The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

Hawking: God didn’t do it

posted by jmcgee

The celebrated scientist is throwing cold water on the idea that God created the universe:

God did not create the universe and the “Big Bang” was an inevitable consequence of the laws of physics, the eminent British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking argues in a new book.

In “The Grand Design,” co-authored with U.S. physicist Leonard Mlodinow, Hawking says a new series of theories made a creator of the universe redundant, according to the Times newspaper which published extracts on Thursday.

“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,” Hawking writes.

“It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”

Hawking, 68, who won global recognition with his 1988 book “A Brief History of Time,” an account of the origins of the universe, is renowned for his work on black holes, cosmology and quantum gravity.

Since 1974, the scientist has worked on marrying the two cornerstones of modern physics — Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, which concerns gravity and large-scale phenomena, and quantum theory, which covers subatomic particles.

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Deacon Norb

posted September 2, 2010 at 9:16 am

I saw this posting on BBC earlier and it caused all sorts of flashbacks.
I did some post-doctoral work at Cambridge University in the summers of 1997 and 2000. I saw Professor Hawking on several occasions — one time I passed him by (less than two feet) on the walkway from the Math and Physics Building (where he was based)to the Mill Pond Park where local custom permits university folk to take pints of English bitter out into the park itself — particularly during the hour of two between work-day end and evening meal.
What struck me at the time was how very ordinary the rest of the Cambridge family treated him. He did have a nurse in attendance, but there were no cheering throngs, or even people going out of their way to greet him.
But I am not surprised that he came out with this statement. His earlier published works did mention several points of disagreement with Roman Catholicism’s understanding of the “Big-Bang Theory.”
No doubt all of this will be cleared up for all in the world to come.

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posted September 2, 2010 at 9:50 am

I guess he has forgotten one of the basic laws of thermodynamics (conservation of energy), which states energy can be transformed but it cannot be created or destroyed.
It is sad that someone with such a mind will try to twist science to sell a book.

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posted September 2, 2010 at 10:11 am

“Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.”
Why is there such a “law”? How did it come to be? Professor Hawking has a surprising lack of intellectual curiosity on that subject.

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posted September 2, 2010 at 10:16 am

Had I not read up on apologetics the past few years, I would have thought, “Wow, Hawking, one of the smartest physicists today, says God didn’t create the universe, it must be right!”. But now that I’ve read works by the likes of William Lane Craig and Norman Geisler, my response was, “really? one of the smartest physicists and that’s the best he can come up with? ‘Spontaneous creation?’.
The cosmological and teleological arguments (among others) are looking more and more sound, as I read the non-believer’s counter arguments to them.
For those who don’t know many of the philosophical and scientific arguments against what Hawking is proposing, I recommend reading “Reasonable Faith” by William Lane Craig and “I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist” by Normal Geisler – they address this topic very well.

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posted September 2, 2010 at 11:38 am

I read this on a bathroom wall once:
“God is dead” — Nietzsche
“Nietzsche is dead” — God

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posted September 2, 2010 at 11:49 am

I see no conflict between a ‘law’ such as that of gravity (although I prefer the term ‘observed phenomena’ being immutable and the existence of God.
What does puzzle me is the arrogance implicit in such statements.
We, H.sapiens, are the pinnacle of creation?
One look at the discussion forums here on beliefnet should serve to debunk that.

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Nathan R Smith

posted September 2, 2010 at 11:49 am

Where many intellectual giants don’t have any light-is that we are spirit beings, created in God’s image, Who is Spirit. In the garden mankind chose to be governed by intellect, “a tree that makes one wise”, and died to the spirit unity with God. But a New Adam came. In whom all those who believe in Him, are made alive in Him. The New Birth. As the Holy Spirit draws us we can we can freely say yes or no. Such is the wonderful mystery of God! A little child can stand in the presence of the awesome intellect of Mr. Hawkins and know more truth than he does.

