Selected Correspondence Peter
RESPONDENT: The facts: There are plenty of physicists who do not believe in God – and not agnostic – but are atheists – who also think the evidence (red-shift, 3K radiation, etc) for the big-bang is overwhelming. This demonstrates that there are plenty of physicists that are led to endorse the big-bang theory based upon the evidence (as they see it) rather than using belief in God as evidence.
PETER: You would probably be aware that I am on record as saying that Richard was the only thorough-going atheist on the planet, so we are going to get bogged down on this point straight away. Stephen Hawkins, a self-declared atheist when asked if he believed in God is on record as saying ‘I do not believe in a personal God’ – a somewhat equivocal statement, and Einstein is on record as saying ‘I believe in Spinoza’s God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings’ and I can think of none of the major players in the formulation of the Big Bang theory who did not believe in some form of mysticism or did not have some type of spiritual or religious belief. I guess the only way one could establish that your fact is a fact is if one conducted in-depth interviews with each of the ‘plenty of physicists’ that you know to be atheists to determine whether they are thorough-going atheists, i.e. that they hold no metaphysical, mystical, spiritual or religious beliefs whatsoever.
RESPONDENT: The fact that you have gotten Stephen Hawking’s name wrong multiple occasions as ‘Stephen Hawkins’ makes me wonder whether you have difficulty typing or remembering his name – or whether you don’t really know much about what you are talking about (this is at least the third time on record you have spelled his name incorrectly as ‘Hawkins’).
PETER: By the same logic I could just as well say that someone who has misspelt the word ‘Mississippi’ as well as the word ‘encountered’ in the space of three sentences maybe doesn’t really know much about what he is talking about, but I am interested in having a sincere conversation about this topic and not in indulging in tit-for-tatting.
Spelling was never my forté, which is why I rely on the spell checker in my word processor to correct my spelling for me. Although my credibility horse has apparently already bolted, I will add ‘Stephen Hawking’ to my auto-correct.
RESPONDENT: Putting that aside: I can understand that you can ‘think of none of the major players in the formulation of the Big Bang theory who did not believe in some form of mysticism or did not have some type of spiritual or religious belief’ but it would indeed be a good idea to remain ignorant no longer about ‘major players’ that continue to ‘formulate’ and ‘buttress’ the scientific theory of the Big Bang.
PETER: Okay, but I did make the following point, which you seem to have ignored –
As such, when you claim that ‘it would indeed be a good idea (for me) to remain ignorant no longer’, on what basis you claim a superior knowledge of the beliefs or lack of beliefs of the major players – by what they have written (or not written) about their personal beliefs presumably? That’s also what I do initially but I also broaden my assessment to include what they are saying about the theoretical nature of the universe and of its supposed beginning. To ignore this evidence is to sidestep the main topic of this conversation.
RESPONDENT: I’m aware that God occupies the thoughts of Stephen Hawking – but as you yourself say – he is a ‘self-declared atheist’ and his theories are specifically designed to eliminate the need for a God from big bang comsmology –
PETER: I agree with you because Stephen Hawking is on record as saying ‘I not believe in a personal God’ so he would hardly specifically design a theory that gave credence to a personal God.
The more I have read about the history of relativistic cosmology, and most particularly in the last 50 years, it has been a progression of inventions of model universes each specifically designed to more and more distance big bang cosmology from any claims that a Divine or supernatural force was involved in the alleged beginning of the universe. This continual invention of yet more models seems to have much more to do with the age-old battle between the secular mathematical philosophers and the spiritual metaphysical philosophers for the intellectual, ontological and cosmological high ground than it has to do with anything remotely resembling authentic scientific enquiry.
But more on that later in the post.
RESPONDENT: personally, I don’t see his fetishism for talking about the ‘mind of God’ as supporting pantheistic belief – rather, it has to do with demolishing the need for a god in the big-bang theory.
PETER: Are you saying that when someone talks about wanting to know the ‘mind of God’, he is doing so in order to demolish the need for a God in his theories? Personally I find the difference between the term ‘mind of God’ and the word ‘God’ to be somewhat moot but presumably there is a difference between the two in the minds of philosophers and theoretical physicists.
RESPONDENT: Not ‘someone’ – no. I am referring specifically to Stephen Hawking in this case – I am not generalizing one bit.
PETER: Given that you object to my turn of phrase, I will rephrase it for you –
PETER: Personally I find the difference between the term ‘mind of God’ and the word ‘God’ to be somewhat moot but presumably there is a difference between the two in the minds of philosophers and theoretical physicists.
RESPONDENT: In Hawking’s case – the phrase is used somewhat ‘tongue in cheek’ – it is not to be taken literally. I also have to wonder whether it might have something to do with a willingness to be ambiguous as to exploit the public’s fascination with the divine in order to increase sales. In order to make physics interesting, it is common practice [I am not saying it’s sensible] to blur the lines between science and religion in order to increase the hype accompanying one’s writing. It might be comparable to a phrase like ‘ghost in the machine.’
PETER: Ah. So when I read the writings of Stephen Hawking and come up with the phrase ‘the mind of God’ you tell me he is using the term in ‘tongue in cheek’ fashion or that he is using the term in a non-literal meaning. And yet you have just told me –
And yet you now tell me that I should not take the words of Stephen Hawking at face value. So much for a persons atheism being ‘easily discoverable by reading their writings’, hey.
