“Maybe Hawking should leave God alone,” claims Marcelo Gleiser.

Poor god. Getting beat up by a guy in a wheel chair.


Gleisser essentially argues that Hawking can’t make the claims he makes about the irrelevance of god in an origin physics. Yet, Gleisser freely implies the possibility of god-like entities in discussing on how it all started. So, the way it works is like this: If you agree with Gleisser, you can use the same kinds of arguments he uses. If you disagree with Gleisser, you should, well, shut up and stuff.

If I was Hawking, and Gleisser was in the vicinity, I’d double check my battery pack.

Or, is Gleisser really saying what I think he is saying? Have a look and report back if you disagree. On his web site, he does make this statement: “My approach is conciliatory, showing that there need not be a conflict between secularization and spirituality: the poison here is dogmatism, both from the religious and the scientific camps. *

I guess “dogma” = “what he said.” Which, by the way, is why we are never, ever going to get past this argument about who is and who is not a dick and why.

Comments

  1. #1 Eric Lund
    September 9, 2010

    I think you’re misreading Gleiser’s post. His complaint is that Hawking’s theories about the origin of the universe, while mathematically elegant, have exactly as much empirical support as does God: none whatsoever. We still do not have a viable theory of quantum gravity, and without one you cannot answer the question of how the Universe came into existence.[1] Gleiser has worked in string theory, which since the 1980s has been the leading candidate for producing such a theory, so he is in a better position to know this than most, as is Hawking. Despite the closing line, this dustup is not about religion.

    [1]Yes, there was the Big Bang and all that, but how did the Big Bang happen? Despite many man-decades of effort, physics has not been able to produce a satisfactory answer to this question, only that it must have happened. There are arguments to the effect that quantum fluctuations were involved, but those arguments are pure handwaving.

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    September 9, 2010

    Eric, I agree with your interpretation, but his comments are still problematic. In the absence of anything speaking to a god-like entity or force, it is entirely inappropriate to posit it, and since it has been posited, it is entirely appropriate to explicitly set it aside, as Hawking did. Gleiser seems to not want Hawking to do that, and rather, leave god alone. This has little to do with any argument about god, but rather, it is an argument about appeasement.

  3. #3 Richard Wolford
    September 9, 2010

    We have directly observed the universe; deities, not so much. Religion attempts to inject complexity where none is required, as demonstrated by Hawking. Even if religion could shoehorn a deity in there, which deity should it be? And where did that deity come from? Unless there is evidence, there is no need to posit a deity and I feel no need to accommodate “spirituality”, which I consider to be all of the nonsense with none of the rituals. His comparison of science to dogma is a blatant straw man and a clear false equivalence. Not even an intelligent theologian.

  4. #4 Chad
    September 9, 2010

    Even if religion could shoehorn a deity in there, which deity should it be? And where did that deity come from?

    For the whole universe? I’m not going for any deity that has fewer than eight arms.

  5. #5 Deen
    September 9, 2010

    I also don’t think Gleiser understands what a “theory for everything” means. First of all, if we had such a theory, it doesn’t mean that this theory could never ever be revised anymore when new data shows up, as he appears to imply. Second, it also doesn’t mean that with a theory of everything we will actually know everything, as he more explicitly implies by calling the endeavor “pretentious”. Having a theory of everything doesn’t necessarily mean we know how it all plays out in practice. Just like knowing the rules of chess doesn’t automatically make you a chess master, knowing the rules of nature won’t automatically make us masters of nature.

  6. #6 DuWayne
    September 9, 2010

    I rather enjoyed Gregory Benford’s Cosm and consider it’s premise just as likely an explanation for the manifestation of our own universe, as goddidit. Indeed the notion that a physicist in another universe accidentally created our universe due to an accident with a particle accelerator is really kind of fun and may well be more plausible than goddidit. It is especially elegant when you consider that the same thing might happen in our own universe, given all those crazy physicists out there.

    Personally, I expect that Hawking’s claims about the irrelevance of a god, when it comes to the origin of the origin, is rather more respectful of religion than my fantasy is.

    I also have to agree with Greg and Richard on this. While Hawking’s explanation has just as little empirical support as goddidit, it is actually plausible. The reasoning behind it is founded not in magic or some other invisible, unknowable force, but in mathematics. While it is arguable that math is an abstraction, it is an abstraction with concrete rules.

    As much as I prefer my own explanation for the origin of the origin and believe it is at least as, if not more plausible than goddidit, I have to admit that Hawking’s explanation is more likely than mine.

  7. #7 SimonG
    September 9, 2010

    Chad…
    How do you feel about pseudopods?

  8. #8 Tyler DiPietro
    September 9, 2010

    Gleiser is being slightly dishonest himself. Hawking’s origins scenario, as far as I know, has nothing to do with M-theory. It is rather a direct implication of quantum field theory that spontaneous events can occur in a zero energy state. And empirical observations of the cosmic microwave b/g confirm that the total energy of the universe is zero. Hawking’s scenario thus has quite a bit more evidence behind it than god(s) do.

  9. #9 cgauthier
    September 10, 2010

    His complaint is that Hawking’s theories about the origin of the universe, while mathematically elegant, have exactly as much empirical support as does God: none whatsoever. –eric

    Sorry, but even lacking empirical evidence, both ideas have their own logic to support them. I think any reasonable, modern person could easily be convinced that mathematics and indirect evidence will trump theology and, let’s see, um, nothing, every fucking time.

  10. #10 Alex Besogonov
    September 10, 2010

    “[1]Yes, there was the Big Bang and all that, but how did the Big Bang happen? Despite many man-decades of effort, physics has not been able to produce a satisfactory answer to this question, only that it must have happened. There are arguments to the effect that quantum fluctuations were involved, but those arguments are pure handwaving.”

    The problem is, it might have had ‘just happened’. Without any reason at all. Unintuitive, but possible.

  11. #11 Greg Laden
    September 10, 2010

    This is the difference between “reason” and “explanation.” The latter is easier, the former may or may not be relevant.

    I still like the “we’re in a big video game” explanation the best.