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.
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.