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Stephen Hawking's Recent Remarks on God and Creation

Here. It's basically a plug for his new book, The Grand Design (due out September 7th!). It looks like the basic idea is that M-Theory is probably true, and that it explains the existence and fine-tuning of our universe.[1] Hey, that's pretty much my view, too![2]
[1] Objection: "But I can imagine the fundamental stuff posited in the M-theory multiverse failing to exist. And since conceivability is sufficient evidence for possibility, it's possible for the fundamental stuff posited in the M-Theory multiverse to fail to exist, in which case we have reason to doubt that such stuff is metaphysically necessary, in which case it can't provide an ultimate explanation of the existence of our contingent universe. On the other hand, theism can explain such data. For it ultimately grounds the existence of our contingent universe in a factually or metaphysically necessary being, viz., God. Therefore, the hypothesis of a naturalistic M-theory multiverse fails to provide a better explanation of the existence of our contingent universe than theism."

Reply: Either conceivability is sufficient evidence of possibility or it isn't. If it isn't, then of course the data of the conceivable non-existence of an M-Theory multiverse isn't sufficient evidence of its possible non-existence, in which case the objection fails to show that the fundamental stuff of the M-theory multiverse isn't a metaphysically necessary being. On the other hand, suppose conceivability is sufficient evidence of possibility. Then since it's conceivable that both God and the M-theory multiverse fail to exist, then there's sufficient evidence that it's possble that both God and the M-theory multiverse fail to exist, in which case it looks as though no being of the relevant sort could be metaphysically necessary, in which case the jig is up for arguments from contingency, in which case contingency falls out of the range of data that needs explaining. Either way, then, the objection fails.

[2] I add the qualification that it's "pretty much" my view, since my view is the weaker one that the M-Theory hypothesis explains the data of the existence and fine-tuning of our universe at least as well as the theistic hypothesis, in which case such data doesn't favor theism over naturalism, in which case the existence and fine-tuning of our universe doesn't provide sufficient evidence for moving one from atheism or agnosticism to theism.


Marc said…

Hello there. Hope all has been well. Are you at the helm of your own class these days?

We've discussed matters concerning the contingency argument before, and I just wanted to ask a couple of clarification questions about your view.

(1) Do you take conceivability to be synonymous or coextensive with metaphysical possibility? I understand this to be representative of the standard view, but it does seem that some take conceivability to be (defeasibly) indicative of or evidence for metaphysical possibility.

(2) Do you hold that fundamental particles (whatever they may be) are themselves necessary beings, or that matter/energy itself is? If you do hold this, or something along these lines, is there a potential problem in accounting for why fundamental particles (matter/energy) are subservient to or constrained by physical laws?

-- Marc
exapologist said…
Hey Marc, Good to hear from you!

Yes, I just started a tenure-track position this fall. I'm liking it very much!

(1) Modal epistemology was one of the primary topics of my dissertation, and it's my primary area of specialization. In my dissertation, I critique the standard accounts of modal epistemology in the literature (e.g., Yablo's, Chalmers', etc.), and argue that our knowledge of metaphysical possibility is largely restricted to the relatively humdrum.

(2) I'm agnostic about this. My own view is that since our knowledge of possibility is restricted to the relatively humdrum, our evidence just isn't good enough to be justified one way or the other, in which case our modal evidence doesn't favor either modal claim (the possible non-existence of matter-energy, and the possible non-existence of God) over the other.

Beyond this, I think our data doesn't rule out the hypothesis that ultimate reality (whether God or strings or whatever) is a contingent yet independent being (i.e., a factually necessary being), in which case conceivability evidence of the possible non-existence of ultimate reality (whether strings or God or whatever) wouldn't really help us much even if we had it.

Marc said…

I'm pleased to hear that things are going enjoyably at your new position. That's excellent.

Thanks for your comments on my questions. I hope you don't mind a follow-up on matters related to (2). Please pardon the length ahead of time, and please bear in mind that you needn't feel any obligation to respond. I understand that your classroom now extends beyond the blogosphere!

(2a) Suppose we assume that fundamental particles (or strings) are factually necessary entities -- they're contingent yet independent. Two initial worries present themselves, both related to the PSR.

First, this suppositions seems to entail that the PSR's causal principle--according to which every contingent being or event has a cause--is false. If the causal principle is indeed false, is it reasonable to expect that we'd see more empirical evidence or confirmation of its falsehood? More specifically, why don't we see more "contraventions" of the causal principle than we do in fact see? (Craig seems to ask a similar question of those who believe the ex nihilo nihil fit principle is false.)

Second, by ostensibly sacrificing the causal principle, it appears that the supposition may face some unwelcome explanatory consequences, particularly in the scientific realm. If there isn't something like the causal principle underlying scientific theories and explanations, should we expect those explanations and theories to be as successful as they in fact have been?

(2b) Suppose we assume that fundamental particles (or strings) are metaphysically necessary entities. In question (2) above, I asked if there might be a problem accounting for why fundamental particles (or strings), given that they're metaphysically necessary, are subservient to or constrained by physical laws. Seemingly, for example, if the law of gravity were radically different, fundamental particles (or strings) would also be radically different. Or, more dramatically, if spacetime didn't exist, fundamental particles (or strings) presumably wouldn't exist. Thus, on the above supposition, we appear committed to holding that more than just fundamental particles (or strings) have the exalted modal property of necessary existence. Might this render one's ontology less attractive?

-- Marc

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