Feature

Religion: Stephen Hawking vs. God

In his new book, The Grand Design, cosmologist Hawking argues that God was not necessary to the creation of the universe.

“Who created the Universe?” asked astronomer Seth Shostak in Huffingtonpost.com. In his new book, The Grand Design, cosmologist Stephen Hawking argues that our current understanding of the laws of quantum mechanics and relativity suggest that a universe such as our own “can and will create itself from nothing,” as part of a process that has given rise to innumerable parallel universes. “It is not necessary to invoke God to … set the universe going,” Hawking writes. “Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing.” Ordinarily, a scientist denying God’s existence would not be news, said the Financial Times in an editorial. But in his mega-best-selling A Brief History of Time, Hawking endeared himself to believers by leaving open the possibility that some Designer had a role in creation. Now Hawking—often portrayed as a modern-day oracle—has undergone a “conversion from agnostic to atheist.”

“I must confess that I’m disappointed,” said the Rev. Robert Barron in the Chicago Tribune. Unlike so many of his fellow scientists, Hawking always seemed to understand that “there is a qualitative difference” between religion and science. Scientists seek mechanical explanations for physical phenomena, whereas religion is supposed to address deep philosophical questions such as “Why are we here?” Scientists really ought to leave those big questions alone, said Graham Farmelo in the London Daily Telegraph. Scientific theories, by definition, can be tested and disproved, whereas religious belief, also by definition, cannot. “As long as they steer clear of making statements that can be shown to be factually wrong,” the world’s religions are compatible with science.

But science can answer some if not all of “the big questions,” said Leonard Mlodinow, Hawking’s co-author, in the New York Post. Scientists have already found incontrovertible evidence that the universe is 13.7 billion years old, that it began not in the Garden of Eden but in the Big Bang, and that over hundreds of millions of years, human beings evolved from animals. That’s all well and good, said James Kirk Wall in the Chicago Tribune, but Hawking’s answer to the biggest question of all—that the universe exists because it created itself out of nothing—“means nothing and takes us nowhere.” Will science ever prove that God doesn’t exist—or does? I don’t know, but I do know “we are certainly not there yet.”

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