Has Stephen Hawking Made God Unnecessary?

From:  http://www.catholic.com/
Trent Horn

Picture of Stephen Hawking

This week Stephen Hawking delivered a lecture at the California Institute of Technology titled “The Origin of the Universe,” and you’re likely to have heard about it because, according to mainstream media outlets, Hawking has put God out of a job. In an article headlined “Stephen Hawking lays out case for Big Bang without God,” NBC News describes the presentation:

Stephen Hawking began the event by reciting an African creation myth, and rapidly moved on to big questions such as, Why are we here? He noted that many people still seek a divine solution to counter the theories of curious physicists, and at one point, he quipped, “What was God doing before the divine creation? Was he preparing hell for people who asked such questions?”

It’s somewhat annoying that Hawking implicitly uses the argument “Some religious explanations are silly (such as myths about gods laying eggs that become the universe), therefore all religious explanations are silly.” Surely he would know that Cal Tech is the site where Fr. George Lemaitre discussed the first incarnation of the Big Bang theory seventy years ago with a skeptical Albert Einstein (who felt that the idea of the “beginning of the universe” smacked too much of religion).

Fr. Lemaitre firmly believed in following the scientific evidence where it led, and this did not exclude God from his view of the universe. The NBC News article also describes Hawking as claiming that Pope John Paul II told scientists visiting the Vatican to study the universe but not the beginning of the universe since that is “holy” (this claim is also found in Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, 120). There’s no way to verify that this exchange took place because Hawking claims that it was said in a private audience. My money is on the Pope telling the scientists that there is a difference between studying the scientific question of the beginning of the universe and the philosophical/religious question of the origin of the universe, something Hawking apparently fails to grasp.

If Hawking wants to exclude God’s creative activity from the beginning of the universe, he’s going to need a pretty good argument. Does he have one? Unfortunately, this particular NBC news article is short on specifics. The articles says only that Hawking believes that a variant of string theory proves that multiple universes can come into existence from nothing and one of those universes will, by chance alone, have the physical properties necessary for life to emerge.

The problem with appeals to string theory is that the theory is as malleable as pizza dough and is almost impossible to empirically verify. Famed Cal Tech physicist Richard Feynman, whom Hawking mentions in his talk, said, “For anything that disagrees with an experiment, [string theorists] cook up an explanation—a fix-up to say, ‘Well, it still might be true’”(quoted in Lee Smolin. The Trouble With Physics: The Rise of String Theory, The Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next, 2007, 125.)

Lee Smolin, whose cosmology influenced Richard Dawkins’s proposal to explain away God in his 2005 book The God Delusion, writes, “The scenario of many unobserved universes [in string theory] plays the same logical role as the scenario of an intelligent designer. Each provides an untestable hypothesis that, if true, makes something improbable seem quite probable.”

The other problem with Hawking’s proposal is the answer to the question “How did the universe begin to exist from nothing?” The metaphysical principle “out of nothing, nothing comes” would preclude an entire universe emerging from nothing through a singularity. The NBC article is confusing because Hawking’s preferred model for the beginning of the universe (the Hartle-Hawking “no-boundary” model, pictured below) does not include a singularity.

The model has a beginning but it has no beginning point or boundary to the universe’s past. Asking what occurred before the beginning of this model is like asking what is north of the North Pole (time just goes in the other direction just as once you reach the North pole you start to go south).

The model simply exists without a beginning event that needs an explanation.  The problem with this model is that Hawking relies on imaginary numbers, or the square root of negative numbers, for the time variables in order to preserve a purely spatial representation of the beginning of the universe. While imaginary numbers are helpful in abstract mathematics, it becomes absurd to measure a real entity such as the flow of time using something like “3i” minutes. Even Hawking admits that this is something of a mathematical trick and that “when one goes back to the real time in which we live . . . there will still appear to be singularities” (Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time, 144).

Hawking may have one alternative proposal for the beginning of the universe, but does he have any argument against the idea that God created the universe? The article alludes to one when Hawking makes the joke which Augustine first made about “what was God doing before he created the universe?” Augustine answered the question by noting that before creation there was no time so God was not “doing” anything within a temporal realm.

In other venues, such as the television show Curiosity, Hawking uses this observation as a springboard to argue that time did not exist at the Big Bang, so no cause is needed because causation only applies in time. According to Hawking, since all causes operate in time, not even God could make the universe while he exists timelessly.

However, the cause of an event does not have to be temporally priorto an event in order to be the event’s cause. In his Critique of Pure Reason, Immanuel Kant writes, “The greater part of operating causes in nature are simultaneous with their effects. . . . If the cause had but a moment before ceased to be, the effect could not have arisen.”

