Stephen Hawking: Key to the Cosmos
Published: 21 August 2012 (GMT+10)
This is a Discovery Channel TV program shown under the banner title of Stephen Hawking’s Grand Design, and narrated by him.1 Other Stephen Hawking programs shown have been Did God Create the Universe? and The Meaning of Life. For our response to these, see Curiosity: Did God create the universe? and Stephen Hawking: Is there meaning to life?
Much of the material presented by Stephen Hawking has appeared in the 2010 book, The Grand Design by Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow.2
Unfortunately in this and in his TV narrations, Hawking’s scientific views are contaminated by his determination to exclude God from any rational involvement in the universe. For a thorough review of this book by CMI’s Dr Jonathan Sarfati, see Hawking atheopathy: Famous physicist goes beyond the evidence. Page numbers in brackets in this article refer to this book.
In Key to the Cosmos, Hawking begins by tracing the development of scientific laws by Newton, Maxwell, Einstein, and Kaluza, the concept of quantum mechanics, the idea that electrons obey the laws of chance enunciated by Feynman, and Michaelson and Morley’s experiment which showed that the hypothetical luminescent aether does not exist (although see God’s mighty expanse by Dr Russell Humphreys).
Readers are obviously meant to make the mental jump: No miracles = no God, even if we’ve lost the origin of the laws of nature in the process and have to resort to string theory to get them back.
Hawking then tells us what he believes about quarks. These are proposed invisible particles inside neutrons and protons. According to him, quarks exist only insofar as they remain the best explanation of protons.3 Many creationist physicists agree—for example, see Has the ‘God particle’ been found? by Dr Jim Mason. And from there he makes a huge leap by launching into string theory:
“Quarks are themselves made from something we physicists call strings, which are ever-more intricate distortions of space and time. … Just as a violin string can vibrate to produce different musical notes, each subatomic string also vibrates, producing a different kind of fundamental particle. These tiniest particles give shape to the universe around us. … String theory suggests that the vibrations of the strings produce tiny distortions in space/time at a microscopic scale. And they do so in a mind-boggling ten dimensions.”
Hawking explains this further in The Grand Design book as follows:
“According to string theory, particles are … patterns of vibration that have length but no height or width. … String theories … are consistent only if space-time has ten dimensions, instead of the usual four” (p. 148).4,5
Back to what Hawking says in the TV episode:
“If the string vibrates in one way, it produces a certain kind of fundamental particle, say a quark. And if it vibrates in another way, it creates a neutrino, which is another kind of particle. String theory has the potential to explain why these particles interact with each other in the precise way they do—just like the harmony in a piece of music.
“And this is where the laws of physics come from—the laws that control everything in the universe, from the behaviour of black holes to the life and death of stars, and something as simple as a roll of paper falling to the floor, or the flickering of a magnetic compass needle—the simplest and most fundamental of actions—all governed by the rules of string theory.”
However, string theory has many problems (see Is ‘string’ the next big thing?)—we have cited before an editorial in New Scientist lamenting: “But these equations tell us nothing about where space and time came from and describe nothing we would recognize.”6
Source of the laws of nature
For someone who goes out of his way to deny the existence of God and hence God as the creator of the laws of nature/physics, Hawking is quite vague as to his alternative source of these laws. His alleged simile between string theory and music is hardly proof of anything, and in fact he offers only “the potential” of string theory. Then on p. 107 of The Grand Design he says (without elucidation): “the laws of nature in our universe arose from the big bang”. In chapter 6 Choosing our Universe, on p. 183 he writes: “The results described in this chapter indicate that that our universe itself is also one of many, and that its apparent laws are not uniquely determined.”
This inability to provide a cogent replacement for God as the source of scientific law is hardly surprising. Once you dismiss the concept of a Creator God who is not only a living supernatural being, but one who is also omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, it certainly is difficult to contrive an adequate substitute. His ‘multiverse’ idea is ad hoc—see also below.
Hawking is not nearly so vague about his denial of miracles. Three times in his book he refers to this:
(1) “A scientific law is not a scientific law if it holds only when some supernatural being decides not to intervene” (pp. 43–44).
(2) “This book is rooted in the concept of scientific determinism which implies that … there are no miracles, or exceptions to the laws of nature” (p. 48).
(3) “These laws should hold everywhere and at all times: otherwise they wouldn’t be laws. There could be no exceptions or miracles. Gods or demons couldn’t interfere in the running of the world” (p. 215).
Readers are obviously meant to make the mental jump: No miracles = no God, even if we’ve lost the origin of the laws of nature in the process and have to resort to string theory to get them back. Hawking, of course, is entitled to his axiom that God does not exist;7 at the same time we are entitled to our axiom that God does exist. So which axiom better fits the observable data? Let’s examine this.
