from what h e saw last Sunday on The Jimmy Swaggart Telecast, our authors assume that when philosophers have argued for God as the cause of the world, what they mean is that the universe had a beginning, that God caused the beginning, and that to rebut their position it suffices to ask “What caused God?”

But from Aristotle to Aquinas to Leibniz to the present day, most versions of the First Cause argument have not supposed that the universe had a beginning in time, and none of them is open to so simple a refutation.  Their claim is rather that even if the universe were infinitely old, it is still the sort of thing that might in principle not have existed at all.  That it does exist therefore requires explanation, and this explanation cannot lie in some other thing that might in principle have failed to exist, since that would just raise the same problem again.

Accordingly, the explanation can be found only in something that could not have failed to exist even in principle – something that not only does not have a cause, but couldn’t have had one, precisely because (unlike the universe) it couldn’t in theory have failed to exist in the first place In short, any contingent reality, like the universe, must depend upon a necessary being, and this necessary being is what defenders of the First Cause argument mean by “God.”

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3 Responses to Mad Scientists

  1. Ron Krumpos says:

    In “The Grand Design” Hawking says that we are somewhat like goldfish in a curved fishbowl. Our perceptions are limited and warped by the kind of lenses we see through, “the interpretive structure of our human brains.” Albert Einstein rejected this subjective approach, common to much of quantum mechanics, but did admit that our view of reality is distorted.

    Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity has the surprising consequences that “the same event, when viewed from inertial systems in motion with respect to each other, will seem to occur at different times, bodies will measure out at different lengths, and clocks will run at different speeds.” Light does travel in a curve, due to the gravity of matter, thereby distorting views from each perspective in this Universe. Similarly, mystics’ experience in divine oneness, which might be considered the same “eternal” event, viewed from various historical, cultural and personal perspectives, have occurred with different frequencies, degrees of realization and durations. This might help to explain the diversity in the expressions or reports of that spiritual awareness. What is seen is the same; it is the “seeing” which differs.

    In some sciences, all existence is described as matter or energy. In some of mysticism, only consciousness exists. Dark matter is 25%, and dark energy about 70%, of the critical density of this Universe. Divine essence, also not visible, emanates and sustains universal matter (mass/energy: visible/dark) and cosmic consciousness (f(x) raised to its greatest power). During suprarational consciousness, and beyond, mystics share in that essence to varying extents. [quoted from http://www.suprarational.org on comparative mysticism]

  2. Ron Krumpos says:

    John,

    Sorry for the late response. Many religious people and most who are not religious think that mysticism is spam. One person’s trash is another one’s treasure (so they say).

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