Stephen Hawking-The Incompetent Metaphysician

“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.

The creation of the universe

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 sortand 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


7 thoughts on “Stephen Hawking-The Incompetent Metaphysician

  1. Contemporary physics has stepped into a realm where the true bright minds would be better off to work in isolation from the accepted dogmas of the last hundred years. One of many great flaws of contemporary physics is the shear arrogance displayed by the most public of these physicists, how utterly puffed-up they have become with their own prideful beliefs, and the total lack of respect for the greats of the past. Which they fail to honor while they stand on the shoulders of these individuals. Humility is direly lacking in the halls of our institutions today, great carelessness is displayed by placing so much faith in their smoothed-over maths and theories which have few works in reality to back them up, but plenty of problems have been caused by them. It may well be proved by future generations that contemporary physics will prove to be nothing more than art created to please the
    inflated egos of the most vain. YHVH is no respecter of persons, these fools shall go the way of all flesh.

  2. all scientists that think this very mistrious universe has come from nothing, simply with out a
    creator , are the greatest fools of the universe really. A not learned /illitrate average intilegence person can easily compeherend that all sorts creations are purposely created for the humans, not for anyone, as humans were not created, all nature/ world is simply a vain .b/c we humans only admire and sense the GREAT BEAUTY OF THE UNIVERSE !!! AND THE MASTER MIND DO NOT SIMPLY LEAVE US ON THIS WORLD , HE HAS PREPARED ALL WHAT


  3. Philosophy is dead. Is Logic dead also?

    “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.”
    – Stephen Hawking in “The Grand Design”
    “As recent advances in cosmology suggest, the laws of gravity and quantum theory allow universes to appear spontaneously 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.”
    – Stephen Hawking, Ibid

    Here three questions can be asked:

    1) Which one came first, universe, or laws of gravity and quantum theory?
    2) If the universe came first, then how was there spontaneous creation without the laws of gravity and quantum theory?
    3) If the laws of gravity and quantum theory came first, then Hawking has merely substituted God with quantum theory and laws of gravity. These two together can be called Hawking’s “Unconscious God”. Therefore we can legitimately ask the question: Who, or what, created Hawking’s unconscious God?

    Not only this, but there are other problems also. If the laws of gravity and quantum theory allow universes spontaneously appearing from nothing, then initially there was nothing. Then wherefrom appear those laws of gravity and quantum theory to allow universes appearing spontaneously from nothing? In which container were those two laws of nature?

    Now regarding the M-theory: I have already written something on multiverse theory (not yet published anywhere). There I have come to the conclusion that if there are an infinite number of universes, then only within that infinite number of universes there will certainly be at least one universe in which life will emerge. If the number of universes is only 10 to the power 500, then it is very much unlikely that any one of them will support life, because no universe will know which set of values the other universes have already taken, and if everything is left on chance, then there is every probability that all the universes will take only those set of values that will not support life. There will be no mechanism that will prevent any universe from taking the same set of values that have already been taken by other universes. There will be no mechanism that will take an overview of all the universes already generated, and seeing that in none of them life has actually emerged will move the things in such a way that at least one universe going to be generated afterwards will definitely get the value of the parameters just right for the emergence of life. Only in case of an infinite number of universes this problem will not be there. This is because if we subtract 10 to the power 500 from infinity, then also we will get infinity. If we subtract infinity from infinity, still then we will be left with infinity. So we are always left with an infinite number of universes out of which in at least one universe life will definitely emerge. Therefore if M-theory shows that it can possibly have 10 to the power 500 number of solutions, and that thus there might be 10 to the power 500 number of universes in each of which physical laws would be different, then it is really a poor theory, because it cannot give us any assurance that life will certainly emerge in at least one universe. So instead of M-theory we need another theory that will actually have an infinite number of solutions.