An airplane flies when lift overcomes gravity, and thrust overcomes drag. Credit: iStockphoto
Consider an airplane. There are two forces operating on an airplane that keep it from flying. These are: (1) gravity (which tends to keep it on the ground), and (2) drag (which tends to stop it going forward). So how does an airplane fly? It flies when lift (generated by the angle of attack of the wings) overcomes gravity, and when thrust (generated by the propeller(s) or jet engine) overcomes drag. So when an airplane flies, there are (in this simple illustration) four forces acting on it, not just two. All four forces are valid. What happens to the airplane is determined by which forces are stronger at any time. Thus science is not violated because there are more than two forces in play.8
Applying this to Hawking’s (il)logic:
(1) It would obviously be nonsense for anyone to claim that the law of gravity is not a scientific law because there are times when lift can intervene and counteract it.
(2) Lift is not an exception to the laws of nature. There is a force of gravity and there is a force of lift. Both forces operate together on an airplane in flight: otherwise the airplane would shoot up to the edge of space.
(3) Forces which balance other forces do not interfere in the running of the world. It is not a matter of there being no other laws than the ones Hawking defines; it is the One he denies that falsifies his premise.
The Christian philosopher Norman Geisler stated:
“Natural law is a description of the way God acts regularly in and through creation (Psalm 104:10–14), whereas a miracle is the way God acts on special occasions. So both miracles and natural law involve the activity of God. The difference is that natural law is the regular, repeatable way God acts, whereas a miracle is not.
“Natural law describes the gradual activity of God in the world, whereas miracles manifest his immediate actions.”9
There is thus no basis for disallowing miracles, unless you could prove that God doesn’t exist, but you can’t prove a universal negative. Contrary to Hawking’s wishful thinking, in any situation God can certainly bring other forces into play without violating science. Indeed, seeing that God is the author of scientific law, a better conclusion is that God does intervene in the world when He wants to for His purposes, and in fact we should even expect Him to do so.
Hawking’s error is that he confuses law with agency. He fails to understand that science can only describe things which are observable and repeatable; it cannot prescribe what cannot happen. Treating scientific laws as the cause of observed regularities is like claiming that the outline of a map is the cause of the shape of a coastline. It is therefore unscientific for Hawking to claim that God does not exist and that He cannot perform miracles. See also Miracles and science.
M-theory and multi-universes
In the TV episode, Hawking introduces us to the concept of multi-or parallel universes. He informs us:
“Currently there are several different versions of this string theory, which all together I call ‘M-theory’. Nobody seems to know what the ‘M’ stands for; it could be ‘master’, ‘miracle’ [Oops! how did that term get in there?—Ed.] or ‘mystery’, or perhaps all three. … M-theory is making one remarkable prediction—that ours is not the only universe … there should be hundreds of billions of billions of other universes, perhaps more universes than there are stars in the known cosmos.”
In The Grand Design book, Hawking says that M-theory “allows for 10500 different universes, each with its own laws … only one of which corresponds to the universe as we know it”.10
Note: 10500 is 100,000 billion billion billion … (and so on to 55 times). So according to Hawking there are 100,000 billion billion billion (55 times) universes and 100,000 billion billion billion (55 times) different laws of nature therein respectively. This would seem to require 100,000 billion billion billion (55 times) different sources, since the various sets of laws of nature postulated are all different. Hawking has given us (his) one source for the laws of our universe—strings. But Prof. Hawking, please tell us what are your 100,000 billion billion billion (55 times; less 1) sources for all the others? Rather than science, this sounds more like presumption times 10500, that is: presumption 100,000 billion billion billion (55 times)!
And even his former collaborator, Sir Roger Penrose,11 says that Hawking has constructed a huge house of cards resting on an unproven theory: “ … ‘M-theory’, a popular (but fundamentally incomplete) development of string theory. … M-theory enjoys no observational support whatever.”12
Hawking’s Grand Design
In case you are wondering ‘so what?’ to all this, Hawking’s purpose is to provide an answer to the problem that frustrated the great Albert Einstein, who sought in vain to construct ‘a theory of everything’. That is, a supposed theory of theoretical physics that fully explains and links together all known physical phenomena, and predicts the outcome of any experiment that could be carried out in principle.
In the TV episode, Hawking says:
“Let’s return to the idea that the strings of string theory are like the notes played by a string quartet. Each vibration of the strings gives rise to a fundamental particle and to the forces of nature, which between them make up everything in the universe. But of course the quartet may just as well be playing a different tune with different vibrations. Mathematically, a different tune would produce different particles and different forces of nature, meaning a different universe. Change again, and that’s another universe.
“But just as there are an endless number of possible tunes, so our universe must be just one of billions of universes. We can’t see them because they are beyond the limits of our own universe, each with their own history and properties. Some are unstable and collapse back to where they came from. Some will produce no stars or planets. and so be dark and cold. Others will expand and go on to produce stars and galaxies, like ours.
“As we ponder this, we should not be surprised to find ourselves in a universe that is perfect for us. Our very presence means our universe must be just right. So the search for the key to the universe has had one unexpected result; we have found the key to every other universe too. It seems that M-theory is the system of laws that governs everything—the Grand Design.”
