Monday, August 8, 2011

Hawking worships Galileo and Einstein, but not God

The Discover Channel showed Curiosity last night, as reviewed by the LA Times:
As usual in these sorts of conversations, the brilliant and much abused Galileo gets a lot of play, as does Pope John XXI, who in 1277 declared the laws of nature to be heretical, only to be killed by one of them — gravity (and weak mortar) caused a roof to fall on him. (The fact that John XXI was also a scientist and physician who wrote an influential book on birth control is not mentioned.)

So a better title perhaps would be "Stephen Hawking Explains Why He is Quite Certain God Did Not Create the Universe." Hawking, like many scientists, believes in "a simpler alternative" to a participatory God — that the fixed laws of nature not only rule the universe but explain its creation.

How, I cannot tell you. Although Discovery is liberal in its CG usage and Hawking comes up with all manner of easily understood metaphors, his attempts to explain how, exactly, the big bang emerged from a state of nothingness required an understanding of physics that was beyond me. "If you are not a math head," he concedes far too late in the proceedings," this may be hard to understand." Indeed.

So, like its alternative, belief in Hawking's premise is an act of faith; ...
Yes, the show was incoherent. We were just supposed to believe what the great geniuses tell us, being assured that they are scientific and the Catholic Church is not.

Here are Hawking's opinions, as quoted on the show:
Galileo is the founder of modern-day science, and one of my heroes. [0:17]

Galileo went on to prove that the Earth must in fact orbit the Sun. Aristarchus had been right all along. Galileo's discoveries triggered a revolution in thought that would loosen the grip of religion over science. But back in the 17th century, they got him in a lot of trouble with the Church. He narrowly avoided execution by recanting his so-called heresy. [0:18]

The answer came from the insights of one man. Probably the most remarkable scientist who ever lived. His name was Albert Einstein. [0:28]

We know that the universe itself was once very small, smaller than a proton in fact, ... [0:45]

The simplest explanation is that there is no God. [0:59]
Most of this is false. Galileo's discoveries (mainly the moons of Jupiter in the show) had no effect on the grip of religion. He did not prove that the Earth orbits the Sun. He was not charged with heresy, and he was in no danger of execution.

Einstein had no relevant insights. E=mc2 was discovered before him, and he did not even believe in the Big Bang for many years.

We do not know that the universe was once smaller than a proton. We can be pretty confident that it has been expanding for billions of years, but being smaller than a proton would violate many laws of physics, and we have no evidence of that.

Some of this is explained in How Einstein Ruined Physics.

There was a panel discussion afterwards, as if Hawking had some sort of argument that ought to be taken seriously. Physics futurist Michio Kaku pointed out how idiotic Hawking's argument was. Hawking said that conventional time coordinates break down at the beginning of the Big Bang so no creator is needed. Kaku is right that the argument is illogical.

The only legitimate physics argument in the show is that the universe could have zero because the positive energy from matter appears to roughly cancel the negative gravitational potential energy. So maybe the Big Bang did not require any net energy creation.

Sean B. Carroll was on the panel. He made cosmologists look foolish, and his comments are here.

Having solved the God problem, next week's episode will tell us whether we can survive a space alien attack.

Update: Jerry Coyne found the videos to the Curiosity show and panel discussion. He agreed with “If one of your roles for God is creating the universe. ... then modern cosmology has removed that.” I didn't see that anywhere in the show, but watch is yourself and decide.

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