I just finished reading Douglas Preston’s book Blasphemy. I’m a big fan of Preston’s works. They are mostly thrillers, and are known for their thorough background research in the more technical sections. This book, while still holding to much of Preston’s formula, departs from his norm by vearing into the world of metaphysics, religion and ethics. In a way, this is new ground for him. At least in print. He has dabbled in the Pendergast novels with Eastern religions, but this type of metaphysical tour de force is out of the ordinary for him. So how does his treatment of these areas compare to his highly acclaimed technical research? I would say poorly. And believe me. I’m being kind.
I will not give you a story synopsis. You can read it here if you want. I’m more interested in the ideas. The book can be best described as a novelized Cristopher Hitchens lecture. Take everything you know about the neo-atheist movement’s talking points and you will find them romanticized in this book. It’s so bad (for lack of a better term) that the book was hard to listen to in spots. It’s not just that “religion”(read, Christianity) is worthless or irrelevant, it’s that it’s evil and should be eradicated. That’s the tone throughout the entire work. That’s what makes it Hitchens-esque. So just what is so poorly handled in the book? Let me give you the high points.
Firstly, the idea that the big-bang is totally incompatible with creation theory permeates the book. This is something that has troubled me for quite a while now. There is a concerted effort on the part of the physics elite to baptize the big-bang back into the fold of atheism. And to a large degree, they are being successful at it. But the history of the big bang is wrought with hostility from the atheist camp. The big-bang/expanding universe idea was, from it’s inception, viewed as a threat to the uniformitarian view of natural science. Just look at what the big bang is. It says, in effect, that the universe exploded into existence from nothing at a fixed point of time in history. This fixed point of space-time is known commonly as a “singularity”. The threat to natural science was always that “something from nothing” is inexplainable apart from an outside creative force(or God). Take these references from Wikipedia:
Nobel Prize physicist Hannes Alfven considered the Big Bang to be a scientific myth devised to explain creation. He held that “There is no rational reason to doubt that the universe has existed indefinitely, for an infinite time. It is only myth that attempts to say how the universe came to be, either four thousand or twenty billion years ago” . Alfvén and colleagues proposed the Alfvén-Klein model as an alternative cosmological theory.
Other astronomers, such as Halton Arp or Sir Fred Hoyle, are also known for their rejection of the Big Bang theory. Hoyle, one of the most vocal critics of the theory, was also ironically responsible for coining the term “Big Bang”. The theory had previously been known as the “Dynamic Evolving Model”, but Hoyle referred to it as the “Big Bang” in a series of radio presentations on different scientific topics. Hoyle was also a co-creator the Steady State theory, which was meant as an alternative to the Big Bang, along with fellow scientists Hermann Bondi and Thomas Gold.
The Big Bang is a scientific theory, and as such stands or falls by its agreement with observations. But as a theory which addresses, or at least seems to address, the origins of reality, it has always been entangled with theological and philosophical implications. In the 1920s and ’30s almost every major cosmologist preferred an eternal universe, and several complained that the beginning of time implied by the Big Bang imported religious concepts into physics; this objection was later repeated by supporters of the steady state theory. This perception was enhanced by the fact that Georges Lemaître, who put the theory forth, was a Roman Catholic priest.
Much time and effort was spent on the part of naturalists to disprove the big bang, and consequently, the expanding universe. But now that it’s truth is virtually undeniable, it’s time for physics to bring it into the fold and sweep the sordid past under the rug. And Preston does his best to run with that notion in Blasphemy. One of the characters actually said that Stephen Hawking had proved, through his equations, how the universe could spring into being from nothing. This is either wishful thinking on Preston’s part, or intentional mis-information. Hawking has done nothing of the sort. Now, I’m no physicist, but I do know how to read, and I can understand a well-explained argument. Read Hawking’s words for yourself:
“Only if we could picture the universe in terms of imaginary time would there be no singularities . . . . When one goes back to the real time in which we live, however, there will still appear to be singularities.”
“I’m a positivist . . . I don’t demand that a theory correspond to reality because I don’t know what it is.”
“I take the positivist viewpoint that a physical theory is just a mathematical model and that it is meaningless to ask whether it corresponds to reality.”
Hawking’s theories of the universe appearing without cause out of nothingness depend on using what he calls “imaginary time”. He freely admits that his model doesn’t obtain if calculated with real time values. But then again, that doesn’t concern him. He doesn’t know what reality is anyway, according to his quote. So, it seems to me, at best, we can say that Hawking’s theory (known generally as a Quantum Gravity Model) is a mathematical exercise. Claiming that it proves the universe could come out of nothingness is going way, way out on a limb. It’s just not justified in any way. If Hawking’s model proves the possibility of ex nihilo creation without a creator, then Rudyard Kipling’s model proves how the leopard got it’s spots.
This is the first exception I take with the book. I’ll explore others in later posts.