Stephen Hawking and the necessity of God.

Like almost everyone else who is commenting on this story, I have not read Stephen Hawking’s new book ‘The Grand Design‘; indeed, the book itself won’t be published until September 7th. All that’s been published is an extract which is hiding behind the Times’ intensely irritable paywall. However, here’s the summary of the story in the (still mercifully free) Daily Telegraph online:

The scientist has claimed that no divine force was needed to explain why the Universe was formed.

In his latest book, The Grand Design, an extract of which is published in Eureka magazine in The Times, Hawking said: “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.”

He added: “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the Universe going.”

(Read the rest here).

Since I am planning, in early October, to preach a sermon on the subject ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ I was interested (if more than a little irritated!) to read this story this morning. I’m quite sure that I will have to read Hawking’s book before I preach my sermon, as of course it will be the ‘flavour of the month’ and everyone’s first question will be ‘What do you think of what Stephen Hawking said…?’ And since his argument is apparently based on m-theory, which is a variant of string theory and posits the existence of eleven dimensions, I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to understand it! I’ve been doing my level best to bring myself up to snuff as far as the interface of science and religion is concerned, but the fact is that God obviously designed my brain (!!!) to play old folk songs and listen to people in need, not to try to understand string theory and eleven dimensions!

Still, I know enough philosophy to be a little nonplussed at Hawking’s statement ‘Because there is a law such as Gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing’. This begs the question ‘Why is there a law such as gravity?’

In answer to this rather obvious question, some people have left comments on various new sites pointing out that the use of the word ‘law’ is deceptive; there are in fact no ‘laws’, there are simply observations about the way things are in the universe. Fair enough, but before the universe (or universes – Hawking apparently posits the existence of a great number of them) spontaneously created itself, there could not be ‘observations about the way things are in the universe’. All there could be is ‘nothing’. I don’t know enough about science to know whether Hawking can explain how what he calls ‘the law of gravity’, in its turn, could spontaneously create itself out of nothing, but it seems to me that if he can’t, he’s still got some explaining to do.

All this, by way of uninformed comment. I look forward to reading the book. Meanwhile, I’ll keep praying, since, as William Temple once observed, ‘When I stop praying, the coincidences stop happening…’

P.S. William Crawley, at Will and Testament, has a fairly sane assessment of the issue.

2 thoughts on “Stephen Hawking and the necessity of God.

  1. Erika Baker

    I love the thought that laws could not have suddenly appeared out of nowhere. It sounds plausible, although I am not a scientist so I may be wrong!
    But what concerns me slightly is that your argument is still one of God of the gap. Even if everything in nature and the universe could be explained with 100% certainty it would still not rule out the possibility of God.
    It strikes me that fundamentalism, which is so hugely dangerous to genuine faith, is ultimately the logical consequence of believing that science can threaten religion and responding by claiming scientific truths for our faith or locating it in those parts science cannot yet reach.

  2. Pingback: More on Stephen Hawking and the beginning of the universe | Faith, Folk and Charity

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