“Modern physics leaves no place for God in the creation of the Universe”-Stephen Hawking
Many of you will be well aware that a couple of months ago, theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking created quite a stir within the media. This is not a particularly difficult thing to do. The cause behind this controversy was his recently published popular science book, The Grand Design which was co-authored by Hawking and fellow physicist Leonard Mlodinow. In the book, Hawking and Mlodinow attempt to answer some of the most intriguing and profound questions about the universe and its origins in the light of modern physics. In a brilliant book promoting strategy, the Guardian newspaper, as well as several other newspapers, included an excerpt from The Grand Design that revealed Hawking’s fantastically naive claim: “Modern physics leaves no place for God in the creation of the Universe”. Upon learning of Hawking’s claim and voluptuous embrace of atheism (although I suspect he’s been an atheist for a long while), I imagine that Richard Dawkins along with many other atheists, sent him letters and gifts expressing their unending gratitude. Dawkins informed The Times, “Darwinism kicked God out of biology but physics remained more uncertain. Hawking is now administering the coup de grace”. Here he is mistaken about both biology and physics. The ungodly squabble that ensued was inevitably unending and unedifying. Ironically as professor Alister Mcgrath pointed out in a channel 4 news interview ‘a publisher said to me the other day, that if you want to sell a book make sure that A: it’s about God and B: it rubbishes God’. The book has now become a bestseller.
The Physicist’s Dream
It was Einstein’s dream to discover the grand design of the universe, how it arose, and what its true nature is. He spent many of his years later in life attempting to unify two of the great theories in physics; General relativity and the bizarre world of quantum mechanics. While both of them are immensely successful in themselves, when put together they are irritatingly incompatible. Sadly in the end, Einstein did not succeed in his admirable quest. Physicists in the past few decades, have been searching eagerly for a theory that will exhaustively encompass the workings of physical reality in the universe to form a single self-consistent explanation. A theory of everything. Some of the best minds in physics have now been occupied by this and many of them now believe that the most promising candidate is string theory. String theory has its ardent supporters as well as ardent detractors, the supporters claiming it is promising whilst the detractors promising it isn’t even a theory. Hawking is now one of its supporters.
Strings, Extra Dimensions And M Theory
In short, the theory proposes that the fundamental particles of the universe are not like miniscule dots as many imagine, but miniscule one dimensional strings that vibrate frantically. Depending on what version of the theory tickles your fancy, it is said by theorists that these strings vibrate in 10, 11 or even 26 dimensions in space. String theory is essentially characterised by a dimensional overload as well as an overabundance of richly preposterous concepts. To many theorists, these spare dimensions that are supposedly lying around somewhere, are somewhat inconvenient if not embarrassing. To this day, nobody has yet noticed them and nobody has yet found any of them. The search continues and the physicists are groping. Furthermore these excited strings are so miniscule as to be almost non-existent and so they cannot be detected directly. To get an idea of how small they are, you would need 1026 number of strings (the number 1 followed by 26 zeros), attached end to end to be able to stretch from one side of an atom to the other. Pretty tiny!
As affirmed in their new book, Hawking and Mlodinow now believe they are very close to finding a single unifying theory of the universe and now champion a young theory in physics called M theory. Nobody knows what the M really stands for (possibly magic, master, matrix or mystery), but I suspect it will eventually stand for myth. But, I am willing to suspend judgment. Time will tell. M theorists postulate that there are no less than 11 dimensions and it is also believed to unite all five versions of string theory together. This is the major subject within The Grand Design and Hawking and Mlodinow write about the concept and its prospects in length. To their credit the authors are honest enough to admit that M theory isn’t a theory in the usual sense and that it may not even be possible to decipher what it is, but somehow they seem sure of its conclusions. Another key conjecture they champion in the book is the multiverse theory which states that our universe is one of many. It could be 10 to the 500th different universes or an infinite number of universes. In other universes, the physical constants are different and ours happens to be the one that is life permitting. This idea supposedly solves the problem of why our universe is so delicately and exquisitely fine tuned to allow for intelligent, carbon based life to emerge and it also solves several other puzzling concepts in quantum physics. This is a problem that has concerned and worried many atheists because in a single universe, it is just too good to be true. The odds are truly incomprehensible. If there is a multitude of different universes, then our perplexing existence can comfortably be attributed to the atheists best friend, sheer dumb luck. The central purpose of these ideas is to explain how the universe could have created itself out of nothing. Hawking writes:
“Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”
A Universe From Nothing?
