Why Stephen Hawking is Wrong

In his latest book, controversial – but admittedly brilliant – physicist, Stephen Hawking has concluded that God was not necessary for the Universe to come into being, according to an article on the Telegraph.

“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.”

I realize I’m not a physicist of Hawking’s caliber, but this statement is demonstrably absurd. In physics, we believe in the Conservation of Energy. When scientists talk about Conservation of Energy, what they mean is that, in an isolated system, energy can’t be created or destroyed. It can only be converted from one form to another.

Because of Einstein’s famous equation linking energy and mass (E=mc^2), we can also state that mass is conserved. In other words, mass can’t be created or destroyed. It, too, can only be converted to one form or another.

Example: When you eat a banana, your body converts the mass of the banana into chemical energy used to fuel your “engine,” as it were. This is why we measure food in Calories (a Calorie is actually 1,000 calories.) A Calorie is a unit of energy, not mass.

Because matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed, Hawking’s statement that the Universe created itself from nothing violates the basic principles of physics and the laws of thermodynamics.

Hawking, according to the same laws he uses to presuppose God does not exist, is incorrect.

Sorry, Stephen.

Full disclosure: I still don’t believe in God. I just find Hawking’s argument fallacious and divisive.

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19 Responses to “Why Stephen Hawking is Wrong”
  1. riyaz says:

    Its funny that this whole issue came up today when God had asked this question to mankind 1400 years ago in the Quran. He asked us whether we were created out of nothingness or did we create ourselves.

  2. GHResident says:

    Sorry to burst your bubble, but being able to state the names of scientific principles doesn’t mean you understand them, and without understanding them, you can’t use them to refute someone’s argument.
    The laws of conservation of mass and energy state that the totals don’t change in a closed system.
    Matter forms from nothingness all the time through spontaneous pair production, but since it is created as equal parts matter and antimatter, they total zero, just like when the universe came to be.
    Energy is much the same way. For example, if two things push off each other in a vacuum and travel in opposite directions, their center of mass stays stationary and their kinetic energies cancel each other out when taken as a whole.
    There is new mass and new energy. The totals just don’t change.
    One last thing: when you eat a banana, unless you have a nuclear reaction in your stomach (which I hope you don’t), the banana’s mass isn’t converted into energy and E=Mc^2 doesn’t describe the reaction. No mass is lost, and the reaction is purely chemical.

    • ChrisIsRIGHT says:

      Perhaps you could cite an example. It’s my understanding particle production requires, usually, a photon (which isn’t nothing). That photon must have enough energy for the creation to take place. Energy and momentum are conserved.

      If two things push off each other in a vacuum, what new mass is there? We can’t view each object as a system, because then the conservation of momentum doesn’t apply. Therefore, we have to view both objects in your example as part of the same system. No energy or mass are created within that system. There is simply a change in vectors, yes?

      You’re right. My use of E=mc^2 wasn’t directly applicable to the banana example. I should have started a new paragraph. Mass, however, is eventually converted to energy, which is demonstrably true since your body gives off heat. In my example, it was my intention to simplify for people not familiar with science. You’re right. This doesn’t take place in the digestive process directly. However, it does take place. You would have been on much firmer ground if you’d pointed out the body isn’t a closed system. However, this was only an example of how mass and energy can be converted. Obviously, not all of it is.

      Please keep in mind the context of my statements. It is Hawking’s assertion the Universe “created itself” out of nothing. This means the total amount of mass and/or energy in the Universe changed, thus violating the laws of thermodynamics as I stated.

    • ChrisIsRIGHT says:

      A couple other fallacies you’ve introduce I’d like to clear up. Antimatter is made up of antiparticles. Antiparticles have the opposite electric charge of their “normal” counterparts. They do not have “antimass.” They have the same mass as regular particles. Since they have the same mass, doesn’t it stand to reason they have the same energy? For example e- and e+ have the same mass, but opposite charges.

      So, really, when you have a particle and a corresponding antiparticle, you have twice the mass, not zero mass.

      This should be self-evident. What happens when you mix matter and anti-matter? Annihilation of both and a release of LOTS of photons, right? If they canceled each other out, in the sense you seem to be suggesting, wouldn’t introducing the two produce … nothing?

  3. mikemike2020 says:

    he mistake AGAIN…
    although non-physics laws exist

  4. Ik says:

    Simply put, Hawking is wrong because his statement is an assertion. It is not deduced from a complete and consistent, unfalsifiable theory of everything. Until the good Doctor or a theoretician comes along that produces such a theory, it is *all* conjecture.

    Peace,

    Ik

  5. kelliejane says:

    Even though I believe in God & the salvation of Christ, I’m still tempted to yell “Larry Flint was right!” so I can be like Homer Simpson ;-)

  6. Casey says:

    Personally I think that Hawking should leave the “god” statements to those who have faith in such things. Its not science’s “job” to delve into philosophy, rather to determine what “is” and how it came to be. If that determination quantitatively proves a “god” then so be it. So far, nothing in science points that direction without a lot of meandering from good solid “theory” into wishful thinking or faith based stuff. (No knock on either of those, but not science…oh wait..maybe like CLIMATE science perhaps.)

    Also the use of “from nothing” really doesn’t get to the meat of it any longer. With M-theory, as well as the the Multi-universe theories, “from nothing” could seriously mean “from someWHERE else”.

