Stephen Hawking and the Existence of God

I just watched a video in which Stephen Hawking details his reasons for saying that there is no God. I must say that it was interesting. I also must say that I see various holes in his logic and attitude. Here are the major points Hawking makes:

  1. We can understand how the universe works. People used to just say “the gods did it” to explain everything, but careful study and empirical logic can lead us to more reasonable and illuminating conclusions.
  2. The universe functions within a system of consistent laws. These laws cannot be changed or broken. They are fixed and immutable.
  3. There is no role for God when the laws of nature are fixed. The great machine works on its own. It does not need an intelligent force to tell it how to be. There is no need for a deity to move the world when the world moves perfectly well on its own.
  4. The universe necessarily adds up to *nothing*, and *nothing* does not require a Creator. The equation must always balance: one side must equal the other. To build a hill, you must dig a hole. Add up the combined effect of the hill and the hole, and you have flat land again. That is, when the equations balance, if you subtract one side from the other, the result is zero. Why would a deity be needed to create something that adds up to nothing?
  5. It is scientifically sound to say that the universe came from nothing because we know that some things do actually come from nothing. This is not apparent in Newtonian physics, but on the subatomic level, everything we know suggests that objects actually will randomly disappear and reappear.
  6. There was no time before the Big Bang. Thus, there was no time in which a Creator could have existed prior to the Big Bang. The universe, supermassive and condensed in an infinitely small speck of space, would have distorted time to the point that it would have been in a complete standstill. It is not even a matter of infinite time, as there was no time at all. We cannot ask what happened “before” the Big Bang because there was no “before”. Asking what happened before the Big Bang would be like asking where the edge of the world is: the world is spherical, so it has no edge.

And here are my responses:

  1. Hawking firmly states that we can understand how the universe works, but then he gives us a universe that cannot be understood. When we say that lunar eclipses are just instances in which the Earth’s shadow passes over the moon instead of the moon being eaten by god-wolves in the sky, the universe makes more sense. However, when we say that the immutable law of the universe is randomness, the universe makes much less sense. A random universe is an impossible universe. Is it really more rational to say that everything is ultimately random and without order than to credit deities with ultimate inception?
  2. It is contradictory to say that the universe functions based on unbreakable laws and then say that the origin of the entire universe can be traced to randomness. A random system is not a system at all. The fact that we do not perceive or consider all of the variables and inputs does not mean that they do not exist. Again, saying “It’s fundamentally random!” is about as scientific as saying “God did it!”
  3. I do not think that God moves the world. I do not think that God is the force that pushes the leaves of a plant up and out of its seed. However, I do think that we are the same species of being as God. As divine beings, we have the capacity to be initiators of action in the way God is and was. While our actions do not change God’s laws or will, our actions do change our circumstances, and thereby change that which is necessary for us to achieve what God wants us to achieve. We – and only we – make God’s continuing involvement in things necessary. I realize that this is not a very strong argument against Hawking’s assertion on this point, but to deny humans’ ability to act as prime initiators would be to adopt a fatalist position that even Hawking denies – if not with his stated worldview, then at least with his actions. Anyway, yet again, Hawking’s assumptions of randomness become a contradiction: one cannot say that the laws of nature are fixed and immutable and then say that the universe is random.
  4. The fallacy of this argument is plainly evident in the comparison Hawking has made to illustrate it. While it is true that the combined effect of the hill and the hole is zero relative to the original flat ground, we still have a hill and a hole. Upon walking through a flat field and stumbling upon such a development, the logical conclusion would be that someone – an intelligent being – came along with a shovel, dug a hole, and heaped up the dirt beside it. To suggest that this structure occurred randomly would actually be quite illogical. The fact that the measurements of the hill and the hole balance out on paper is only an abstract claim that distracts from the reality of the situation. Hawking may tell us that the stars and the space between them all add up to a big goose egg of nihilism, but we still see the stars, and they still mean something to us – just as they obviously mean something to him.
  5. Nothing comes from nothing. Claims to the contrary constitute a denial of simple reason in the way that rejecting the scientific method is a denial of simple reason. The great claim of science – as, indeed, intimated by Stephen Hawking – is that the universe does, in fact, make sense, and that we simply need to observe it adequately enough to figure out how. Hawking’s explanation of the instances of subatomic particles supposedly disappearing and reappearing randomly sounds more like the ravings of the very irrational people from whom Hawking wishes to distance himself. A more scientific, reasonable explanation for this seeming randomness is that we have stumbled upon a system in which the laws are not yet apparent to us, and not that it is a system without laws. To assume otherwise is to accept the same type of inexplicable and inconsistent universe that Hawking complains religious people believe in.
  6. Fundamental logical fallacy. Hawking gives us a primordial universe with no time. If there is no time, there is no change. If there is no change, there is no shifting into an existence of change, as this would require change. But Hawking would have us believe that such a change did, in fact, occur. How does a universe change when its very nature dictates that change cannot happen? If there is no time in which a Creator can initiate a Big Bang, there is no time in which a Big Bang can occur at all. And yet…it occurred. Clearly, humans are not yet privy to all of the essential mechanics of the early universe.

Even if Hawking were not guilty of such inconsistencies and fallacies, his own language reveals the fact that, despite everything, even he still clings to religious ideals that are in no way scientific.

  • “It’s a cosmologist’s duty to try and work out where the universe came from.” If he really feels this way, he is apparently not doing his duty, as it is his view that the universe literally came from nothing, adds up to nothing, and therefore is, essentially, nothing. This reminds me of Trinitarians who would define God by telling us that God cannot be defined. Also, if all of existence adds up to a big cosmic zero, what is duty? Such an abstract and subjective concept could not have any more meaning or significance than belief in an imaginary deity.
  • “We have this one life to appreciate the grand design of the universe, and for that, I am extremely grateful.” Design? There is no design in randomness. Hawking may theorize about randomness, but the reality is that he has lived his life in awe of the intricacies and complexities of the universe, and human beings never find themselves in awe of reality when reality appears random. For everyone – including Hawking – feelings of awe are reserved for sudden realizations of consistency, organization, and structure. Beauty is always associated with such things. Even the seemingly random undulations of the purling ocean surface become more beautiful as we come to understand the consistent natural laws that are at work there. Hence the appreciation of beauty that drives virtually every scientist. Also, to whom is Hawking grateful?

While he may not call himself a nihilist, Hawking’s philosophy is a nihilist philosophy. To say that the universe adds up to nothing and that pure randomness and nothingness is the ultimate source (and therefore description) of all things is to embrace nihilism. And yet, Hawking draws resolve from some reservoir of inner strength to continue living and working even in light of his severe physical disability. So does he feel driven to reveal the truth to all – even though the truth as he sees it is that all things are without purpose, including the truth itself. Especially the truth itself.

Hawking acts in this very irrational manner not because he is crazy, but because he is human. Humans have hope. Humans seek meaning – even when the rational mind can find none. The fact that Hawking apparently shies away from adopting the nihilist label even though it clearly fits shows that he, on some level, is still seeking the very meaning that cannot exist in the universe he describes.