“Quantum Leap” Self-Destructs
The failing philosophy that allegedly grounds the ideas presented in the new book by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow has drawn much criticism over the last couple of months – even from those who agree with his conclusions. I certainly don’t intend to offer any new or profound thoughts on the matter. Nor do I intend to pontificate on the details of quantum physics, especially when those who are actually qualified to do so think it makes “absolutely no sense” (to quote Roger Penrose).
I simply want to draw your attention to the failing philosophy of the book – something that Hawking and Mlodinow characterize as “Scientific Determinism” (SD) – and point you in the direction of one who is demonstrably more qualified and seemingly more careful in his thinking on that subject than either Hawking or Mlodinow appear to have been.
For Hawking and Mlodinow … event causation governs everything—even human choices. Determinism is absolute. There are no exceptions, even human ones. Everything, including human nature, must submit to the sovereignty of physics:
Since people live in the universe and interact with other objects in it, then scientific determinism must hold for people as well….[p.30]
Do people have free will?…Though we feel that we can choose…biological processes are governed by the laws of physics and chemistry and therefore are as determined as the orbits of the planets….[p.31-32]
Our physical brain, following the known laws of science…determines our actions, and not some agency that exists outside those laws. [p.32]
So it seems that we are no more than biological machines and that free will is just an illusion. [p.32] [emphases added]
It’s hard to believe brilliant men like Hawking and Mlodinow do not see how destructive this move is to their own case, but I think you will see it readily.
Let me put the question this way: Did the laws of physics determine the order of the words on the pages of The Grand Design? Or did Professors Hawking and Mlodinow make that call? Did they ponder the evidence for their theories, consider the implications of the facts, posit conclusions, then choose the right words and select the precise order that would best communicate their views and persuade readers of the rationality of their own ideas?
…in light of SD … ultimately, the laws of physics wrote the book that bears their names no less than the laws of physics determined the arrangement of rocks resting on the surface of the planet Mars. … Remember, the only causation Hawking & Mlodinow allow for is event causation—dominoes fatalistically falling—which is rigidly deterministic.
In other words, if Hawking and Mlodinow are right, they’re wrong. Moreover, it becomes meaningless to talk of the person “Hawking” or “Mlodinow” as agents capable of free thought and action. As this mock interview highlights, the universe deserves all the credit, not beings who merely appear to think and reason for themselves.
And the epistemological problems continue to mount. Koukl continues:
If Hawking is right about SD, then it is impossible for him to know it. Knowledge is a combination of true belief based on adequate reason. But reason plays no role in deterministic systems. Hawking’s convictions would not be conclusions, but rather the inevitable results of natural law compelling the molecules of his brain to cause his body to dictate the words that appear on the pages of The Grand Design.
[C.S. Lewis' famous response on materialistic thoughts would apply equally here: "It’s like expecting that the accidental shape taken by the splash when you upset a milkjug should give you a correct account of how the jug was made and why it was upset."]
This has a flow on effect for everything else in their book, from their attempts to squeeze God out of the picture, to their complex discussion about quantum physics.
If Hawking and Mlodinow are right about SD, they are wrong about everything in their book, because knowledge is impossible in the rigidly determined world they affirm. Science itself is undermined by scientific determinism. However, if they are wrong about SD, then they cannot arbitrarily dismiss God as a possible player in the cosmic arena.
Viva La Ciencia!
Given all of this, it is sadly ironic that on the first page of the book Hawking abandons the very thing that makes science possible.
“Philosophy,” [Hawking] writes, “is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.” [p.5]
What Hawking doesn’t realize is that science cannot live on its own. It needs its parent, philosophy. The metaphor is apt because philosophy as a discipline not only gave birth to science, it also guides and guards the scientist so he does not get lost along the way. … What science is, how it operates, and what boundaries constrain it are each features of philosophy, not of science itself.
Similarly, Josh Olds, commenting on J.P. Moreland’s brief philosophical assessment of the book, observes, “I found it very ironic that the book began with the statement that philosophy was dead, and then proceeded throughout the book to make an array of philosophical statements. It is really scientism at its finest.”
Finally, after demolishing yet another of Hawking’s self-defeating philosophies in “model-dependent realism,” – a postmodern-like view of the universe in which no model of reality “can be said to be more real than the other” – Koukl concludes:
The Grand Design turns out to be a quantum leap of self-defeating incoherence that explains almost nothing. By asserting scientific determinism, Hawking paints himself into a fatalistic corner where it is impossible for him to know anything at all. By opting for the anti-realism of model-dependent “realism,” he immediately falsifies the SD he has just asserted, defeats his own anti-realist speculations, and undermines everything else that follows. Hawking sabotages his own views three times, and each wound is fatal.
For the complete edition of Solid Ground cited in this article, go to the Solid Ground Archives. If, by the time you read this, a more recent edition of Solid Ground has been released,you will have to register to access previous issues. Registration is completely FREE, as are the excellent newsletters and other articles on the site!