Hawking: No God Necessary

Well, there you have it; or at least we will have it on September 9, when Stephen Hawking’s new book is released. According to the newest theory, nothing spontaneously creates something, which becomes the universe. There is, therefore, no need to invoke a god or gods as the ultimate explanation of things. This is a bit of a departure from Hawking’s view in A Brief History of Time, in which the door was left somewhat ajar for the possibility of a creator.

I’m not a scientist. I have read more than the average person in the field of the interplay of science and theology; but I haven’t studied all the requisite fields of knowledge to render a scientific opinion on the merits of Hawking’s proposal. I do not know, therefore, whether it actually is scientifically possible for matter to appear out of, literally, nowhere. Color me skeptical. But even if the possibility of such as origin could be established, it does not automatically negate other options. It would be, at best, one of the possible causes of the universe, not the only logical option.

In my reading of science-theology dialogs, it seems that something is consistently missed by those of atheist leanings. Perhaps in part because of their drive to find data-based answers for all beliefs, many in the scientific community believe that Christians (and other theists) believe in God because we find Him necessary to explain the world. God, according to this prevailing attitude, is the answer to why there is a world at all; and the further belief is that such a conclusion comes from the investigation of the available data. So when one refuses to search all of that data, and in fact dismisses it as irrelevant to ultimate questions, the scientist can only conclude that believers are deluded, obscurantist, and just plain stupid.

But is that really the way belief is established? Do we insist on a personal Creator because we refuse to face “the facts” uncovered by empirical investigation? The God of the Bible is not the conclusion of mankind’s search for origins, which then became the property of a privileged (male) class, which in turn wrote the stories and the rules in such a way as to secure their own privileged position. From the very beginning, God is the one who reveals Himself, not the intricacies of the natural order. And that continues to be the case for people of faith. God addresses us, makes us aware of His presence with an invitation to find meaning–not just the meaning of a natural order, but meaning for life and relationship, now and beyond the observable order.

The fact that the solution to our quest for meaning and a plausible explanation of the universe cohere with one another provides something Hawking’s proposal cannot give. It doesn’t simply explain why there is an “us” and a place for us; it explains us.

11 thoughts on “Hawking: No God Necessary

  1. I remember this guy I think his name was Miller who said at least once, “If not this, then what?” And so the scientists continue groping in the dark for some shred of evidence to support the theory of something out of nothing or at least something out of chaos. Jesus suddenly appeared out of nothing, into a room filled with disciples. How did he get there? Why did he choose to suddenly appear there and they suddenly disappear at the dinner table after the walk to Emmaus? Why and how did he float up into the sky and ascend into heaven before their very eyes? Why did he transfigure into a dazzling white before their very eyes. Ultimately, the Holy Spirit made sure that none of this was hidden from us. God made himself as small as an embryo and as carnal as a human because he is God who chooses to do so. Because God can do that if and when he chooses. God can make anything out of nothing like nothing else can or ever will.

  2. Naturally there are many competing accounts of the “origins” of the universe as we know it today. For the most part, the “how” and “why” questions are inevitably intertwined, but particularly in religious accounts. While physicists like Professor Hawking are not immune from this practice, I think we’d be on safe ground to say that there’s a fairly solid consensus in contemporary science that “nothing” is, in fact, “something” and that how the universe emerged can be explained in terms that don’t require what is usually conceived to be “external causation”, an “unmoved mover” or God(s), as popularly understood.

    Absent additional data / evidence / theories, scientists might not have much to say about this “something nothing” from which our universe emerged, and no doubt it will the be the subject of ongoing study, but there’s no compelling reason to assume that this “something nothing” might not itself be “eternal” (as we understand the concept of temporality within our current experience). And certainly there’s nothing particularly new or even controversial about such a view, which can be found in Enlightenment thinkers like Hegel and Schelling, not to mention earlier Greek philosophers and religious traditions of various sorts. What’s different is that science accounts for the same using methods that are not, strictly speaking, “faith-based” – in other words, anyone can do the math and reach similar conclusions regardless of “why” they might think that these things have occurred.

    Frankly, in my own experience, religious faith seldom if ever arises out of rational argument or appeal to “facts”; it is essentially a subjective transformation of the individual’s perspective brought on by any number of causes, some sudden and dramatic; some gradual and subtle. I’m not entirely sure why Evangelicals continue to struggle against contemporary scientific accounts of “how” the world came into being. Disputing the “why” strikes me as fair enough, and I would share skepticism towards those who believe that physics answers that question.

    With respect to the “appeal to miracles” – that’s special pleading insofar as one must first accept the authority and historical accuracy of the NT accounts. As such, I don’t find it compelling at all.

    • Thanks for your thoughts on this, Juan. You’re right about the infrequency of rational demonstration leading to faith–by itself. I would suggest that it is a necessary but not sufficient condition for faith to become fully established. There are other factors going on.

      I am interested in following the argument Hawking has developed. I have never been a fan of placing God’s involvement in the universe inside the process, stepping in here and there in directly traceable ways. While the evidence is consistent with divine creation, it does not compel one to accept such IF one has not been exposed to the work of God in arenas other than creation. It is hard to believe that God would allow only the most scientifically advanced persons to see Him at work and know that He is real, leaving the rest of us in their debt.