    Now the next question to be pondered is this: How did the scientists come to know that an entire universe could come out of nothing? Or, how did they come to know that anything at all could come out of nothing? Were they present at that moment when the universe was being born? As that was not the case at all, therefore they did not get that idea being present at the creation event. Rather they got this idea being present here on this very earth. They have created a vacuum artificially, and then they have observed that virtual particles (electron-positron pairs) are still appearing spontaneously out of that vacuum and then disappearing again. From that observation they have first speculated, and then ultimately theorized, that an entire universe could also come out of nothing. But here their entire logic is flawed. These scientists are all born and brought up within the Christian tradition. Maybe they have downright rejected the Christian world-view, but they cannot say that they are all ignorant of that world-view. According to that world-view God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent. So as per Christian belief-system, and not only as per Christian belief-system, but as per other belief-systems also, God is everywhere. So when these scientists are saying that the void is a real void, God is already dead and non-existent for them. But these scientists know very well that non-existence of God will not be finally established until and unless it is shown that the origin of the universe can also be explained without invoking God. Creation event is the ultimate event where God will have to be made redundant, and if that can be done successfully then that will prove beyond any reasonable doubt that God does not exist. So how have they accomplished that job, the job of making God redundant in case of creation event?

    These were the steps:

    1) God is non-existent, and so, the void is a real void. Without the pre-supposition that God does not exist, it cannot be concluded that the void is a real void.
    2) As virtual particles can come out of the void, so also the entire universe. Our universe has actually originated from the void due to a quantum fluctuation in it.
    3) This shows that God was not necessary to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going, as because there was no creation event.
    4) This further shows that God does not exist.

    So here what is to be proved has been proved based on the assumption that it has already been proved. Philosophy is already dead for these scientists. Is it that logic is also dead for them?

  4. A good friend of mine from Germany (who I met in Cambridge at the faraday institute), posted an interested comment on facebook about this particular post. He makes some good points and so I asked permission to post it here…

    1. Malte said:
      ‘You ask Hawking, where the laws of physics comes from. But this is not the right question. As a matter of fact, they a…re there. And the question then would be: Could there have been other laws of physics?
      The question actually has to to with a fundamental problem of physics, if it tries to explain the origin of being. The Problem is that physics is concerned with laws only. And laws as such dont create matter. For example, you can describe the creation of matter out of energy but the formula itself does not create anything. This is the point. Laws describe events but they do not create them.
      In short: Hawking says science overcomes the myth. But Hawking himself tells a myth (in the language of physics) by assuming that matter is created by the laws of physics. Since he personalise (in a sense) the laws of physics: Gravitation as the creator of everything.’

      1. The Question ‘where do the laws of physics come from’ may well be the wrong question to ask in response to Hawking. But to a layman this may seem like a common sense question ask. If a physicist responds to the question of where the universe come from by refering back to a big bang and then refering further back to the laws of physics as the origin of a big bang, then it would seem unfair to refuse the question of where the laws came from. I just don’t think they can be taken as a brute fact. Some more interesting questions to ask are: Why are those laws there? Could they have been different?

        You are right to say that the laws of physics cannot create anything. The laws merely describe what happens under certain conditions and it is important not to make a catagory error by confusing law and agency. This is what so many physicists like Hawking and Laurence Krauss do over and over. To quote mathematician John Lennox: ‘Isaac Newton’s laws of motion in themselves never sent a snooker ball racing across the green baize. That can only be done by people using a snooker cue and the actions of their own arm.’

        Hawking seems to treat the laws as brute fact and attributes them to the creation of everything. Hawking has said that we can call the laws God but this isn’t the God most people have in mind. So in many ways he does personalise these laws as the ultimate creator. The problem is I think, it is clear that agency is needed but it is a conclusion few are willing to except and indeed atheists often find it deeply repugnant and unsatisfying. I say, too bad! Furthermore, when we see that the whole of the cosmos is mathematically beautiful and structured, I think it is much more rational and intellectualy satisfying to posit a divine, creative mind behind it all.

        1. Beautiful! Wonderfully said and much more excepting and thought provoking than any of Stephen’s thinking and “brute facts” (lol). I believe what you and your friend are saying is true and should be spread across the vast cyber space.

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