Famous physicist goes beyond the evidence
Published: 28 September 2010 (GMT+10)
Stephen Hawking has again hit the headlines with a new book, The Grand Design, which supposedly explains the universe without God. Readers wanting to skip the detailed article can read the summary.
A brief history of Hawking
Stephen Hawking (b. 1942) is one of the best-known scientists in the world today. Yet his achievements are not so widely known. His greatest contribution was probably a combination of quantum mechanics and relativity: in 1974 he mathematically showed that black holes, a verified prediction of general relativity, will slowly lose mass through a quantum mechanical effect that would result in emission of radiation. It’s notable that the much vaunted peer-review process initially rejected this eponymous Hawking Radiation.1 In 1979, he was awarded the prestigious Lucasian Chair of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, England, which he held for 30 years. This chair was once held by the great creationist scientist, Sir Isaac Newton.
Yet he has never won the Nobel Prize, since the committee insists on experimental evidence—only fairly recently has science produced good evidence for black holes as a whole, so evidence for an extremely weak radiation from them is beyond current detection methods. And in 2004, he retracted one of his major theories: in 1975, he argued that a black hole would obliterate all information about the nature of the matter inside, even overpowering quantum mechanical laws that would preserve it. But he now believes that some information would escape.
Hawking’s fame largely rests on his popular-level book A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes (1988). This was a huge best-seller, but has also been called “the most widely unread book in the history of literature”. Another major contributor is how he has overcome his severe disability caused by Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), commonly called Lou Gehrig’s Disease, that has left him dependent on a wheelchair and speech synthesizer.
If we find the answer to that [i.e. why it is that we and the universe exist], it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason—for then we would know the mind of God.
Yet in his book, he had to admit:
This [big bang] picture of the universe … is in agreement with all the observational evidence that we have today. … Nevertheless, it leaves a number of important questions unanswered … (the origin of the stars and galaxies).3
Actually the big bang has come under severe attack from other cosmologists. But even granting that Hawking is right for the purpose of discussion, an inability to explain such important cosmological things as stars and galaxies is a major shortcoming.
Later, Hawking belatedly realized that a ‘theory of everything’ is a fantasy that founders on Gödel’s incompleteness proof: that in any theoretical system as complex as arithmetic or above, there would always be true statements that cannot be proven within the system.4
Hawking has also made some headlines with some way-out pronouncements. In 2000, he proclaimed that genetic engineering of humans is inevitable, admitting it will cause great social and political problems. One article quotes Prof. Hawking as saying: “It may not be in accord with democratic or egalitarian principles, but evolution has never been politically correct.”5 Unfortunately evolution-based eugenics ideas were politically correct for the first few decades of the 20th century.
Earlier this year, Hawking warned against contact with aliens, as the consequences would be devastating: “If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans.” Yet he insisted that we should colonize space or perish: “Our only chance of long-term survival is not to remain inward looking on planet Earth, but to spread out into space.”
Atheistic faith masquerading as science
As usual with atheistic scientists, Hawking’s atheopathy long predated his science. His influential mother Isabel was a Communist, and in his teen years he admired the strongly anti-Christian mathematical philosopher Bertrand Russell.
As with Dawkins, his arguments for atheism are puerile, e.g.
We are such insignificant creatures on a minor planet of a very average star in the outer suburb of one of a hundred billion galaxies. So it is difficult to believe in a God that would care about us or even notice our existence.
Yet King David was equally aware of our tininess compared with the universe’s vastness, and came to a different conclusion in Psalm 8:3–5:
3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
4 what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?
5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.
