Thursday, September 2, 2010

A category mistake

According to reports in today's newspapers, in a new book co-authored with Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design, Stephen Hawking writes, 'Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.'

If there is nothing then there is no law of gravity. If there is no law of gravity, then the universe cannot create itself from nothing as a result of the law of gravity. Hawking appears to think that nothing is a kind of something. But something (even a set of laws) is precisely what nothing is the opposite of.

Those of a scientistic world view will try and argue that gravity does not depend on matter, that 'laws' and 'forces' can exist even when there is nothing. This is because they confuse the category 'nothing' with the category 'no material thing'. But nothing refers to the complete lack of anything, whether material, immaterial, whether a physical object or an idea, or a law, or a force.

If gravity exists without matter, then there is not nothing even if there is no matter, in which case the universe does not create itself from nothing. What Hawking appears to be describing is the mechanism by which the material universe is generated. He is in fact unwittingly putting forward a proof of the existence of a Creator, since he suggests that the universe requires 'something' to exist in order for it to be generated, 'something' that exists even when there is nothing. This 'something' must be 'something' the existence of which explains any mechanism of creation. That's what is meant by God as Creator.

That nothing is a kind of something is a category mistake, to which physicists seem to be particularly prone.

1 comment:

  1. "Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could..." In the words of the song.


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