Thursday, September 2, 2010

Despite Hawking, Universe Existence/Origin Is Still A Mystery.

As you may have heard, Stephen Hawking says universe is not created by God because, in a nutshell, gravity exists:  "Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing".  Moreover, he believes M-Theory can fully explain our universe and therefore God is no longer needed.

At first I was going to stay out of this discussion since, as I said before, I believe the argument over science versus religion is often unfruitful.  But after reading some interesting comments by fellow cosmologist Peter Coles, whom also has written some good books on cosmology shown above, I decided to comment.  First, from Coles: (by the way, I've coauthored 4 papers with this guy.  Small world!)
It’s interesting that such a fatuous statement managed to become a lead item on the radio news and a headline in all the national newspapers despite being so obviously devoid of any meaning whatsoever. How can the Universe be “a consequence” of the theories that we invented to describe it? To me that’s just like saying that the Lake District is a consequence of an Ordnance Survey map. And where did the Laws of Physics come from, if not from God?
Stephen Hawking is undoubtedly a very brilliant theoretical physicist. However, something I’ve noticed about theoretical physicists over the years is that if you get them talking on subjects outside physics they are generally likely to say things just as daft as some drunk bloke down the pub. I’m afraid this is a case in point.
I agree.  Moreover, I find it funny that when Hawking and others find physical theories that can completely describe our universe, they seem to forget that certain questions about the universe still remain a mystery such that, as far as I can tell, can only be solved using tools beyond science.  For example, I am interested if science can ever understand these basic questions about the universe:

1. Why does the universe obey laws at all?  I've read several papers and textbooks written by physicists where they admit it seems unexplainable to know why the universe obeys laws.  Science may demonstrate which laws are being explained and how, but can science ever explain why? Furthermore, why do these laws happen to be mathematical in nature?

2. Why, of all possible physical theories, has the universe chosen to follow string theory?  First off, I must say my first reaction to Hawking's claim was: "So he feels comfortable replacing God with a highly speculative  theory. :)"  But given I believe string theory has a good chance of being the true "theory of everything", and for sake of argument I will assume that it is.  Fine, but can science ever show that it is impossible for a universe to exist without string theory being true?  If so, why did our universe select string theory of all theories to follow?  People will say: "It has to because it is composed of strings."  Fine, but then why is it, of all things, composed of strings?

3.  Why does the universe even exist in the first place? So that we can exist?  So that ...?  Hawkings says it is natural because gravity exists.  Fine, but that just kicks the can down the road.  Why does gravity exist in the first place? Etc...

4.  If the answers to these questions are always philosophical in nature, why bash religion? I admit that I have heard potential answers to these questions but they all have one thing in common: they are philosophical answers!  Or they say such questions are pointless which is again just a subjective belief.  But that's just it!  On one hand scientists have their own philosophical answers/subjective beliefs concerning these types of questions that bring confort to their minds but then go on to attack religion as being unscientific.  It's as if their unprovable philosophical beliefs concerning deep mysteries of the universe are okay but religious explanations for such questions are not to be tolerated.

So in a nutshell:  First, I do believe something like string theory is probably a true physical theory.  Second, I know from experience such theories can explain the existence of the universe "naturally".   But, why the universe happens to obey laws at all and why of all theories string theory was selected is, and I am sure will always be, a mystery to me.  As far as I can tell, such why mysteries will always be beyond the scope of science and can only be explained philosophically.  So if you are going to answer such deep questions about the universe with unscientific philosophy, why be so intolerant of "unscientific" religious explanations to the same questions?


  1. Just an update to show I'm not crazy. A commenter named Mephisto on The Reference frame put it this:

    ""A creator is unnecessary because the Universe has inevitably come into existence because of M-theory, i.e. the full laws of quantum gravity"

    This is a tautology. You could ask, where did the laws of quantum gravity (M-theory) come from?"

    To which Lubos Motl, a string theorist responded sarcastically:

    "Dear Mephisto, I kind of agree that "The Universe originated because of the laws of string/M-theory" is a tautology. But don't forget that tautologies are true! :)"

    Exactly! Answers to these questions seem beyond the realm of science and replacing God with String Theory has its own set of philosophical issues.

