Physics, Metaphysics, and Stephen Hawking

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Stephen's Hawking's new book The Grand Design has caused quite a stir, due to statements like this:

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.

Of course, that statement begs the response, "so where did the law of gravity come from?" Hawking is doubtless a brilliant physicist, but his reach into the question of the universe's origin exceeds his grasp.

A couple of Christian writers who are much smarter than myself have offered interesting responses. James Anderson's response to Hawking is excellent:
If Hawking thinks there is some law or principle that explains the very existence of the universe, he must have in mind a metaphysical law rather than a physical law. Unless I’m much mistaken, the law of gravity is a physical law. It appears that Hawking intends to leave behind physics (a subject on which he is eminently qualified to speak) and enter the realm of metaphysics (a subject on which he has no particular expertise, so far as I know). It’s more than a little ironic therefore to find Hawking declaring on the very first page of his new book that “philosophy is dead.” If philosophy is dead, why is Hawking now turning his hand to philosophy? No, philosophy is in very good health, despite its frequent mistreatment at the hands of scientists....

Unfortunately even the best physicists aren’t immune to embarrassing themselves when they turn their hands to metaphysics—and they’re most at risk when it comes to religiously controversial topics.

Al Mohler's response includes an exhortation for Christian apologetics:

Hawking has acknowledged that his work “is on the borderline between science and religion, but I have tried to stay on the scientific side of the border.” That seems a strange comment, given the fact that he so routinely crosses that border.

On the other hand, that statement does betray another straightforward dimension of Hawking’s thought. He seems to imagine God only in terms of a deistic deity and a “God of the gaps” who serves as a causal explanation only when all naturalistic theories run out of steam. If nothing else, Hawking’s writings should warn Christians from taking refuge in any “God of the gaps” form of theological argument. If we invoke God only when we run out of other explanations, we will find God disappearing into a cloud of theory and endless theological surrender.

The God of the Bible is not merely a First Cause — He is the sovereign Creator and Sustainer of all that is, who rules the universe by His Word. Christians must recognize the “God of the gaps” as a false idol of theological surrender. Furthermore, Christians must also understand that any scientific admission of God as a possible First Cause without continuing rule over creation is no cause for celebration. The triune God cannot be reduced to a First Cause among other causes.

"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools."
(Romans 1:18-22)


Anonymous,  September 8, 2010 at 10:42 AM  

All theories aside, God's word is quite blunt about this one. Psalm 14:1 "The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." And who can argue with the Romans 1 indictment on the depravity of our minds in the absence of grace? Without the spirit of Christ, should we expect anything different from man?

Anonymous,  September 15, 2010 at 1:15 AM  

Thanks for posting, Mike. Those responses were excellent.

Anonymous,  March 3, 2011 at 11:27 PM  

Great blog guys. I am late coming to the table on this one. I tell our congregation that if you find yourself giving defense for the existence of God, the person you are talking to is not in the right mindset for the gospel. People are not overwhelmed because they can't figure out how the universe got started. Nor are they heart-sick about their relationships because of the young-old Earth argument. The terminally ill won't find peace with the debunking of evolution, rather with an answer for what's next after mortality takes over. Ask people to suppose the God of the Bible does exist as it says. "Isn't that the God that can heal, comfort and offers adoption with eternal life in the kingdom?" I don't try to argue for God, I ask them to imagine He is, and then I show them who He is. God's own answer to Moses was "I Am".

Damon Musselman May 4, 2011 at 3:50 PM  

An interesting book in this vein is "The God Theory" by Dr. Bernard Haisch.
Dr Haisch, or "Bernie", as I call him (hey - I sing w/ the man in choir, so I'm allowed :) ), a former seminarian (and current Astrophysicist) says (from the flap): "Is there an intelligence behind the origin of the Universe? Bestsellers by Christopher Hitchins, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris have denounced the evils of religion and proclaimed that science has shown that there is no God. Their angry accusations are partially correct. Religions have been used to justify crimes against humanity: witness the Inquisition of centuries past or the sectarian slaughter in the Mideast today. But the human misuse of religions and the existence of God are very different matters.

A remarkable discovery has emerged in astrophysics: that key properties of the Universe have just the right values to make life possible. Most scientists prefer to explain away this uniqueness, insisting that a huge, perhaps infinite, number of unseen universes must therefore exist, each randomly different from the other. That way ours only appears special because we could not exist in any of the other hypothetical universes.

I propose the alternative that the special properties of our universe reflect an underlying intelligence, one that is consistent with the Big Bang and Darwinian evolution. Both views are equally logical and beyond proof. However exceptional human experiences and accounts of mystics throughout the ages do suggest that we live in a purposeful universe. In 'The God Theory' and 'The Purpose-Guided Universe: Believing In Einstein, Darwin, and God' I speculate on what that purpose might be… what that purpose means for our lives… how it might explain the riddle of evil."

Agree or disagree, there is much in this book worth pondering.

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