Saturday, March 5, 2011

Hawking's Hidden Premise

I have no doubt that Stephen Hawking is a brilliant man. He forgets more mathematics in one day than I could learn in my lifetime. But there's an interesting thing about intellectual brilliance. Often, when a very bright scientist seeks to defend a philosophically dubious position, they wind up saying the craziest things.

At about 1:15 in the clip below, Professor Hawking, who suffers from Lou Gehrig's disease, states via his synthesizer that, "The life we have on earth must have spontaneously generated itself. It must therefore be possible for life to be generated spontaneously elsewhere in the universe."
Despite the complete lack of any plausible explanation for how life could have generated itself, Hawking assumes that it must have. Notice the hidden premise in what he says. Put into a syllogism his argument seems to be something like:
1) We don't understand how life began.

2) Whatever we don't understand the beginning of must be self-generating.

3) Therefore life must have generated itself.
Premise 2) is implicit in his argument, but it's just nonsense. What grounds does Hawking have for ruling out the possibility that life (or anything else whose beginning we don't understand - e.g. the cosmos) is the product of a purposeful intelligent agent - a mind?

Logically he has none. Psychologically he has only his own metaphysical preference for naturalism. One expects more rigor than this from an intellect as celebrated as is Hawking's.

We can formulate his argument another way:
4) Life exists.

5) Whatever exists was either self-generated (spontaneously organized) or generated by something else.

6) There is no other possible "something else" which could cause life.

7) Therefore, life must be self-generated.
Again, 5) is dubious - there's no evidence that life can self-organize - and 6) is simply false. It's certainly possible that a mind exists capable of creating life. Hawking cannot rationally dismiss the possibility, and as long as it's possible that such a mind created life he cannot rationally assert that life must have self-organized.

Are there good reasons to think that a mind is responsible for life? I think so. Stephen Meyer, in his book Signature in the Cell, suggests a third argument. His formulation is much more rigorous, of course, than my summary of it here, and is certainly more compelling than Professor Hawking's effort:
8) Complex, specified information (CSI) is ubiquitous in, and essential to, living things.

9) We have no experience of CSI being produced by random, natural processes (RNP).

10) We have abundant experience of CSI being produced by minds.

11) The conclusion that CSI in living things is best explained by minds comports better with our experience than does the conclusion that it is best explained by RNP.

12) That which comports with our experience is superior, as a scientific explanation, to explanations based on that of which we have no experience.

13) Therefore, the better scientific explanation for CSI in living things is that it is the product of a mind rather than RNP.

14) We should always believe the better explanation rather than the weaker one.

15) Therefore, we should believe that the CSI in living things is the product of a mind.
Casey Luskin has more on Hawking's logic at Evolution News and Views.

Is George Bush a Modern Lawrence of Arabia?

Charles Krauthammer makes the case at NRO that demands for freedom in North Africa and elsewhere in the Muslim world are largely the fruit of the policies of George W. Bush. It was Bush who, almost alone on the world stage, and certainly without the support of Democrats, including the current president, insisted that residing in every human heart was a desire to be free of oppression and tyranny, whether imposed by mullahs or secular autocrats.

When Mr. Obama ascended to the White House he tried to make it clear that no more would the United States be the champion of such foolish idealistic notions. Indeed, he obsequiously apologized for the very American efforts that have today partly inspired so many to take to the streets to rid themselves of their oppressors.

Here's Krauthammer:
Now that revolutions are sweeping the Middle East and everyone is a convert to George W. Bush’s freedom agenda, it’s not just Iraq that has slid into the memory hole. Also forgotten is the once proudly proclaimed “realism” of years one and two of President Obama’s foreign policy — the “smart power” antidote to Bush’s alleged misty-eyed idealism. It began on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s first Asia trip, when she publicly played down human-rights concerns in China. The administration also cut aid for democracy promotion in Egypt by 50 percent. And cut civil-society funds — money for precisely the organizations we now need to help Egyptian democracy — by 70 percent.

This new realism reached its apogee with Obama’s reticence and tardiness in saying anything in support of the 2009 Green Revolution in Iran. On the contrary, Obama made clear that nuclear negotiations with the discredited and murderous regime (talks that a child could see would go nowhere) took precedence over the democratic revolutionaries in the street — to the point where demonstrators in Tehran chanted “Obama, Obama, you are either with us or with them.”

Now that revolution has spread from Tunisia to Oman, however, the administration is rushing to keep up with the new dispensation, repeating the fundamental tenet of the Bush Doctrine that Arabs are no exception to the universal thirst for dignity and freedom.
Mr. Obama's sprint to catch up to the bandwagon probably won't impress Arabs and Persians who realize that the real inspiration, the real heavy lifting, was supplied by the Bush administration of which Mr. Obama has been unrelentingly critical. Krauthammer finishes with this:
[W]hat’s unmistakable is that to the Middle Easterner, Iraq today is the only functioning Arab democracy, with multiparty elections and the freest press. Its democracy is fragile and imperfect — last week, security forces cracked down on demonstrators demanding better services — but were Egypt to be as politically developed in, say, a year as Iraq is today, we would think it a great success.

For Libyans, the effect of the Iraq War is even more concrete. However much bloodshed they face, they have been spared the threat of genocide. Qaddafi was so terrified by what we did to Saddam & Sons that he bargained away his weapons of mass destruction. For a rebel in Benghazi, that is no small matter.

Yet we have been told incessantly how Iraq poisoned the Arab mind against America. Really? Where is the rampant anti-Americanism in any of these revolutions? It’s Yemen’s president and the delusional Qaddafi who are railing against American conspiracies to rule and enslave. The demonstrators in the streets of Egypt, Iran, and Libya have been straining their eyes for America to help. They are not chanting the antiwar slogans — remember “No blood for oil”? — of the American Left.

Why would they? America is leaving Iraq having taken no oil, having established no permanent bases, and having left behind not a puppet regime but a functioning democracy. This, after Iraq’s purple-fingered exercises in free elections seen on television everywhere set an example for the entire region.
If things turn out well for the long-suffering people of Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Tunisia, Bahrain, and Iran it will be in no small part because the United States, under President Bush, showed them what was possible.