  2. And that's why we earn PhDs in our country; philosophy is at the core of scientific inquiry. That also means that we can change science simply by changing the philosophical assumptions upon which science is built. However, that's a thought that's disturbing to many people so they don't think about it.

  3. To invoke God without constraining it by some definition is not SCIENTIFIC. So, define the creator god crap first before going on criticizing those who say we do not need god to explain what we observe. I really don't know who gave you a PhD! May be University of Phoenix?

    All your questions address "primal cause" without ever defining the context. Here is better way to think: Life is Sorrowful. Another: Life is impermanent. Contemplate on it!

    If you don't get it, read up Buddha.

  4. Joseph Smidt,

    Let me add: whose god are you talking about? Jews? Jesus'? Hindus, which are many? Or, god of muslims, that says kill all the infidels?

    How about some pagan cults? What about Devil worshipers?

    Read Dawkins and Sam Harris. My take is simple: science proposes and allows all the challenges even from the book-thumpers; but the Imams, Rabbis and Pops have no use of challenge as that threatens their livelihood! They will nail you first then allow others to lament.

    Here is third: so called god created the man in his image, so imperfect, that his creation can not even comprehend the universe...

    You have a propensity to trade on thin ice, for that you may one day become a true scientist.

  5. "Stephen Hawking says universe is not created by God because, in a nutshell, gravity exists:"

    If Mr. Hawking took an entire book to say this, I think I'll still read it. I mean, it's Stephen Hawking! I'm sure has has some rational arguments that will be interesting.

    I added this to my e-wishlist on my Nook this morning. I'll get to it as soon as I finish Here's Looking at Euclid

  6. JS wrote: As for credentials (since you want to mention schools.)..

    I questioned your state of the knowledge, not where you are; I am sure there are many others who work at Caltech doing many things, like cleaning floors, tending gardens, etc. too. so, where you are does not matter. But to satisfy your curiosity, I am writing this from my home office on my own computer, not that matters.

  7. JS -

    Now finally, your point does not hold, if it is not carefully phrased, that is hypothesized and the proven through logic, experimentation and analytics using accepted theories, or developing new theories that stand up to mathematical and logical rigor. But you have done nothing of the sort. You went on venting...

  8. Stan,

    You *should* read Hawking's book. (I will.) He is really smart and how universes naturally arise from quantum gravity theories is interesting. But just replacing God with quantum gravity begs the question where quantum gravity comes from and why the universe has chosen to obey a particular version of it.


    Yes, me mentioning Caltech was dumb on may part. I'll just pretend I'm the janitor since that will make you happy. :) As for logic: you answer my first 3 questions scientifically and I will give up. :)

  9. It is interesting that many people believe that science is somehow a search for everything fundamental. Science is an attempt to describe the natural world via logic and mathematics and then test predictions via careful experimentation. When you ask questions that cannot be answered through experiments, it's not science anymore. Claiming God invented gravity is absolutely unscientific, but so is claiming gravity simply is because it is.

    If anyone can come up with a way to test why the universe obeys mathematical laws at all I am all ears.

  10. Nick, exactly. I think you said it better.

  11. Anonymous,

    One thing I wouldn't do on this blog is question people's credentials. If you put Joseph Smidt into an abstract service like NASA's Astrophysical Data System, you'll find that Joe has some 15 abstracts listed, including publications in the Astrophysical Journal, the Physical Review, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, and the Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics. You may disagree with his views, but it's a mistake to disrespect his ability to do high quality science.

  12. By the way Joe, it depresses me to no end to think that I'm going to have to compete with you and your 15 ADS entries for jobs someday.

  13. Nick, thanks for your kind words. I'm sure on the job market we will both do just fine. I think the number you quote is more a reflection of the great cosmology group here which works quickly than a statement myself individually. You'll notice my papers are always with others who help make the pipeline process progress quickly.

