Sunday, August 27, 2017

The BGV Theorem Revisited

Did this universe have a transcendent beginning? How strong is the scientific evidence for a beginning? If you read the comments in this blog you know that one reader and I have been discussing the question of the beginning of this universe and if there is a necessary transcendent cause. In parallel to our discussion, I have been reading a book by Robert J. Sptizer called New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy. Spitzer is a Jesuit priest and philosopher and was the president of Gonzago University in Spokane, Washington. In Spitzer's book, Bruce L. Gordon, who has a Ph.D. in the history and philosophy of science and physics, has written a nice postscript talking in some depth about the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin (BGV) theorem.1  One of my firsts blog posts that I wrote discussed the BGV theorem, but given my recent dialogue and my recent reading, I think it is worthwhile going into a little more depth about this theorem and its ramifications.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Grand Design: Is God Unnecessary?

Have scientific discoveries made God unnecessary? That is the claim of the bestselling book The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow published in 2010. The book claims, "Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going." Readers of this blog have consistently asked me to discuss claims such as these, that there is no need to invoke a transcendent creator to begin the universe, especially when the claims are made by very smart people, like Stephen Hawking.

I read this book when it was first published with the expectation that someone as brilliant as Stephen Hawking would have something new and profound to add to the discussion about the cause of the universe, and the apparent fine-tuning of the universe. In fact, the opening chapter seemed to confirm my optimism because three questions are posed that Hawking claims he will try to answer: (1) Why is there something rather than nothing? (2) Why do we exist? (3) Why this particular set of laws and not some other?

These three questions touch on the very three reasons that I have argued give evidence for God from scientific inquiry. The first has to do with the origin of the universe in the Big Bang, which I claim gives evidence for a transcendent creator. The second question has to do, at least partially, with the quite rare characteristics of the planet earth we inhabit. The third question has to do with the anthropic principle and fine-tuning which seems to indicate the laws and parameters of physics are in a narrow range that allow life to exist.

Much of the book presents a good synopsis of many of the discoveries and theories of modern physics including quantum mechanics, the wave-particle duality, special and general relativity, particle physics, supersymmetry, Big Bang cosmology and string theory. If you are looking for an understandable explanation of these ideas, I highly recommend the book. But if you are looking for good thoughtful answers to the three questions posed above, then the book turns out to be very disappointing and even sophomoric. The answers provided by Hawking and Mlodinow are not new, are not insightful, and are easily dismissed based on known science. Let's look at the answers they pose and discuss why each one fails so miserably.