The Grand Design, by Stephen Hawking and Leonard MLodinow: A Book Review

Justin Hopkins

The church is familiar with the narrative of the Big Bang and has spent a few decades learning how to refute that theory. It would seem that we’ve done a good enough job that the leading atheistic minds have abandoned the Big Bang and moved on to a new theory, known as String Theory, M-Theory, or the Multiverse Theory, which he hails as “the only viable candidate for a complete ‘theory of everything’” (emphasis his).

FROM THE DUST JACKET

The dust jacket sets this book forth as the only plausible explanation for the origin of the universe and everything in it other than the idea of a benevolent creator.

GENRE

Dewey Classification 530.142 (Theories of Mathematical Physics)

LOC Classification QC794.6 Physics > Nuclear & Particle Physics > Radioactivity > Grand Unified Theories

CONTENTS & SUMMARY

  1. The Mystery of Being (3)
  2. The Rule of Law (13)
  3. What Is Reality? (37)
  4. Alternative Histories (61)
  5. The Theory of Everything (85)
  6. Choosing Our Universe (121)
  7. The Apparent Miracle (147)
  8. The Grand Design (169)

Chapter One begins by asserting that Philosophy is dead because it has not kept up with modern science, and as such, scientists are the ones who hold the answers that explain the existence of all things. Hawking then goes on to explain the basics of Quantum Physics. He explains that his theories will be based on the (dead?) philosophy of model-dependent realism, which he defines as ascribing the quality of absolute truth to any information received through the five senses. Finally, Hawking sets forth M-Theory as the idea that he is championing.

Chapter Two begins by recounting a Viking myth that explained the movement of the sun and moon through the sky. He sprinkles these gems throughout the book in an apparent attempt to marginalize all religious thought as ignorant and unworthy of serious consideration. He goes on to explain that as patterns in nature were discovered beginning with Greek philosophy, that laws of nature could replace the capricious rule of “gods.” He concludes by laying out scientific determinism as the basis for the remainder of the book.

Chapter Three begins by asking the question, “But how do we know we have the true, undistorted picture of reality?” (p. 39) He explains that our perception of reality is affected by the lens, or (dead?) philosophy through which we view it. He makes the concession that the model of reality in which God created time and the universe is just as possible as the model that he advocates. He then sets forth his (admittedly subjective [p. 52]) standards for validating a model of viewing reality:

  1. Is it elegant?
  2. Does it contain few arbitrary or adjustable elements?
  3. Does it agree with and explain all existing observations?
  4. Does it make detailed predictions about future observations that can disprove the model?

Finally, he concludes that no single model, or theory, can explain everything. Rather, a “network of theories called M-theory,” is the explanation that he uses.

Chapter Four lays out the uncertainty principle as it relates to quantum physics and the Buckyball experiments. This principle forces Hawking to alter his philosophy of materialistic determinism to state that “the laws of nature determine the probabilities of various futures and pasts rather than determining the future and past with certainty” (p. 72). Another key principle of quantum physics that he discusses is the idea that observing a system alters its course. Even though he demonstrates that quantum physics does not apply to large objects, toward the end of this chapter he begins applying principles of quantum physics to the universe as a whole.

Chapter Five begins by relating a brief history of the discovery of scientific laws and focusing on Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. He then dives deep into theories of quantum mechanics, leading to the introduction of String Theory, which involves the space having not three, but eleven dimensions, one of which is time itself. From there it is a small jump to posit the idea that there are actually multiple universes, each with its own set of natural laws.

Chapter Six concludes from the fact that the universe is expanding, that there must be a point in the past in which it was infinitesimally small: The Big Bang. From there, he tries to pass quickly over a significant concession. “Since we don’t have a complete quantum theory of gravity, the details are still being worked out, and physicists aren’t sure exactly how inflation happened. But according to the theory…” (p. 129). Inflation and The Big Bang are critical to this theory because the universe must have at some point been small enough for quantum mechanics to be valid. Another necessary point to his argument is the fluidity of time. If time is immovable, with a beginning and an end, then Hawing says God is a necessary fact. However, even if time is fluid, this does not rule out the possibility of God.

While the Feynman sum of Quantum Physics, applied to the universe, implies the possibility of a multitude of universes, all springing into existence at the same time, each different from our own. However, because observation changes things, and we have observed our universe being as it is, that has become reality. “The histories that contribute to the Feynman sum don’t have an independent existence but depend on what is being measured. We create history by our observation, rather than history creating us.” (p. 140)

Chapter Seven begins by enumerating all of the circumstances in our universe, solar system, and the planet which “just happen” to be exactly what is needed for our existence. However, these “coincidences” are easy to understand because our universe is one of many thousands that exist, and our observation of it necessitates its existence.