Similarly, as C.S. Lewis pointed out, the medieval theologians were well aware that compared to the vastness of heavens, the earth was but a point in space. But somehow modern antitheists think this is news, regard it as a profound disproof of God, as if God needed a small universe to exist. And if the universe were small, then these same atheopaths would probably whine, “If God is so great, then why didn’t He create anything else?”6
He met his future wife Jane (née Wilde) in 1962, a year before he was diagnosed with his degenerative illness. Jane is a scholar in her own right, with a doctorate in Medieval Portuguese Literature. She is also a Christian, and unwisely violated Paul’s command against unequally yoking with an unbeliever (2 Cor. 6:14)—they married in 1965. Jane did not expect him to live very long; he had been given two years—the time the eponymous Lou Gehrig (1903–1941) survived his diagnosis. But somehow, this engagement made a huge difference in his life, as he admitted, “what really made a difference was that I got engaged to a woman named Jane Wilde. This gave me something to live for.” His biographers said:
“There is little doubt that Jane Wilde’s appearance on the scene was a major turning-point in Stephen Hawking’s life. The two of them began to see a lot more of one another and a strong relationship developed. It was finding Jane that enabled him to break out of his depression and regenerate some belief in his life and work. For Hawking, his engagement to Jane was probably the most important thing that ever happened to him. It changed his life, gave him something to live for and made him determined to live. Without the help that Jane gave him, he would almost certainly not have been able to carry on or had the will to do so.”7
Their marriage soon produced three children. Yet although Stephen lived far longer than anyone expected, his body deteriorated markedly. Jane said in 1986, “Without my faith in God, I wouldn’t have been able to live in this situation.” Unfortunately, Stephen’s antitheism became more dogmatic and vicious, which caused major conflicts. Yet she stuck with him, following 1 Corinthians 7:12–17. But eventually Stephen ended the marriage after 25 years. Jane later wrote an insightful autobiography, revealing the conflicts between her Christian faith and Stephen’s dogmatic atheism.8
New atheistic book
Hawking has again made the headlines with his new book, co-authored with science writer and physicist Dr Leonard Mlodinow, strangely called The Grand Design.9 This supposedly proves that no Creator was necessary. Yet once again, he goes way beyond the evidence. And there are people who have not been impressed with the book who we would expect to welcome it. The ultra-liberal and anti-Christian New York Times published a review:
The real news about The Grand Design, however, isn’t Mr. Hawking’s supposed jettisoning of God, information that will surprise no one who has followed his work closely. The real news about The Grand Design is how disappointingly tinny and inelegant it is. The spare and earnest voice that Mr. Hawking employed with such appeal in A Brief History of Time has been replaced here by one that is alternately condescending, as if he were Mr. Rogers explaining rain clouds to toddlers, and impenetrable.
The Grand Design is packed with grating yuks. “If you think it is hard to get humans to follow traffic laws,” we read, “imagine convincing an asteroid to move along an ellipse.” (Oh, my.)10
And The Times (UK) published a review:
The present book consists of only 208 large-print pages, yet I thought it too long — it reads like a stretched magazine article. Even allowing for the need for the pleasures of digression, there is too much padding and too much recycling of long-stale material. It gives me no pleasure at all to say that I doubt whether The Grand Design would have been published if Hawking’s name were not on the cover.35
For example, he cites the discovery of extrasolar planets11 as a turning point against Isaac Newton’s belief that the universe must have been planned:
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.
Yet extrasolar planets have caused far more problems for evolutionary models of stellar systems, including the Nebular Hypothesis.12,13,14,15 For example, to obtain “hot Jupiters”, evolutionists must propose that they formed far enough from the star for water vapour to condense, then migrated inwards.16 Other extrasolar planets have highly slanted or even retrograde orbits, i.e. in the opposite direction to their star’s spin.17,18 Rather, Extrasolar planets suggest our solar system is unique and young.19
Hawking fails logic and meta-science
Hawking’s key assertion is that the big bang followed inevitably from the laws of physics so needed no creator:
because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.
However, logic doesn’t seem to be his strong point; ‘self-creation’ is self-contradictory. Something can do something—including create—only if it exists; something not yet existing has no power to do anything, including create itself.
And for such a great scientist, he seems rather clueless about the meta-science issues, i.e. the assumptions that overlie science and allow it to work. For example, his comment presupposes that laws can do anything, but I've pointed out before that this type of claim:
… treats natural laws as real entities. In reality, scientific laws are descriptive of what we observe happening regularly, just as the outline of a map describes the shape of a coastline. Treating scientific laws as prescriptive, i.e. the cause of the observed regularities, is like claiming that the drawing of the map is the cause of the shape of the coastline.20
But contrary to what Hawking claims, physical laws can never provide a complete explanation of the universe. Laws themselves do not create anything, they are merely a description of what happens under certain conditions.
What Hawking appears to have done is to confuse law with agency. His call on us to choose between God and physics is a bit like someone demanding that we choose between aeronautical engineer Sir Frank Whittle21 and the laws of physics to explain the jet engine.
That is a confusion of category. The laws of physics can explain how the jet engine works, but someone had to build the thing, put in the fuel and start it up. The jet could not have been created without the laws of physics on their own—but the task of development and creation needed the genius of Whittle as its agent.
