A note about The Grand Design

Over the past couple of days, I read Steven Hawking’s new “controversial” book, The Grand Design, in which he attempts to prove that God (or some sort of creator) is not necessary for an explanation of how the universe began or how it functions now. I’m generally a fan of Hawking: I read A Brief History of Time several years ago, and I was impressed, though I think it was so many years ago that I only understood a bit of it. I’d been seriously considering giving it another try when I heard all the hubbub about The Grand Design, in which Hawking has changed his mind about the possibility (probability?) of a creator as stated in his earlier book to a justification of his apparent atheism.

From what I gathered, Hawking’s argument boils down to this: Time functions kind of like space – it’s the fourth dimension (of eleven, according to the mysterious, super-theoretical M-theory that will supposedly unite the theory of gravity with quantum theory, which no one has been able to do yet), and when space was curled up into a tiny speck before the Big Bang, time and space could be governed by quantum theory rather than Newton’s classic theory, thus following a completely different set of rules. According to M-theory, time would bend to gravity like space bends to gravity, and since everything was so compacted with such density and strong gravity, time was bent to such a degree that it didn’t progress in the way we know it, meaning that the beginning of time we’ve all contemplated really didn’t exist in the first place, making a creator, who would start time and thus the universe, unnecessary.

Hawking’s morning talk show interviews seem to make “unnecessary” mean “impossible,” which is where my most significant problem lies. Granted, in the book, he makes no such claim. I’m not here to make an argument for or against theism; in fact, I refuse to do it. Hawking’s argument fails to convince me, or even sway me, in either direction, even assuming M-theory is correct.

Which brings me to another point: What, exactly, is M-theory? Hawking says it’s the long-sought-after unification theory of physics, that he thinks it will once and for all unite quantum theory and Newton’s gravity, that it’s not just a single theory but a combination of lots of diverse theories that overlap and make sense in a system. It requires eleven dimensions, one more than string theory’s ten (the extra seven are curled up so small we can’t see them) and claims there are billions of universes coexisting with this one that use the other dimensions and probably have different physical laws, et cetera, et cetera. I lose track when he gets to the part where time, when in the pre-Big Bang dense mass, bundles up with all the dimensions and is warped by gravity so much that it basically stops, though it doesn’t, supposedly proving that time has no beginning. I simply can’t follow the logic, though I can’t pretend to understand M-theory either.

Again, my biggest problem with this whole no-creator argument is that even if we assume M-theory is correct and that a creator isn’t necessary for the universe to exist, can we therefore claim that a creator does not exist, as Hawking has repeatedly said in interviews? I just don’t see it.

A side note: I really miss the philosophy nerds at UNO, with whom I could sit around and discuss things like this over coffee. I’ve yet to meet one philosophy nerd in Shreveport, probably because LSUS doesn’t even have a philosophy department. Which, of course, is entirely ridiculous.

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