  14. I believe that abstract mathematics created the universe and all the fundamental physical laws.

  15. Nick Nelson stated: …why the universe obeys mathematical laws…

    Is it not putting cart before the horse? We define the laws using math to encompassing observed phenomena… So, Newton’s laws may fall apart by the way of Einstein. And, Einstein had to learn the math to express his understanding, that then turned into laws, which we teach effectively as brainwashing thus putting cart before the horse. The laws came first! Humbug!

    I can apply this to gravity. We captured the phenomena of bodies attracting each other as gravity, that seem to be mathematically describable, that led to redefinition of space-time only to confuse more…

    Now, nobody teaches a squirrel “the laws of gravity” but the little bugger goes on running across the road, jumping to climb the tree, then jumping branch to branch all seemingly with fluidity… It seems to know its Universe, and so does Hawking. Pity us that we don’t know Hawking’s Universe.

    Nick Nelson also stated: …question people's credentials.

    I did not question JS’ credentials, except that I did challenge him think better. I have no doubt that he does great work in his field. I also complimented him that he has the propensity to walk on thin ice, and that is what makes a true scientist, not a degree, nor where one is, nor what one does today. Look up that episode of The Big Bang Theory where the Russian physicist is on Sheldon Cooper’s team who happens to do menial work now, whose answer Sheldon can not accept…

    JS … Keep walking on thin ice, that is how the real grasp of things happens, not by some math, or laws that condense the understanding and reduce it to mundane computational chore.

  16. Quantum_Flux,

    I appreciate you sharing that model. However, I am not proposing or endorsing any specific new model. I think the standard LambdaCDM model of the universe that went through an initial phase of inflation as the most probable. However, my point is that that model, as well as all others, assuming they are scientific, have limits into the types of questions they can address.

  17. JS asked to answer his three questions...

    I thought I had already answered your questions in my first post. Here it is again:

    All your questions address "primal cause" without ever defining the context. Here is better way to think: Life is Sorrowful. Another: Life is impermanent. Contemplate on it!

    If you don't get it, read up Buddha.

  18. Anonymous,

    I appreciate your kind words and am happy you push me to think better. I admit I definitely have much to improve in that and many areas. I also appreciate your reference to the Big Bang Theory. :)

    Also, I will contemplate your Buddha-isms as, if I understand correctly, they must be meditated upon deeply to uncover their full meaning. Just keep working hard at trying to understand the fundamental nature of the universe and together we may get there.

  19. JS: I have made an attempt to answer all four questions below! May be this helps a bit better than esoterics of Buddhism.

    1. Why does the universe obey laws at all?

    Define the universe first! At the least, constrain it and as you do that, you will see you are imposing laws on the universe. Putting cart before the horse!

    2. Why, of all possible physical theories, has the universe chosen to follow string theory?

    I think the same thing was said when we first learned of electrons, protons and neutrons!

    Actually, we were very proud that we can explain the whole periodic table with these three things… but quarks had different ideas… Strings? Membranes? Ropes? Fundamental solids?

    3. Why does the universe even exist in the first place?

    The real question should be what difference would it make if one were not to exist? This is not intended to be as sarcastic, but sincere proposition. It is similar to “does falling tree make a sound if nobody is there to listen to it?”. Does universe care whether you understand it or not?

    4. If the answers to these questions are always philosophical in nature, why bash religion?

    Because, religion and philosophy are not the same. The first one is belief at best, for me it is brainwashing par excelante. All philosophies have propositional/logical foundation and that provides us an ability to apply it. Look up Mao’s communism, and Lenin’s communism and see how they differ…

  20. Buddhists desire to have their mind being one with nature, whereas realists (Penrose philosophy) realize the trichotomy of the mind being in tune with both nature and logic.

  21. The belief that the entropy of the universe always increases is the thing that should be experimentally called into question. The idea of "the arrow of time-entropy" is actually a first order approximation based on current observations at moderate temperatures and pressures, actually very little is known about the way in which heat and gravitational entropy behaves at the extremes of hot high energy density physics aside from the fact that the high energy particles from nuclear forces are being released, and cold vacuum state physics aside from the fact that particles seem to become frictionless and superconducting bose-einstienian condensates which both seem to support my Infinite Universe Model hypothesis.

