Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Discourse of Chirps

Stephen Hawking's recent casts at publicity-fishing in support of his new book have snagged Quentin de la Bedoyere in a fit of pique:

But let us assume that it is true, that there is an infinity of universes, and that our universe is an inevitable result of chance at work – where does that get us?
Well, if true, it gets us where Hawking suggests it gets us -- that there is no need to pretend-explain the existence of the universe by invoking a creator god, a universal force, a cosmic consciousness, or any other supernatural twaddle.

Bedoyere's pique owes to the suggestion that god is unnecessary, so he makes him necessary, or tries to, with obscurantism:
God is not some sort of inventive superman who performs in the same sort of way as we do – but at an infinitely higher level. He transcends the universe; his creative action is utterly beyond our ken. If we use terms like “designer” it is only because the human mind and human vocabulary has no further reach. Our descriptions are only useful if we always bear in mind their gross inadequacy.

Similarly, if all the physical laws had been explained and proved (known as the Grand Theory of Everything) – which is a million miles from the case – our understanding of the actions of God would not be one whit greater: his existence and his actions are of a different order.
Got that? God stands above our puny abilities and insights as our powers stand above those of common crickets.

I wonder if crickets sit around speculating to one another about human capacities and how far above them we are in "level" and "ken" and "transcending" and "gross adequacy"? No, they're free of such pointless, empty musings, as far as we can tell. They just go through the motions their nature allows them: jumping, churring, breeding, and, above all, shutting the hell up rather than chirping louder when they feel threatened.

Bedoyere rubs his legs together and chirps out the conclusion that a fuller naturalistic account of questions he prefers to leave to his god
would not touch the question of how something existing comes out from nothing. That is a question which science cannot answer, and will never answer, because nothingness is not within its domain. Hawking apparently does not address this question – which is the true and ultimate Theory of Everything. But what philosophy can teach us is that neither he, nor you, nor I will ever explain creation, except through faith.
And by "explain through faith," Bedoyere means, almost by his own admission, "obscure by faith."

Not that he asked me, but Bedoyere would do well to pick one of these starting postulates -- one and only one since they're incompatible -- and stay consistent in it: that humans are, in principle, capable of explaining the universe (including, in his version, the mind of god); or that humans are, in principle, incapable of grasping the universe.

Hawking's premise is closer to the former, and he has devoted decades to fleshing out the answers. His findings are more rigorous and interesting than chirping.


JRDS said...

Bedoyere's comments in support of God belief are silly. I will grant you that. I assume he is Catholic/Christian/whatever so he is forced to carry some baggage that won't fit into his worldview except "through faith" (a/k/a conclusions that don't require rational explanation -- or are somehow "above" rational explanation.) Everyone agrees, or should agree, that any epistemological system that accepts knowledge "through faith", i.e. without rational basis, is ridiculous and not a serious system that should used by rational creatures (nor crickets for that matter).

However, even when we agree on a correct epistemology, i.e. one based on observation, reasonable assumptions based on experience, reason-based inferences, rules of logic, etc., it is difficult to rule out some kind of purposeful conscious creative force. The complexities and consciousness of human beings aside, it is extremely difficult to understand how the heck a single-celled organism could have originated via purposeless laws of nature. Consider the cell wall, DNA, mitochondria. Even the simplest of living cells looks more like an extremely sophisticated machine than it does a meaningless purposeless matter + chemistry event. Going from that to complex mammals and to people, the complexity seems way too much to explain without some kind of conscious creative force -- what that may be -- we certainly don't have enough data to know. But that such a conscious creative force doesn't exist, we certainly can't assume. I realize that there are many arguments along the lines of, "if the universe was created, why didn't the creator do a better job -- do it differently -- make life better, etc." Who, knows, maybe the creative force isn't all the nice of a guy, maybe he/she/it is doing some kind of experiment, or moved on to another project, or maybe the he/she/it died and forgot to tell his/her/its cohorts about our little universe project he/she/it kept in the basement lab? Who knows? Maybe he/she/it is a nice guy/gal after all who has some kind of reason for making things the way they are and will make this all up to us some day some how. Who knows. I don't know and I don't pretend to know "through faith" or otherwise, but I do know that I can't reject the possibility of a conscious creative something merely because Catholics make bad arguments.

Dale said...

JRDS, thanks for the comment. I think I'll make the reply into its own post.