Science, philosophy and faith are each interesting subjects in themselves and even more interesting when considered together. In this piece, we take a quick look at the philosophical principles of determinism, necessity and chance, springboard to consideration of the observations of Stephen Hawking on the subject of determinism and free will, and finish with some observations about faith and love.
We start with determinism, defined as “the philosophical idea that every event or state of affairs, including every human decision and action, is the inevitable and necessary consequence of antecedent states of affairs.” Many modern scientists and philosophers alike believe we live in a world that is deterministic. Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Kraus, Daniel Dennet and others ascribe to this view.
In his show Genius, in which Stephen Hawking walks three “average” people through a series of exercises that lead them to understand great, nuanced principles of science, he agrees that the universe, including people, are determined by the laws of physics. He asserts that, if we could know where every cog in the machine of the universe is at any one moment, the laws of physics would allow us to know what would happen at any point in time. Therefore, Hawking says, free will is an illusion.
19th Century science assumed a universe that always existed. That model gave way in the 20th Century to the concession that the universe had a beginning and time, space and matter sprang into existence in an instant that has come to be known as the “Big Bang”.
Scientists who succeeded in the line of the materialists of the 19th century, who embraced Darwinism as they gladly shed the shackles of religion and faith, feared that the Big Bang might reopen the old doubt that God may exist after all. From the beginning, the idea of a Big Bang that began the universe was met with caution and reluctance.
Albert Einstein’s response to the consequences of his own general theory of relativity may be reasonably interpreted to reflect a possible concern about the peril of a confrontation with the Creator. Through the equations of general relativity, we can trace the origin of the universe backward in time to some sort of a beginning. However, to evade this seemingly inevitable cosmological conclusion, Einstein introduced a cosmological constant, a “fudge factor,” to yield a static model for the universe. He longed for a universe that was infinitely old. In fairness, Einstein later considered this to be one of the few serious mistakes of his scientific career. However, even this concession must have been painful, as Einstein had a strong conviction that all physical phenomena ultimately should be accounted for in terms of continuous fields everywhere (see Max Jammer’s 1999 book Einstein and Religion).
Photo by Randy Schoof
Before there was Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens, there was Anthony Flew. For most of his career, Flew was a strong advocate of atheism …. But then he changed his mind.
He did not have any spiritual or near death experience. The decision for him was not an emotional one. It was a rational one based on the weight of the evidence.
I have said it before, and I will probably say it again (and again): people believe what they want to believe. I am reminded of that truism after reading the intriguing article by Robin Schumacher, Stephen Hawking’s Three Arguments Against God, published in The Christian Post. Truism? Because I say so! In effect that is exactly what Stephen Hawking’s arguments amount to. Continue reading