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A Brief History of Time
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Book Club 2018 > May 2018 - Brief History of Time

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message 1: by Betsy, co-mod (new)

Betsy | 1659 comments Mod
For May 2018, we will be reading A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking.

Please use this thread to post questions, comments, and reviews, at any time.


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (susannag) | 364 comments Read this when it came out. Now, where I left that copy is anyone's guess...


message 3: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy | 87 comments He also wrote A Briefer History of Time. I think I will read that one since I did read the original long ago.


Jeff (jeff_koeppen) | 23 comments Great choice!


Joel (joeldick) | 219 comments I read the illustrated version when I was a teen (I believe I was twelve or thirteen) and I remember it (along with Michio Kaku's Hyperspace) having a profound influence on me. A little while ago Indigo (Canadian bookstore chain) had the Brief History/Nutshell omnibus for a severely discounted price, so I took the last three copies as a possible gift. They've been sitting on my shelf for a while now, and with the recent passing of Stephen Hawking, I thought I should return to it.


Kitri Miller | 6 comments I really hope I get my copy of this in time. Borrowing it from the library, but it seems like everyone else is too, since his passing.


message 7: by Md. Siam (new)

Md. Siam Sarker (sarkersiam2) yes, I'm gonna read it


aPriL does feral sometimes  (cheshirescratch) | 260 comments I read it!

I understood about 70 pages out of the 200.....

But I'm good, no problem. I'm used to reading books incomprehensible to me by geniuses who try to explain cosmology in regular language omitting the mathematical concepts which actually led them to what they know. It isn't their fault I barely understand arithmetic, much less E= mc2 or light cones or particle spins or Chandrasekhar limits (I copied these terms out of the book like the talking ape I really am, not understanding any of it).


Joel (joeldick) | 219 comments Hawking covers a LOT of material very quickly. His writing style is very readable, but only because he doesn't allow himself to get drawn into complex explanations for the very difficult concepts. Overall, it's a great introduction if you want a general overview of some of the deepest issues of modern cosmology.

The version I read is a combination of two books: A Brief History of Time, and The Universe in a Nutshell.

For the first volume, I thought that Hawking strikes a good balance between superficiality and complexity. He manages to cover topics as advanced as black hole radiation, naked singularities, imaginary time, CPT symmetry, etc., without intimidating the reader too much.

For the second book, however, Hawking outdid himself. His discussions about cosmic strings and shadow branes are so glib and shallow, that they seemed almost silly - like they were intended more to blow the reader's mind than to leave him with any meaningful understanding.

It was a short and fun read, so it didn't bother me that much, and it did leave me with the desire to read about these topics from an author who's not afraid to challenge his reader somewhat with the actual mathematics.


message 10: by Jeff (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jeff (jeff_koeppen) | 23 comments I thought this was was excellent. I was pleasantly surprised how well it was written. He explains the topics simply (as simply as one can explain some of these subjects) and with humor and clever analogies. Some of the subject matter was also covered in the 2017 books by Lawrence Krauss (The Greatest Story Ever Told—So Far) and Neil deGrasse Tyson (Astrophysics for People in a Hurry), both of which I've read. Still, a lot of the subject matter went way over my head. I do think I learned a lot, though.

What I didn't like was his use of capital g "God". I know he was an atheist and did not have a death bed conversion so I was a bit taken aback by this constant referral to a God. I understand he was trying to put a name on what may have been before the Big Bang but I thought he would've been more effective just referring to this using an nonreligious term rather than referring to a supernatural entity.


message 11: by Joel (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joel (joeldick) | 219 comments Jeff - the god that he was referring to was the one with a capital G. He wasn't talking about a generic god. He was referring to the entity that religious people refer to as God.


aPriL does feral sometimes  (cheshirescratch) | 260 comments Does anyone know why? He definitely affirmed his atheism later.


message 14: by Joel (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joel (joeldick) | 219 comments I don't think that by using the capital G god he is expressing his belief in God. I think he was just responding to that intellectual approach. He was referring to what OTHERS refer to as God.


message 15: by Jeff (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jeff (jeff_koeppen) | 23 comments Joel wrote: "I don't think that by using the capital G god he is expressing his belief in God. I think he was just responding to that intellectual approach. He was referring to what OTHERS refer to as God." I think you are right, and I know he was an atheist, I just wish he would've referred to the unknown as something else besides what 80% of humans think created and guide everything. It seems like this could be misconstrued by some in to his endorsement of "God". Loved the book. Just had a hang up on the one little thing.


