Sunday, March 7, 2010

What place, then, for a creator?

Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time is a fascinating book. I can't imagine there's a better primer out there explaining space-time to ordinary folks like you and me. I'm glad I've read (almost finished) it.

I must admit, though, to my bias. I believe in a creator. I'm not a literal Biblical creationist in the sense of believing that in the span of 6 earth days as we know them God created everything we see. But I do believe He is the creator in some form or fashion.

I was concerned that reading something like this book might shake my faith. I feared that rational, scientific data and argument would punch holes in my worldview, my cosmological view and, ultimately, my personal faith. Much to my surprise, Dr. Hawking, quite inadvertently, has bolstered my belief in God.

How could that be? Hasn't our modern understanding -- knowledge -- of the universe eliminated the need for a creator? Surprisingly, the view Dr. Hawking refers to as the "classical" modle of the universe, i.e. that, it is finite, has boundaries and presently expanding at the same rate in all directions, is the adopted position of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Vatican embraced wholeheartedly the "Big Bang Theory" because it holds that the universe had a beginning, precisely what is suggested in Genesis. Dr. Hawking would agree that a boundary-less space-time, begun at a point of singularity, would suggest the necessity of an "appeal to God" as the spark (since there is no better explanation, seemingly.)

Not surprisingly, Dr. Hawking and others in the scientific community are not content to leave it at that. Perhaps they are right to continue to probe these questions. However, Dr. Hawking and some colleagues seem hell-bent to get around what the observable universe shows.

This is not the place to address Dr. Hawking's "proposal" in detail. Frankly, I am not sure I could explain it to anyone, certainly not in a more intelligent, easy-to-understand way then he does in the book. I suggest you read Chapter 8 to get a grasp of what the "proposal" is.

To grossly oversimply his position, Dr. Hawking argues that any understanding of the universe should incorporate relativity and quantum mechanics. Because the laws to which the universe now holds did not apply in the trillionths of seconds after the start of the "Big Bang," a new model should be constructed such that the laws always held. To do that, Dr. Hawking proposed an infinite universe with a boundary, a universe which has always been:

The idea that space and time may form a closed surface without boundary also has profound implications for the role of God in the affairs of the universe. With the success of scientific theories in describing events, most people have come to believe that God allows the universe to evolve according to a set of laws and does not intervene in the universe to break these laws. However, the laws do not tell us what the universe should have looked like when it started - it would still be up to God to wind up the clockwood and choose how to start it off. So long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator. But if the universe is really completely self-contained, having no boundaries or edge, it would have neither beginning nor end: it would simply be. What place, then, for a creator? (Hawking, The Illustrated A Brief History of Time, 1996, p. 181.)

As of the time of writing the book, Dr. Hawking was careful to say, "I'd like to emphasize that this idea that time and space should be finite 'without boundary' is just a proposal. It cannot be deduced from some other principal." (Hawking, p. 175).

So what's the harm in this proposal? I suppose there is no harm in us humans asking these questions and coming up with the best answers that can be deduced. My gripe (among many), if you will, is that scientists, often in their arrogance, fail to explain that how thin some of the evidence is for their conclusions. Dr. Hawking admits that observable universe lines up with the "classical" model. Why abadon a model that fits the evidence for one that is purely theoretical and, worse yet, not supported by the evidence?

Maybe I am naive or just ignorant. I'd not be shocked if I turned out to be both. But I was surprised to see that Dr. Hawking's proposal is based on "imaginary numbers" and simple "mathematical devices" he admits are "tricks":

That is to say, for the purposes of the calculation one must measure time using imaginary numbers, rather than real ones. This has an interesting effect on space-time: the distinction between time and space disappears completely. A space-time in which events have imaginary values of the time coordinate is said to be Euclidean, after the ancient Greek Euclid, who founded the study of the geometry of two-dimensional surfaces. What we now call Euclidean space-time is very similar except that it has four dimensions instead of two. In Euclidean space-time there is no difference between the time direction and directions
in space. On the other hand, in real space-time, in which events are
labeled by ordinary, real values of the time coordinate, it is easy to tell
the difference – the time direction at all points lies within the light
cone, and space directions lie outside. In any case, as far as everyday
quantum mechanics is concerned, we may regard our use of imaginary time and Euclidean space-time as merely a mathematical device (or trick) to calculate answers about real space-time.
The book details the reliance on "imaginary numbers." Again, I suggest you look more closely at it if you want your own understanding. Still, it seems to me that an appeal to numbers that do not exist and which are not part of "real space-time," i.e. the space-time in which we actually exist, seems like foolishness at best and bad science at worst.

Paranoia might be driving my feelings on this. But I can't help but feel this type of scientific approach is all some kind of shell game, designed to direct attention away from the evidence of divine intervention in our universe. It appears that science simply isn't content to coexist with belief in the Almighty (or an almighty), even when the evidence dictates it should.

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