    We seriously are just scraping the beginning of our understanding of things, so to toss off to a diety…or not…seems to me to be a copout pure and simple. If a deity DID do it, we should figure out how. Its what we do best. :-)

    • ChrisIsRIGHT says:

      Casey,

      Those are all excellent points. If, in a multi-universe example, we have the possibility of an infinite number of universes, then we still have the same problem: an infinite amount of mass and energy. Where did it come from?

      I, too, am disquieted when scientists make overly broad and sweeping statements about the existence or non-existence of God. In order for either to be applicable to a scientific framework, one must be able to somehow quantify God.

      I dislike the societal dichotomy between science and religion. My first physics professor taught me, as you stated somewhat differently, that science can answer certain questions about certain things. If one chooses to believe that the laws of physics signify God does or does not exist, it is a matter of faith, not of mathematics or application of the scientific method.

    • GHResident says:

      I propose that if people who understand and apply science in their understanding of the world “leave the ‘god’ statements to those who have faith in such things,” then people who have faith but no understanding of science should leave the “science” statements to scientists. If both parties agree, then religious scientists can still talk about and compare both sides.

  7. EL says:

    One thing that struck me as absurd about Hawking’s argument was that it is a possibility that we may not be able to know in a scientific sense how the universe came about simply because whatever caused the universe is necessarily outside of it’s laws etc. All known dimensions, laws etc are dimensions and laws etc of this universe and did not exist prior to this universe. For example Time is a construct of this universe and simply did not exist as we know it until this universe came into being. Because all of our understanding is deduced from the characteristics of the known universe it is therefore possible that we never be able to know how it came to be simply because the characteristics of the cause are not part of our universe and are necessarily outside of it (because it can seemingly violate things like the law of matter/energy conservation as cited here etc). Any supposition regarding the nature of the cause of the universe in this sense is an act of faith. And so neither Hawking nor anyone else can describe the cause in any meaningful scientific way and any statement they make, unless it’s part of a plausible unified coherent theory, is a statement of faith.

  8. ChrisIsRIGHT says:

    I was having a discussion on Twitter today about this with someone who is a physics student. He claims I’m wrong and that Hawking uses gravity as an example of the balance of energy in the Universe. Gravity has negative energy. Another person in the comments claimed anti-matter showed spontaneous creation maintains balance by creating matter and antimatter.

    They are both very wrong.

    1 – In the General Theory of Relativity, energy is NOT conserved. Thus, GR and Gravity can’t be used as a claim that there is balance. Here’s an excellent, though pretty involved, article on the subject – http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2010/02/22/energy-is-not-conserved/
    2 – As I showed in the comments earlier, antiparticles have mass. It requires a certain amount of energy to create them. Energy and momentum are both conserved in this process.

    My contention was with Hawking’s statement that the universe was created from nothing. In fact, that it created itself from nothing.

    First – what are the laws of physics when there is nothing. No space implies no time, either. The only theory I know of that shows the laws of physics are true independent of time, depends on time. True, I don’t understand it fully. It’s a lot to think about and I was never a Physics grad student.

    Also, from what I understand of General Relativity, it is dependent on their being matter and/or radiation present in the first place. In other words, GR depends on something already being there. Spacetime is curved because of the presence of matter and energy. Therefore, how can it be used to bolster an argument maintaining matter and energy arose from nothing? No matter, no energy = no General Relativity.

    When I’m talking about conservation laws, what I’m implying is a literal interpretation of Hawking’s statement. There was absolutely nothing. Then there was something. In a closed system, this seems to violate all the laws of thermodynamics. It is possible Hawking is speaking metaphorically. It is also possible he is wrong.

    Even the Lambda-CDM model presupposed an initial amount of matter.

    As far as I know, the idea the universe created itself from nothing is completely hypothetical. GR breaks down before the Planck Epoch. (the first 1o^-43 second of time). No one knows what happened before then. But all current models seem to theorize something was already there.

    I continue to maintain that claiming it came from nothing violates the laws of physics as we understand them. Since Hawking is relying on the laws of physics to make his claim, his underpinnings are false and, therefore, so must his following suppositions be.

    • EL says:

      I read that Discover link and it was a very good read. I am not sure though that the matter is settled as to whether energy is conserved or not. It seems to me the physicists may still be wrangling over what that really means. Looking through the comments there seems to be some arguments going on. Maybe the math is agreeable but what that math means in practical expression may be what’s in dispute. I think the relevant questions are: Is there such a thing as absolute nothingness? Did that state ever exist? How is it possible that something can come from it? Is there a finite amount of matter/energy in the universe or is the universe “creating” more matter/energy? If something is being “created” how is that happening? If that’s so then can that process explain how something came from absolute nothingness? Is it possible for us to know the relationship, if any, of things completely outside the realm of our universe and it’s properties/laws etc to our own universe?

      From what little I understand the universe had a beginning and it will have an end. It is theorized that at one point there was complete nothingness, a void if you will, and that state will come about again when all matter/energy ceases to exist. I am not so sure that this is the case. Perhaps there is just a state of being that’s eternal and it is expressed differently at times. Understanding that may be the key to everything.

  9. Rahil says:

    El, what an amazing thing to say. I agree wholeheartedly. If only people could realize this.

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