Similarly, the laws of physics could never have actually built the universe. Some agency must have been involved.
To use a simple analogy, Isaac Newton’s laws of motion in themselves never sent a snooker ball racing across the green baize. That can only be done by people using a snooker cue and the actions of their own arms.22
Hawking also plays the usual “warfare of religion v science” for all its worth. Thus his hero has long been Galileo, despite the fact that his dispute was really science v. science (see for example The Galileo quadricentennial23).
Hawking also credits the Ionian Greeks with discovering the nature of scientific laws. But he ignores the extensive research that shows that science itself thrived only under the Christian worldview, and was stillborn in other cultures, including ancient Greece. Thus it thrived in the European middle ages under a general Christian worldview, and even more so with the explicit biblical worldview of the Reformation (see The biblical roots of modern science24). This was due to the presuppositions required for science to work in the first place, including the reality and rationality of both the universe and our own thoughts.25
Lennox, a mathematician who is also very learned in the philosophy of science, raises the same points:
The very reason science flourished so vigorously in the 16th and 17th centuries was precisely because of the belief that the laws of nature which were then being discovered and defined reflected the influence of a divine law-giver.
One of the fundamental themes of Christianity is that the universe was built according to a rational, intelligent design. Far from being at odds with science, the Christian faith actually makes perfect scientific sense.
Some years ago, the scientist Joseph Needham made an epic study of technological development in China. He wanted to find out why China, for all its early gifts of innovation, had fallen so far behind Europe in the advancement of science.
He reluctantly came to the conclusion that European science had been spurred on by the widespread belief in a rational creative force, known as God, which made all scientific laws comprehensible.
Hawking’s whole edifice rests on “M-theory”. Yet they first admit “people are still trying to decipher the nature of M-theory, but that may not be possible.” The book claims, “M-theory is not a theory in the usual sense. It is a whole family of different theories.” This predicts that “ours is not the only universe.” Rather, “Instead M-theory predicts that a great many universes were created out of nothing.” And here is their punch line: “ … their creation does not require the intervention of some supernatural being or god. Rather, these multiple universes arise naturally from physical law. They are a prediction of science.” But given that these can’t be observed, even in principle, this is unscientific.
But they argue that it would explain why some will inevitably have the characteristics for life, and if ours wasn’t one of them, then we wouldn’t be here to observe it. This is a variant of the so-called ‘anthropic principle’ (from Greek anthrōpos άνθρωπος = man). This sounds profound but it’s actually no explanation at all. As Christian philosopher and apologist William Lane Craig pointed out:
If you were dragged before a trained firing squad, and they fired and missed:it is true that you should not be surprised to observe that you are not dead, but
it is equally true that you should be surprised to observe that you are alive.
If you were asked, ‘How did you survive?’, it would be inadequate to answer, ‘If I didn’t, I would not be here to answer you.’26
Multiverses supposedly explain the existence of ours with special characteristics. But this is really special pleading, i.e. an explanation these atheists accept for the universe but would not tolerate for a second to explain anything else. Consider if we found a pattern of markings on a beach which spelled your name. Naturally you would conclude that an intelligent agent had written it. This is more plausible than thinking that wind and wave erosion somehow produced that pattern by chance, even though there is an extremely tiny probability of this happening.
But under multiverse reasoning, there are an infinite number of parallel universes containing every possible quantum state, ‘In infinite space, even the most unlikely events must take place somewhere.’27
So if a person had an a priori bias that no one could have written your name, he could argue that we just happen to be in one of the tiny fraction of universes where this improbable erosion pattern arose naturally. If this sounds totally unreasonable, then by the same logic, so is the atheistic preference for an infinite number of universes over a Creator.28
It’s notable that his ideas have been criticised by none other than his greatest collaborator on black holes, Sir Roger Penrose.29 Penrose reviewed his old friend’s book,30 and commented on “Hawking’s strange-sounding philosophical standpoint of theory-dependent realism put forward here.” I.e. Hawking has proven nothing; rather, his whole edifice depends on a very shaky theory of physics, which Penrose explains is “ … ‘M-theory’, a popular (but fundamentally incomplete) development of string theory. … M-theory enjoys no observational support whatever.”
