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not a Big Bang but a whimper

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Sep 08, 2010

How is it possible to know so very much about physics, and virtually nothing about metaphysics? Honestly, I’m looking for answers here. When intelligent men say unintelligent things, there must be some explanation. And recently there’s been a rash of inexplicable illogical statements by renowned scientists, whose careers have been built on the relentless application of logic.

You already know that cosmologist Stephen Hawking is in the news with a new book in which he argues that the origin of the universe can be explained by natural causes, with no need to invoke the action of a Creator God. But—isn’t this blindingly obvious?—the Big Bang presupposes the existence of something that could “bang,” and references to the laws of nature presuppose that there already was something called “nature,” with established laws. So to say that the universe was created by the Big Bang is to beg the question. What caused the Big Bang?

Now another cosmologist, Lawrence Krauss, echoes Hawking’s argument in a Wall Street Journal column, saying that the universe was “created spontaneously.” Krauss cannot understand why philosophers have trouble with the concept that something arises out of nothing:

As a scientist, I have never quite understood the conviction, at the basis of essentially all the world's religions, that creation requires a creator.

Let’s see if we can help. Creation is an action. An action requires an actor. A verb requires a noun; otherwise the sentence is not complete. Yes, the subject could theoretically be an inanimate actor, but then someone would have to explain the existence of that inanimate subject. We began with nothing, and now we have something; an explanation is required. To say that it happened “spontaneously” is meaningless. What happened? To what?

Having ducked the philosophers’ questions, Krauss continues with an argument that can only be categorized as puerile:

Every day beautiful and miraculous objects suddenly appear, from snowflakes on a cold winter morning to rainbows after a late afternoon summer shower.

We can all agree that snowflakes and rainbows are beautiful, but scientists ordinarily don’t think of them as “miraculous,” since they are the result of processes that we understand reasonably well. Poets might say they are miracles, and we let it pass, because we do not expect rigorous logic from poets. Scientists are usually held to a different standard. Scientists can explain the sudden appearance of snowflakes and rainbows, by referring to physical bodies and forces already in existence: water vapor, atmospheric pressures, and the like. Because they exist, these things interact in ways that scientists can eventually come to understand.

But scientists cannot come to understand the properties and interactions of things that don’t exist. Science begins with observation, and one cannot observe non-being. There are no scientific rules to govern the behavior of things that do not exist. So there is no way, even in principle, that science can explain the emergence of being out of non-being. Messrs. Hawking and Krauss may do an admirable job of explaining what happened after the Big Bang. But they cannot—it is logically impossible for them to—explain why the Big Bang happened.

It’s not too surprising that physicists would fail to see the importance of philosophical questions; scholars are frequently tempted to overestimate the importance of their own special fields. Still, we expect educated men to have at least a rudimentary knowledge of other disciplines. A chemist might not be able to grasp the finer points of macroenomics, but we do expect him to understand the fundamental laws of supply and demand—especially if he insists on joining the debate on economic questions. The same should hold true of cosmologists: They should understand the first principles of metaphysics. Or, if they don’t understand them, they should be embarrassed to discuss them. 

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Show 5 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: bobef3857 - Sep. 13, 2010 9:26 PM ET USA

    Let's see, if there is a Creator then He might have a purpose for my life, and it might not be to my liking. But, if there is no Creator, ah, then I can do what I want with my life! Must find evidence there is no Creator. Darn! Oh well, looks like I'll have to settle for a theory that He doesn't exist.

  • Posted by: gshanley8181 - Sep. 11, 2010 10:35 AM ET USA

    Actually I think Hawking's argument is more of an attack upon the First Cause and Unmoved Mover argument for the existence of God. He is, I think, suggesting that String Theory and recent mathematical models point to a multidimensional reality that precludes the necessity for a point of origin of existence. The material universe is eternal according to his framing of the data. I think there is a profound weakness to the argument, however, to those inclined to think from a materialist perspective

  • Posted by: loumiamo7154 - Sep. 10, 2010 8:47 PM ET USA

    Seems we need to send Hawking and Krauss to the Rogers and Hammerstein School of Logic. It can be found at any The Sound of Music retrospective, and it's simple: Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could,... And the tuition is pretty low, too.

  • Posted by: garedawg - Sep. 08, 2010 9:29 PM ET USA

    Once you get your Ph.D. and join academia, you continue the process of learning more and more about less and less. Eventually, toward the end of your career, you know everything about nothing.

  • Posted by: mjarman7759049 - Sep. 08, 2010 3:56 PM ET USA

    ?? ???? ??? ????? ???? - "What I know is that I know nothing." Socrates was correct. Once you believe you know a little something you begin to think what you know is so much more significant than what you don't know, and begin presuming your knowledge over affairs concerning which your are - in actuality - utterly ignorant.

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