  22. Quantum_Flux,

    Are you trying to duke it out with the 2nd law of thermodynamics? :) So you are suggesting that entropy increases on small scales but this doesn't hold for large cosmic scales?

  23. A person who chooses to believe in God sees evidence for Him everywhere. A person who chooses not to believe sees evidence disproving Him everywhere. The whole time both of them can't understand how the other person is missing what they clearly see all around them.

  24. Nick Nelson,

    We always reduce the problem to blue pill or red pill...

    By the way, why are you typing god with capital letter? And, how do you know it is him, not her, it like an alien a la Clarke, with three legs and three hands and six fingers on each hand?

  25. Quantum Flux,

    You are totally wrong about Buddhist's desire... Check out Shambala Press and discount books websites for books on Buddhism and read.

    I have yet to find one person who understood Penrose.

  26. Quantum Flux,

    "The Laws" derived from observables are extended through math (math is a tool) to apply at conditions not easily observables... so far, second law has held up, and that only means that understanding (knowledge) gained through observable applies to a wide range of conditions... Nothing more or less... All this can change with new observation.

  27. The only conclusion that we are justified in drawing from a scientific or philosophical standpoint on these issues is that none of us truly knows a single thing about the universe. Some have beliefs, whereas others have theories. Some claim that laws define the universe, yet others hold that the universe defines the laws.

    Being that my logical perspective on such matters is biblical rather than philosophical or scientific, I have little other than the above observation to add to the discussion. However, I would like to address the following point, made by Anonymous (if that's even your real name):

    "so called god created the man in his image, so imperfect, that his creation can not even comprehend the universe..."

    The God of the bible never claimed to have made man complete. Being made "in his image" does not imply that we are like him in every way. Rather, it says that "his thoughts are not our thoughts, and his ways are not our ways;" therefore, we should not expect to be able to comprehend the things that God has made. From before the foundation of the universe, God's plan has been to one day make man complete, if we will choose to follow him, so that we will be as he is: understanding all things.

  28. Steven,

    Thank you for weighing in your thoughts. I will say I believe we know some things about the universe, but I do admit at the most fundamental level it is still a mystery. (And again, those who want to tell me the universe comes from quantum gravity now need to explain where quantum gravity comes from.)

    Although Socrates would agree that the most wise man is one who will admit he knows nothing at all. (For all you Socrates fans. :))

  29. Steven Britt,

    You just expressed the brainwashing that a religion creates... Why such an urge to justify a book, that is collection of stories and incomprehensible events of the time with very poor records, and full of contradiction?

    The god of bible is imperfact at minimum, and intellectually corrupt, if he created man imperfect so that he can enjoy the crap man does vicariously. Believe what you want, don't impose on others. This applies to all faiths, especially, the ones with violent traits.

    I was also wondering how the heck the imperfact like you figured the crap about god? May be god was a tinkerer and decided to abandon his project on the earth and go to some other place to mess up?

    Finally, you said if we choose to follow "him" so that we will be as he is: understanding all things. I add: imperfactly forever!

  30. Okay, I will say at this point all personal attacks need to be kept at a minimum. I say minimum because I realize sometimes small things come out unintentionally and I don't want to have to always be splitting hairs.

    However, if things get ugly or intentional I will have to censor comments. I'm not saying they have in this post but I think this particular discussion can get that way if we are not careful.

    I appreciate everyone's contributions and ideas and will ask that all comments are made in the most civil way possible.

    There is a famous film on Malcolm X where there is a discussion suggesting the only reason a person would use profanity is if they lack the vocabulary skills to adequately express what is on their mind. Whether true or not, I will say the arguments that are the most impressive and convincing are ones that don't require name calling or personal attacks to make them.

