Theory of Everything

You may read the original article by John Horgan criticizing Stephen Hawking’s new book The Grand Design here.

This particular article I find sub-par, especially with all its ad homonym attacks, as a very convincing argument as to the invalidity of Hawking’s theoretical developments. It looks more like a tailored appeal to average people who know little of the discipline of astrophysics than any kind of rigorous critique. While Hawking certainly doesn’t have all the answers, I don’t think Horgan gave a fair representation of Hawkings theory either, especially given that he’s a journalist/writer and not a scientist. I have yet to read Hawking’s new book, but I highly doubt he would have invested such effort in his latest research only to have it dismissed so plainly.

Horgan explains Hawking’s theory as a twist on string theory, which many have been working on as a path to a unified “theory of everything.” He goes on to say, “Yet this popularity stems not from the theory’s actual merits but rather from the lack of decent alternatives and the stubborn refusal of enthusiasts to abandon their faith.” Again, this is a gross mischaracterization. For a long time string theory was dismissed as ridiculousness, and only recently has some rigorous mathematics been coming forth that give it credibility as a very worthy and probable idea to pursue. There are always flaws and differing points of view within the sciences, but it’s the process of scientific and mathematical investigation that weeds out the crap and ensures progress — not stubborn, wishful adherence as Horgan suggests.

Horgan’s criticism, and even Hawking’s comments on the matter, of the anthropic argument, I think, are a bit off the mark as well. (It’s possible Hawking’s remarks were somewhat misrepresented here too). It does in fact make sense that “things are as they are because we are.” As conscious beings shaped by our evolution and biology, we cannot help but experience and understand the world within a particular, limited framework. And science must work on the assumption that we exist, otherwise it would be pointless pursuit. So obviously that means conscious observers could only be created within a universe where the laws of physics were such that our existence would be possible. So, as far as I can see, the question of “Why are we in this universe” is not a valid question. We’re here because we are, because over billions of years circumstances were such that our solar system formed and life sprung up on earth and conscious beings evolved to where and how we are today. It seems like Horgan is expecting Hawking’s argument (that science has the potential to prove a creator is unnecessary) to come out in the same fashion as religion and basically say, “There was some force of intention that willed things to be this way and that is WHY we are here.” Not everyone has the mind to recognize the beauty, depth, and meaning in life that is possible in seeing the universe through the eyes of science. Some people need religion to bring them to a sense of purpose or morality. To me, the whole question of whether or not there is a god is irrelevant though. Belief or disbelief in a god never necessarily predisposes anyone to living “good/meaningful” or “bad/meaningless” lives; it’s always about perspective.

Essentially, I think it’s the job of scientists researching in a particular field, and not writers, to offer serious refutations and critiques of scientific theories based on that appropriate expertise.

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