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Dan Babcock

posted September 2, 2010 at 11:57 am

God not only did it but is going to give us a repeat performance. Isaiah 65:17… Revelation 21:1

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Peter Brown

posted September 2, 2010 at 12:48 pm

*sigh* Another example of an eminent scientist demonstrating that even brilliant scientists aren’t necessarily very good at philosophy or (even more so) theology. Dawkins does the same thing.
More surprising to me, however, is the lack of historical consciousness *within his own field* that Hawking displays here. The kind of Occam’s-Razor argument Hawking makes here against God could readily have been made in, say, 1850 to reject belief in black holes. Occam’s Razor is simply not capable of making nonexistence proofs.

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posted September 2, 2010 at 12:57 pm

I seem to have a hazy memory from high school biology class (about a thousand years ago!) that the theory of “Spontaneous Generation” developed during the Middle Ages was disproved. Hmmmm. This seems to be a close relative of that.

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posted September 2, 2010 at 2:12 pm

Two statements, in particular, caused my eyebrows to rise up:
“A new series of theories made a creator of the universe redundant…”
This seems to be putting the cart before the horse. If God does exist, He doesn’t exist because we can prove His existence, as if our proofs for God’s existence were the cause of God’s existence. Conversely, if God does exist, evidence that explains natural phenomena by natural means does not cause God to no longer exist.
Obviously, since it hasn’t come out yet, I’ve not read Hawking’s book, so this may be a problem with Time magazine’s attempt to communicate Hawking’s thoughts, but it seems to repeat a common error. Our proofs for or against the existence of God more often than not attempt to prove the existence or non-existence of the God in which we believe or don’t believe. The most reason can give us is the existence of God as first cause, prime mover, etc… . Hawking’s thoughts do nothing to prove the non-existence of a first cause. Aquinas studiously avoids the above error, and would simply reply to Hawking by saying that this first cause “we call God.”
“Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself out of nothing.”
This, rather than the above statement, is offered as a quote out of Hawking’s book, so can’t be attributed to bad journalism. Well, how can something that doesn’t exist cause it’s own existence? How can something that isn’t there act in any way at all, much less in a way to create itself? Obviously, Hawking is claiming that the universe came into existence, not out of nothing, but out of whatever was there before the Big Bang, on which gravity acted. Hawking is claiming that nothing doesn’t really mean nothing. It means something on which gravity (and one wonders why, if nothing existed, did gravity exist) acted. I’m not sure if Hawking is being purposefully confusing here or if he’s trying to re-define what “nothing” means in order to muddy the conversation, but it’s an obvious impossibility for something that doesn’t exist to cause it’s own existence, or the existence of anything else.
Every so often, someone comes up with a “discovery” or “new theory” that is sure to do away with the existence of God, or that is sure to shake Christianity to it’s core. I don’t see how Hawking’s new theory is going to be any more successful than those previous attempts. In fact, it seems pretty weak to me.

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Mark Jones

posted September 2, 2010 at 2:16 pm

God gave us Reason, not Religion. There is no conflict between the physical Laws of the Universe and the reality of God. I put to you this: How could there be such a well ordered Universe without intelligent design?

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posted September 2, 2010 at 2:22 pm

One more brief note: Catholic philosophy and theology has claimed for centuries that grace builds on nature. As Catholics, then, we shouldn’t be surprised if the creation of the universe can be explained by natural phenomena or natural processes. This doesn’t mean that God doesn’t exist. It simply demonstrates how He chooses to act. Atheists insist that believers hold that God must act in a way that can only be explained outside of nature. So, whatever can be explained by natural processes must be outside God’s purview and is yet another boost for science over faith. This is, of course, a straw man argument.
Finally, I assumed that the reference to Time was to Time magazine. The story on Hawking was published in the Time newspaper, as the story says.

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posted September 2, 2010 at 5:25 pm

“Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.”
Create itself. Whenever you use verb like create, there has to be a noun behind it. The universe can create itself. Well, then, I guess “universe” is another name for God.

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posted September 2, 2010 at 6:04 pm

God doesn’t believe in atheists!