  31. I am merely stating that probability amplitudes are not fixed. If you have a particle beam that is diffracted into 12 directions through a double slit, that probability distribution is not necessarily the same at 1 kelvin as it is at 1000 kelvin. That is because at cooler temperatures the wavelengths of the particles increase and thereby they disperse at greater angles than when their wavelengths are very small at higher temperatures. (quantum foam acts as a slit, that causes the universe to become more dispersive at lower temperatures)

    On the other hand, when waves are traveling through a medium the opposite effect from disperion occurs according to the index of refraction. At lower temperatures and thereby longer wavelengths waves tend to travel right through a medium, versus at higher temperatures and shorter wavelengths they are refracted more. (higher temperatures correspond with lower entropies as S = dQ/dt decreases with an increase in dt).

  32. Holy Cow! I don't read the blog for a couple hours and now we have a near all-out war!

    Okay, here are some thoughts.
    1. The issues are quite complex here. It's clear that Coles believes that math is an invention to describe physical phenomena. But the philosophy of math is quite complex. Some believe that mathematics is a DISCOVERY of laws already in place. Additionally, we might have the same notion with regard to laws. Some believe that obedience to laws is something we've discovered (after all, to obey a "law" with a resulting outcome is nothing more than inductive reasoning which is inherently faulty). So your question #1 & #2 about the universe following laws and specific mathematical formulas wouldn't even make sense to someone who believed these things are/were DISCOVERED rather than INVENTED.

    2. I agree with Anonymous in part on the issue of religion (though I'm not sure why Anonymous is being so confrontational). Philosophy and religion are NOT the same, nor even in the same category in my mind. Why? Philosophy uses logic, a well defined set of rules which seem predict well and be quite reliable. Religion has no rules, at least not consistent ones. I do think this gives us good reason to trust philosophy over religion (note I'm comparing religion to philosophy, not spirituality which I think is different). In response to your #4 consider these questions: which religious explanation should we tolerate? All of them? What is the metric by which we gauge the "goodness" of a religious explanation? Are they all equally valid, because they certainly vary wildly! At least with philosophy we can apply the rules of logic and determine the "goodness" of a particular argument.

    3. Joseph, your questions about the universe are great ones and I certainly have no answers. I also like the realization that science cannot answer "why." 'Tis a shame, but that's the way it is. Philosophy is supposed to answer "why" for us, but it has limitations as well (perhaps due to the "rules" I dunno).

    Here's the thing, if you take the Cartesian thought experiment to its logical conclusion, you end up in hyperbolic doubt. That is, the only thing you can conclude is that "I think, therefore I am." All we can conclude is that whatever it is that's doing the thinking, exists somewhere, somehow. But everything else could be a mind trick, a game, demon posession, etc. etc. Frankly, as an engineer, I'm a bit too pragmatic to get caught up in hyperbolic doubt (though the point is important). As a result, I'm left in a position of sort of mixed hope/belief in God with the realization that it is entirely probable that my view of Him is mistaken.

  33. Re Nick
    "A person who chooses to believe in God sees evidence for Him everywhere. A person who chooses not to believe sees evidence disproving Him everywhere. The whole time both of them can't understand how the other person is missing what they clearly see all around them."

    I do have one qualm with this and that is your use of the word "choose." I think it completely ignores genetics, as well as the proposed (in Mormonism) "spiritual gifts" to conclude that it is as simple as a "choice." Some people, to a certain degree(likely yourself included), see natural explanations for physical phenomena more than divine explanations. After all, no one believes that colds are caused by demons anymore. The "degree" to which one sees natural explanations vs. divine ones in part determines what evidence one allows for a supreme being.

    Personally, I see no reason to conclude that God must exist because of any argument about earth, nature, physics, the universe, or even our existence. This is the classic "watchmaker" argument. My hope/belief in God is something I feel, not something based on any evidence of any kind.

  34. jmb275,

    "Holy Cow! I don't read the blog for a couple hours and now we have a near all-out war!"

    Yes, this is what happens when you disappear on us. :)

    "I'm not sure why Anonymous is being so confrontational"

    Yes, he/she can make good arguments. It would just be nice if he/she would just take out a little of the insulting language. Look at a mathematics paper, the proofs and arguments are usually flawless and yet not an insulting remark to be found as they aren't needed to make a solid argument.

