In the chapter titled “Will artificial intelligence outsmart us?”, Hawking again claims that it is a “triumph”, that we as human beings “who are ourselves mere stardust, have come to such a detailed understanding of the universe in which we live.” (183) Again, he doesn’t clarify what he means by “triumph”. Triumph over what, exactly? What’s the triumph in just “understanding” stuff? For what purpose?Continue reading
Hawking is a huge advocate of manned spaceflight. He sees it as our only chance to escape the “almost inevitable . . . nuclear confrontation or environmental catastrophe [that] will cripple the Earth at some point in the next 1,000 years”, although he hopes that “we can avoid dropping the basket [currently containing all our “eggs”] before we learn how to escape from Earth”. (150)
At no point does he explain how, by going into space, we escape “nuclear confrontation” in space. This is a real possibility in the future, as it’s improbable we will become sinless this side of eternity. Hawking obviously hopes that the exploration, use and colonisation of space and extra-terrestrial objects will be advantageous for human development and flourishing. And he is probably right. However, he is not helping this cause by saying we need to do this to “escape” something. The general advice for anyone moving places, jobs etc. is that they should make sure of what they are moving towards before they start moving away from.
Considering that, let’s see how Hawking tries to convince us of space colonisation, in the chapter titled “Should we colonise space?”Continue reading
“Will we survive on earth?”, Hawking asks in the title to the 7th chapter of his book. Which begs the question, which he never attempts to answer in his book, why we should be worried about the survival of “parasites” such as humans. Let us however sincerely assume that Hawking hoped that we would survive. After all, he left children and grandchildren behind, and hoped to be remembered by them as a great dad and granddad. (247)
The dangers to our survival, according to Hawking, are these: Climate change and other environmental problems such as deforestation, disease, famine, and lack of water. These are all caused, he says, by over-population: “The Earth is becoming too small for us.” The reason for this claim is that “[o]ur physical resources are being drained at an alarming rate.” (147). This is a contestable claim, as the prices for raw materials have decreased over many decades. It is only incontestable considering the finite size of our planet: There is a finite amount of natural resources that make up the planet earth, because the earth is a finite sphere.Continue reading
Hawking begins his chapter “Are we alone in the universe?” by stating that the behaviour of the human race “throughout history has been pretty stupid and not calculated to aid the survival of the species.” (67) This is somewhat strange, some might even say ungrateful, coming from a man who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease at the age of 21 but, with the help of modern medicine and technology, not only survived to the age of 76 but lead a productive life, advancing our knowledge of the universe, in particular of black holes.
However, when writing those words Hawking was just getting started. He then says that “most forms of life, ourselves included, are parasites, in that they feed off and depend for their survival on other forms of life.” (69, my emphasis). Quite apart from this being incorrect biologically, and a surprising mistake for a scientist to make, this statement reveals a deeply misanthropic mindset. The above statement about “stupid history” was not a one-off, not a statement simply made to score some points with the upper classes, amongst which he often circulated, many of whom may look down on the less fortunate. No, that statement was the result of the same mindset: We humans are stupid parasites.
However, Hawking can’t make up his mind. In the introduction to his book, where he calls humans “mere collections of fundamental particles of nature”, he expresses wonderment at the fact that we have nonetheless, “been able to come to an understanding of the laws governing us, and our universe”. Moreover, this fact is a “triumph”, he claims, without saying over what. (21)
He claims, believably, to be very concerned about how we will feed an ever-growing population, how we will provide clean water, generate renewable energy, prevent and cure disease and slow down global climate change. However, he hopes that science and technology will provide solutions. He adds this appeal: “Let us fight for every woman and every man to have the opportunity to live healthy, secure lives, full of opportunity and love.” (22) Again, this is strange. Why would anyone who calls humans “parasites” with a “stupid history” wish that they succeed?Continue reading
Hawking is eager to say that the universe could have started by chance. The fact that it “started” at all is a big concession from materialistic scientists. It leads to the questions “What was before?” and “How did it start?” (Even if not on purpose, i.e. the dreaded word “design”).
In doing this, Hawking misrepresents the creation story in the Bible. To be precise, he doesn’t mention it at all in this book. Instead, he describes the creation story of the Boshongo people of central Africa, which he describes thus: “[I]n the beginning, there was only darkness, water and the great god Bumba. One day Bumba in pain from a stomach ache, vomited up the sun. The sun dried up some of the water, leaving land. Still in pain, Bumba vomited up the Moon, the stars and then some animals – the leopard, the crocodile, the turtle and, finally, man.” (42)
He brings it in the context of the discussion about whether or not the universe had a beginning. I’ll return to that shortly. First, however, I want to highlight something else. And that is the question of purpose or design. A point Hawking studiously avoids. I have a hunch he may have chosen the above story because of its similarity to the biblical creation story. Maybe the unspoken subtext is: The biblical story of Genesis is nothing special, here’s another example where a god is hanging around with water and darkness and then creates a few things, in a certain order, ending with humans. Assuming this is what Hawking had in mind, there needs to be a Christian answer.Continue reading
Determinism is a hugely important aspect of modern science. We call the laws of science “laws” because we assume they do not change. Therefore, once we know the circumstances of a situation with sufficient detail, we can, with the help of these laws, determine what is going to happen next. For example, if we know the law of gravity, and the mass of two objects, we know exactly how they will move in relation to each other – whether one will fall on the other, or they will orbit each other, or just swing by each other once.
With that in mind, French scientist Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749 – 1827) postulated that, at least theoretically, everything could be pre-determined. Here is how Stephen Hawking, in his book “Brief Answers to Big Questions” paraphrased what Laplace said in this regard: “[I]f at one time we knew the positions and speeds of all the particles in the universe, then we would be able to calculate their behaviour at any other time in the past or future.” (90)
Then, Hawking comments: “I don’t think that Laplace was claiming that God didn’t exist. It is just that God doesn’t intervene to break the laws of science. That must be the position of every scientist.” (90, my emphasis) However, nowhere in the book does Hawking come up with a reason why this “must” be the position of “every” scientist.Continue reading
Shortly before he died in 2018, esteemed scientist Stephen Hawking had finished writing a book, which was published just after his death. Its title: “Brief Answers to the Big Questions”. It is basically an attempt by an atheistic, materialistic scientist to make sense of a world (as he sees it) without God. Having read the book, I concluded that there are some large holes in his reasoning and so I resolved to write a review. It turned out to be fairly long, so I have divided it into six parts:
- What happened to scientific determinism?
- In the beginning, Chance – or God?
- Human beings are parasites – or the image of God?
- Despite all that, let’s save the world – ok, but why?
- Let’s colonise space – for what reason?
- Prevent AI from outsmarting us – but will it?
I wrote about each of these parts in separate entries. The page numbers mentioned are from the John Murray paperback edition from 2020. As far as I know, the text on each page is identical to that in the original hardback edition of 2018.