God may want a minute alone with Stephen Hawking

As mentioned here Friday, famed theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking has said in a new book that no God is necessary for the act of explaining creation.

Hawking reportedly writes in his latest work (coauthored with Leonard Mlodinow) The Grand Design:

Because there are laws such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself out of nothing. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the Universe going.

Besides setting our imaginations reeling, such words about the necessity of God bring to mind Napoleon’s conversation with Pierre-Simon LaPlace, who, when asked by Bonaparte why he hadn’t mentioned God in an entire book about the system of the universe, famously replied, “Sire, I had no need of that hypothesis.”

‘Course, if we know anything about Hawking, it’s that things can never be as simple as they initially appear. But then Publishers Weekly was eager to breathlessly proclaim that Hawking may

finally explain the mystery of the universe’s creation without recourse to a divine creator

The Guardian’s Eric Priest calls it like this:

Furthermore, many of the questions that are most crucial to us as human beings are not addressed adequately at all by science, such as the nature of beauty and love and how to live one’s life – often philosophy or history or theology are better suited to help answer them.

The complementary nature of different questions and in particular of the difference between how and why are important. If M-theory does indeed turn out to enable a unified theory, Hawking may be able in future to say how the universe started, but as a physicist he cannot answer the question “why?”

This is well illustrated by John Polkinghorne’s story about boiling a kettle: I can describe with physics how it boils in terms of the stove making its temperature rise; but why it is boiling is a different type of question altogether – most probably in my case because my wife is thirsty!

As Church Mouse sees it, there’s an appreciable difference between what Hawking may be saying and how we may be wired to hear it. Context is king.

Stephen Hawking said that the laws of physics could explain the creation of the universe without the need to refer to a God.

An Atheist heard “There is no God and I can prove it”.

An Anglican heard “God has revealed the wonder of his creation yet further”.

An Evangelical heard “I don’t believe in God, but please tell everyone you know why I am wrong”.

Personally, I’m surprised no one has yet invoked chapters 38 to 41 of Job. Seems a natural.

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  1. Rod Gillis

    When confronted with Aristotle via the Arabic Averroes, Aquinas rose to meet the intellectual challenge. Bernard Lonergan did something of the same with regard to Descartes’s legacy. Critical biblical scholarship has likewise attempted to learn from European deconstructionist philosophers. Hawking is blessed with memory, reason and skill. What an exciting opportunity he now presents to a new generation of critical Christian thinkers. Can’t we image the Divine in Her wisdom saying to theologians, hey, I’ve got this scientist you just have to talk to!

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    Rod – Chuckling in Iowa!

    Torey Lightcap

  3. Michael Russell

    British physicist said the same thing in 1984 in God and the New Physics. This is not new news. Since both positions are held through acts of faith this becomes little more than an “Is so!” “Is not!” argument.

    Indeed when it comes to proving anything about lots of truths besides ultimate ones, the arguments usually resolve to this same paired retort.

    You can learn something about physics by reading Hawking, but nothing about God.

  4. Rod Gillis

    “You can learn something about physics by reading Hawking, but nothing about God.” As a pan-en-theist.. I beg to differ.

  5. Michael Russell

    Oh my, I didn’t say you couldn’t learn anything about God from Physics, but Hawking has declared his opinion .

  6. Rod Gillis

    “but Hawking has declared his opinion .”

    Which means the conversation is just beginning

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