    "if you take the Cartesian thought experiment..."

    Yes, we don't want to go stark raving mad now do we. :)

  35. When one does not like another's logical argument, it is confrontational. Per that, from now own, spell out your likes and dislikes and all will try to how can I say, suck up, to the likes.

    I appreciate jmb275's comment on philosophy and religion. I hope he posts that by the same token, science and religion do not mix. As such, the hallucination of finding god, especially revangeful creationist god is crap, as defined in thesaurus that I had cited and the czar deleted it. As I said in that deleted comment, it is your blog, have fun, irrational fun of censorship.

  36. Anonymous,

    Answer me this. (And others to if they feel like it.) The reason why I was putting religion and unscientific philosophy on similar footing is unscientific philosophy is only as good as your axioms. *And yet there is no way to test these axioms in a concrete way.*

    Science is different of course. The axioms lead to a well defined prediction that can be falsified in a concrete way. If your axioms say the moon is literally made of cheese your axioms are wrong. This cannot be done to the axioms of unscientific philosophies.

    So in practice people start with axioms they *believe* must be correct and work out the logical conclusions and decide if they * believe* the logical conclusions are good. If so they say the philosophy is good. For example, they say they believe the categorical imperative and then work out things like one should never lie and if they are fine with that they continue to accept the categorical imperative and if not reject it.

    But in practice this is what religious people often do. They have faith in things they believe are true and often use logic to see where such ideas lead and *will* often alter their fundamental beliefs if they find later on they contradict that which they believe in. Just saying in practice this often happens.

    So, how are people who enjoy unscientific philosophies any better or worse than those who feel that various religious principles are true? Both *first* put faith in un-testable axioms, both usually work out the logical conclusions of those axioms and the both often alter the axioms when the conclusions rub what the believe the wrong way.

    Anyways, I am interested in your thoughts or those of anyone else.

  37. Why do we need to redefine “religion” as “unscientific philosophy”? Why can’t we live religion as it is. To wit:
    Modern scholars such as Tom Harpur and Joseph Campbell favor the derivation from ligare "bind, connect", probably from a prefixed re-ligare, i.e. re (again) + ligare or "to reconnect," (from Wiki)
    I do not know how to define “unscientific philosophy”.
    For me, religion is “continuity” of the social contract we entered in, as the genetic contract (in Darwinian sense) continually was changing through migration, mutation and evolution. That is to say, “religion” became the glue to keep the human community coherent in purpose, and for that “God” was a necessary evil, as the ultimate Law.
    A very practical example: it is the law that you stop at red light, so that I may proceed as the light turns green for me. I have “faith” in the community I live in to follow this simple “law”, but I could find my faith misplaced anytime, so I watch and make sure that you stopped! If you do not stop, it becomes a contentious situation of interpretation by the “lawyers” and testimonies of the “witnesses”.
    I believe, you should be able to see science can not do anything, unless there were cameras that recorded the whole incident, unbiased. That is why, people do not run red lights where there are cameras.
    So, if the Omniscient can not show up, it is rather difficult to “believe” logically, but, for the desperate, it may be the only option, hence belief in God, and especially, in revenging God.
    I don’t know whether I can “deconstruct” your rest of the post. But, I am happy to observe not only you do walk on thin ice, but also on slippery slopes, the only way to enlightenment.

  38. Anonymous,

    Thanks for your thoughts. For the record, by "unscientific" philosophy I meant any and all philosophies that are formulated logically but are not falsifiable as scientific theories are. (Ie: philosophies that are not science.)

    For example, one can test concretely the predictions of Newton's gravity so that is not "unscientific".

    However, Kantian Ethics, the categorical imperative, Mill's utilitarianism are examples of philosophical theories that are not scientific in nature. (Can you design an experiment that can concretely falsify the idea that the categorical imperative is correct?)

  39. JS,

    You are hung up on too many buzz words. Life is to experience it. Live it. Seriously, take a back pack and take a day off on a trail, and see the life around you come alive. Experience the Universe of a squirrel jumping branch to branch and tree to tree.