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posted September 2, 2010 at 6:38 pm

Where did the law of gravity come from? Is it supreme? Is it the Prime Mover?
There is always something that is first in any theory. A law, a point, a mass–never truly nothing.
I think it is reasonable that an intelligent designer is the Prime Mover.

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posted September 2, 2010 at 8:15 pm

Peter Brown said:
Occam’s Razor is simply not capable of making nonexistence proofs.
Peter, that’s very true. I do not expect the natural sciences to disprove negatives.
That said, the rejection of natural science by many Christians is something I find deeply troubling.

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posted September 2, 2010 at 8:59 pm

It took God to create this idiot hawking, He will know when he gets to hell or heaven.

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posted September 2, 2010 at 9:08 pm

“The rejection of natural science by many Christians is something I find deeply troubling.”
The troubling works both ways, of course. Efforts by notable scientists, such as Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins, to exploit science as a means to destroy religion contribute to unnecessary tension between the two and an unfortunate reputation for science as the enemy of religion.
Why does Hawking, for instance, even speculate on the question of the existence of God in a book meant to introduce people to modern scientific theories on the origin of the universe? I mean, what could his motives possibly be for departing science and foraging into theological philosophy when writing such a book? Furthermore, the answer he offers represents as much of a scientific fundamentalist approach to the matter of God’s existence as does an insistence on a six day creation represents a Christian fundamentalist approach on the matter of the origin of the universe. Many scientists who are atheists will not entertain the existence of God as even a possibility, in the same way many Christians will not entertain a non-literal interpretation of Genesis. Regardless of where one stands, neither of these represent a rational approach to these important questions.
In my mind, scientists possess no more authority to speak on the question of God’s existence than preachers have to speak on the question of what should be taught in high school biology class.

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Andre John

posted September 2, 2010 at 10:15 pm

May I ask you politely, Mr.Hawking, WHAT/WHO made the laws of physics such as gravity exist, reasonably??? THINK about it more please before jumping to ridiculous theoretical conclusions!
God did not create the universe and the “Big Bang” was an inevitable consequence of the laws of physics, the eminent British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking argues in a new book… In “The Grand Design,”… Hawking says a new series of theories made a creator of the universe redundant, according to the Times newspaper which published extracts on Thursday… “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,” Hawking writes…
I mean, seriously, THINK about it more. duh?

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Kirk P

posted September 3, 2010 at 2:46 am

Well, I see many commenters don’t understand the difference between operational science (tested and observed thru the scientific method), and historical science (dealing with the unseen past and so must make reasonable conclusions based upon limited current info). Mr. Hawking makes his belief statement (it surely isn’t based upon operational science) as if it is fact just because he says it, but his statement is totally lacking in any operational scientific support! Gravity has nothing to do with the questions of how could chemicals and mass somehow come to being from nothing and nobody, and then somehow create an explosion that somehow is creative rather than destructive (which all known explosions are), and then how life could somehow violate all known operational laws of science and create life randomly. Hawking is a dreamer and bloviator that make grand claims with no, I repeat, no operational evidence to prove his claims to be true! But since life cannot come from non-living chemicals, then I challenge anyone to prove how this could occur and where is has ever been observed to occur. Hint: you won’t find this anywhere! The truest words ever penned are this, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

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posted September 3, 2010 at 3:37 am

Hawking isn’t saying there is no god, he is saying that physics can explain the creation of the universe.
The conflict between scientists and mathemeticians and the church wasn’t started by modern scientists. It goes back 2000 years, and the scientists were the ones who were threatened and killed and ridiculed, from the killing of Hypatia, through Gallileo. Although killing scientists is no longer allowed, the late pope told Hawking not to study the big bang, and comments here are threatening him with hell.
There is no need to invoke a deity to explain the universe. This is reality. If religious leaders need to deny reality to prop up religion, then it is very likely that not even they believe there is a deity of any sort. Just religion, and the power it confers on them.