To understand this, consider a hammer smashing a window. In this case, it is clear that the hammer is swung before the window smashes; the window doesn’t smash before the hammer hits it.  However, if the cause (or the hammer moving through the air) disappeared even a microsecond before it touched the window, then the effect would never happen. Instead, there has to be a moment where the cause and effect “overlap” and both happen at the same time. Likewise, the cause of God creating the universe and the effect of the universe coming into existence are simultaneous events that happen at the first moment of time.

Stephen Hawking is a brilliant expert in the area of physics, but just because someone is an expert in how one part of reality works does not mean he is an expert in how all of reality works (or what is called metaphysics). Hawking’s claims in this area should be reviewed carefully and not taken solely on his scientific authority.

Trent Horn holds a Master’s degree in Theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville and is currently an apologist and speaker for Catholic Answers. He specializes in training pro-lifers to intelligently and compassionately engage pro-choice advocates in genuine dialogue. He is also…
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14 Responses to Has Stephen Hawking Made God Unnecessary?

  1. Toad says:

    “It’s somewhat annoying that Hawking implicitly uses the argument “Some religious explanations are silly (such as myths about gods laying eggs that become the universe), therefore all religious explanations are silly.” Surely he would know that Cal Tech is the site where Fr. George Lemaitre discussed the first incarnation of the Big Bang theory seventy years ago with a skeptical Albert Einstein.”
    What on earth (pardon the expression) has the fact that Cal-Tech was the site of a Lemaire-Einstein debate got to do with anything?
    Why should Hawking need to know know that, and what difference would it make to his argument if he did?
    It surely wouldn’t alter it?
    However, the nub of this is: Why (again on earth) should Hawking be expected to provide evidence that God did not create the universe? viz, “Hawking may have one alternative proposal for the beginning of the universe, but does he have any argument against the idea that God created the universe?”
    Should Hawking then also have provide an argument against the universe coming from a big egg, or being created by, for example, evil demons?
    Who’s to say what is “silly” here? Quoting Kant, of all people, to back up a pro-God argument?
    Toad has no clue. Jabba will enoy this, though.

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  2. JabbaPapa says:

    What on earth (pardon the expression) has the fact that Cal-Tech was the site of a Lemaire-Einstein debate got to do with anything?

    Lemaître, a Catholic, was giving a description of the start of the Universe that was (and is) not “silly”.

    Why (again on earth) should Hawking be expected to provide evidence that God did not create the universe?

    He shouldn’t — but the fact remains that his explanation does not explain why causality exists in the first place, but simply assumes its prior existence. Nor does Lemaître’s explanation explain it ; but at least Lemaître equates the origin of causality with the origin of the material Universe — as being cause and/or consequence of each other.

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  3. Roger says:

    Why go down this route in the first place? What can or will be achieved? Dawkins book mentions Fatima and immediately dismisses the Miracle on 17th October 1917. Dawkins offers no explanation just ignores an event fortold by three peasent children and seen up to 20 miles around. Lets go back to 1858/9 and two distinct events the first Loudres and the second Darwins book on the Origin Of The Species. Hawkins is the child of the Science that produced Darwin.
    Science and yes Philosophy exist within a Created world (Apostles Creed) “Credo in Deum Patrem omnipotentem, Creatorem caeli et terrae ” (I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.) The Apostles Creed also has “Life everlasting” It includes Hell and Heaven.
    The first question for Hawkins and Dawkins is the Ressurection of Our Lord followed by the Virgin Birth (Virgin because of the Fall of Adam and Eve).
    The Creed places Faith above materialism and rationalism. Hawkins and Dawkins are simply modern versions of Old arguments.
    Both Hawkins and Dawkins have Free Will but the violent and volatile Universe that science explores cannot give life everlasting.
    Faith doesn’t fear modern Science what is fears is the Faith loss of the shepherds!! Shepherds to concerned with the world and the affairs of the world!

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  4. Toad says:

    “Both Hawkins and Dawkins have Free Will but the violent and volatile Universe that science explores cannot give life everlasting.”
    Good point Roger. Although Toad is often inclined to think the universe rather too volatile and violent to be clearly the work of a benevolent god.
    But he might be wrong.
    For what it’s worth (which is quite a lot, thinks Toad) Unamuno believed the whole “point” of God was to provide us – human beings only, of course – with immortality.

    “Hawkins is the child of the Science that produced Darwin.” True, Roger, and so are you, and Toad, and Jabba and everyone on the planet who can read and think. Believes Toad. Although he doubs if science ‘produced’ Darwin. Contrariwise, more likely.

