Thursday, September 23, 2010

Book Report: The Grand Design

As soon as I discovered that there was another book out by Stephen Hawking I immediately went over to Bay Books to get a copy of The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow. They had sold out of their first shipment on the first day, much to their own amazement at the book's unexpected popularity, so they added my name to the back-order list. When they called me to say the new shipment was in, I immediately went over and bought one.

It's an easily-readable book, highly understandable to anyone with the slightest knowledge of physics and mathematics, and partially understandable even to someone with no science background at all.

The book briefly traces the history of our knowledge of theoretical physics from the days of the ancient Greeks, through the Renaissance, and up to modern times. Most of the major contributors are mentioned: Archimedes, Pythagoras, Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Maxwell, Michelson and Morley, Einstein, Feynman, etc.

Each contribution is briefly and understandably described. When they get to quantum theory, of course, there's no such thing as a correct but easily understandable non-mathematical description. Quantum theory simply can't possibly make any intuitive sense at the human scale of perception. Hawking and Mlodinow do their best, however, and it's at least as good as anybody else has ever done without plunging into the inscrutable depths of advanced mathematics.

Now here's the part that religious leaders are upset over. Our current scientific knowledge still has many large gaps, but the God Of The Gaps concept is no longer viable because the gaps aren't God-shaped. There are just too many logical and mathematical possibilities for the universe to have come into existence without the kind intercession of a conscious decision-making creator.

The burden of proof is now upon theologians to come up with a sufficiently drastic modification of their theology to be compatible with our present-day knowledge. I don't think they're up to the task. All I've heard so far from the theological community is impotent bleating about how Stephen Hawking doesn't understand theology. But why should he even try to understand make-believe? He's done a great job dedicating his life to understanding reality.


Poolie said...

Very-well said. I like the idea of them bleating. Good image. Baaaaaa

Mark Wadsworth said...

I suppose it is quite possible that a God designed the very laws of physics, but I doubt very much whether his or her thinking extended to mundane matters like whether you should drink alcohol or not or whether it's OK to work on Sundays and so on.

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