Magazine | December 31, 2010, Issue


Concerning the First-Cause Argument

Edward Feser writes in his review of Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow’s The Grand Design (“Mad Scientists,” November 29):

Like the village atheist whose knowledge of theology derives from what he saw last Sunday on The Jimmy Swaggart Telecast, [Hawking and Mladinow] 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?”

On the contrary, speaking of the possible origins of the universe, the authors say: “In this [first-cause] view, it is accepted that some entity exists that needs no creator, and that entity is called God. . . . We claim, however, that it is possible to answer these questions [of creation] purely within the realm of science, and without invoking any divine beings.”

Was Mr. Feser reading the same book?

Andrei Kotlov

Via e-mail

Edward Feser replies: Mr. Kotlov and I were indeed reading the same book, but he appears not to have read the sentence immediately preceding the material he quotes: “It is reasonable to ask who or what created the universe, but if the answer is God, then the question has merely been deflected to that of who created God.” To ask “Who created God?” is to evince a failure to understand what defenders of the first-cause argument mean by “God.” Contrary to what Hawking, Mlodinow, and Kotlov seem to think, the idea of an uncaused first cause is not that of something which needs no creator. It is rather the idea of something that could not in principle have had a creator, precisely because (unlike the universe) it could not even in principle have failed to exist. As Aristotle would say, God is Pure Actuality; as Aquinas would say, he is Subsistent Being Itself. Hawking, Mlodinow, and Kotlov might be unfamiliar with these concepts, but in that case they should not presume to speak as if they understood the first-cause argument.

A Little Learning Is a Dangerous Thing

Rob Long — My 16-year-old son thoroughly enjoys your columns in NR. He just finished reading Alexander Pope’s Rape of the Lock, and his analysis concluded with the comment, “Pope is the Rob Long of the 18th century.”

Kristina Ormand

Via e-mail

Rob Long replies: Thank you; this is the first time that “Pope” and “Rob Long” have appeared in the same sentence. I’d love to know what grade the young Mr. Ormand received.

NR Staff — Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

In This Issue


Politics & Policy

It Says Here . . .

You know that house where, the night before Christmas, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse? Well, that wasn’t our house. That was a house where mamma in ...


Books, Arts & Manners

Politics & Policy

Salt of the Earth

On November 2, the American electorate delivered a stinging rebuke to Pres. Barack Obama and the Democrats. According to a post-election survey conducted for the Faith and Freedom Coalition by ...
Politics & Policy

Teapot Tempest

If you wanted a vivid sense of the scene in 1980s Pakistan and Afghanistan when the United States was sponsoring the mujahideen insurgency against the USSR, you could not have ...


Politics & Policy


Concerning the First-Cause Argument Edward Feser writes in his review of Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow’s The Grand Design (“Mad Scientists,” November 29): Like the village atheist whose knowledge of theology derives ...
Politics & Policy

The Week

‐ “I had a good time governing,” said Bill Clinton at the presidential press conference he took over. You don’t say . . . ‐ President Obama has not taken the ...
Politics & Policy


REFLECTIONS Villanelle # 30 From the initial moment of surprise      By piercing light they never had expected,      The Magi mulled the meaning of the skies. Was the betrayal worse, or were the lies?      What in her ...


Anthony Burgess, the brilliant British novelist remembered for the misunderstood A Clockwork Orange, also wrote a spy novel. It was the height of the Bond era, and he couldn’t resist ...

Most Popular


Putin and the Cult of Leadership

On Sunday, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin won an unsurprising reelection-campaign victory against Communist Party candidate Pavel Grudinin, by a margin of 76.7 percent to 11.8 percent. The results were unsurprising because Putin is a tyrant who murders or imprisons political rivals, and who isn’t afraid to use ... Read More

Trump and Brexit Derangement Syndrome

I am not one of those Brexiteers who believe that Brexit and Trumpism are essentially the same phenomenon in two different countries. To be sure, they both draw on some of the same political trends, notably a distrust of elites and an upsurge of popular anger over evident failures of public policy such as illegal ... Read More

Stand Up to Putin

President Putin’s landslide victory in Russia’s presidential election was achieved against the lackluster competition of a group of mediocre candidates from which the sole serious opponent had been excluded; amid plausible allegations that his security services had tried to poison two Russians in England by ... Read More
Politics & Policy

‘We Will Reduce Abortion’

Conor Lamb’s success has revived interest in “I’m personally opposed, but.” It’s a rhetorical convention — a cliché, really — that many Catholic Democrats have resorted to ever since Mario Cuomo popularized it with his speech at Notre Dame in 1984, as Alexandra DeSanctis explained a few days ... Read More