I think PZ picked the right question/answer to highlight and it’s worth repeating here. The three questions are part of a single question by Ruth Gledhill, apparently inspired by her interview with “David Wilkinson, principal of St John's Durham and astrophysicist”:
Q: One [question raised by Hawking’s statement] would be the the purpose of the universe. Although science might discover the mechanism, we are still left with the question of what is the purpose
A: Why on Earth should anyone assume that there IS a purpose?
Q: Second is where the laws of physics come from. Science subsumes the laws but we are still left with the question of where the laws come from.
A: Even if we are left with that question, it is not going to be answered by a God, who raises more questions than he answers
Q: Third is the intelligibility of the universe. It strikes me as interesting that Stephen Hawking can make it intelligible. Albert Einstein once said that the most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible. For many of us who are struck by the intelligibility of the physical laws, the explanation is that the creator is the force of rationality both for the universe and for our minds.
A: What would an unintelligible universe even look like? Why SHOULDN't the universe be intelligible?
These are excellent answers to feeble questions. The first is eye-rollingly thoughtless. What degree of hubris is required to assume without question that the universe is here for a reason? Presumably Gledhill is after an answer that would explain her particular place in creation. Such arrogance! This is only a question if you decide to make it into one: the purpose of the universe only requires an explanation if you personally decide that there is purpose and there’s no reason to make that assumption.
The second is familiar god-of-the-gaps reasoning and Dawkins must have sighed when he read it. It’s not at all clear that science won’t answer where the laws come from. Indeed, I haven’t read Hawking’s book yet, but I suspect that’s more or less what the book is about: why are the laws of physics the way they are? Why aren’t they some other way? Isn’t it all a bit suspicious? The whole goldilocks business. This time, there probably is a question to answer, but there’s not the slightest reason to believe that science won’t eventually answer it. There is every reason to believe that religion won’t, because just saying that god did it doesn’t explain it at all for several reasons. First, because you still have to explain where god came from and second because there would still be questions of why and – more interestingly to my mind – how. I’m not sure why everyone is so interested in god’s motives. I’d prefer to know how he pulled it off rather than why he did it. If there’s a god, she has to be a geek. Her motive is going to be something like “because it's cool”.
While the first question is thoughtless and the second ignorant, the third is probably the most proactively stupid. I was planning to expand on Dawkins’ answer by talking about what comprehensibility might be and the fact that humans have evolved abilities to comprehend the universe even when it seems to defy common sense. But this just clouds the issue. Once again, it isn’t a question unless you consider that an incomprehensible universe (whatever that would mean) is vastly more probable than a comprehensible one. The anthropic principle pretty much de-fangs the question anyway: it seems doubtful that anything that could ask questions like this could evolve in a universe that it could not comprehend. I think the issue here is that ‘laws of the universe’ are considered in the abstract. What are we actually talking about here? The law of gravity? The laws of conservation? Boyle’s Law? Special and General Relativity? The laws of motion? Or chemistry? Or electromagnetism? Qantum laws? Fluid dynamics?
If any of these laws were incomprehensible, could there be anything about that could comprehend them, even in principle? This isn’t – as many people characterise it – an argument that the universe must have been designed, but rather the opposite: that there’s no need to believe someone might have designed it.
Anyway, my explanations muddy the water, Dawkins’ answers are concise and excellent. Sadly, Gledhill does not conduct herself so well. Here are some of her responses to his answers, which seem to show that she is largely incapable of thought. You can surely plug them into the proper places in the conversation, remembering that it’s a webchat and therefore somewhat out of sequence:
Good point, Richard, don't we need other modes of thought to answer these more existential questions? Or would you say there is no point in trying to answer the question "why?"
What would ‘other modes of thought’ be? If you’re going to propose such a thing, I think you have a responsibility to elaborate. No point in trying to answer “why?” No, I don’t think so, but it’s only a question in the first place if you assume there actually is a reason (a point Gledhill seems to have missed even when it was spelled out so beautifully by Dawkins) and as I argue above, why is a less interesting question than how to anyone who has much imagination.
Richard, one might as well ask, equally, why assume there is no purpose?
One might, if the goal is to ask stupid questions. You don’t need to assume there’s no purpose to something, it is the claim of purpose that needs defending. Gledhill seems to think she’s scoring a point here, but all she reveals is how little she understands about both logic and evidence. She has an exchange with Richard over this issue, which does not go well for her.
Anyway, my intention was not to bash Ruth Gledhill but to congratulate Richard Dawkins on his excellent answers. Ruth is to be congratulated on keeping the conversation going even though she seems incapable of making a worthwhile point.