message 16: by Jeff (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jeff (jeff_koeppen) | 23 comments aPriL does feral sometimes wrote: "He definitely affirmed his atheism later." Yes, he did!


message 17: by Joel (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joel (joeldick) | 219 comments Jeff - I read the book when I was about thirteen and I remember it having a profound influence on the way I thought about god. When I read it again this time I was less focused on that aspect of the book because I'm older and my understanding of religion has matured somewhat. But I think it was very smart of him to write the book the way he did, knowing that his audience cares deeply about those topics, and would have dismissed his arguments if he would not have at least acknowledged their beliefs. I suspect that a big part of this book's audience is early teens who are deeply interested in science and figuring out the boundaries of science and religion. As I said, being older and a little more jaded - and having read so many better books that give a much more technical and less esoteric take on physics - I didn't appreciate the book as much as I did as an early teen, but I still think that this book has an important role in the development of so many people's intellectual identity, and that's why it's a classic.


message 18: by Joel (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joel (joeldick) | 219 comments Also remember that Hawking held the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics at Cambridge - the same position held by Sir Isaac Newton, who spent his life delving into the nature of god, so it's natural that Hawking would focus on that in his book.


message 19: by Daniel (new) - added it

Daniel | 106 comments Jeff wrote: "What I didn't like was his use of capital g "God". I know he was an atheist and did not have a death bed conversion so I was a bit taken aback by this constant referral to a God. I understand he was trying to put a name on what may have been before the Big Bang but I thought he would've been more effective just referring to this using an nonreligious term rather than referring to a supernatural entity."

I agree. His early pandering was likely forced (his publisher almost certainly would not have allowed him to acknowledge his atheism in that book at the time), but it hasn't aged well.


message 20: by Jeff (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jeff (jeff_koeppen) | 23 comments Daniel wrote: "I agree. His early pandering was likely forced (his publisher almost certainly would not have allowed him to acknowledge his atheism in that book at the time), but it hasn't aged well.."

Yes. I seem to remember an author mentioning in a science book I read that the publisher suggested toning down the atheistic rhetoric in order to make the book more "sales friendly". I could see that being an issue in the US.


message 21: by Jeff (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jeff (jeff_koeppen) | 23 comments Joel wrote: "Jeff - I read the book when I was about thirteen and I remember it having a profound influence on the way I thought about god. When I read it again this time I was less focused on that aspect of th..." Great take. My wife is going to read it. It will be interesting to see what she thinks. She's not as crabby as I am.


message 22: by aPriL does feral sometimes (last edited May 16, 2018 05:57PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

aPriL does feral sometimes  (cheshirescratch) | 260 comments Omg, small g.

I have met graduates online from non-accredited religious colleges (mostly in the South and Midwest) with Ph.D's in philosophy and religion on GR, and at work (Seattle has a big organization called the Discovery Institute, whose graduates I ran into) who feel the need to prove in the most bizarre debates how 'intelligent design' explains everything, using the Bible as proof of their argument.

The Bible, ffs.

In my own family, I have relatives who believe the Earth is 6,000 years old.

I am VERY crabby about this subject, Jeff! Pardon me, or forgive me, or something.

: D


message 23: by Jeff (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jeff (jeff_koeppen) | 23 comments aPriL does feral sometimes wrote: "Omg, small g.

I have met graduates online from non-accredited religious colleges (mostly in the South and Midwest) with Ph.D's in philosophy and religion on GR, and at work (Seattle has a big org..."
Wow. Sorry to hear that. I've hear of the Discovery Institute. It's kind of sad that in this day and age there are people who believe the Earth is 6,000 years old. I feel your frustration!


message 24: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 623 comments aPriL does feral sometimes wrote: "Omg, small g.

I have met graduates online from non-accredited religious colleges (mostly in the South and Midwest) with Ph.D's in philosophy and religion on GR, and at work (Seattle has a big org..."


Don't come near rural Kentucky. We have the Creation Museum & the Ark Park that we've fought to keep the public schools from using for field trips. Now they're pushing charter schools to get around that. A lot of my neighbors are YECs. It's awful. I share your frustration & horror.

