Monday, September 6, 2010

Hawking's God

"But contrary to what Hawking claims, physical laws can never provide a complete explanation of the universe. Laws themselves do not create anything, they are merely a description of what happens under certain conditions." Dr. John Lennox, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford, writing for Mail Online

Recently Stephen Hawking, while promoting his new (yet-to-be-published) book The Grand Design, has made a few highly controversial statements. In an interview Hawking stated, "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." Dr. Lennox responded to Hawking's statement in an article for Mail Online where he says what I have quoted above. I wanted to write about this because I both agree and disagree with Dr. Lennox. I agree with him in that physical laws can never provide a complete explanation of the universe and that laws, of course, do not create anything. In his article, Dr. Lennox goes onto say, "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." This is where I disagree with him. I do not think that Hawking is confusing law with agency but attributing agency to the laws of physics, replacing a personal God with impersonal laws.

Many years ago in A Brief History of Time (BHT) Hawking stated, "If we discover a complete theory it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason for then we would know the mind of God." When Hawking wrote BHT he seemed to be your average deist who does not believe in a personal God but believes that some transcendent being is necessary for creating the laws of physics and mathematics. In his recent statements, Hawking appears to have changed his theology about God. This is what is creating all the hype about this book. But has he (this is the way Dr. Lennox interprets it) or is he now just being more explicit about who, or what, this "God" is? I believe it is the latter. I do not think that Hawking has changed his theology at all but is being much more explicit than he was in BHT. Now he is specifically stating that a personal God does not exist but that the laws of physics are "God". Look at what he says, "Because there is a law such as gravity..." (emphasis mine). He is not eliminating a need for a first cause (see the Kalam Cosmological Argument) but treating the laws of physics as a brute reality, a transcendent cause that is preexistent. To Hawking, "God" is the laws of physics.

Why is he doing this? Well, again, I believe we can see that in his statement in BHT as well as his recent statements. In BHT he says that discovering a complete theory would allow us to "know the mind of God." In his new book Hawking is proposing a way of looking at the universe where it would be possible for a human to know everything there is to know about the universe (a theory of everything (TOE)). Now we can see what is driving Hawking. If God is personal and transcendent, then the idea that we could come up with a TOE that shows us "the mind of God" is impossible. For example, science would not be able to answer the question of why the universe exists in the first place. However, if "God" is an impersonal set of physical laws that are simply a brute force of reality with no basis (a god) then a TOE is possible. Hawking is picking one cosmological and theological model over another so that it would be possible for him to have a complete theory of everything.

Hawking, like all human beings do at one point or another, has fallen prey to the original temptation of satan. How does satan tempt Eve in the Garden of Eden? "'You will not surely die,' the serpent said to the woman. 'For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God...'" (Genesis 3:4-5). In order to know what God knows, Eve disobeyed the one command He gave Adam and her by eating the fruit. In order to know what God knows, Hawking is taking a theological world-view, which holds that "God" is an impersonal set of physical laws that transcend the universe.

There is a very big problem with what Hawking is doing here, however. The laws of physics constantly remind all scientists that effect cannot be greater than the cause, the lesser cannot produce the greater. How can an impersonal set of laws (the lesser) produce personal beings like humans (the greater)? Why is it that humans have personality, compassion, or relationships? Hawking's TOE cannot answer this question because the impersonal cannot beget the personal. To put the problem in another way that philosopher Kenneth Samples has put it, "How is it that the universe can create beings that can understand the universe but the universe cannot understand itself?" If the universe generates us and we can understand the universe but the universe cannot understand us then we are greater than the universe. This is counter to the laws of physics. Impersonal laws (Hawking's "God") can only produce impersonal results such as planets and stars, but they cannot produce personal, compassionate, relational beings like us.

By His Grace,

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