Stephen Hawking’s book The Grand Design claims to have shown God unnecessary, or at least it seems so. But many critics disagree quite fervently, including long time partner Roger Penrose. Penrose says that M Theory, and all string theories for that matter, are purely speculative with no way of truly testing them, given that what they try to describe is unobservable and therefore, at least currently, are untestable outside of their own consistency.
But while string theories seem promising, they still don’t do what Hawking says they do. He makes the claim that given M theory, there would be 10 to the 500 possible universes, and that this constitutes a multiverse. And that given M theory, gravity would actually “cause” the universe to be created out of “nothing.” At first glance, he seems to present a decent case. Gravity has power beyond what we intially granted it, including the ability to bend light. But upon further investigation, the “nothing” he refers to is really a quantum vacuum, and that is not the “nothing” that philosophers have defined. This is a major obstacle, since the “nothing” that would have been “around” before the universe is absolutely nothing. No probabilities or chance, no particles of any sort, no gravity for that matter. A quantum vacuum simply is not nothing. And if we posit a quantum vacuum, we merely move the origin back one step and we must ask, “What caused the quantum vacuum.”
This should not come as too much of surprise, however, since early on in the book, Hawking makes the claim that philosophy is dead. And so it seems that he is quite content with his ignorance of the philosophical side of things that defines that terms and science that he himself uses.
Much of the book is quite technical, but interestingly, despite saying philosophy is dead, he gives his own shot at philosophizing and saying the way he thinks things are. Interestingly, these turn out to be quite inconsistent with his own views. He espouses a sort of anti-realism based on underdetermination, as well as determinism to the extreme. Given his view of how things really are, his model becomes merely his way of organizing his own personal sense data. The irony being that not only does this seem to undermine any claims he makes about reality (there is no God, philosophy is dead, there is a multiverse, etc.), but his staunch determinism requires that he holds that he is not free to think this for himself based on evidence, but rather that he has been determined to think and “organize his sense data” in this way because that’s simply how things are. Not the greatest way to convince others of your own beliefs, is it?….
In the end, he seems to be getting more and more desperate to justify his own disbelief, this being the latest step in that process. Despite many of those he has worked with, Penrose included, having adopted some form of theism, he has gone further and further in the opposite direction, maybe in part because of this. It is unfortunate to see such a brilliant mind squander things away, including the reputation he had built up, as many in academia have even withheld review of some of his later works do to the extremism that they present.