Hawking’s assertion, it should be said, is an extravagant one as well as a fallacious one. An assertion that common sense should tell us, is tremendously incoherent and irrational. It doesn’t take a logician to realise that the idea is logically impossible. As a person who is convinced that God exists and is required for the creation of the universe, it isn’t surprising that I find quarrel with Hawking’s idea. But, the gravamen of my discontent with his claim, is that it isn’t one justified scientifically or metaphysically . Philosopher Peter.S Williams argues: ‘On the one hand, one needn’t know anything about cosmology to see that it’s logically impossible for anything to literally ‘create itself from nothing’ since things can only have causal effects if they exist and ‘nothing’ is by definition the absence of anything capable of doing anything whatsoever.‘ Hawking’s concept of nothing isn’t really nothing in the true sense because if it was, there couldn’t even be a law of gravity which is supposedly what got everything going. The law of gravity is certainly a big something and the sensible person is more than justified in asking the questions: Where did the laws of physics and gravity come from? What or who put the ‘blue touch paper’ there in the first place and, why on earth does the universe even bother existing at all? These are fundamental and common sense questions that Hawking has not addressed, nor for that matter has anyone else. If what he says is true, in reality it merely shows how something can come from something else and it pushes the vexing question back a step. We are where we started.
It should be said that these are charitable criticisms as I am evidently no physicist. As mentioned many detractors of string theory (who are physicists), don’t consider it to even be a theory as it currently has absolutely no experimental support or observable evidence. This is something which a true scientific theory requires. There is also little hope that it can be supported by any tangible evidence in the future due to the nature of the theory. In a radio interview on Premier Christian Radio, British physicist and former colleague of Hawking, Roger Penrose, stated:
“What is referred to as M theory isn’t even a theory, it’s a collection of ideas, hopes and aspirations and I think the book is misleading in that respect. It gives you the impression that here’s this new theory that’s going to explain everything. It’s nothing of the sort…and it certainly has no observational support.”
What shouldn’t be overlooked is that Penrose is not a theist but finds Hawking’s speculations and conclusions to be false. Since the book has been published, it has received scathing criticisms from many physicists on the basis of his ‘science‘. The debates over Hawking’s book are not between science and religion because the science is not there. There is nothing entirely new in the The Grand Design about the origin of the universe or the fine tuning of the universe and most of Hawking’s conjectures are purely metaphysical. The problem is that the authors fail to distinguish between physics and metaphysics which, is ultimately what is misleading. What is even more puzzling is that a substantial portion of this book is remarkably postmodern and anti-realist, denying that there exists an objective reality. Who ever heard of a postmodern scientist? One of the striking blunders in the book is that on the first page, they proclaim that ‘philosophy is dead’. This remark is self refuting as that claim itself is a philosophical one! Their unjustified and arrogant assertion succeeds in insulting every member of the department of philosophy at Cambridge university where he himself teaches. Moreover the majority of the book, aside from the historical overview of science, is entirely philosophical and not scientific. Albert Einstein was surely right when he remarked: ‘The man of science is a poor philosopher’. Considering the claim that ‘philosophy is dead’, theoretical cosmologist George Ellis argues: ‘Philosophy is not dead. Every point of view is imbued with philosophy. Why is science worth doing? The answer is philosophical… Science can’t answer that question about itself.’ Indeed, it can’t.
Here I have outlined just a couple of the flaws in The Grand Design and it should be clear that his rejection of philosophy has caused him to make some absurd claims and logical blunders. There is no doubt that he is one of the greatest scientists in the last century who has done some astonishing work in his field, but his attempts at the deepest metaphysical questions of reality suffer from some fatal flaws. Below this post there are links to better informed criticisms of the book by several physicists, philosophers and Christians. Hawking and those who have eagerly embraced his claims are latching on to these ideas through an act of blind faith because as of yet, there is no evidence for the ideas that they hold. However, not all faith is blind and reasonable faith has evidence to support it. Faith and evidence are by no means mutually exclusive. The God hypothesis is supported by evidence and it requires a far smaller leap of faith than to believe that the universe just blasted itself into existence, uncaused and out of nothing.
Thanks for reading
Responses to Stephen Hawking