Posted by: gmscan | May 29, 2014

God and Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking ends his book, “A Brief History of Time,” by writing –

“However, if we do discover a complete theory (of everything), it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists.  Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we would know the mind of God.”

The problem with that thought is that we already know the mind of God, or at least the part that He is willing to reveal to us. We know it through His Word, the Holy Scripture.

But, then Christians and Jews already knew most of what Hawking reveals in his book. For thousands of years we have known about the Big Bang, we have known that time is mutable, we have known that there was a common mother and father of all humanity, and we have known that there exists a Creator and a Heaven who are outside of our universe and not subject to the natural laws that rule the universe.

Science is just beginning to catch up, and bully for them. But they are coming at the truth reluctantly, desperately trying to avoid the obvious conclusions, as Hawking illustrates in his later book, “The Universe in a Nutshell.” God must be having a grand time watching all this unfold. But, then, He knew it would. After all, He gave us the tools that would lead to these conclusions.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. When I was in the first grade our class discussed what causes the sound of thunder. I proudly raised my hand and gave the answer my mother always told me – it is the sound of clouds bumping into each other! The class started laughing at that stupid answer and I felt humiliated. Many years later I discovered that she was actually pretty close to the truth, it is indeed caused by the movement of air particles. Thunder is produced by the rapid expansion of air resulting from being suddenly superheated by the lightning. My mother had given me a version that a very young child could understand.

So it was with Scripture. God did not provide mathematical proofs – we didn’t know much about advanced calculus at the time. He gave us a narrative and asked us to trust Him. Thousands of years later we are finally coming to understand what He said.

So, let’s look a little more closely at some of these ideas.

The Big Bang.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth waswithout form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good.”  (Genesis 1:1-4)

Hawking was one of the originators of the idea of a Big Bang, along with Roger Penrose. This is the idea that the universe is expanding and if we follow it back in time it will collapse into nothing, before which there was no time and no matter. They coauthored a paper in 1970 that “proved” it mathematically. He writes –

“There was a lot of opposition to our work, particularly from the Russians because of their Marxist belief in scientific determinism, and partly from people who felt that the whole idea of a singularity (the Big Bang) was repugnant and spoiled the beauty of Einstein’s theory. However, one cannot really argue with a mathematical theorem, so in the end our work became generally accepted and nowadays nearly everyone assumes that the universe started with a big bang singularity.”

It is notable that scientists, and not just Marxist ones, resisted the idea because it gave credence to the Scriptural explanation. They held on to their “beliefs” because of a nostalgic attachment to the “beauty of Einstein’s theory.”

Hardly sounds like the fearless quest for truth as science is often portrayed. But Hawking includes many similar examples of established scientists resisting new ideas. He even includes a brief biography of Galileo, which indicates it was not the Church as much as “the Aristotelian professors” which were hostile to Copernicanism. Indeed, the Church supported his work in writing and publishing his “Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems.”

It should be noted that Hawking himself is currently moving away from the Big Bang idea, arguing that using quantum mechanics it is possible that the universe is in a sort of endless loop without boundaries of any kind.  I must say that I don’t find the argument persuasive (as a layman and not a mathematician). He goes into this in his second book, but to get there he needs to invent concepts like “imaginary time” and “infinite histories” of the universe. These ideas may work mathematically, but they defy any kind of sense that I am familiar with. For example, we might have infinite futures, but how can there be “infinite histories” within any definition of the word “history?” History is what did happen in fact. There can be alternate explanations, but there cannot be alternate events.

Hawking himself acknowledges some of the problems. He writes –

“There is no more experimental evidence for some of the theories described in this book than there is for astrology, but we believe them because they are consistent with theories that have survived testing.”

And he gives a fairly lengthy caution about the limits of science –

“In 1931 the mathematician Kurt Godel proved his famous incompleteness theorem about the nature of mathematics. The theorem states that within any formal system of axioms, such as present day mathematics, questions always persist that can neither be proved nor disproved on the basis of the axioms that define the system. In other words, Godel showed that there are problems that cannot be solved by any set of rules or procedures.

“Godel’s theorem set fundamental limits on mathematics. It came as a great shock to the scientific community, since it overthrew the widespread belief that mathematics was a coherent and complete system based on a simple logical foundation. Godel’s theorem, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, and the practical impossibility of following the evolution of even a deterministic system that becomes chaotic form a core set of limitations to scientific knowledge that only came to be appreciated during the twentieth century.”

The lesson, to me, of Hawking’s evolution is that he is following the math down a rabbit hole of nonsense. He says later in the book –

“A good theory will describe a large range of phenomena on the basis of a few simple postulates and will make definite predictions that can be tested. If the predictions agree with the observations, the theory survives, though it can never be proved to be correct.”

Given that principle, Hawking has left “good theory” far behind and is now in the realm of pure speculation. That is fine, speculation can be fun, but it is no longer science.

Mutable Time

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” (2Peter 3:8)

The idea that time is not a constant has been well established for a very long time. Hawking cites an experiment conducted in 1962 that showed that a clock at the top of a water tower ran faster than one at the bottom, consistent with Einstein’s theory of general relativity. A man who went deep into space at near the speed of light would return much younger than his twin who stayed on Earth. Hawking discusses the implication of this on our understanding of God and cites Augustine reminding us that God is not subject to time – “Time is a property only of the universe that God created,” writes Hawking.  God is not of this universe, so He is not subject to the natural laws that govern this universe, i.e. He is “super natural.”

It is interesting that Hawking returns repeatedly to God in his writing.  He says, for instance –

“It would be very difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just this way, except as an act of a God who intended to create beings like us.”

And –

“With the success of scientific theories in describing events, most people have come to believe that God allows the universe to evolve according to a set of laws and does not intervene to break these laws. However, the laws do not tell us what the universe should have looked like when it started – it would still be up to God to wind up the clockwork and choose how to start it off.”

I would comment that God may not “usually” intervene to break these laws, but He does from time to time. These times are what we know as miracles.

But Hawking just can’t quite accept that conclusion, so he continues –

“So long as the universe had a beginning we could suppose it had a creator. But if the universe is really completely self-contained, having no boundary or edge, it would have neither a beginning nor end: it would simply be. What place, then, for a creator?”

And, again, this is where he gets into concepts like “imaginary time” to wriggle out of the conclusions he himself has arrived at. Is this really so very different than the Soviet scientists who rejected Hawking’s original Big Bang discovery because it violated their Marxist ideology?

There is more to be said here, but this post is getting too long. I will get back to it later.

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Responses

  1. An excellent post. Thank you for summarizing Hawking who is as much under the constraint to explain first causes as the rest of us. To me the key observation is his statement,
    “It would be very difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just this way, except as an act of a God who intended to create beings like us.”
    Yet, Hawking will never be able to explain God, hence his reluctance to submit to that thought. Or at least, not just yet.

    • Hawking is pretty impressive — a great writer with the courage to at least approach the consequences of his discoveries.

  2. Outstanding. Never ending is the quest of man to turn themselves into God. Time for us to recognize we are merely Children of God, charged to walk his path of righteousness and blessed with salvation through the gift of his Son Jesus Christ who died for our sins!

    • We are indeed children of God, but we often act more like sons of Adam.

  3. Thanks, Greg. Your insights and commentary have an impact beyond even the direct readers of your post.

    • Thanks Ron, your feedback is always encouraging.


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