You might have noticed that the same thing happens when people come to this mailing list and say that actualism is not new to history and make reference to some teacher or some teachings. When an actualist then points out that the teacher or teaching is talking about a God by whatever name or a Greater Reality by whatever name, we are told that we are being pedantic, or we are taking the words too literally, or we are twisting their words, or that we are being defensive or being aggressive or whatever. When someone passionately holds to a belief, the very passion with which they hold to it prevents the possibility of any sensible discussion about the facts of the matter.
PETER: But then again, from what I read, Stephen Hawking’s theories have already been superseded by yet more theories specifically designed to eliminate the need for a God from the big bang cosmology.
RESPONDENT: No doubt – Hawking is not the only atheist doing big bang cosmology.
PETER: And no doubt not the only ‘atheist’ who claims to not believe in ‘a personal God’ and yet talks about ‘the mind of God’. (...)
PETER: I recently watched a TV documentary on Stephen Hawking in which a theoretical physicists made the comment that Hawking has done a disservice to science by popularising relativistic cosmology because many people have been led to believe the theories to be fact.
But then again, that is clearly not what people want to hear because they do like to hang on to their fantasies.
RESPONDENT: The facts: I know of no scientist who excludes God as part of their cosmology – who thinks the universe came ‘out of nothing.’
PETER: Which of course is not to say there aren’t any such scientists. I say this because you made the case for another point you raised on the basis that ‘there are plenty of physicists who …’
RESPONDENT: Right – people can have a variety of beliefs. My point is that people like Stephen Hawking and Steven Weinberg do not say that the universe ‘came out of nothing.’ Rather, they have theories about singularities, multiple expansions and crunches, etc – to offer.
PETER: I think you would probably agree that this is where it gets confusing because you are saying that Stephen Hawking who talks about ‘the mind of God’ is not a Creationist because he doesn’t say that the universe ‘came out of nothing’ and yet Paul Davies who also talks about the ‘Mind of God’ says –
RESPONDENT: I would venture a guess that Hawking’s ‘Mind of God’ is quite a different sort of usage than Mr. Davies’ ‘Mind of God.’ Again, my interpretation of Hawking’s usage is somewhat ‘tongue-in-cheek.’ I don’t get that impression from Davies at all.
PETER: I see that you have escaped confusion by speculating about what someone may or not mean when they use particular words. I always take the words of another at face value, unless and until I find evidence to the contrary. If I am able to I seek clarification if I see that clarification is needed. Now your point is that when Stephen Hawking uses the term ‘Mind of God’ he is using it non-literally, as in he is not envisaging that the universe came into being as a result of the creative intellectual power of a grey bearded old man sitting on a cloud, nor did he think up the physical forces and energies that are associated with the matter of the universe, as in –
Would you not agree that Stephen Hawking’s use of the term ‘Mind of God’ indicates that he sees intelligent design in the universe, not only in the matter of the physical universe but also in its supposed formation? To me his use of the term ‘Mind of God’ indicates that he thinks this supposed intelligent design is a unified design and as such the universe itself is the outcome of the creative thought of a creative thinker. Would you call this mathematical Platonism?
Now in the interest of moving the discussion forward – what do you think about mathematical Platonists? Is their view of the physical universe credible – is it fact or fiction? Do you think there is an ‘intelligent design’ that underpins the actuality of the physical universe? And if you think that there is ‘intelligent design’, does this same ‘intelligent design’ also underpin the evolutionary process of matter and animate matter on this planet?
Apparently Paul Kurtz thinks these are fair questions for a secular humanist to ask –
and for an aspiring actualist, these are questions that are ripe for finding answers to if one wants to get to the facts of the matter (or at the very least to get to the stage of establishing a prima facie case as to the facticity of the matter).
RESPONDENT: No 59, what do you think about Hawking’s and Davies’ usages of the phrase ‘Mind of God?’
PETER: If I can just pass on another hint about getting to the facts of the matter, I found that I had to do my own thinking for myself. To rely on others to do my thinking for me simply leaves me being a believer at best … or an agnostic at worst.
RESPONDENT: The mechanics of life within the planes of matter, energy time and space are bound by laws, many in the physical (physics) realm were discovered fairly recently. Many ‘discoverers’ added views such as Albert E, and more recently, Stephen Hawking, which can (relative to their field) appear to be ‘imaginary’, ‘metaphysical’ or mystical.
PETER: Neither Einstein nor Hawking work in practical empirical science but in the field of theoretical sciences, dealing with things that can neither be seen nor measured. Both men are self-proclaimed mystics, searching for the meaning of life in mathematical equations and unfathomable theories.
‘Einstein, A life in Science’, Ch. 6, by Michael White and John Gribbin Simon and Schyuster 1993
It is important to make a clear distinction as to what are physical laws – empirically measurable, clearly demonstrable and readily repeatable – and what is mere theory, postulation or assumption. I find it most telling that the clocks of the worldwide satellite navigation system were programmed according to Newtonian laws and not according to Mr. Einstein’s theory that suggests time somehow varies relative to the velocity of the clock itself. Similarly, all of the space exploration uses Newtonian physical laws and not Einstein’s esoteric theory.
A scientific theory ain’t a physical law – a theory is speculation or conjecture.
RESPONDENT: The reason I mention this is because I have discovered, without the brilliant minds that these guys were born with, as many others have, laws that transcend the ‘cultural laws’.
PETER: Theoreticians such as Mr. Einstein and Mr. Hawking and their ilk are human beings, exactly like you and I. As such, it is inevitable that they had an upbringing steeped in religious/ spiritual belief. Their theories are about the creation and ending of this eternal universe and about ‘other-worlds’, other than this infinite universe. The physical, actual universe, being eternal, has no beginning and no end and, being infinite, has no edge or outside to it.