Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ecclesiastes 1:9 and Stephen Hawking

The quote I posted on FB yesterday ("an infinite number of imperishable atoms coalesced through blind chance or immanent mechanical laws to form countless worlds in a vacuum of immeasurable proportion")I read in Reiner Smolinski's introduction to Cotton Mather's Biblia Americana, a vast, multi-volume commentary on the Bible that was never published in his lifetime. Only now is it being brought to press for the first time, with its publication projected over the next decade.

But the quote is a summary of the origin views of seventeenth-century Cartesian philosophers and naturalists. What struck me about the quote was the similarity to some things said by Stephen Hawking in an excerpt from his book The Grand Design. The most striking paragraphs are the following: "The laws of gravity and quantum theory allow universe to appear spontaneously from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason their is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going. Our universe seems to be one of many, each with different laws. That multiverse idea is not a notion invented to account for the miracle of fine tuning. It is a consequence predicted by many theories in modern cosmology." (Originally published in the WSJ 9/3/2010, accessed online at

The mechanical laws, the countless worlds, and the immeasurable proportion of the known universe, so similar to Hawking's propositions, make it appear that he has advanced all the way to the seventeenth century and even to the Greeks Democritus and Epicurus. So much for the latest new thing.