Is There “No Possibility” That God Exists? Thoughts about Stephen Hawking’s Final Declaration
In his last book Brief Answers to Big Questions (Bantam, 2018) physicist Stephen Hawking argued that not only is there no proof of God’s existence but that “there’s no possibility of God.” (See “Stephen Hawking’s Final Book Says There’s ‘No Possibility’ of God in Our Universe” at “Live Science” at https://www.livescience.com/63854-stephen-hawking-says-no-god.html .
According to this article, to his dying day Hawking believed science has disproven God’s existence. He believed the “big bang” explains the beginnings of the universe without any need for recourse to God or anything like God unless one simply wishes to use “God” as a cipher for the “big bang.” The big bang, Hawking believed, was a creation out of nothing and does not call for any explanation of what was before the big bang. In fact, relying on an argument from the interdependence of time and space (of the universe), there was no time before the big bang and, apparently, somehow, the big bang brought time into existence.
Finally, at the end of the first chapter of Brief Answers Hawking wrote that “We have this one life to appreciate the grand design of the universe and for that I am extremely grateful.”
A few questions naturally arise. Unfortunately, we can’t ask Hawking himself. However, I toss them out here for those who agree with him to answer if they can. (And I invite others like I am who find these claims absurd to comment.)
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First, it is one thing to deny God’s existence and something else entirely to claim that there is no possibility of God’s existence. That latter is a metaphysical claim beyond the purview of science. Even if science could explain everything that exists and happens in the observable universe, that would not by itself prove that God does not exist.
Second, apparently Hawking, like many skeptics, believed that belief in God depends on the necessity of God to fill the “gaps” in science’s account of the nature of the universe. Theologians have long refuted that “God of the gaps” “theology.”
Third, the argument from time can work just as much against belief that the big bang was “the ultimate free lunch” (as one other scientist has labeled it), a creation out of nothing, as against belief in God. No believer in God I know believes that time, as we know it, existed in God in eternity—before the creation. And the claim that time began to exist with the big bang raises the same question theism (belief in God) raises: What was “before” that? “Nothing” doesn’t answer.
Fourth, according to German philosopher Martin Heidegger the most important and fundamental question of all questions is “Why is there something rather than nothing?” He did not think that had any answer. But any claim that the whole universe simply “came into being” raises the questions “How?” and “Why?”
On one episode of the television sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” Sheldon Cooper, who almost worships Hawking, exclaims that Hawking explained the when, the how and the why of the universe. Really? How did Hawking explain the why? of the universe? To say it simply happened goes no way toward answering the purpose or meaning of the universe—Heidegger’s questions. And science alone cannot answer that question.Fifth, elsewhere in his book, as before, Hawking insisted that the universe is controlled by iron-clad natural laws with no “room” for interruptions or suspensions. However, he also acknowledged unpredictability on the subatomic level—without (so far as I know) suggesting that “someday” science will do away with that unpredictability. For him, as for most contemporary physicists, unpredictability is an irreducible part of the universe on the subatomic level if not on “larger” levels.
Sixth, notice Hawking’s reference to “the grand design of the universe.” Seriously? How can there be “design” in something that is without any designer? I notice this slip into theistic language among non-theistic people all the time. They personalize nature without noticing that this at least implies something transcendent to nature.
Seventh, to whom was Hawking “grateful?” “Grateful” implies an object following the implied “to.”
Eighth, and finally, people should not be tripped up by Hawking’s language about “in the universe.” Of course theists have never claimed that God “exists in the universe”—at least not like water exists in the universe. Yes, to be sure, the vast majority of theists believe God exists in the universe but also outside the universe. (Are there edges to the universe? There have to be something like that. Saying the universe is “round” would not help.) Clearly Hawking meant that there is no possibility that God exists…period.
Yes, I will go so far as to say that in this particular case (not Hawking’s science in general) the physicist stepped way beyond science into metaphysics and betrayed a bias or at least a belief that is not truly scientific.
No, I do not think science can prove God’s existence. On the other hand, I am certain that science, insofar as it sticks to its own methods and draws conclusions from them alone, cannot disprove God’s existence. And I think Hawking knew that (because he was extremely smart).
So why do I think he made that last shocking claim—that there’s no possibility of God in the universe? I can only surmise. I think it was to claim scientific support for his own quasi-religious belief in the non-existence of God. What I don’t know whether he was aware of his own error. If not, he should have been (because he was smart).
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