  3. So let me get this straight, Mr. Hawking. Nothing acting on nothing, WITH nothing, BY nothing, and FOR nothing created everything?????????????????????????! Where does thought come from? Where does your vaunted reasoning ability come from?`As scientists continue to probe the atom, they keep finding smaller and smaller subatomic particles, which are really just energy. Hebrews says that the worlds were framed by the Word of God AND that all things ARE HELD TOGETHER by the Word of His power. This explains why particles that should repel each other because of their respective charges do not.

  4. The chance of something coming from nothing within the next year or two would be considered insane, but if you say within the next two million years, it becomes “possible”. “Time” somehow, makes all things possible (as long as you add enough zeroes to it). A christian is condemened for crediting God for all things.
    But when you break down all theories, they basicly give “time” credit for all things. I’ll stick with God.

    The Bible is very clear; those who deny their creator are called fools, but those who fear the Lord find wisdom. Yet, in our society a “fool” is held in high esteeme while the “wise” are ridiculed.

  5. I have not read the book, but I should probably add it to my (long) list of books to read. I’d be interested in how his thoughts/position meets popper’s condition on falsibility, has he proven by observation or experimentation there is no God.

    Over my increasingly long life I have found it interesting that attempts to question specifically biblical accounts through archeology have been unsuccessful therefore failing popper’s test (to date). Similiar problems exist with geophysics publications on Noah’s flood being “only local”.

  6. As you may have noticed I am always up for good debates, on topics that interest me. This topic interests me. I have spent…(wasted) too much time on discussion boards such as Amazon etc. trying to “discuss” this very subject, and find out exactly what each side believes I took Francis Schaeffers suggested approach from “Escape from Reason”, which is starting from the beginning. In other words discover why Creation is not even a possibility while, everything else is, using the same scientific methods.

    Here is a summarization of the results:
    If you are not a Scientist you are not smart.

    If you are not a Scientist and a Christian you are even dumber, not only in the field of Science but all encompassing.

    If you are a Scientist you can approve or disapprove any theories you want by a group of peirs basing your dissapproval on whether or not the new theory jives with faulty Science that has prematurely been catapaulted to Fact status and therefore becoming the standard.

    All theories or (premature facts) are based on premises that do not pass the Scientific Steps, a luxury Creation is not given therefore being not only disallowed but apparently requires character assasination rather than answers.

    • I forgot the majorities answer, if you are to simply take a Biology course, you would realize there is no alternative to “origins” other than evolution.

      I guess if you remove the part of the brain that analyzes and compares info. and simply just store, then maybe. (But I’m one of the really dumb ones so what do I know.)

    • Dude, you got that one nailed. I did a lecture at RPI about 10 years ago on some esoteric aspect of CS and went to dinner with the chairman and the Dean (who i did not know). Half way through the dinner she began to tear into Christians, and I told her I resembled that remark, she was stunned. She then said on the order of I was smart, educated, and erudite how could I be a Christian? In the mode of “you have heard said”, I told her that where she was from (California) that Christians were people who had no shoes and lived in a holler in West Virginia (apologies to Dr. Dorsey and his cohorts), and that this was far from true, and felt things in Cosmology like the BigBang tasted like a before and after existance thing yada yada. With daggers from the chairman she subsided and we returned to Aristotle.

      But I fear that we can do the same thing (not that I am an evangelical), at my best friend’s wedding he put me at the table the two sigmas beyond the mean people. A Jewish couple, a hindu couple, a confuciunist and the missions head of the free churches of America. A veritable Marty banquet!
      After an hour of discussion of Hillel, Confucius, and the Rig Veda, the Hindu couple asked me what I though of James Dobson as they had been supporting him for years. The mind imprisoned free churcher began to stutter (he had been silent for the previous hour), “Why in the world do you support him?” The answer (of course) was because they supported families, and families were important in India, and a universal. We then segue’ed to other universals, the Sermon on the mount, and Paul’s unknown God speech.

      Now the prisoner was completely lost, “What are you?” was his question to me. Your worst nightmare was my thought, but I didn’t say that.

      What little truth I can comprehend and communicate out of Orthodox Christianity (and more importantly live), must be socialized for others, our dismissals by commission or omission are deadly to these truths.

  7. I wish I had time to respond to all of the anecdotes above, but I will instead sum up. I taught middle school “Logic” courses for a homeschooling co-op last year, and I introduced my thoughts on logic and debate by saying:

    I believe that the things I believe are truly the most logical, rational conclusion to the great questions of life and the universe. That said, though, I’ve never known anyone who was logically argued into the kingdom of Heaven. You need to be able to think and speak logically about what you believe, but never let debate take the place of loving your neighbor.

    • The “summariztaion” was only partially in my own words, that is how my honest questions were responded to.

      As far as debating, the purpose is “what do you believe and why, this is what I believe and why” In no way is that unloving. There are styles of “debate” which are certainly unloving, however I have on more than one occasion in this very blog, spoken out against those.

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