But reviewers on both sides of the philosophy/science divide have found much wanting in The Grand Design, perhaps because, as the reviewer for the Economist put it, after summarily declaring philosophy dead, they then go on to acknowledge its significant contribution to the discussion of laws of nature, and then make an attempt to engage in it for a good part of the book. "It soon becomes evident," says the reviewer, "that Professor Hawking and Mr. Mlodinow regard a philosophical problem as something you knock off over a quick cup of tea after you have run out of Sudoku puzzles."
The scientists who have reviewed the book seem to largely think that what Hawking and Mlodinow have to say about physics is not particularly new, and anyway is not as widely accepted as they seem to suggest. The philosophers likewise have not been impressed, pointing out that, despite their dismissal of philosophy, the two scientists don't seem to even understand what they are condemning, and demonstrate their ignorance of what they purport to have rendered irrelevant by their own sloppy and confused attempts to treat philosophical issues.
And by the way, why is it that when someone makes bold public statements about science, they are asked for their credentials, but any random person off the street is allowed to make philosophical proclamations unmolested?
In fact, a cursory review of the reviews of the book reveals an interesting thing: the less qualified the reviewer is in either field (physics or philosophy), the more positive his review. I wonder what that suggests.
The philosopher Edward Feser points out that Stephen Hawking's assertion--in his new book, The Grand Design--that "philosophy is dead" is not true simply by virtue of Hawking trying to kill it by doing it badly:
The English philosopher C. D. Broad once noted that “the nonsense written by philosophers on scientific matters is exceeded only by the nonsense written by scientists on philosophy.” You might think there could be no better illustration of Broad’s dictum than Richard Dawkins’s unhappy forays into the philosophy of religion. If so, you should take a look at the latest volume from Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow.You can read the rest in National Review.
To be sure, the bulk of The Grand Design is devoted to a fairly lucid exposition of the central theories of modern physics. Had Hawking and Mlodinow stuck to science, there would have been little to object to. (Though also little reason to take notice. Did we really need yet another popular account of relativity, quantum mechanics, and string theory?) But they have grander ambitions: a new philosophy of science, in the service of a new theory of the origins of the universe, one that will forever put paid to the claims of natural theology. “Philosophy is dead,” Hawking and Mlodinow assure us, for science can now do what philosophers have tried to do, only better. Unfortunately, their attempt at one-upmanship proves only that Cicero’s famous quip about philosophers may have been misdirected; for The Grand Design demonstrates conclusively that there is nothing so absurd but some scientist has said it
Before nemesis comes hubris, and in the case of Hawking and Mlodinow, that means a basic failure to grasp the philosophical ideas they airily dismiss. Like the village atheist whose knowledge of theology derives from what he saw last Sunday on The Jimmy Swaggart Telecast, our authors assume that when philosophers have argued for God as cause of the world, what they mean is that the universe had a beginning, that God caused that beginning, and that to rebut their position it suffices to ask “What caused God?” But from Aristotle to Aquinas to Leibniz to the present day, most versions of the First Cause argument have not supposed that the universe had a beginning in time, and none of them is open to so simple a refutation. Their claim is rather that even if the universe were infinitely old, it is still the sort of thing that might in principle not have existed at all. That it does exist therefore requires explanation, and this explanation cannot lie in some other thing that might in principle have failed to exist, since that would just raise the same problem again. Accordingly, the explanation can be found only in something that could not have failed to exist even in principle — something that not only does not have a cause, but couldn’t have had one, precisely because (unlike the universe) it couldn’t in theory have failed to exist in the first place. In short, any contingent reality, like the universe, must depend upon a necessary being, and this necessary being is what defenders of the First Cause argument mean by “God” ...