“Ever since the dawn of civilization, people have not been content to see events as unconnected and inexplicable. They have craved an understanding of the underlying order in the world. Today we still yearn to know why we are here and where we came from. Humanity’s deepest desire for knowledge is justification enough for our continuing quest. And our goal is nothing less than a complete description of the universe we live in.”
― Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time
As a person not versed in physics, a layman, this book offers insight to many interesting concepts like theory of relativity and quantum theory. It is an old book by scientific standards, having been published almost thirty years ago. Albeit, it sheds light on those concepts that are very foreign to us non-physicists. And of course the book ask many important questions about the existence of God and if such existence is even important.
This book explores the different mind sets of the believer in revelation and the scientist. The first having a feeling of absolute knowledge through this revelation and with this “absolute knowledge” an absolute arrogance that many of us have encountered with the idea “I know, and those who do not agree with my belief are wrong”. The second, the scientist, on the other hand looks for evidence and has a willingness to abandon a theory if he finds new evidence against said theory. Davies touches on the contradictions of religion and how through the advance of science, there has been a steady decline in affiliation to traditional religious institutions.
He also explores concepts like the Second Law of Thermodynamics and how according to this law: the universe did not always exist. Of course the Big Bang is also mentioned, as well as an expanding universe and the study of infinite.
He makes a very interesting point on how we cannot rely on ordinary experience as a guide:
Failure of the human imagination to grasp certain crucial features of reality is a warning that we cannot expect to base great religious truths (such as nature of the creation) on simple-minded ideas of space, time and matter, gleaned from daily experience
Further on he argues against the cosmological argument that the universe must have a cause and that this cause is the universe itself.
What caused God? “God does not need a cause”. He is a necessary being, whose cause is found within himself” Why can’t the universe exist without an external cause? Does it require any greater suspension of disbelief to suppose that the universe causes itself than to suppose that God causes himself?
We read explanations of space-time and how it started with the big bang. Cause and effect being temporal concepts, were meaningless before the big bang. The big bang was the singularity that started space-time and according to Hawking’s “principle of ignorance” is the ultimate unknowable.
Quantum theory, Zen, unpredictability, uncertainty principle of Heissenberg, time and Schrödinger’s cat are also discussed as well as multiple universes.
In chapter ten there is a very entertaining discussion on freewill and determinism, as well as the long standing debate on whether God can or cannot be omnipotent and benevolent at the same time. “Is God free to prevent evil? If he is omnipotent, yes. Why then does he fail to do so?”
A chapter dedicated to the structure of matter, introduces us to the sub-atomic realm and the quantum effects at this minute scale.He describes how the smaller the system we study, the broader the principles discovered.
We continue reading of such things as a “horizon in space”, beyond which no observer in the universe can see. Talk of miracles and how if such events that violate the laws of nature could be definitively verified they would indeed provide evidence both for God’s existence and his concern for the world.
He goes on to explain how, thanks to Quantum gravity we can in fact get something from nothing. The universe is the supreme free lunch if you will. Davies proceeds to give a recount of what the end of the universe might be and a view into the conception of nature in the eyes of the physicist.
With the knowledge of how the physicists sees nature, one can conclude, as Davies does, that physics cannot tackle questions about purpose or morality.
In the end, this is a work that gives those of us not immersed in physics the opportunity to get some understanding on the concepts of modern physics and shed some light on the concept of God and universe. It bring to light the great differences between religion and science:
…dogmatic rigidity means that every new discovery and every novel idea is likely to pose a threat to religion, whereas new facts and ideas are the very life-blood of science. So it is that scientific discoveries have, over the years, set science and religion into conflict.
I enjoyed reading this book very much and will certainly take a look at other works by Paul Davies.
See you next time.