I read A Briefer History of Time which was plenty for me. I was a bit surprised at his references to god since I thought he was an atheist. Apparently this was his way to explain in terms that he thought most people would understand.

I found this on the web: Hawking now explained: "What I meant by 'we would know the mind of God' is, we would know everything that God would know, if there were a God. Which there isn't. I'm an atheist."
He added: "Religion believes in miracles, but these aren't compatible with science." That makes more sense.


message 25: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy | 87 comments You would be amazed at how many people there are here in New Hampshire who home school their children and teach about a 6,000 year old Earth.


message 26: by Catherine (new) - added it

Catherine (catjackson) Sorry, but I do have to break in here. Not all Christians are this type. Most mainline Christians agree with evolution and are very interested in science and how it explains the world and how things work. Most of us do not believe the earth is 6,000 years old and don't believe dinosaurs and humans roamed the earth together. You are talking about a small portion (yes, a very vocal portion) of Christians. Most of us look at Intelligent Design and laugh.


message 27: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy | 87 comments No one is saying all Christians are like this. But I would be interested in learning about any solid studies that give some percentages. None of us can rely on random comments. This is a science group after all.

Here is a Gallup study:

http://news.gallup.com/poll/210956/be...


message 28: by Joel (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joel (joeldick) | 219 comments I agree. I'm religious and I believe in the big bang, a 13 billion year old universe, evolution, etc. Creationists represent only a portion of Christians. There are many different flavors of religion out there.


aPriL does feral sometimes  (cheshirescratch) | 260 comments 38% is a lot, if true.

I know many fundamentalists are in the military and in politics. I know religious faith affects military, political and educational decisions which are extremely harmful. Religious faith is not simply benign and ineffectual, harmless to democracies. Some states have closed down health clinics because they dare give contraceptive advice but no abortions. School boards which insist on teaching normal science classes or sex education have been voted out in exchange for those who promote teaching classes with Evangelical bible conformity, including homeroom prayers, even to any Jews, Buddhists, Catholics or Muslims attending the school. In the day of George Bush II, Evangelicals initially fired those Jewish and Catholic religious leaders who were taking turns leading Congress in prayer, saying Congress only needed to hear Evangelical preachers. Evangelical diplomats newly appointed by George W. covered up the statues in the Paris embassy when they visited France, apparently stunned that nude statues (art) were inside the American Paris embassy. In Africa, religious NGO's have in the past denied African communities birth control, and sex education, even AIDS medication, while local Africans mix Christian beliefs with local witchcraft faith and as a result kill twins, albinos and homosexuals, raping gay women in belief rape will make them straight.

I was making small talk with a fifteen-year-old during a July 4th fireworks show in 2005, and she kept saying "praise Jesus" after every rocket explosion. In casual questioning, I found out she was homeschooled and believed Earth was 6,000 years old, among other very peculiar beliefs. When discussing this later, I discovered to my shock, and disbelief, there were four households on my street - ON MY STREET - where on Sundays various fathers were holding services for small breakaway 'congregations' of a few friends from local churches because they felt their mainstream church was drifting away from God, I.e. accepting homosexuals, unmarried couples, a cherry-picking congregation, generic sermons.

I am curious. Do mainstream religious people make any effort to educate the fundamentalists? Give them books like Hawkings or Greene's?


message 30: by Garrett (new)

Garrett (gman1312) | 24 comments I was under the impression that Hawking used 'God' to refer to the laws of physics. Similar to but not exactly the same as how Spinoza would refer to 'God'. When Hawking said, "... we would know the mind of God," he meant that should our knowledge ever reach a level where we have complete understanding of the laws of nature we would be able to look at the universe in the same way that the anthropomorphic 'God' might look upon the universe if that god existed to him.


message 31: by Catherine (new) - added it

Catherine (catjackson) aPriL does feral sometimes wrote: "38% is a lot, if true.

I know many fundamentalists are in the military and in politics. I know religious faith affects military, political and educational decisions which are extremely harmful. R..."


You are right. Religious faith affects the decisions of those who hold that faith. But so do the philosophies of those who hold no faith affect their decisions. We all operate under some sort of overarching philosophical beliefs. Right now, with the people we have elected, it appears that the Evangelicals have gained a stronger voice than some of the other philosophies/beliefs. But, just because they are voicing their opinions more strongly, doesn't mean they are necessarily in the majority. Those of us who disagree with their beliefs need to make sure we are participating in our civic life with the same sense of urgency and the same vociferousness.