So there we have it: Hawking’s theory of everything, it seems, is M-theory. Yet Hawking himself belatedly recognized that a theory of everything is logically impossible, because of Gödel’s Incompleteness Proof. That is, in any theoretical system as complex as arithmetic or above, there would always be true statements that cannot be proven within the system.
Not so according to Hawking’s big-bang buddies
Appealing to everything in general to explain something in particular is really no explanation at all.
Prof. Paul Davies, one of the most eloquent and vociferous promoters of the big bang theory over the years, asks:
“How is the existence of the other universes to be tested? … more and more must be accepted on faith, and less and less is open to scientific verification. … Indeed, invoking an infinity of unseen universes to explain the unusual features of the one we do see is just as ad hoc as invoking an unseen Creator. … Appealing to everything in general to explain something in particular is really no explanation at all.”13
See also the Sir Roger Penrose quote, above. Then too, there is Occam’s (or Ockham’s) Razor, otherwise known as the law of parsimony, economy or succinctness. It is the principle that if we have competing hypotheses, we should select the one which makes the fewest assumptions. See Occam’s Razor and creation/evolution.
Finally, there is one other major fallacy with Stephen Hawking’s atheistic reasoning—apart from the fact that a simile is not a proof. Did you spot it? For a violin string to produce music, somebody must play the violin. And for a string quartet to produce “an endless number of possible tunes” four intelligent musicians are needed to create the harmonies.
String theory, M-theory, and multi-universe theory are ideological attempts to explain the universe we live in. Unfortunately many of those postulating these ideas have an additional agenda—to discount the appearance of design in the universe we live in, and hence to explain the universe without God, who for them does not exist.
During the 20th century quantum mechanics and general relativity emerged as twin pillars of modern physics. Both have tremendous experimental support. Now, string theory is being promoted in the 21st century as the next great idea in physics. Williams and Hartnett comment:
“To explain something means to describe the unknown in terms of the known. … Cosmologists endeavor to explain the unknown—in their case the origin of the universe. In so doing, string theorists have developed 10- or 26-dimensional models to explain the four-dimensional universe. So they have not explained the unknown in terms of the known. They have appealed to further unknowns (dimensions that we don’t know about) to explain the existing unknown (the origin of the universe) so it does not qualify (at this stage) as an explanation. If they turn out to be correct and one day we discover that there are strings and 26 dimensions, that will mean that the universe is unimaginably more complex than it appears to be now.”14 (Emphases in original.)
In the same way, 10500 universes are much harder to explain than one—the one we live in. And lest any readers think that we are myopic with respect to anything additional to our own universe, we refer them to The Gospel in time and space. We further suggest that Stephen Hawking et al, could find wisdom in pondering the following description by the Apostle John of Jesus Christ, whom we Christians worship as God:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. …
“He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Gospel of John 1:1–5, 10–14).
- Shown in Australia on July 2012, and repeated in August 2012. Return to text.
- Hawking, S., & Mlodinow, L, The Grand Design, Bantam Press, London, 2010. Return to text.
- In ref. 2, Hawking writes: “Quarks … are a model to explain the properties of the protons and neutrons in the nucleus of an atom” (p. 65). And “ … according to model-dependent realism, quarks exist in a model that agrees with our observations of how subnuclear particles behave” (p. 66). Return to text.
- This means that string theory requires the existence of at least six extra dimensions of space, in addition to the three normal spacial dimensions and one of time that we are familiar with. Return to text.
- Note: Williams and Hartnett write concerning the dimensions required by string theory: “10 dimensions if we include both forces and matter, or 26 dimensions if we only deal with forces.” Williams, A., & Hartnett, J., Dismantling the Big Bang, Master Books, 2005, p. 104. Return to text.
- Ideas needed—The hunt for a theory of everything is going nowhere fast, New Scientist 188(2529):5, 10 December 2005 (emphasis added). Return to text.
- An axiom is an assumption made for the purpose of argument. Return to text.
- And many centuries before the Wright brothers flew the first airplane, or Sir Isaac Newton wondered why an apple fell down instead of up, Australian Aboriginals were using yet another force that made a thrown boomerang come back to the thrower if it missed its target. Namely the twist imparted by the maker to the blades of his boomerang. But note that not all boomerangs come back; some are designed to fly straight on, again determined by how the maker shapes his weapon.. Return to text.
- Norman L. Geisler, Miracles and the Modern Mind (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1992) p. 111. Return to text.
- Ref. 2, pp. 151–152. Return to text.
- Sir Roger Penrose and Stephen Hawking were jointly awarded the Wolf Foundation Prize for Physics in 1988 and also the Eddington Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1975; Penrose was awarded the Albert Einstein Medal in 1990. Return to text.
- Penrose, R., review of The Grand Design, Financial Times (UK), 4 September 2010. Return to text.
- Davies, P., A Brief History of the Multiverse, The New York Times, April 12, 2003. Return to text.
- Ref. 5, pp. 104–05. Return to text.