String theory itself, let alone M-theory that stems from it, is most dubious. An editorial in New Scientist lamented about how the fancy mathematics of string theory really prove nothing in reality:
But these equations tell us nothing about where space and time came from and describe nothing we would recognize.31
This also cited a running joke among cosmologists:
Q: why is our universe unique?
A: it’s the only one that string theory can’t explain!32
Hawking’s collaborators disagree
As above, Penrose is most critical of Hawking’s current book. He also criticised Hawking’s previous best seller—in the film version of A Brief History of Time, he said (although he claims no religious beliefs):
There is a certain sense in which I would say the universe has a purpose. It’s not there just somehow by chance. Some people take the view that the universe is simply there and it runs along—it’s a bit as though it just sort of computes, and we happen by accident to find ourselves in this thing. I don’t think that’s a very fruitful or helpful way of looking at the universe, I think that there is something much deeper about it, about its existence, which we have very little inkling of at the moment.
Another of Hawking’s major collaborators is George Ellis.33 Yet he is not an atheist but a Quaker and Platonist, and winner of the Templeton Prize. Ellis is much more aware than Hawking of how cosmogonic models are heavily dependent on philosophical assumptions. In an interview in Scientific American, Ellis was quoted as follows:
“People need to be aware that there is a range of models that could explain the observations,” Ellis argues. “For instance, I can construct you a spherically symmetrical universe with Earth at its center, and you cannot disprove it based on observations.” Ellis has published a paper on this. “You can only exclude it on philosophical grounds. In my view there is absolutely nothing wrong in that. What I want to bring into the open is the fact that we are using philosophical criteria in choosing our models. A lot of cosmology tries to hide that.”34
Last year, Prof. Ellis gave an interesting private lecture at a university in South Africa, which was attended by creationist engineering student (who has since earned a Masters in Engineering) E. van Niekerk, who reports:
He (carefully) disagrees with this atheistic fluff that Hawking and his fellow colleagues generate. He for instance told us why the multiverse idea does not solve the problem of design, or why this universe is here. He also slipped something else. There either has to be an eternal being/God, or an eternal universe, and he does not seem convinced that this universe can be eternal (even with fluctuations of existence etc.). Although he is not a biblical creationist, he said there is one piece in the Bible that was very “reasonable”. That is the opening words of the Gospel of John, namely: “In the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God, and the Word was God.”
- Hawking’s greatest works were in black hole physics.
- He has courageously fought against a terrible physical disability. His Christian wife Jane was a great support, but eventually he left her after 25 years of marriage.
- His fame largely rests on his weak attempts to exclude God based on tendentious physics. His atheism was present early, and was an assumption he brought to his physics; it was not derived from his science. It was also a source of growing conflict in his marriage, that stretched it to breaking point.
- Hawking’s latest work contains flaws in logic and the philosophy of science. E.g. “self-creation” is logically contradictory, and the laws of science cause nothing to occur but describe what does occur.
- He proposes a theory of multiverses, but this is not scientific since they can’t be observed.
- His M-theory isn’t supported by a shred of experimental evidence.
Thus a summary of Hawking’s approach is:
- The universe looks designed, but a designer is not allowed.
- So there must be some other explanation.
- Let’s resort to some other religious ideas to explain the appearance of design (the multiverse).
- Then let’s use even more religious ideas to support our religious idea.
- And then let’s claim it is science to show no designer was necessary.
- We win!
- Coping with peer rejection, Editorial, Nature 425:645, 16 October 2003. Return to text.
- Christian philosopher William Lane Craig showed up the shortcomings of Hawking’s logic in ‘What place, then, for a creator?’: Hawking on God and Creation, British J. Philosophy of Science 41:473–91, 1990. Return to text.
- Hawking, S., A Brief History of Time, Bantam Doubleday Dell Pub, 10th Ed., 1998. Return to text.
- Sample, I., Ultimate equation is pie in the sky, says Hawking, Guardian, 23 February 2004, 22 June 2006. Return to text.
- Metro, 27 November 2000, p. 11. Return to text.
- See Bates, G., Did God create life on other planets? Otherwise why is the universe so big? Creation 29(2):12–15, 2007 and his book Alien Intrusion: UFOs and the Evolution Connection, CBP, 2005, 2010. Return to text.
- White, M. and Gribbon, J., Stephen Hawking : A Life in Science, Book Club Associates, London, 2002. Return to text.