Mainstream Christians have tried to "educate" their evangelical brothers/sisters but there is an important difference between the two. Mainstream Christians don't feel the same need to push their faith on others and "make" others believe their truths as some Evangelicals do. Many Evangelicals believe that it is their duty to spread their faith and to clean up the world, whether or not anyone else agrees.


message 32: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy | 87 comments I think we need to start directing our faith toward finding out facts. That's a good part of what science is all about. That people now refer to a "post-truth world" is frightening. At least to me.


Nancy Mills (nancyfaym) | 402 comments I think that poll wasn't very well worded. It gives you 3 choices: 1. Literal interpretation of Genesis 2. God "guided" the evolution of man (I guess that's what the Intelligent Design people say?) and 3. God had nothing to do with it.
As a Christian, none of these is close to what I believe. I believe there is a God, He created the universe and all the laws of physics and therefore the elements that make up matter, and then the universe just did its thing. Did He "plan" man, or just plant the seed and let the world grow? We will never in this life know.


message 34: by Jeff (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jeff (jeff_koeppen) | 23 comments Nancy wrote: "Did He "plan" man, or just plant the seed and let the world grow? We will never in this life know." If I were a believer, I would choose the latter - that he planted the seed. If man were a plan, it's a wretched one, considering how many now-extinct hominid species he went through to get to homo sapiens and how the current incarnation of man is plagued with things such as cancers, diseases, malformations. The universe itself is plagued with horrors- collapsing stars, black holes, supernovae. And 99% of all species that have ever lived on earth are extinct. I don't think there was a plan laid out.


Nancy Mills (nancyfaym) | 402 comments Jeff wrote: "Nancy wrote: "Did He "plan" man, or just plant the seed and let the world grow? We will never in this life know." If I were a believer, I would choose the latter - that he planted the seed. If man ..."

I agree.


message 36: by Garrett (new)

Garrett (gman1312) | 24 comments Nancy wrote: "I think that poll wasn't very well worded. It gives you 3 choices: 1. Literal interpretation of Genesis 2. God "guided" the evolution of man (I guess that's what the Intelligent Design people say?)..."

That sounds very close to modern Deism if you were to take the Bible out of it.


Nancy Mills (nancyfaym) | 402 comments Really? I was never quite sure what "Deism" was.


message 38: by Joel (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joel (joeldick) | 219 comments Nancy wrote: "Really? I was never quite sure what "Deism" was."

I always understood it to mean the belief that God created the world but no longer intervenes in it.


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (susannag) | 364 comments Those can both be accurate descriptions of Deism.


message 40: by Garrett (new)

Garrett (gman1312) | 24 comments The one really universal tenant of Deism is the rejection of revelation. God set the laws of nature and let the universe unfold without intervention. There are those who call themselves "Christian Deists" which means that they believe Jesus may have been a real person but was not divine. They believe he had valuable philosophical teachings and nothing more.

Deism claims to be founded in reason, and holds reason and evidence based inquiry to be its foundations. So in that regard I consider it to be on the same coin as Atheism, just with a different conclusion. Personally, as a Deist myself I would argue that if you are going to hold that reason and evidence are the foundations of your belief that you must also be an Agnostic that simply leans in a certain direction (toward Deism, Atheism, ect). So some would say I am an Agnostic Deist (because I simply hope and believe that there is a decent chance some form of higher power exists ie a 'Prime Mover' or if we live in a simulation some alien species or something), I say that Agnosticism should just be something built into the belief system.


Nancy Mills (nancyfaym) | 402 comments Interesting, thanks for clarifying. I guess I hover on the edge of Christian Deism. I am not ready to totally discount the possibility of "divine inspiration" or absolute values, but I certainly don't see God as a puppeteer.


message 42: by Steve (new)

Steve Van Slyke (steve_van_slyke) | 370 comments Garrett wrote: " I would argue that if you are going to hold that reason and evidence are the foundations of your belief that you must also be an Agnostic that simply leans in a certain direction (toward Deism, Atheism, ect). ..."

I agree. I consider myself an Agnostic Atheist (and a Secular Humanist). For me the term atheist only says that I lack a belief in a god. It does not say that I believe no god exists, hence the additional label Agnostic. Those who *believe* no god exists are practicing another faith lacking evidence.


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