WARNING: This article gets a little more technical than the others, but with the release of Stephen Hawking’s new book The Grand Design I felt that it was necessary. I also want to make it clear that I believe Hawking is a brilliant mind, and we have much to learn from him in many areas, but this does not mean we should take him to be speaking ex cathedra. This is particularly so when he speaks of God.
This week the world will encounter another tome by the eminent theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking. His 1988 work, A Brief History of Time, sold more than 9 million copies. Moreover, he has become a household name, even earning regular mentions on sitcoms, animated shows, and movies in addition to being sited in other popular and academic scientific works. His very publicized goal is to determine a “theory of everything” (TOE) which would explain special and general relativity. Naturally, he has much to say about cosmology. How did the universe get here? Why does something exist rather than nothing? Is there a beginning to the universe at all, or has it simply always existed? These are the types of questions that Hawking has attempted to answer in search of the TOE. In the past, it has been difficult for readers to determine whether or not there was room for God in Hawking’s mind. Was he an atheist, deist, theist or still waiting patiently for the answer to the “God question” to be answered by his own research? Mathematician John Lennox has said of theoretical physicists such as Hawking, “They don’t mind the idea of a TOE as long as God is not attached to it.”
Regarding Hawking’s new book, the quotes that have been released for publicity seem to indicate that Hawking may be trying to cash in on the renewed popularity of atheism. Yet, for all the talk of evidence for God’s non-existence, so far it appears to be much ado about nothing. Granted, it’s too early to make a determination about what Hawking says, since the book is yet to be released, but if the synopsis is correct, Hawking has not answered the objections that Christian apologists and fellow physicists have raised against his comments in the past.
Last year I was engaged in a written debate with the moderator of one of the internet’s popular atheist websites. It was public and formal, though online. You can read it in full by clicking on the “debates” tab on Braxtonhunter.com. Nevertheless, in this debate Stephen Hawking came up repeatedly as I set forth and defended the cosmological argument for the existence of God (If you would like to hear the argument you can read the debate, or go to the apologetics page and listen to my “CORE FACTS” arguments). However, I have supplied the comments related to Hawking and his views below so that you can become familiarized with the discussion.
BRAXTON: The universe exhibits incredible order. Stephen Hawking said in his book, A Brief History of Time, “It would be very difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just this way, except as the act of a God who intended to create beings like us.” Other scientists have said that it is like dozens of dials stand before us and if they were changed in the most infinitesimal way (if the gravitational force was slightly different or the strong nuclear force was changed or the electro-weak force) the universe would not be ordered as it is, but would result in chaos. This would seem to imply an intelligent designer.
WILL: Can you explain this quote from Hawking later in that very same chapter: “But if the universe is really completely self-contained, having no boundary or edge, it would have neither beginning nor end: it would simply be. What place, then, for a creator?” Why does order imply an intelligent designer? Can you demonstrate that order cannot be without an intelligent designer?
BRAXTON: With regard to your question about the eternality of the universe, yes I contend that it is a logically indefensible position to hold that the universe has always existed. In order for this to be so time would have to stretch eternally into the past. However, if time stretched eternally into the past there would be an infinite number of points on that timeline stretching infinitely back. If there truly were an infinite number of points on that timeline, this point on that timeline, that we are inhabiting now, would have never arrived. This is why I said in my opening remarks that we would never have arrived at today. Stephen Hawking is a theoretical physicist. Thus, what he says about what the furniture (and form) of the universe might look like is to be taken as hypothetical. I mentioned him because he sees that if the universe has a beginning then it implies God. However, science is not in his corner on the hypothesis that the universe has no beginning or end. The simple philosophical demonstration I just mentioned above shows that there are no actual infinites in the universe. Moreover, Penzias and Wilson discovered the cosmic background radiation which demonstrates that the universe is in a state of expansion. If it is expanding then it’s expansion had to begin. Concerning the question of why order implies intelligence, I would first say that the burden of proof would fall on the side of naturalism to demonstrate an example of random variation resulting in anything remotely like the level of complexity we observe in the universe. Bill Gates claimed, “DNA is like a computer program, but far, far more advanced than any software we’ve ever created.’’ beyond that I would remind you of the points I made in my opening remarks.
WILL: I’m going to tackle the ordered part of this instead of your suggestion that Stephen Hawking is a theist.
BRAXTON: You never responded to my argument that an infinite regress is not possible. Rather, we heard an argument for the infinite universe. Steven Weinberg and Hawking himself admit that it is outdated. In fact Hawking claimed of the background wave radiation that it was, “the final nail in the coffin of the steady state.” By the way, I did not claim in my argument that Hawking was a theist. It is common in debate to use the very words of your opponents. My point was that Hawking admitted that if the universe was not infinite it would be hard to surmise anything other than a creator.
WILL: Hawking has said that the current incarnation of the universe is not infinite, but what has Professor Hawking said about the Cyclic model?
BRAXTON: Hawking’s cyclical model (or any other of the many cyclical models) still does not solve the problem of the impossibility of an infinite regress so long as there are points (events, or points in time) on the timeline. The reason for this is that if there are points then there must be a first point.
After I said this, the discussion of Hawking did not continue in the debate. Yet, how does Hawking argue in his new book?
It would seem that Hawking replaces God as the
first cause of the universe, in The Grand Design with gravity. If gravity existed, Hawking seems to argue, then the universe would result. The problem with this is that the question then becomes, what caused gravity itself to come into existence. It would seem, so far, that Hawking’s newest work will be a rehashing and repackaging of old attempts to remove God from the equation of the universe. Perhaps there will be new information and unique atheistic arguments, but truth will ultimately prevail and God’s existence is certainly not in danger.