Space.com contributor Rod Pyle reported on a lecture given by the famous Stephen Hawking at the California Institute of Technology last week, “Big Bang Didn’t Need God, Stephen Hawking Says.” The piece was reprinted by NBC News and Huffington Post.
It is nothing new really.
He [Hawking] noted that many people still seek a divine solution to counter the theories of curious physicists, and at one point, he quipped, “What was God doing before the divine creation? Was he preparing hell for people who asked such questions?”
In another observation of modern religion, Hawking noted that in the 1980s, around the time he released a paper discussing the moment the universe was born, Pope John Paul II admonished the scientific establishment against studying the moment of creation, as it was holy.
“I was glad not to be thrown into an inquisition,” Hawking joked.
M-theory posits that multiple universes are created out of nothing, Hawking explained, with many possible histories and many possible states of existence. In only a few of these states would life be possible, and in fewer still could something like humanity exist. Hawking mentioned that he felt fortunate to be living in this state of existence.
Hawking closed the event with a familiar plea for continued exploration of the cosmos: “We must continue to go into space for the future of humanity,” he said, adding, “I don’t think we will survive another thousand years without escaping our fragile planet.”
And there was the usual reaction.
“They [believers] like to hear about science but not the truth that god doesn’t exist.” – Taslima Nasreen, Free Thought Blogs
“Religion is STILL at it. They continue to attempt to label certain subjects as ‘holy,’ which might as well mean, ‘off-limits,’ ‘sacrosanct’ or verboten – ‘forbidden.’ It’s an attempt, in this case by John Paul II, not just to assert the god-of-the-gaps argument, but to artificially enforce a gap for their god to exist in!” – Loren Miller, Atheist Nexus
“The pope himself picked on Hawking on several occasions for his alleged disdainful claims against god.” – Tibi Puiu, ZME Science
I just want to make three points, and this is aimed at fellow Christians who wonder what to say when people drop these links in front of you.
#1 It’s not about evidence.
The quip about what God was doing before He created the universe is just that, a quip. It is not proof of anything, and he has it backwards. Religion came before physics. No one conjured up a “divine solution” to refute physicists.
Taslima Nasreen seems to call the cumulative pronouncements of Hawking the “truth that [G]od doesn’t exist.” But truth? What truth? Science never proved God doesn’t exist. For all the times atheists say they would believe in God if only there were enough evidence, those atheists ought to also criticize people who believe in a so-called science that can prove there is no God too. When they don’t, it only demonstrates that evidence is not really what they need to believe something. They just need wishful thinking.
#2 See? It’s not about evidence.
I repeat point #1 because of Loren Miller’s and Tibi Puiu’s statements. The truth about what Pope John Paul II said is not a mystery, and they should have checked out Hawking’s accusation before writing about it. Here’s what Pope John Paul II has actually said about researching the beginning of the universe.
Any scientific hypothesis on the origin of the world, such as the hypothesis of a primitive atom from which derived the whole of the physical universe, leaves open the problem concerning the universe’s beginning. Science cannot of itself solve this question: there is needed that human knowledge that rises above physics and astrophysics and which is called metaphysics; there is needed above all the knowledge that comes from God’s revelation. Big H/T to Oka’s Blog
That statement was made to an audience of the Plenary Session in the Study Week dedicated to “Cosmology and Fundamental Physics.” In this case there is recorded evidence, but they didn’t bother to find it. Because it’s not really about evidence.
Pope John Paul II is only saying that science cannot remark on the unscientific.
Crazy, I know.
#3 “M Theory” is not about evidence either.
Note that Hawking explains “M-theory posits that multiple universes are created out of nothing.” No matter what theories there are about the beginning of the universe, there is no getting away from the idea that someone “created” it out of nothing, which is what the Church teaches.
Scientists whose realm is that of the abstract have actually long left the field of physics and entered the field of metaphysics, beyond physics. They are using powers of deduction and induction for their evidence, just as philosophers and theologians have long practiced, just as the arguments for the proof of God use as well. (And there is plenty of other evidence that God exists for anyone willing to look.)
Fancy language aside, the model-dependent realism of “M Theory” essentially states there are multiple universes and ours just happened to evolve into us. Not only is this theory not based on tangible empirical evidence, some would say (me included) that it’s not even based on sound reasoning (we can debate). This is one thing that frustrates me as a former scientist who worked in a lab where tangible results had to be delivered. You can make up theories all day, but if the final product doesn’t perform, no one cares how awesome your theory sounded. With abstract fields like cosmology, there are never any tangible ways to prove or disprove the theory empirically with evidence. There are only conclusions and audiences.
And what if there are multiple universes? Well, they wouldn’t disprove God. With God all things are possible. Heck, there may even be aliens with green slimy bodies and purple horns for all we know. If we found one, it would not disprove God. It would only prove that creatures exist that we didn’t know about. Happens all the time on planet earth.
One last thing, and this is for the atheists.
Besides evidence, it’s fair to ask about purpose. Can an atheist explain to us why he or she needs to know how the universe began. What is the purpose of this knowledge?
Because we’re just curious. The universe is so cool!
Okay, but that’s not a purpose.
Because it proves that we don’t need a god.
Because we might need to ‘escape our fragile planet’ as Hawking warns us about!
With a nod and two thumbs up in deference, I slowly back away.