So it was with great interest that I read Michael Turner's review of this book in this week's Nature (Nature, v.467, p.657 (2010)). And as I suspected, he has a very interesting take on this that many non-physicists have missed.
Despite publicity to the contrary, The Grand Design does not disprove the existence of God. Science has not had much new to say about God since mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace remarked to Napoleon that he had no need for “that hypothesis” when asked why he had neglected the deity in his treatise Mécanique céleste (Celestial Mechanics, 1799–1825). Rather, theoretical physicists Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow offer a brief but thrilling account of some of the boldest ideas in physics — including M-theory and the multiverse — and what these have to say about our existence and the nature of the Universe.
Thus, say Hawking and Mlodinow, there is no miracle — inflation plus M-theory equals multiverse. Our special Universe is a selection effect: all possibilities have been tried and we find ourselves in the only kind of inflationary patch that can support our existence. The grand design is unnecessary. One is reminded of Winston Churchill damning the United States with faint praise — they get it right after they have exhausted all the alternatives.
The multiverse is possibly the most important idea of our time, and may even be right, but it gives me a headache. Is it science if we cannot test it? The different patches are incommunicado, so we will never be able to observe them. The multiverse displaces rather than answers the question about choice and who chooses, and does not explain why there is something rather than nothing. Hawking and Mlodinow argue that negative gravitational potential energies allow something to arise from nothing — but that still begs the question of why there is space, time and M-theory at all.
Hawking has not ruled out the existence of God, or even the odd possibility that our creator is a physics student in an advanced civilization carrying out a routine lab experiment. He has strengthened Laplace's argument that, although some assembly process is required, no creator is necessary. It is well known that Hawking is no fan of religion, but it was the media who took “no necessity for God” to mean “no God”.
Yet The Grand Design reminds me, as I tell my students, that science doesn't do 'why' — it does 'how'. Physicist Richard Feynman discussed the dangers of 'doing why' in his 1964 Messenger Lectures. He warned that should we achieve the Ionian goal of finding all the laws, then “the philosophers who are always on the outside making stupid remarks will be able to close in”, trying to explain why those laws hold; and we won't be able “to push them away” by asking for testable predictions of those ideas. Time will tell if we are on to something big with the multiverse, or if we are becoming the philosophers that Feynman warned about.
There ya go! Isn't this similar to what I mentioned earlier?