Scientists respond to Stephen Hawking
Eminent scientists, theologians and philosophers have mounted a strong response to Stephen Hawking, challenging his recent assertation that science renders God unnecessary in the creation of the universe.
Hawking, who had previously argued that belief in a Creator was not incompatible with modern physics, has now adopted the position that there is no need to invoke God to set the universe going. He argues in his new book "The Grand Design" that:
"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." [Full article - The Times]
His controversial position has attracted strong criticism from learned cosmologists, mathematicians, religious leaders and philosophers of science. A selection of their recent responses include:
Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury [Full article - Wales Online]
“Belief in God is not about plugging a gap in explaining how one thing relates to another within the universe. It is the belief that there is an intelligent, living agent on whose activity everything ultimately depends for its existence...
Physics on its own will not settle the question of why there is something rather than nothing.”
Rev. Dr. Ernest C Lucas [Full article - Evangelical Alliance]
"Christians and people of other faiths argue that there is good evidence in human history and human experience that a Creator God, not just the laws of physics, is required as the answer to the question: 'Why does anything exist at all'?"
Professor John Lennox [Full article - Daily Mail]
"Contrary to what Hawking claims, physical laws can never provide a complete explanation of the universe," he said, adding that laws do not create anything in and of themselves.
What Hawking appears to have done is to confuse law with agency. His call on us to choose between God and physics is a bit like someone demanding that we choose between aeronautical engineer Sir Frank Whittle and the laws of physics to explain the jet engine.
That is a confusion of category. The laws of physics can explain how the jet engine works, but someone had to build the thing, put in the fuel and start it up. The jet could not have been created without the laws of physics on their own - but the task of development and creation needed the genius of Whittle as its agent."
Rev Dr. David Wilkinson [Full article - Cosmic Log, MSNBC]
"[Hawking] raises a number of questions which for many opens the door to the possibility of an existence of a creator, such as cosmic purpose, the source of the laws of physics and the intelligibility of the universe."
Rev Professor Alister McGrath [Full article - News Letter]
[But ]Revd Professor Alister McGrath – an Ulster academic at King's College in London who has an international reputation in Christian apologetics – asked: "So where do the laws of physics come from, then?" Downpatrick-born Mr McGrath, who has an extensive background in molecular biophysics and theology, said: "Hawking just moves the problem back one stage."
Professor Eric Priest, FRS [Full article - The Guardian]
"...to rule out a possibly important role for God is in my view unjustified. It is certainly possible that God sets up and maintains or underpins the laws of physics and allows them to work, so that being able to explain the big bang in terms of physics is not inconsistent with there being a role for God.
As a scientist, you are continually questioning, rarely coming up with a definitive answer. The limitations of your own knowledge and expertise together with the beauty and mystery of life and the universe often fill you with a sense of profound humility. Thus, unequivocal assertions are not part of a genuine scientific quest.
... many of the questions that are most crucial to us as human beings are not addressed adequately at all by science, such as the nature of beauty and love and how to live one's life – often philosophy or history or theology are better suited to help answer them.
The complementary nature of different questions and in particular of the difference between how and why are important. If M-theory does indeed turn out to enable a unified theory, Hawking may be able in future to say how the universe started, but as a physicist he cannot answer the question "why?"
Dr. Lee Rayfield, Bishop of Swindon [Full article - BBC]
"[Science] can never prove the non-existence of God, just as it can never prove the existence of God. Faith is a matter that's outside that.
But as I look at the universe, and as many people who are much more understanding of cosmology than I, and mathematics, as they look at it, through the eyes of faith, they see a universe which is still very coherent with what we believe about God and His nature."
Lord Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi [The Jewish Chronicle]
"There is more to wisdom than science. It cannot tell us why we are here or how we should live,"
Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols [Full article - Daily Mail]
'I would totally endorse what the Chief Rabbi said so eloquently about the relationship between religion and science."
Dr Denis Alexander [Full article - CNN]
"The 'god' that Stephen Hawking is trying to debunk is not the creator God of the Abrahamic faiths who really is the ultimate explanation for why there is something rather than nothing. Hawking's god is a god-of-the-gaps used to plug present gaps in our scientific knowledge.
Science provides us with a wonderful narrative as to how [existence] may happen, but theology addresses the meaning of the narrative."
Rev Dr. Fraser Watts [Full article - CNN]
"a creator God provides a reasonable and credible explanation of why there is a universe, and ... it is somewhat more likely that there is a God than that there is not. That view is not undermined by what Hawking has said."
