Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking is in the news again theorizing about untestable speculations. He thinks that physical laws, (which are just descriptions of the way matter operates), can actually bring the entire space-time universe into being. Specifically, he thinks that the law of gravity can create matter out of nothing.
There’s no denying that Stephen Hawking is intellectually bold as well as physically heroic. And in his latest book, the renowned physicist mounts an audacious challenge to the traditional religious belief in the divine creation of the universe.
According to Hawking, the laws of physics, not the will of God, provide the real explanation as to how life on Earth came into being. The Big Bang, he argues, was the inevitable consequence of these laws ‘because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.’
Unfortunately, while Hawking’s argument is being hailed as controversial and ground-breaking, it is hardly new.
For years, other scientists have made similar claims, maintaining that the awesome, sophisticated creativity of the world around us can be interpreted solely by reference to physical laws such as gravity.
It is a simplistic approach, yet in our secular age it is one that seems to have resonance with a sceptical public.
But, as both a scientist and a Christian, I would say that Hawking’s claim is misguided. He asks us to choose between God and the laws of physics, as if they were necessarily in mutual conflict.
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 Whittle 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.
Hawking’s argument appears to me even more illogical when he says the existence of gravity means the creation of the universe was inevitable. But how did gravity exist in the first place? Who put it there? And what was the creative force behind its birth?
And here is an MP3 file with Bill Craig’s response. Craig thinks that Hawking’s new book is basically the same as his previous book where he introduced the idea that his quantum gravity theory can explain the creation of the universe out of nothing, and then the multiverse to explain the fine-tuning.
UPDATE: I added a new post with Henry F. Schafer’s take on Hawking’s no-boundary proposal.
The law of gravity is just a mathematical equation that describes nature. Gravity is part of the natural world – it is a force of attraction between material objects. How can this force exist causally prior to the creation of all matter at t=0? It cannot. Self-creation is a self-refuting contradiction. For a thing to create itself, it would have to exist before it existed.
Maybe that passes for intelligent thought in the world of atheistic speculations, but not in the world of experimental science, which provides strong evidence for a Creation out of nothing, and a Design plan for the universe. Maybe this is just like Dawkins avoiding a debate with William Lane Craig – it’s not about seeking truth, it’s about book sales. It’s not like Hawking is going to subject his speculations to a public debate.
You can learn more about the argument for God’s existence from the creation of the universe in the Big Bang.