Breakout Session 2
Topic: God and Stephen Hawking - Whose Design Is It Anyway?
Speaker: John Lennox
The last session I was able to attend was the breakout session with John Lennox. He held the session in the style of the Russian academies of the sciences, in which the speaker sits comfortably in a chair and lectures, while the listeners write any question they have on a piece of paper and bring it up to the table. That way he can ensure that everyone gets to have their question answered as he sees the pile growing.
Lennox was talking in this about The Grand Design, a new book by Stephen Hawking, in which Hawking defends atheism.
Lennox said he was shocked when he actually read the book (and later during Q&A, he alludes to the fact that there is some doubt to how much of it is Hawking's and how much the co-author's) because of its utter lack of brilliance. Say what you want about Hawking, but generally it is accepted he is a brilliant guy...but this book has some shockingly bad ideas.
As an aside, Lennox joked that it was quite funny to read in a book about the philosophy of science, the sentence, "Philosophy is dead." He said it's a bit hard to take your philosophy book seriously if you undermine philosophy. (And of course, also funny to note that the statement "Philosophy is dead" is itself a philosophical statement.)
Anyway, the central argument of Hawking's book is similar to the quackery of Krauss that we discussed in Spitzer's session yesterday: Hawking argues that because there is a law of gravity, the universe can and will create itself out of nothing.
OK. Let's discuss this bit by bit.
First of all, what are scientific laws? Laws describe a reality which already exists. The law of gravity is a mathematical description of a physical phenomenon in existence called gravity. If we go back to a time when there isn't reality, then there is no gravitation phenomena, and therefore no law.
(This ties in a bit with the Godel Incompleteness Theorem discussion about consciousness. There is no way that you can make an equation to describe a reality which is completely self-containing and self-explanatory. It becomes circular logic otherwise: the law of gravity is based on the phenomenon of gravity which is explained by the law of gravity? That is just fundamentally bad reasoning.)
As Lennox said, all that this "proves" is that nonsense said by brilliant people remains nonsense!
Per Hawking, this is his central argument against God--and yet it is simultaneously nonsense, self-contradictory, and ridiculous.
Lennox says: if this is really the best argument against God, and that argument is nonsense, self-contradictory, and ridiculous, then we are in good shape!
My favorite quote of the entire conference: "I can't even say that Hawking's statement is wrong because it does not even rise to the level of being intelligible. " (Lennox)
Lennox points out too the psychological argument (originally Freudian) which so many atheists love to throw out cuts both ways. Atheists love to say that our faith is a fairy tale invented by bronze-age people who were afraid of the dark so they invented a protecting father figure. But that cuts both ways: if God is real then naturalism is nothing but a fairy tale created by people who are afraid of the light!
The fact comes back to this point, which cannot be proved either for or against and must be admitted as a philosophical supposition: either God is real, or He isn't. The naturalists are simply waving their hands and misdirecting like a magician, trying to make you not see that they, too, are starting at a point of faith.
In the course of the Q&A I thought a couple of things came up which were interesting.
- Lennox was raised in the height of Protestant vs. Catholic danger in Ireland. His father was devout but also believed all believers in Jesus were brothers, not just people from one side or the other. Therefore he (as a business owner) drew his employees from both faiths. This was dangerous (even getting their house bombed at one point), but it showed Lennox that what we decide about faith is important, not casual.
- Lennox's parents loved him enough that though they raised him as a Christian, they gave him freedom to think for himself. They actually went further--exposing him to as many worldviews as possible while a child and helping reason with him as to why they rejected them. As a result, college was no big shocker to him and in fact he knew better than many professors why he believed what he believed.
- On the topic of faith schools (College of the Ozarks is a Christian school), he pointed out that ALL schools are faith schools--only the Christian schools are open about it and the naturalist schools try to pretend otherwise. He had alluded to this earlier when pointing out that Cambridge and Oxford and Harvard and the like are covered in Biblical quotations around their campuses and now are trying desperately to pretend as though somehow the believers who made them famous wouldn't still be believers today.
It was a wonderful conference, and I will add future posts if/when I receive the DVD and am able to see some of the other sessions.