Chapter Eight returns to basic existential questions. “Why is there something rather than nothing? Why do we exist? Why this particular set of laws and not some other?” (p. 171). Hawking notes that some claim that God is the simple answer to each of these questions, but says that “it is possible to answer these questions purely within the realm of science, and without invoking any divine beings.” (p. 172) He draws his thoughts to a close by noting that “M-Theory is the only candidate for a complete theory of the universe … and this has yet to be proved.” (p. 181)

Key Ideas

M-Theory is the basic idea that our universe is actually not as unique as it might seem because it is simply one among many thousands created by random chance. M-Theory, however, is not testable, and even if it were, allows for any possible result, and therefore is not falsifiable. It also is dependent upon String Theory, which is also not testable but does not require M-Theory.

Because M-Theory is based on String Theory, and both theories are not falsifiable, or even testable, they fall outside the realm of true empirical science. Rather, they are a segment of what is known as “theoretical physics.” By allowing a series of assumptions which are not proven, neither can be, the author comes to the conclusion that our universe exists as one among many. However, he ultimately fails to answer the question of why and how our universe (and all the others) came to be. Rather than “solving the problem” of beginning, it was simply moved further away in space and time. Now, rather than not being able to explain the origin of one universe, he stands unable to explain the origin of many thousands of universes.

Finally, M-Theory suggests that anything that might be possible will eventually happen. As Brother Jeff Miller points out, this is like arguing that given enough monkeys and enough typewriters, you will eventually produce the complete works of Shakespeare. However, even granted this position, it might be possible that a God like the one described in the Bible could exist (which possibility the author concedes multiple times in the book). Since that is possible, then according to M-Theory, in one of the many universes, that God would exist, and since that God is omnipresent across both time and space, He would exist in every universe, including our own.

Main Arguments

  1. Philosophy is dead, and science holds all the answers to life’s deepest questions.
  2. Therefore, the existence of the universe is approached from a philosophy of materialistic determinism and model-dependent reality.
  3. If the existence of the universe can be explained without invoking supernatural beings, then there is no reason to accept the existence of the supernatural.
  4. Although it is not testable, and cannot be proven, M-Theory could explain the existence of the universe without the supernatural.
  5. However, M-Theory demands the existence of dimensions and universes which are outside of this natural universe, i.e. supernatural.

Notable Quotes

“Traditionally these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead.” (p. 5)

“There may be different ways in which one could model the same physical situation … one cannot be said to be more real than the other; rather we are free to use whichever model is most convenient.” (p. 7)

“Ignorance of nature’s ways led people in ancient times to invent gods to lord it over every aspect of human life.” (p. 17)

“If nature is governed by laws, three questions arise:

  1. What is the origin of the laws?
  2. Are there any exceptions to the laws, i.e., miracles?
  3. Is there only one set of possible laws?

… The answer traditionally given to the first question … was that the laws were the word of God… SO if we involve God in the answer to the first question, the real crunch comes with the second question: Are there miracles, exceptions to the laws?” (p. 29)

“Scientific determinism: Given the state of the universe at one time, a complete set of laws fully determines both the future and the past. This would exclude the possibility of miracles or an active role for God … It is, in fact, the basis of all modern science, and a principle that is important throughout this book.” (p. 30)

“… so it seems that we are no more than biological machines and that free will is just an illusion… since we cannot solve the equation that determines our behavior, we use the effective theory that people have free will.” (pp. 32-33)

“It might be that to describe the universe, we have to employ different theories in different situations. Each theory may have its own version of reality, but according to model-dependent realism, that is acceptable so long as the theories agree in their predictions whenever they overall.” (p. 117)

“The problem is, for our theoretical models of inflation to work, the initial state of the universe had to be set up in a very special and highly improbable way.” (p. 130)

“Time, however seemed to be like a model railway track. If it had a beginning, there would have to have been someone (i.e. God) to set the trains going … The realization that time can behave like another direction of space means one can get rid of the problem of time having a beginning.” (p. 134)

“We are the product of quantum fluctuations in the very early universe. If one were religious, one could say that God really does play dice.” (p. 139)

“The fine-tuning in the laws of nature can be explained by the existence of multiple universes.” (p. 165)

“M-Theory is the only candidate for a complete theory of the universe … and this has yet to be proved.” (p. 181)

Value of the Book

The ideas set forth in the book are touted as the best and only atheistic answers to the questions concerning the origin and nature of the universe. As such, it behooves us as Christians to understand those ideas, and be able to think honestly and critically about them. Being able to enter a meaningful discussion about these theories, and then to demonstrate the logical fallacies of these ideas may very well be just the thing that is needed to bring a soul to Christ, or to keep one from leaving the Faith.

Works Cited

Hawking, Stephen and Mlodinow, Leonard. 2010. The Grand Design. First. New York : Bantam Books, 2010. p. 198. 9780553805376.

Miller, Jeff. 2017. 7 Reasons the Multiverse Is Not a Valid Alternative to God. apologeticspress.org. [Online] 2017. [Cited: January 11, 2018.] http://www.apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?category=12&article=5396#.

—. 2013. Can Quantum Mechanics Produce a Universe from Nothing? apologeticspress.org. [Online] 2013. [Cited: January 11, 2018.] http://apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?category=9&article=4584&topic=93#.



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