The Grand Design – Stephen Hawking
"The Big Bang was the result of the inevitable laws of physics and did not need God to spark the creation of the Universe.”
I have great regard and respect for Professor Hawking, but he should have either chosen his words more carefully or stopped his publisher’s publicists from misusing them. In his popular book “A Brief History of Time”, he concluded that once we understood the most fundamental laws of nature "then we should know the mind of God". Now he seems to be saying that no divine intent is needed to explain why the Universe was formed. Did he consider how this would be interpreted? Is he confused, reversing himself, or being misunderstood? Perhaps all the above, but even if he was thinking metaphorically, he was smart enough to know how such a statement would be misread.
Let me say right off that I haven’t yet read the book – only the pre-published sections and commentaries. (The book is due to be released the day after this writing). In it, Prof. Hawking is quoted as saying: “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.”
The idea of “spontaneous creation” is one of the greatest mysteries ever conceived. It rejects the otherwise universal law of cause and effect. More importantly, it is a logically nullity. The next obvious question is “what caused the spontaneous creation?” and the answer is NOTHING – it had no cause. Logically, it gets us nowhere: to say that God was not NECESSARY in the Creation is of little help in determining if God was INVOLVED in the creation. Are we closer to determining if the Universe was NECESARRY? Not with this type of thinking.
The basic premise behind the new book is supposed to be a recent “advancement” in physics known as “M-theory” that some think describes the behavior of the known fundamental particles and forces to such a degree that they may account for the origin of the universe. (So far, a theory not well supported by experimentation). What Prof. Hawking (and the rest of the scientific community) knows is that M-theory, even if correct, can only explain what happened after the first instant of the Creation. Those who SUPPOSE that it might offer some indication of what happened before that instant are fooling themselves (and others).
Let’s take an obvious example – gravity. In Prof. Hawking's new conclusion, the existence of a force such as gravity inevitably leads to spontaneous creation and universes can or will create themselves out of nothing. The supposition this is based upon -that gravity existed BEFORE the creation - has NO BASIS in observation or experimentation. Indeed, even M-theory accepts that gravity was a fundamental force that “unfolded” from a grand-unified force AFTER the Creation began. It is possible that gravity existed before the “Big Bang”, but that’s not what most scientists think, that’s not that the theory predicts, and that’s not what the evidence shows. So if gravity is the required “trigger” for the magic of spontaneous creation, then we have problems: where did the gravity come from (since it is a result of mass) and what property of gravity would lead to spontaneous creation (under the circumstances before the universe began where there are NO known physical laws).
I happen to agree with Prof. Hawking’s earlier statements saying that he doesn’t believe that a "personal" God exists: "The question is: is the way the universe began chosen by God for reasons we can't understand, or was it determined by a law of science? I believe the second. If you like, you can call the laws of science 'God', but it wouldn't be a personal God that you could meet, and ask questions." I wouldn’t call the laws of science “God”, but I would certainly attribute something so wonderfully complex and beautiful to God as opposed to just saying – “they just happened”.
Sir Isaac Newton believed that the Universe did not spontaneously begin to form but was set in motion by God. Nothing in M-theory, contemporary physics, or Prof. Hawking’s new book provides any indication that the earlier Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge was wrong.
Einstein was fond of referencing God when he talked about the laws of physics and the fundamental harmonies of the universe. He saw the inherent orderliness behind our scientific explorations and couldn’t imagine such without a Creator. For Spinoza, the concept of God expressed the underlying unity of the universe – yielding a serendipitous spiritual awe. And Paul Dirac, another Lucasian Chairholder, thought that the greatest mystery and beauty of the universe was that its most fundamental laws can be expressed in terms of mathematical equations.
Now, with Prof. Hawking’s readily misunderstood new ideas, more people will be led to think that science has proven that God had nothing to do with the creation of our Universe. Whether that was his intention or merely the result of some misguided publicist seeking to stir up sales through controversy, the unfortunate outcome is the same. Writers and publishers may find that the best way to sell such books is to claim some unfounded theological significance for their content, but we need to call them for what they are: dishonest. When Leon Lederman labeled the Higgs particle as the “God Particle” simply to promote his so named book, his success started a trend that has the consequence (intended or not) of turning informed people away from God.
Science and religion have been at odds for thousands of years because of ignorance and misinformation.
The fields of evolutionary biology and theoretical physics have contributed greatly to our understanding of the universe and the means by which it has unfolded. Despite the fact that science has offered a new and remarkable view of the Creation that has awed many scientists and led them to accept its purposeful creative processes as evidence of a purposeful creative “God”, religious fundamentalists continue to espouse a conflict between their blind faith and the blinding light of the truth.
Religion has nothing to fear from facts, observations, or the truth seeking processes of science. But religious zealots who make statements that can be shown to be factually wrong have cause to fear both the truth and those who would misrepresent science in an effort to overcome those who wrongfully malign of science. In that unholy war, both sides lose and they create plenty of “collateral damage”.
The science of theoretical physicists is destined to have religious implications as it seeks to find the patterns and causes of reality. But as it reveals that mathematical laws govern the workings of nature at its most basic level, it also reveals that random actions cannot be behind them. Those who are interested in seeking God – and not simply furthering some flawed religious doctrine – should be delighted with such discovery. Instead, they are victimized by distraction and misinformation spread by both sides in a silly battle between faith and truth.
Hopefully, Prof. Hawking points out that one problem with the M-theory is that it will be extremely difficult to test. It will probably take a particle accelerator the size of a galaxy for physicists to fully experiment with M-theory predictions and even if the theory turns out to be correct, it only moves our question about creation to a slightly earlier threshold. Besides, the mathematical orderliness behind the theory would re-affirm the idea that something intelligent and purposeful is behind it all.
“Faith” is supposed to be belief in something for which there is no evidence; not blind and irrational belief in something readily shown to be false or wrong. What Prof. Hawking and his peers have found is that there will always be a place for faith because science has found a boundary beyond which it cannot go (the “other side” of any naked singularity). Those looking for God will always have a safe haven in theorizing about what caused the “Big Bang”.
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