Since publishing the article, Can the Universe Create Itself? I’ve had some people objecting to what I wrote, specifically regarding my critique of Hawking. Since there is a common pattern among these objections and so much confusion and bad thinking, I wanted to respond to those objections instead of posting endless individual responses on various social media platforms. Is it really wrong to critique Stephen Hawking’s claims because of a lack of relevant expertise in Physics? Can the general public not critique Hawking?
First, I want to point out that this objection to my critiques is a logical fallacy. It is a variation of the informal fallacy of a faulty appeal to authority. More accurately, it’s a negative corollary of the fallacy, which commits the non sequitur fallacy (does not follow). The faulty appeal to authority has a few forms. The particular one in this instance is as follows:
P1. Hawking is an authority on a particular topic.
P2. Hawking says something about that topic.
C. Therefore, Hawking is correct.
I hope it’s clear why this is fallacious. Hawking was a smart fellow but certainly not infallible. Even experts can be wrong. And now, the negative corollary that commits the non sequitur fallacy,
P1. Tom is not an authority on a particular topic.
P2. Tom says something about that topic.
C. Therefore, Tom is not correct.
Do you see how that does not follow? In this case, my expertise or lack of it has not even been established, and the objector is willing to dismiss my points a priori. It’s possible, even by pure chance, unlikely as it may be, to say something true about a thing even if one’s not an “expert” in a field. Trusting authority is a general heuristic we hold, but experts disagree with each other often and, can and have been wrong in the past. Instead of concerning ourselves with measuring knowledge, we need to simply look at the actual claims.
The person objecting doesn’t even object to the substance of the statements but wants to outright dismiss the entire thing altogether without even consider it. This is actually worse. It’s a close-minded attempt at silencing all opposing views. How much physics knowledge is sufficient to challenge Hawking? Remember, that though experts in various fields are the best position to know the truth about the issues surrounding their expertise, experts have been wrong, many times before. The history of science is a panoply of discarded ideas that once had full expert support.
Consider that from the 1920s to 1956, the scientific world was held hostage by merely an appeal to the authority of leading zoologist, Theophilus Painter. Painter had claimed that humans had 24 pairs of chromosomes instead of the correct 23 pairs despite multitudes of subsequent counts proving him wrong pointed out many times by expert and layman alike. This demonstrates the effects of the fallacy well. Even the famous skeptic, Carl Sagan, objected to the mere use of authority in science,
“One of the great commandments of science is, “Mistrust arguments from authority.” … Too many such arguments have proved too painfully wrong. Authorities must prove their contentions like everybody else.” ISagan, Carl (July 6, 2011). The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
This is precisely why an appeal to authority or level of expertise is largely irrelevant (and fallacious). What must be considered are the claims being made, and this is precisely what I’ve attempted to do here. If I’ve erred, the error is the thing that must be demonstrated.
The title of this post is “Can the Universe Create Itself,” and it’s a direct quote from Hawking to the affirmative. Hawking was my main emphasis (he did mention an absolute beginning); the claims he made in the book have been widely scrutinized both by physicists (see Michael Strauss and Hugh Ross, for example) and philosophers (see Dave Yount, William Lane Craig, and Callum Scott). This should by now, be common knowledge.
I appreciate the difficulty scholars face boiling down complex ideas for consumption by the general public. This, in no way, absolves them from the responsibility of making logical sense. They bear the responsibility of communicating effectively also. I’ve critiqued Hawking’s words verbatim and, to my knowledge, in proper context. Any and all substantive objections need to target what people said, not their formal level of education in the field. The one objecting needs to demonstrate where the one communicating has erred, similar to how I’ve pointed out where I believe Hawking has erred. In other words, you have to deal with the material and simply pointing out potentially lacking education in the subject matter that is not even relevant to the debate accomplishes very little at defeating the original critiques, and in fact, commit the logical fallacy I’ve outlined above. As such, my critique of Hawking of his claims that the universe created itself still stands unscathed.
Will skeptics who don’t hold theology degrees cease objecting to theological constructs put forth by professional theologians merely because they don’t have training in the field? No, they don’t. Just briefly take a tour down the alleys of the internet, and you will quickly see skeptics objecting to Christian theology in every way imaginable. Just because they are not experts in the relevant fields, it would be close-minded and foolish to shut them up with a wave of a hand. If they have substantive objections, they need to be taken seriously. I’m in no position to critique Hawking’s science. I am, however, well within my right to critique incoherent claims and bad inferences he made from the data. I’m also well within my right to point out other arguments and reasons put forth by others in the relevant fields (experts who disagree with him) who may also have substantive reasons to reject Hawking’s conclusions.
Lastly, many scholars including physicists, have critiqued both Hawking’s science and his inferences:
References [ + ]
|I.||↵||Sagan, Carl (July 6, 2011). The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark|
Arthur is an author, a former agnostic, and a current ambassador of Jesus of Nazareth who loves to share the best of reasons for God's ultimate reality. His love and passion are helping skeptics and Christians grow in their faith and knowledge of God through accessible materials.