Stephen Hawking Is out to Sell Books

Tell me you know what an internet troll looks like by now.

How is Stephen Hawking any different? By stirring up controversy over his boring new book about quantum physics, he gets to make bank. Don’t fall for simple shenanigans.

Anthony Gottlieb @ the Economist was not impressed:

The authors may be in this enviable state of enlightenment, but most readers will not have a clue what they are on about. Some physics fans will enjoy “The Grand Design” nonetheless. The problem is not that the book is technically rigorous—like “A Brief History of Time”, it has no formulae—but because whenever the going threatens to get tough, the authors retreat into hand-waving, and move briskly on to the next awe-inspiring notion. Anyone who can follow their closing paragraphs on the relation between negative gravitational energy and the creation of the universe probably knows it all already. This is physics by sound-bite.

So as a book, it’s probably not for you. Let’s get on with why Hawking’s “god is dead” argument is particularly droll.

Graham Farmello @ the Daily Telegraph:

It is perhaps a bit rich for Hawking to make God redundant after granting him/her/it a celebrity cameo at the end of his multi-million selling A Brief History of Time. In his famous conclusion to the book, Hawking wrote that if scientists could find the most fundamental laws of nature “then we should know the mind of God”. To be fair, he was writing metaphorically – we all know what he meant.

He now suggests that the search for this particular Holy Grail is over, now that scientists have come up with a type of theory, known as M-theory, that may describe the behaviour of all the fundamental particles and force, and even account for the very birth of the universe. If this theory is backed up by experiment, it might perhaps replace all religious accounts of creation – in Hawking’s capacious mind, it already has.

Bottom line:

Science and religion are about fundamentally different things. No religion has ever been rendered obsolete by facts or observations, but this happens to most scientific theories, at least in the long run. […]

A useful characteristic of a scientific theory is that it must be possible, at least in principle, for experimenters to prove it wrong. […]

No religion has ever been set out in terms of scientific statements. This is why scientists are able to mock the claims of religions but have never been able to deal a knock-out blow: in the end, a religious believer can always fall back on a faith that does not depend on verification.

So believe what you will and don’t troll or be trolled. Unless you’re trying to sell books that is.

[both articles via the always relevant Browser]

[image via my mmo site]
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September 15, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Reading.

4 Comments

  1. First replied:

    1rd

  2. philliposophy replied:

    Speaking of trolls.

    (2th.)

  3. Charlie replied:

    Considering that he really didn’t say anything new or unique (well, at very least, nothing that anyone who couldn’t already understand what he’s saying didn’t know), it does seem like he was simply stoking the ongoing fire without adding anything.

    Science will never disprove god because those who believe in god can always play the trump card, “God does his magic through science.” End of argument. There is simply not a comeback. This doesn’t make that side of the argument right or wrong, simply immune from attack. And it certainly torpedoes any ability to argue the matter further on that basis.

    So, from there, it merely becomes the same on-going argument about religion vs no religion rather than god vs no god. Which is an entirely different matter and one that has absolutely nothing to do with what Hawking was saying.

  4. Phil Bost replied:

    Charlie, thanks for the comment. Great thoughts.
    I think one reason discussion between religious and non-religious folks rarely gets anywhere–and you’ve touched on this elsewhere–is that the parameters of the argument are rarely defined. Before engagement, both parties really must agree to a shared set of rules (eg, points must be logical, no ‘because god made it that way’ statements, etc.) before proper discussion can take place.

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