Professor George Ellis [Full article - VOA News]
Scientist and educator George Ellis, the president of the International Society for Science and Religion, is quoted as saying his biggest problem with Hawking's theories is that they present the public with "a choice - either science or religion."
Fr Brian Lucas, Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Gen. Secretary [Full article - SMH]
''Among scientists there has always been discussion about the origins of the universe and discussion about cause and effect..
There are still two questions for the scientists to answer. Where did the laws of physics come from that led to the spontaneous existence of the universe and the second question is why is there a universe at all?''
Professor Paul Davies [Full article - The Hindu]
"Can the multiverse provide a complete and closed account of all physical existence? Not quite. The multiverse comes with a lot of baggage, such as an overarching space and time to host all those bangs, a universe-generating mechanism to trigger them, physical fields to populate the universes with material stuff, and a selection of forces to make things happen. Cosmologists embrace these features by envisaging sweeping “meta-laws” that pervade the multiverse and spawn specific bylaws on a universe-by-universe basis. The meta-laws themselves remain unexplained - eternal, immutable transcendent entities that just happen to exist and must simply be accepted as given. In that respect the meta-laws have a similar status to an unexplained transcendent god.
...Although cosmology has advanced enormously since the time of Laplace, the situation remains the same: there is no compelling need for a supernatural being or prime mover to start the universe off. But when it comes to the laws that explain the big bang, we are in murkier waters."
Brother Guy Consolmagno, SJ, Vatican Observatory [Full article - ICN]
Brother Consolmagno, told CNA on Friday how the preconditions for the universe's unfolding and operations were not a form of “nothing,” as Hawking considers them to be. Rather, he said, they are the conditions created by God for the ordering of the world.
“God is the reason why space and time and the laws of nature can be present for the forces to operate that Stephen Hawking is talking about,” he said.
Br Consolmagno said Hawking's dismissal of God was based not only on his incorrect designation of physical laws as “nothing,” but also on a failure to grasp the notion of God's transcendence. As such, he concluded, Hawking was really dismissing a kind of “god” in which Christians do not believe.
“The 'god' that Stephen Hawking doesn’t believe in, is one I don’t believe in either. God is not just another force in the Universe, alongside gravity or electricity. God is not a force to be invoked to . . . 'start a scene or two' and fill the momentary gaps in our knowledge.”
Br Consolmagno said: “God is the reason why existence itself exists.”
Fr Robert Spitzer [Full article - ICN]
Jesuit priest and scholar, former president of Gongaza University Fr Robert Spitzer, said Hawking's dismissal of God reflects fundamental confusions about the Christian concept of God, as the creator of all that exists - "both the physical universe, and the laws of physics which apply to it."
Although Hawking talks about the universe “creating itself from nothing,” he is presupposing that this “nothing” somehow involved gravity and other fundamental laws of physics, Fr Robert said.
But principles such as gravity are not irreducible or self-evident axioms. Rather, they are non-physical laws which govern the ordinary operations of the physical world. Thus, Fr Robert explained, there is no comparison between a creation which unfolds and develops according to laws followed by matter, and Hawking's proposal of “spontaneous creation” from “nothing.”
FR Robert writes: “Let’s take the law mentioned by Dr. Hawking above – the law of gravity. It has a specific constant associated with it and specific characteristics, and it has specific effects on mass-energy and even on space-time itself. This is a very curious definition of 'nothing'.”
“Now if we rephrase Dr Hawking’s statement in the above fashion, then he has clearly not explained why there is something rather than nothing. He has only explained that something comes from something,” by describing the development of a functioning universe on the basis of laws such as gravity."
He concludes: "In my view Dr Hawking has not yet shown the non-necessity of this reality. Indeed, he implies it by assuming the existence of a beginning in his assertion about the universe coming from nothing.”
More Links and Resources:
Radio interviews with the Rev Dr Rodney Holder [Link - BBC]
"Questions for Hawking " audio blog by Dr William Lane Craig [Link - Reasonable Faith]
ABC News September 7 interview with Hawking [Link - ABC]
ABC Lateline program: Universe inevitable: Hawking
The curious metaphysics of Dr Stephen Hawking by Fr Robert Spitzer [Link - Catholic Education]
"Stephen Hawking, God and the role of science" by Prof. Alister McGrath [Link - ABC]
"Science, belief and the question of proof" by Prof. Alister McGrath [Link - ABC]
Critical Review of "The Grand Design" by Prof. Roger Penrose [Link - FT.com]
Premier Radio "Unbelievable" program interview with McGrath & Penrose [Link]
Further quotes and analysis from the Evangelical Alliance (UK)