Science pushes back theology a bit more

September 4, 2010 • 10:03 am

There’s been a lot more brouhaha than I expected about Stephen Hawking’s declaration this week that the universe had a perfectly naturalistic, non-Goddy origin.  I suppose it’s because of Hawking’s big name, which gives his pronouncements the gravitas of a latter-day Einstein.  So now that the idea of “multiverses”—multiple universes—is becoming more mainstream, and the origins of our own universe are swimming into scientific ken, what’s a believer to do?  Over at the Guardian, physicist and Templeton Prize winner Paul Davies is on the case, doing the religious two-step:

1. Nothing new here! Just trot out our favorite Accommodater, the ever-prescient St. Augustine:

. . . there was no time “before” the big bang. The idea is by no means new. In the fifth century, St Augustine of Hippo wrote that “the universe was created with time and not in time”.

Religious people often feel tricked by this logic. They envisage a miracle-working God dwelling within the stream of time for all eternity and then, for some inscrutable reason, making a universe (perhaps in a spectacular explosion) at a specific moment in history.

That was not Augustine’s God, who transcended both space and time. Nor is it the God favoured by many contemporary theologians.

2. There’s still room for God! He’s in the laws of physics!

According to folklore the French physicist Pierre Laplace, when asked by Napoleon where God fitted into his mathematical account of the universe, replied: “I had no need of that hypothesis.” Although cosmology has advanced enormously since the time of Laplace, the situation remains the same: there is no compelling need for a supernatural being or prime mover to start the universe off. But when it comes to the laws that explain the big bang, we are in murkier waters.

And when those murkier waters clear, revealing no god in the depths, Davies will find Him somewhere else.

17 thoughts on “Science pushes back theology a bit more

  1. As Bagginini said in his recent article, “Replace Yaweh with the deist God and the Bible would make less sense than if you’d substituted Brian for Jesus.”

    How desperately do Christians have to be for support to think that this Prime Mover-esque deist god could ever resemble anything in the bible?

  2. Religious people often feel tricked by this logic. They envisage a miracle-working God dwelling within the stream of time for all eternity and then, for some inscrutable reason, making a universe (perhaps in a spectacular explosion) at a specific moment in history.

    That was not Augustine’s God, who transcended both space and time. Nor is it the God favoured by many contemporary theologians.

    So prior to creation their god was instead completely frozen, incapable of acting (which takes time) or thinking (which takes time)? Davies and all those sophistimacated theologicans can talk about their god “transcending” space and time, but unless they unpack that notion in some intelligible way, it’s just more obfuscating bullshit.

      1. At the very least it’s an apt description of theology and apologetic philosophy.

        Sometimes I wonder when philosophy is going to revoke the philosopher’s license of apologists. They must be aware where most of the bad reputation of their field comes from.

  3. 1. Why is Augustine an expert on the origins of the universe? Did god tell him so?

    2. Davies: Hawkings is WRONG! (as per #1) There is so a god who created the universe. And although god isn’t necessary to create the universe, as Hawkings states, god had to make up the rules!

    If he’s a physicist, I’m not hiring him. Imagine a rocket being launched by the grace of allah …

    1. Imagine a rocket being launched by the grace of allah …

      We’ve seen a few planes flown by the grace of allah and that didn’t turn out so well.

      1. Looks like a change of focus there – if you like, from “powered” to “controlled”. A rocket that was launched by god-power would stay firmly on the ground, and a plane that required a god to stay aloft would plummet into the dirt.

        The planes you’re referring to were if anything *piloted* by the grace of Allah, which is something different again. That means idiot hijackers with weapons, nothing more.

      2. The hijackers still had to go to flight school to learn how to pilot the planes. Clearly, Allah wasn’t capable of revealing the knowledge of piloting to them.

        1. The christian god would have necessarily been non committal or else joyous regarding the steps leading to the events as well.

    2. Why is Augustine an expert on the origins of the universe? Did god tell him so?

      Because in hindsight we can see that, on this case at least, it turns out he was closer to being right than other theologians. Therefore it must be because he was a genius and divinely inspired (but don’t bother to look at anything else he was saying – they were probably illinformed guesses).

  4. Paul Davies is a goddam embarrasment, he’s Australian unfortunately. He was well thought of when he was a physicist, that was a long time ago now, these days he’s just a wooist. I don’t think he’s doing his legacy any favours.

  5. I somehow doubt Lawrence Krauss (who works in the same department as Davies if I recall) would agree with him…

  6. [quote]And when those murkier waters clear, revealing no god in the depths, Davies will find Him somewhere else.[/quote]

    nice…

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