    And an enlightening response from Jabba, naturally.
    Do you think we should go down this road in any place, Jabba?
    I think it’s interesting. True, nothing will be achieved.
    (And I still think the fact that they have debates at Cal-Tech is irrelevant.)

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  5. Toad says:

    It can only be A Question of Time (!) before God makes Stephen Hawking unnecessary. Probably by having him stuck to his Oujia board by lightning.
    JH will keep us up to date, we can be confident.

    Like

  6. Roger says:

    Well the Apostles Creed specifically names Heaven, Earth, Hell and the children at Fatima were shown Hell. The posit of multi universes is just getting around to accepting the concept of a Creation which is more than just this Universe! Time and Causality is implicit within the Bible where the promise of eternity is NOT within this Universe. Else what was the Passion for? What is the Apocalypse about if it is not the passing away of this Earth?
    St Bernadette was told of Peace in the next world! Our Lord said my kingdom is Not of this world! Can science measure Blessings? Science can only work within itself and within its limitations. What I find laughable is really that Science posits intervention (in other words change causality!!) their argument is that they want to be like GOD! The very rational of the Fall to become like GOD. Both Dawkin and Hawkin posterity will be the destroyed oblivion of the death of the Sun? But the Faith says actually eternity is found in two other places (clearly not part of the Universe of Dawkin and Hawkin) called Heaven or Hell and these are mutually exclusive!

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  7. Toad says:

    “What I find laughable is really that Science posits intervention (in other words change causality!!) “

    What do you mean by that, Roger? Can we have an example of science changing causality? I’m not saying you are wrong. But if ‘science’ boiling water to make steam is ‘intervention’ then what? Is this a sin?

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  8. Toad says:

    “Science can only work within itself and within its limitations.”

    And the same can be said for religion, ice hockey, knitting, or putting the shot, or any other activity on this planet, Roger, including anything yourself and Toad attempt.
    And even Jabba.
    We can try to look beyond our limitations, but we can’t succeed. Becuse – to do so – we’d have to be ‘outside’ our limitations, looking in, wouldn’t we?

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  9. Brother Burrito says:

    Whenever I see a string-theorist, I want to tell them to get knotted.

    They cannot even tell you how long a piece of string-theory is.

    Like

  10. Roger says:

    Well Science and intervention well consider money! Does money exist in Creation? Look at the Science that has followed the concept of money! Consider the science of money and the technology that underlines it! Modern Science owes its leaps and growths to world wars of the 20th century. What was the purpose behind this? to change natural causality? Playing at God?
    Now Our Lord expressly made a distinction between the body and the spirit. Science doesn’t recognise the spirit nor the soul so its limitations are within the constraints of what we call the body! Science is the slave and tool of caesar and for all its powers is material! Material is its limitations.
    Toad the only power left to the Apostles was spiritual power! So what are the limitations of religion? Well Our Lord is the Head of the Church (Church Triumphant, suffering and militant) What are the limitations of Christ? Science is inferior to Revelation. Science isn’t the master of Heaven and Hell it is the servant NOT the master.
    Sadly instead of defending the Faith of the Apostles handed to them by Public revelation we are bombasted by the myths of speculative science (that incidently more often than not are changed with the latest fashionable theory! – given enough string they can hang themselves!)

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  11. Zellie M. Quinn says:

    How is it possible that someone supposedly so Brilliant (Hawking) can be so decidedly and stubbornly dense. To speak of something as beyond you as God is, is like an ant trying to explain a Galaxy. Wish he would stick to what he truly knows.

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  12. Toad says:

    “To speak of something as beyond you as God is, is like an ant trying to explain a Galaxy. “

    But that is what we all do ‘Zellie,’ Catholics particularly would agree. What else can we do? Are you suggesting the God is not beyond us? Surely not?
    However, I doubt if Hawking is really dense. Stubborn, possibly, but is that a sin? He just sees things differently than do you. Perhaps you might care to explain a galaxy on CP&S to us, and him?

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  13. Doug Webber says:

    I have given thoughts on this in “An Answer to Stephen Hawking: A LONGER History of Time” (at http://dream-prophecy.blogspot.com/2013/05/an-answer-to-stephen-hawking-longer.html). I hope you dont mind but I made use of that time diagram, and referenced your blog here. If you are interested in theology, I discuss various theological topics in that blog, including dreams and prophecy. I am not Catholic, but I did have this odd precognitive dream concerning the Pope.

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  14. geoffkiernan says:

    I wonder… Is Stephen still an atheist? We Pray for the repose of his soul.

    Like

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