The reason for all the publicity? The launch of the physicist’s book was only a week away. In the somewhat ironically titled ‘The Grand Design’ (doesn’t a grand design suggest a Designer, Stephen?), Hawking says: “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.”
In his most famous previous tome, ‘A Brief History of Time’ (1988), the professor had left open the possibility of a divine plan behind the universe by saying: "If we discover a complete theory, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason — for then we should know the mind of God.”
But now that he claims to have discovered that ‘complete theory’ of how everything works, he’s changed his tune. Perhaps he’s been listening to Richard Dawkins too much. However, only a day after the fanfare in the major papers, commentators in many of the same newspapers reacted with some scepticism of Hawking’s claim to have made God irrelevant.
The Daily Telegraph’s Graham Farmelo hit the nail on the head. Pointing out that Hawking’s ‘M-theory’ basically says that “our universe followed inevitably from the laws of nature”, Farmelo retorted: “But, we might ask, where did they come from?” And even if Hawking’s M-theory stands up to experimental testing in the future, “the reasons for the mathematical order at the heart of the universe's order would remain an unsolvable mystery.”
The Arcbhishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, told the press: “Belief in God is not about plugging a gap in explaining how one thing relates to another within the Universe. It is the belief that there is an intelligent, living agent on whose activity everything ultimately depends for its existence." "Physics on its own will not settle the question of why there is something rather than nothing."
But the best reply came from Oxford mathematics professor, John Lennox. Writing in the Daily Mail, Lennox simply stated: “As a scientist I'm certain Stephen Hawking is wrong. You can't explain the universe without God.” While explaining that Hawking’s belief that the universe created itself is hardly new, Lennox believes it is a “simplistic approach” that has no logical foundation in science.
The mathematician points out that there is no fundamental conflict between the laws of physics and God, because “laws themselves do not create anything, they are merely a description of what happens under certain conditions. 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. “That is a confusion of category. The laws of physics can explain how the jet engine works, but someone had to build the thing, put in the fuel and start it up.”
Lennox describes only what any sensible believer in God, and any decent philosopher, has known for years, yet somehow the blind determination of atheistic scientists to find a scientific explanation that rules out God continues, regardless. I think it demonstrates their refusal to admit that logic is not on their side.
Hawking is no different. The existence of the law of gravity does not make the universe inevitable, because the law of gravity did not exist until the universe itself appeared. As Lennox says: “How did gravity exist in the first place? Who put it there? And what was the creative force behind its birth?”
For Lennox, the amazing design of the universe is something that boosts his faith rather than challenging it: “For me, as a Christian believer, the beauty of the scientific laws only reinforces my faith in an intelligent, divine creative force at work. The more I understand science, the more I believe in God because of my wonder at the breadth, sophistication and integrity of his creation. “The very reason science flourished so vigorously in the 16th and 17th centuries was precisely because of the belief that the laws of nature… reflected the influence of a divine law-giver." “One of the fundamental themes of Christianity is that the universe was built according to a rational, intelligent design. Far from being at odds with science, the Christian faith actually makes perfect scientific sense.”
Pointing to biology as well as physics as evidence for God, Lennox continues: “When we see a few letters of the alphabet spelling our name in the sand, our immediate response is to recognise the work of an intelligent agent. How much more likely, then, is an intelligent creator behind the human DNA, the colossal biological database that contains no fewer than 3.5 billion 'letters'?”
Finally, Lennox is convinced of Christianity not just by science but by the evidence of history, personal experience and human morality: “Support for the existence of God moves far beyond the realm of science. Within the Christian faith, there is also the powerful evidence that God revealed himself to mankind through Jesus Christ two millennia ago. This is well-documented not just in the scriptures and other testimony but also in a wealth of archaeological findings.
“Moreover, the religious experiences of millions of believers cannot lightly be dismissed. I myself and my own family can testify to the uplifting influence faith has had on our lives, something which defies the idea we are nothing more than a random collection of molecules.
“Just as strong is the obvious reality that we are moral beings, capable of understanding the difference between right and wrong… The existence of a common pool of moral values points to the existence of transcendent force beyond mere scientific laws.” The fact is that, in tackling the God question, Hawking has inevitably moved from hard, experimental science to conjecture and philosophical supposition.
As science author Antony Latham says: “M-theory… is very much a conjectural theory and other physicists are not happy with it… Even Hawking says: ‘People are trying to decipher the nature of M-theory but that may not be possible.’ None of it is based on observation and it is thus unproven.”
Latham adds: “Hawking does not seem to tackle the very important question of the 'First Cause'. The only recourse he and others might have is an infinite regress of causes into the infinite past. However it is easily proven (by mathematicians such as Hilbert) that there is no such thing as an infinite series of anything.” A mathematician of Hawking’s undoubted quality should have remembered that.
At the end of the day (or the universe), science can never be used to finally prove or disprove God, as even Dawkins has admitted. Science is the study of the natural, not the supernatural. It has the wrong tools for the job.