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Cosmology, Cambridge Style: Wittgenstein, Toulmin, and Hawking

October 1, 2010

Carlin Romano in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

In his new book, Hawking, the celebrated author of A Brief History of Time (Bantam, 1988), declares on the first page that “philosophy is dead” because it “has not kept up” with science, which alone can explain the universe. “It is not necessary to invoke God,” the authors write, “to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.” Hawking sound-bited the hard stuff for interviewers: “Science makes God unnecessary,” he told Good Morning America. Something simply came out of nothing. (…)

Before one gets edgy over Hawking’s latest ex cathedra squawk, then, consider a thumbnail version of what Wittgenstein and Toulmin taught us about religion, science, and cosmology. Their message to Hawking? Scientists eager to delete God exceed their job description. (…)

In contrast to his enormous respect for truths of religion that cannot be said, but only acted upon, Wittgenstein displays little appreciation for science’s hard-won descriptions of physical reality. Instead, he criticizes scientists for their arrogance. In Culture and Value, he writes, “What a curious attitude scientists have—: ‘We still don’t know that; but it is knowable and it is only a matter of time before we get to know it!'” Later, he seems almost to rebuke Hawking from the grave: “Science: enrichment and impoverishment. One particular method elbows all the others aside. They all seem paltry by comparison.” [More]

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