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Andre John

posted September 3, 2010 at 4:21 am

“Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing…”
this means that the “LAWS of the universe”: laws of physics (such as gravity), “the universe” is another name for a creator who created itself from nothing => G=D?
never mind, (debate: NO G=D or KNOW G=D),
for me the bigger question is WHY?
WHY are we even created, WHY do we exist in the first place? WHY are we even here on earth, alive for a moment and will die in the future? that is the bigger mystery…
Read more:

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posted September 3, 2010 at 7:47 am


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posted September 3, 2010 at 10:55 am

Hawking doesn’t say the words, “There is no God.” However, he does claim that new theories of the origin of the universe make the existence of God redundant, that the universe is responsible for it’s own existence, and the universe creating itself is why we exist. In other words, he’s saying there is no God. Let’s be real here, please.
The claim that Hypatia was killed by a Christian mob is debatable, being made popular by Gibbons and, more recently, Carl Sagan. Neither of these are objective sources of Christian history. Please see “The Mean Streets of Old Alexandria” by Michael Flynn.
Galileo was not killed by anyone. Your statement that, “killing scientists is no longer allowed,” implies that the Church “allowed” killing scientists. This is an insulting stereotype unacceptable to serious thinkers. If you think not, please present evidence of the scientists the Church has killed over the centuries.
There is no evidence that Pope John Paul II told Hawking, or anyone else, not to study the Big Bang. The only source for this story is Hawking, who is not known to be the most dispassionate and objective source, especially when it comes to exalting his own reputation. The fact that he said he was glad the pope didn’t hear his talk at the 1981 Pontifical Academy of Sciences conference, where the pope supposedly said this, because he didn’t want to suffer the same fate as Galileo, as if there were any risk of this, ought to be proof enough that the only place John Paul said such a thing was in Hawking’s own imagination. It was an obvious attempt on Hawking’s part to build up his reputation as a hero of science speaking truth to power. Knowing the reliance by the gullible on the stereotype of the Church as enemy of science, Hawking knew he wouldn’t be challenged by his loyal followers on the veracity of his story. In any case, no one else who was there reported the pope saying such a thing, and it would have been completely out of John Paul’s character.
None of the comments in this combox, as of now, threaten Hawking with hell or even come close to doing so. It’s not wise practice to make accusations that can be so easily refuted by evidence that’s available for anyone to see. It makes you look lazy and ridiculous, as if you’re trying to score cheap points rather than making good arguments.
Finally, “There is no need to invoke a deity to explain the universe,” is a faith statement, not a scientific one and, as such, has no necessary claim on reality, no matter how hard you try to force the conclusion on others.

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posted September 3, 2010 at 12:18 pm

The only problem is that there were no physics laws before the so called Big Bang. Time and gravity were created at the point of the explosion that created the universe.

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Bill A

posted September 13, 2010 at 3:42 pm

Here’s a line of thought:
To know that A is not B one must know what B is. To say this world is not created by God you would have to clearly define what a world created by God looks like. Can Hawking do that?
Say an independent scientist takes his equipment to the side of a lake one Friday and closely reports the data from a violent but quick storm. He reports to his wife that night that not much happened but a quick storm and then it was over. No big deal.
But say you were in a boat with some friends crossing that lake and the same violent storm arose and the leader of the group, who had been asleep, stood up and said “Peace, be still” and the storm immediately ceased. What would you report that night to your wife? “Very Bid Deal!!”
What does a universe created by God look like?

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posted September 18, 2010 at 6:14 pm

Mathematicians like Hawking have insight, knowledge, and wisdom on Reality beyond the normal person. If God spoke the cosmos into existence, then God used the language of Mathmatics and Logic to do it.
There is no such thing as Christian math or Atheist math.
The answers and measurments are the same….Mathemeticians have an understanding of Reality that few pocess or comprehend.
I applaude Hawking for including his personal opinions of God, he is one of the few who can comprehend the mechanisms of design in how the Universe operates and self-calibrates.

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