Hawking's Universe #6

Keenan Dungey (Keenan.Dungey@furman.edu)
Tue, 16 Feb 1999 10:54:35 -0500

Dear list,

Here's some cosmology to add to our discussion of grapenuts. This is
the FINAL review (finally) from the Hawking series shown on PBS over a year
ago. I've seen the videos in the PBS catalogue, so this review may still
be useful for people considering buying the videos. Also, this episode
raises questions that many of us may have thoughts about. For example,
yesterday Bert Massie wrote that science can't see beyond the Big Bang.
Although I agree, some scientists don't. According to this episode,
cosmologists are trying to explain the Big Bang naturalistically.
I welcome any responses you have to this review.

God bless,
Keenan

Hawking's Universe #6
An Answer to Everything

This last episode of the series is perhaps the best one. Although
overdramaticized and overconfident in current theories, it presents the
pros and cons of various theories of everything (TOE). Like the other
episodes, hoaky music and special effects detract from fascinating
interviews with the actual scientists working on the theories. TOEs are
the attempt of modern physics to answer the simple question, "How did the
Big Bang begin?" Perhaps, by discovering the physical laws which determine
how the Big Bang works, we can explain the entire Universe (refer to
Episode 2 on the development of the Big Bang theory).
Right now, physics can explain the macro world and the micro world.
Quantum mechanics and general relativity give good but incomplete pictures
of universe, since they're incompatible. Einstein's instinct was that
there should be a unifying theory: "I shall never believe that God plays
dice with the world." No one else at the time shared his view, and he died
with his work unfinished.
The current TOEs are described non-mathematically: inflationary
theory, quantum gravity, evolutionary theory and Superstring theory. Their
major proponents are interviewed: Alan Guth, Andrei Linde, Hawking (of
course), Lee Smolin from Pennsylvania State and Edward Witten from the
Institute for Advanced Study. It's hard to judge the TOEs presented in
this episode (I guess that's good, Hawking doesn't bias the presentation
toward his pet theory) due to the reliance on analogies and the lack of
experimental evidence.
For example, one of the theories I hadn't heard of before was the
evolutionary model of Universe formation. Since Darwinism explains the
complexity of the biological world so well (according to Smolin) maybe
similar mechanisms of random mutation and natural selection have produced
the complex universe we observe. A slightly different version of this is
Linde's proposal of self-reproducing Universes. But whether Darwinism has
the power to truly explain biological complexity, much less the entire
universe, is still under debate.[1] This theory just sounds like a fancy
rephrasing of what any naturalistic theory is: a mixture of chance and
determinism (lower case).[2]
Now that we're talking about current science and meeting real people,
human stories emerge. Linde struggled with depression from Soviet
political pressure to silence his science. Also, ethical questions arise.
When is a theory ready to be published. For Linde, he wouldn't publish his
version of inflationary theory until all the details were worked out. And
so Guth published first, despite the fact that he knew inflation didn't
predict the universe as we know it.
According to this show, we may soon know which TOE is most correct.
Neil Turok from Cambridge University is in charge of The Planck Explorer, a
satellite which will make a high resolution map of the primeval radiation
from the Big Bang within the next ten years. Supposedly, this level of
detail will provide experimental evidence to differentiate between the
possible theories.
The narrator states, "The time may soon be at hand to know the
Ultimate Truth." Hawking finishes the episode (and series) with the
following observation: We could have the complete theory in a few
years..."perhaps the ultimate triumph of science. But knowing how the
Universe works is not enough to tell us why it exists. To find the answer
to that question would be to know the mind of God."
Even knowing the how can give us theological implications. For
example, Guth points out that the expansion rate of the universe is tuned
just right to balance between flying apart and collapsing back together
(refer to Episode 4 on the dark matter problem). Hugh Ross uses this fine
tuning in his argument for an intelligent designer.[3]
This episode presents many questions for us to ponder: how did the Big
Bang begin, have there been other Big Bangs, how can we understand the
complex universe we find ourselves in, will we ever have a complete picture
of the universe, if we have a completely "natural" picture is God really
out of the picture, when is it ethical for us to publish our scientific
results, etc? If you don't watch any other episode of this series, I
recommend this one.

1. _Darwin's Black Box_ 1996 Michael Behe, Touchstone.
2. _Putting it All Together: Seven Patterns for Relating Science and
Theology_ 1994 Richard Bube, Academic Press
3. _The Fingerprint of God_ 1991 Hugh Ross, Promise Publishing Co.