- Hawking, Jane, Music to Move the Stars, McMillan, New York, 2004; see review by Jerry Bergman: “Stephen Hawking: the closed mind of a dogmatic atheist“, J. Creation 19(3):29–33, 2005. Return to text.
- Hawking, S. and Mlodinow, L., The Grand Design, Bantam Press, 2010. Return to text.
- Garner, Dwight, Many Kinds of Universes, and None Require God, New York Times, 7 September 2010. Return to text.
- Mayor, Michael; Queloz, Didier, A Jupiter-mass companion to a solar-type star, Nature 378 (6555):355–359, 1995 P-I-P-E doi:10.1038/378355a0. Return to text.
- Spencer, W., The Origin and History of the Solar System, in: Walsh, R.E., ed., Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Creationism, pp. 513–523, Creation Science Fellowship, Inc., Pittsburgh, PA, 1994. Return to text.
- Henry, J., Solar System formation by accretion has no observational evidence, J. Creation 24(2): 87–94, 2010. Return to text.
- Oard, M., The naturalistic formation of planets exceedingly difficult, J. Creation 16(2):20–21, 2002. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., Solar system origin: Nebular hypothesis, Creation 32(3):34–35, 2010. Return to text.
- This involves a complex theory where the dust disk as well as the other existing planets change the positions of Uranus and Neptune. See Spencer, W., Migrating planets and migrating theories, J. Creation 21(3):12–14, 2007, as well as the Creation magazine articles online at creation.com/uranus and creation.com/neptune. Return to text.
- Turning Planetary Theory Upside Down, Royal Astronomical Society, 13 April 2010; www.ras.org.uk/. Return to text.
- Spencer, W., Planets around other stars, Creation 33(1)44–47, 2011. Return to text.
- Bernitt, R., Extrasolar planets suggest our solar system is unique and young, J. Creation 17(1):11–13, 2003. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., Miracles and science, creation.com/miracles, 1 September 2006. Return to text.
- Sir Frank Whittle (1907–9 August 1996), is generally regarded as the father of modern jet propulsion. Return to text.
- Lennox, J., As a scientist I’m certain Stephen Hawking is wrong. You can’t explain the universe without God, Mail Online, 3 September 2010. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., The Galileo quadricentennial: myth vs fact, Creation 31(3): 49–51, 2009. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., The biblical roots of modern science, Creation 32(4):32–36, 2010. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., Why does science work at all, Creation 31(3):12–14, 2009. Both this and the previous article provide the material for The Greatest Hoax on Earth? pp. 310–320, 2010. Return to text.
- Barrow and Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (Clarendon, 1986), use this objection to evade the implications of a Designer. However, Christian philosopher and apologist William Lane Craig points out the fallacy in ‘Barrow and Tipler on the Anthropic Principle vs. Divine Design’, Brit. J. Phil. Sci. 38:389–95, 1988 (see also online version). Once this fallacy is removed, the book becomes a compendium of data of modern science which point to design in nature inexplicable in natural terms and therefore pointing to a Divine Designer. However, some of the alleged design features presuppose a big bang, so are not considered here. Return to text.
- Tegmark, M., Parallel universes: Not just a staple of science fiction, other universes are a direct implication of cosmological observations, Scientific American 288:30–41, May 2003. Of course, there is no actual observation of these other universes, just observation of fine-tuning in ours that is explained away by multiverses. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J, Refuting Compromise, ch. 5, Master Books, Green Forest, AR, 2004. Return to text.
- They worked together on what are now called the Penrose–Hawking singularity theorems, and co-authored The Nature of Space and Time, Princeton University Press, 1996. Penrose is now Emeritus Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford , and the brother of Jonathan Penrose, who won the British Chess Championship 10 times. Return to text.
- Penrose, R., review of The Grand Design, Financial Times (UK), 4 September 2010. 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.
- See also Bates, G., Is ‘String’ the next big thing, Creation 30(2):32–34, 2008, and response to critic at creation.com/string-theory-philosophy-challenged. Return to text.
- They co-authored The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time, Cambridge University Press, 1973. George Francis Rayner Ellis is now Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Complex Systems in the Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. Return to text.
- Gibbs, W. Wayt, Profile: George F.R. Ellis; Thinking Globally, Acting Universally, Scientific American 273(4):28, 29, 1995. Return to text.
- Farmelo, G., Review of The Grand Design, The Times, 11 September 2010. Return to text.