    Simply connect with the Universe that is all around you (biblical, is it not?).

  40. Anonymous,

    That's good advice. It is a 3 day weekend. I should relax and "stop and smell the roses" and "connect" as you say.

  41. JS
    Categorical Imperative:

    Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.

    Here is the experiment:

    it is the law that you stop at red light, so that I may proceed as the light turns green for me. I have “faith” in the community I live in to follow this simple “law”, but I could find my faith misplaced anytime, so I watch and make sure that you stopped! If you do not stop, it becomes a contentious situation of interpretation by the “lawyers” and testimonies of the “witnesses”.

    See many outcomes are possible here! Enjoy! I have made my point that it is simple and easy to keep God out of all human affairs until one is desperate. Got it?

  42. Sorry, Joseph, I do want to respond to the question you posed. I think it's a great question. I'm a bit late though.

    Here's how I see it.

    First though, I'm a bit confused by your language. You're using "axiom" here where it seems like "hypothesis" would fit better. Axioms are generally not tested, but are accepted as the starting point. The axioms of science, like philosophy are based on the idea that the future will behave like the past because it always has in the past (an inductive argument). Additionally, science and philosophy have axioms about language, mathematics, etc. in that they convey information. But it is not a deductive conclusion that such is the case. It just happens to be so and we accept it as such.

    Philosophy is useful because it follows a set of rules by which it can test its hypotheses, much like science. The hypotheses ARE in fact testable, namely by the rules of logic. If you've ever been in a philosophy class, you'll hear an argument proposed, and then a series of thought experiments, examination of the argument, etc. to try and test it. In this way, philosophy is remarkably like science EVEN IF it has hypotheses that are impossible to subject to any physically realizable tests. It just has a different mechanism for testing them.

    Here's why I don't think religious arguments carry the same weight on the public scene as arguments from philosophy and science. There is no mechanism, no metric for determining the validity or truthfulness of a particular religious argument. We can always say "just ask God" but the truth is, that this is such a subjective way of testing a hypothesis as to remove all confidence in the answer outside of that very subjective experience. We could try to appeal to an authority (prophet). But every religion has their prophet and they say wildly contradictory things. We could appeal to an old book. But a closer look at those books usually reveals some serious gaps opening the door for skepticism. And that entirely ignores the interpretation of the words of those old books.

    For scientific arguments, OTOH, a bunch of us nerds can get together, examine the evidence, test the hypothesis, and draw conclusions based on hundreds of years of well established knowledge and physical "laws" (which we perhaps accept as axioms) that have passed our tests. For philosophical arguments a similar thing can be done using the rules of logic. This is how Kant, Plato, etc. buildt up an entire philosophy. Sure you can question the assumptions (like questioning Newton) but if you accept their axioms, their conclusions follow. But what can be done for a religious argument? Revelation to Muhammed appears to be just as valid as revelation to Joseph Smith, yet they result in drastically different hypotheses about the world. Which one should we pick?

    To me, this is why religion generally should stop claiming absolute truths and start claiming practical utility in subjective truth. It ought to focus on helping people live better lives (which I think is the purpose of religion, and was Christ's purpose) rather than to proclaim universal truths. No one can argue with a Mormon who "feels" the church is true for them. But it is easy to argue with a Mormon who claims that the LDS church is the one and only true church of God on earth. For me personally, I tend to focus on my own subjective spiritual experience and CORRECTLY categorize it as such. That means I keep it in the realm of what I believe, without asserting that it is unilaterally true and that all mankind should be bound to it (which is what most religions claim). It also means I shouldn't parade these beliefs AS IF I have solid evidence for them outside of my subjective experience.

  43. One more thing Joseph. The relationship between science, philosophy, religion, and psychology is probably the only thing more fascinating to me than airplanes. I love discussing this stuff and would be happy to bat ideas around with you in another forum if the blog isn't the right place.

    I have no real answers, just a lot of questions.

  44. jmb275,

    I find these subjects and their interplay very interesting as well so I appreciate you thoughts as they are interesting.

