The Times newspaper (in the UK) published an excerpt from the soon-to-be released book by Stephen Hawking (The Grand Design) in which he boldly states that God is not needed anymore when considering the creation of the universe. The excerpt was distributed by The Times as a feature of the September issue of Eureka magazine; it will be available online on September 6. The accompanying article, however, which is available online, gives a general flavor of the ideas that Hawking is putting forward. In particular, we read:
Just as Darwinism removed the need for a creator in the sphere of biology, a new series of theories have rendered redundant the role of a creator for the Universe.
“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,” he writes.
Hawking writes that the first blow was the confirmed observation in 1992 of a planet orbiting a star other than our Sun. “That makes the coincidences of our planetary conditions — the single Sun, the lucky combination of earth-sun distance and solar mass — far less remarkable, and far less compelling as evidence that the earth was carefully designed just to please us human beings,” he writes.
He predicts that physics is on the brink of writing a theory of everything, a single framework that can entirely explain the properties of Nature. Such a theory has been the holy grail for physicists since the time of Einstein, but until now it has been impossible to reconcile quantum theory, which explains the sub-atomic world, with gravity, which explains how objects interact on the cosmological scale.
Professor Hawking suggests that M-theory, a form of string theory, will achieve this goal. He writes: “M-theory is the unified theory Einstein was hoping to find. The fact that we human beings — who are ourselves mere collections of fundamental particles of nature — have been able to come this close to an understanding of the laws governing us and our universe is a great triumph.”
The Times’ science correspondent, author of the article, contacted me to get some reactions to these claims. Below are the comments I sent; they were quickly posted on the newspaper’s website, along many others’. Since at least some of the webpages of The Times are available only by subscription, I have thought it useful to post my comments here for followers of Irtiqa. Further comments are more than welcome:
Obviously, one would have to read Professor Hawking’s new book to get a full grasp of his arguments and reasoning before responding or commenting. However, from the article in The Times, it appears that several ideas have unfortunately been mixed in an erroneous manner.
First and foremost, God is not a factor that one adds or removes (as unnecessary) in an equation or a model for the beginning of the Universe or any part of Science. All scientists, theists and atheists, subscribe to Methodological Naturalism, whereby all explanations for phenomena of nature and the universe must exclude supernatural agents. God, however, is an interpretation – not an explanation – given by believers for the existence of the universe, life, intelligence, consciousness, humans, and everything that we witness. When we became able to fully explain celestial motions, lightning, diseases, mental disorders, and many phenomena around us, we did not conclude that “there is no place for God anymore”.
Secondly, one should not mix the “cosmological argument” and the “design argument” for God, whatever value one may find in either one. The first one argues that the existence of the universe/multiverse (which is described by science) can be interpreted in reference to God, whereas the second argues that the precision and harmony of “creation” (all objects, including but not limited to earth and humanity) can be interpreted as a sign (not proof) of a God behind it. These arguments are subjective, optionally left for humans to accept or reject; they are not part of science and should not be placed in opposition to scientific theories and progress in our objective knowledge.
Thirdly, even Darwinism has two aspects: the objective part and the subjective, interpretative part. No real scientist doubts evolution, though some argue about aspects of the theory (more or less emphasis on natural selection, full randomness or constraints in the evolution of nature, etc.). However, the interpretation of what evolution and its features mean is open for debate. Many great scientists of all times have found no difficulty in balancing the facts with their own theistic or atheistic interpretations of evolution or cosmology, but it would be a serious mistake to insist that philosophical and religious interpretations must be rigidly ruled by science.
Lastly, when Hawking writes “Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing”, he is already postulating the existence of gravity and the laws that will lead to the creation and evolution of the universe. Shouldn’t we ask about the origin of gravity and all features of the universe? Many of us scientists and thinkers doubt that full explanations of everything can be complete and self-contained, with no need for a metaphysical principle like God.