Episode III: Nothing Is Something
Stephen Hawking is smart, right? Sure; he holds the chair of mathematics at Cambridge that Isaac Newton held. But in a case of trying to lift oneself up into the air by one’s own bootstraps, Dr. Hawking teaches that the universe created itself from nothing – and since he is smart, many in Big Media repeat it, and think it’s a profound discovery. A widely-repeated quote from Hawking’s new book The Grand Design (which is about anything but a designer, since Hawking is an atheist), states: “Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.” On ID the Future, host Jay Richards recalls a quote from the LA Times review of the book where the reporter says, “This is something that must be believed but not understood.” Dr. John Lennox from Oxford replies with a chuckle, “I think I would put it more strongly than that; it can’t be understood because it is self-contradictory.”
Lennox points out at least three self-contradictory propositions in Hawking’s ideas. The first and obvious one is that gravity is not nothing; “a law of gravity without gravity would be meaningless.” Next is Hawking’s claim that the universe made itself from nothing (also proposed by Caltech astrophysicist Lawrence Krauss in his book, A Universe from Nothing). The phrase “X created Y” makes sense, Lennox explains, because it implies the pre-existence of X to explain the existence of Y. But to say “X created X” is irrational, because it presupposes the existence X to explain the existence of X. So if you set X equal to “the universe,” Lennox quips, it shows that “nonsense remains nonsense even if famous scientists talk it.”
The third contradiction is Hawking’s page-one claim that “Philosophy is dead.” But then, Hawking proceeds to write a book on philosophy! Lennox jokes that Hawking and his co-author Leonard Mlodinow “prove that as far they’re concerned, philosophy very much is dead.” In a rhetorical coup, Lennox sheds some heavenly light on the hellish insanity of holding to contradictory ideas. Hawking had ridiculed religion in an interview for The Guardian, saying, “Heaven is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.” Lennox was asked to respond in The Daily Mail, “Well, if you want a one-liner at that level,” he told the reporter, “atheism is a fairy story for people afraid of the light.”
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The same was in the beginning with God.
All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
— John 1:1-5
OK, back to the article.
Richards notes that the average person reading Hawking’s statement about the universe creating itself would think, ‘that doesn’t make any sense.’ But there’s something about the stature or the aura around Stephen Hawking, he says, that reasonable people give him a free pass.
Brains and reputation cannot rescue nonsense. If something is self-contradictory, there is no hope for it, no matter who says it.
Don’t worry too much about light-hating, truth-hating, reason-despising civilizations: they are fading away even as we speak.
Instead, consider how such rotting, thrashing, pathetic monstrosities arose from a rebellious Christian civilization. Learn the lessons, and teach the lessons to your children and grandchildren.
When they rebuild, and engaging in Christian Reconstruction, they must do better than we did, or our ancestors did.
That’s the goal: not to save a dead culture, but to insure the birth of something better.
These issues are important from more than just a purely scientific perspective. An understanding of evolution is critical for developing any valid strategy for combating the spread of diseases, especially since microbes responsible for diseases can mutate so rapidly. And an understanding and acceptance of climate change theory is critical if we are to take the necessary steps to avoid potential catastrophe from a continuation of the global warming trend.
Here Solomon gets into the fear-mongering strategy, mixing it with red herrings about disease and global catastrophe. He seems unaware that many of the greatest disease-fighters in the history of medicine – William Harvey, James Simpson, Louis Pasteur, Joseph Lister, Howard Atwood Kelly and Walter Reed – were creationists. Medical science was in fact advancing quite well before Darwin, and it survived in spite of Social Darwinism’s atrocities (forced sterilization “to purify the race” and worse) as documented in Jerry Bergman’s book, How Darwinism Corrodes Morality.
Scientific theories aren’t mere conjecture. They are subject to exhaustive, falsifiable tests. Some theories fail these tests and are jettisoned. But many theories are successful in the face of these tests. It is these theories – the ones that work – that achieve consensus in the scientific community.
It’s hard to say this charitably, but such statements convey a middle-school comprehension of history and philosophy of science. It’s important to remember that “science” used to be called “natural philosophy,” and there was no such thing as a “scientist” until William Whewell coined the word in 1833 (against the objections of some). Scientism attempts to reify “science” as some kind of homogeneous entity out there. But are political science, psychology and chemistry on the same level? Do they all deserve the coveted label of science? C. S. Lewis said this:
Strictly speaking, there is, I confess, no such thing as ‘modern science’. There are only particular sciences, all in a stage of rapid change, and sometimes inconsistent with one another.
Scientism also falsely portrays “science” as something external to the human mind, as if a machine could turn a crank on a ‘scientific method’ machine and get objective, reliable output. In truth, all scientific theories, tests, and conclusions are theory-laden and value-laden. What people should really aim at is following evidence wherever it leads, whether that is in biology, history, comparing brands while shopping, or any other human activity. On another occasion, C. S. Lewis said,
If popular thought feels ‘science’ to be different from all other kinds of knowledge because science is experimentally verifiable, popular thought is mistaken. Experimental verification is not a new kind of assurance coming in to supply the deficiencies of mere logic. We should therefore abandon the distinction between scientific and non-scientific thought. The proper distinction is between logical and non-logical thought.
Solomon could have helped his case by pointing to some highly-repeatable types of science like chemical reactions or electromagnetic forces. Even these, it must be noted, are still theory-laden and subject to paradigm shifts. But by using anthropogenic climate change and macroevolution as his prime examples – neither of which are repeatable (there’s only one earth, and only one history of life) – and each of which are highly controversial along political divides – he may only get “Amen!” from those who already agree with his middle-school-level philosophy of science.
Tom Solomon’s rhetoric illustrates the kind of bombast that intimidates laypeople, churches and schools into bowing the knee to the Darwinian consensus. Big Science and Big Media conspire to ensure that only this loudmouth message gets heard, because they know that, historically, whenever a public debate allows the other side a hearing, Darwin loses. This problem was so embarrassing in the era of the Morris & Gish debates that Eugenie Scott warned colleagues not to debate them. Solomon’s article on “The Conversation” would have been much more interesting if it truly were a two-way conversation. It turned out to be an emotional sermon on why the dumb public should trust Big Science. One can hear the echoes of the late novelist Michael Crichton shouting in the halls of Caltech,
I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, and the rise of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled.
Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you’re being had. Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.
There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.
That pulls the rug out from most of Tom Solomon’s defense of scientism.
Yes, even those built on tax-funded ideological consensus management.
In time, the consensus disintegrates, the tax monies run out, the bureaucracies ossify and are left behind, irrelevant.
Time to get going, on building up the Kingdom of God.