    I will say that I still do not understand something so maybe I need it explained again as I am slow.

    I'm going to leave religion out of the following as my confusion is religion independent.

    1. About axioms you say: "Axioms are generally not tested, but are accepted as the starting point.. It just happens to be so and we accept it as such."

    I agree which is why I suggested they, in some sense, are taken on "faith" and since the conclusions of your philosophical system are only as good as the axioms to me philosophy *also* therefore requires "faith". ("faith" that your axioms you began with are correct.)

    Now, I put "faith" in quotations because I agree the axioms are usually picked because they are well motivated and seem to be true using common sense. But still, common sense can be flawed and what is and what is not well motivated is subjective and so this is why I suggest their assumption is in some sense and act of "faith".

    Now, at this point you may say logic is a test on the axioms such that if you find the system is not consistant then there is something wrong with the axioms. But in my mind this is no more than a sanity check as I am sure if I sat down long enough I could find a set of axioms, one of which you don't agree with, that forms a logically consistant system.

    (For example, take mathematics, many people do not believe the axiom of choice is correct but if you assume it, as is almost always the case in a typical setting, you get a logically consistant system modulo Godel's theorem. So here we may have an example where an axiom may be bogus and yet the system will never fail the rules of logic. Or someone can correct me if I am wrong.)

  45. Okay, a few things:
    "So here we may have an example where an axiom may be bogus and yet the system will never fail the rules of logic. Or someone can correct me if I am wrong."

    Absolutely. The end result of the system in place is as good as the axioms, as you've said previously. I agree with this. A VERY interesting example of this is Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein was a very influential philosopher and ultimately came up with two radically different philosophies. The early Wittgenstein, fully published, and accepted by many varies radically from the later Wittgenstein, also fully published and accepted by many. All coming out of one person. The axioms of the two philosophies are different, hence the conclusions are.

    "But still, common sense can be flawed and what is and what is not well motivated is subjective and so this is why I suggest their assumption is in some sense and act of 'faith'."

    Again, I absolutely agree. I'm definitely not saying that science and philosophy don't require faith. But we also need to realize that EVERYTHING does. Descartes showed us this through hyperbolic doubt. So we properly conclude that everything is inductive and requires faith. That's fair. But even so, there's a fundamental difference in the rules (or lack thereof) that govern our reasoning after we accept the axioms. And that, is where I think religion loses ground for making strong arguments to be presented to the world stage.

    You've outlined it perfectly in these paragraphs. In science, philosophy, and religion we have to accept axioms on faith otherwise we are left in hyperbolic doubt. But then what? In science, and philosophy we have well established, reliable rules that give us TREMENDOUS power to predict, draw conclusions, test and otherwise determine truth if our axioms are correct.

    So basically, I think you're right, and I agree with your point about Hawking shooting his mouth off a bit too much. But my knee jerk reaction to this:

    "So if you are going to answer such deep questions about the universe with unscientific philosophy, why be so intolerant of "unscientific" religious explanations to the same questions?"

    is to point out that I don't think unscientific philosophy (which I think is just as powerful as science) is NOT on the same footing as "unscientific religious explanations."

    BTW, as a sidenote, I don't think Hawking's "unscientific philosophy" is good philosophy or good science, so to me, it would probably qualify as a "religious argument." There are plenty of philosophers who don't buy into the arguments of the neo-atheists.

  46. jmb275,

    Thank you for your follow up comment and I agree with what you say about hyperbolic doubt so we don't want to get too carried away do we. :)

    I admit I was straining over some minor technicalities but I am glad you were willing to comment on them none-the-less.

  47. Yeah, I find I tend to push against ideals in almost all venues (probably to my detriment). I suppose I find lots of truth in lots of different ideas, but most ideas, if pushed too hard, break spectacularly. As a result, I think I'm pretty wishy-washy when saying anything real conclusive. Even if it appears I'm drawing hard conclusions, in my mind they're only tentative, pending further thought and investigation.

    Or perhaps, more realistically, I just think too much!! Anyway, thanks for the good discussion.


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