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It seems that God, or more correctly disbelief in God, sells books. In recent years anyway. Perhaps since the religiously motivated terrorist attacks in New York nine years ago this week.

So one can hardly blame the publishers for jumping on to the advertising bandwagon with Stephen Hawking‘s latest book The Grand Design (with co-author Leonard Mlodinow).  And I am sure that is what has lead to headlines like Stephen Hawking: God NOT Needed For Creation, Stephen Hawking: God didn’t create universe, Hawking Says God Not Needed to Kick-Start Big Bang; World Freaks Out. Even Somebody’s Going To Hell! Stephen Hawking: “God Not Necessary For Universe To Exist”.

Inevitable advertising hype.

Theological response boosts sales

But perhaps we can blame the inevitable theological response. Or at least point out that they are cutting off their collective noses to spite their faces. The emotional theological campaign against Richard Dawkins and his book The God Delusion published in 2006 helped boost it up the best seller list. And also assisted the flow-on effect of increasing sales of his other books like The Selfish Gene.

So the apparently inevitable theological response to Stephen Hawking and  Leonard Mlodinow looks set to make their new book a runaway best seller. Who was it that said – those who don’t learn from history are set to repeat their mistakes?

Already we have headlines like Archbishop of Canterbury hits back after Stephen Hawking insists God did NOT create the Universe. The Archbishop boldly declared: “Physics on its own will not settle the question of why there is something rather than nothing.” (It will be interesting to compare his ‘evidence’ for this claim with the evidence for Hawking and Mlodinow’s claim in their book).

Britian’s Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks asserted: “Science is about explanation. Religion is about interpretation… The Bible simply isn’t interested in how the universe came into being.” And Vincent Nichols, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, added: “I would totally endorse what the Chief Rabbi said so eloquently about the relationship between religion and science.” One wonders why they then get so upset becuase science sets about to explain things like this? Surely they should get busy with their “interpretation” rather than object to the explanation.

To complete the lineup Ibrahim Mogra, an imam and committee chairman at the Muslim Council of Britain, said: “If we look at the universe and all that has been created, it indicates that somebody has been here to bring it into existence. That somebody is the almighty conqueror.” He (I am assuming not she) is clearly not going to be worried about the evidence.

The book is being released this week and I can already hear the cash registers ringing.

I am the last person to support or attack a book without reading it. And I am not going to join the inevitable ranks of reviewers who are going to post critical reviews based only on the reading of the books tile or headlines and news reports. However, the extracts that have been included in press reports suggest the degree of “poetic license” being used by the publishers, and the hypersensitivity of the theological critics. The relevant quote (from the London Times) was:

“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,” Hawking writes.

“It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”

Rather tame, isn’t it? Surely there is nothing new in that.

My impression is that the book describes how we can develop theories for the formation of our universe, and the authors give their preference to “M-theory.” (He does make clear that “Unlike the answer given in Douglas Adam’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy‘,” they are not supporting “42.”) This will not be to every physicists liking but it does demonstrate that one does not need to bring in theology to explain such things.

Philosophy is dead

A few reviewers have read pre-publication versions of the book have some interesting comments at the Amazon site. One comments that the book made a convincing argument that old-time philosophy had become irrelevant in such areas. Memoiai says:

“philosophy is dead in the sense of answering the most mysterious of life’s questions. It is up to science, and scientific theory, to provide clues to the true answers, as philosophy in its most ancient forms has taken a back seat, but modern philosophy, that of scientific philosophy, has taken root.”

So it looks like The Grand Design gets into the relationship between philosophy and science as well as modern physical theories.

Should be worth reading.

Cosmologist Shean Carroll provides brief outline of Hawking’s approach in this video (thanks to Why Evolution is True: Carroll explains Hawking).

Stephen Hawking and the Existence of God.

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