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More Responses to Hawking’s “The Grand Design”

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September 14, 2010 Tags: Science & Worldviews
More Responses to Hawking’s “The Grand Design”

Today's entry was written by the BioLogos Editorial Team. You can read more about what we believe here.

The discussion surrounding Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlondinow’s latest book The Grand Design continues to swirl across the internet. For those not familiar with the debate, Hawking’s latest book makes the claim that science has made the need for a creator obsolete. Quoting the book, "Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist."

Karl Giberson engaged Hawking’s argument Monday, but today we’d like to point readers to two more responses by theologians Philip Clayton and Alister McGrath.

Philip Clayton

In his piece “Is Stephen Hawking Right About God?”, which ran yesterday on The Huffington Post, Clayton looks at four possible answers to Hawking’s assertion that modern physics has removed the need for creator:

  1. New atheists like Richard Dawkins are correct; Hawking’s has dealt the coup de grace to God’s place in the realm of physics.

  2. God does have a place in physics hypothesis and is necessary to explain the “fine-tuning” of the physical constants and the regularities of natural laws. The more we learn of physics, the more evidence there is for God.

  3. Science should not be limited from looking at certain questions, and physics should not be constrained by theology. It cannot comment on divine creative intent, supporting only “weak” anthropic principle (the universe is conducive to the evolution of intelligent life) but not “strong” anthropic principle (the universe was designed to produce intelligent life).

  4. Fourth way: science makes conclusions about God difficult, but they do not render God superfluous. Scientific inquiry should not be blocked by religion, but scientists must also realize they have not removed the place of mystery and the unknown. Scientific advances, like the ones Hawking speaks of, remind us of how much we don’t know.

This fourth option, which both Clayton and we at BioLogos support, seems the best response. As Clayton concludes:

But here the great physicist overreaches himself [by asserting that science rules out any notion of God]. When believers use claims about God to handcuff science, they act wrongly. But no such conflict is produced when we recognize that deep mysteries lie beyond the limits of scientific knowledge. Religious faith has its origins here, beyond the bounds of empirical demonstration. To declare this region empty of the divine is as much an act of faith as it is to find God here.

Alister McGrath

McGrath begins his piece “Stephen Hawking, God, and the Role of Science” with the assertion that science is neither atheistic nor theistic, though it can be interpreted in both religious and anti-religious ways. He points to the example of Richard Dawkins as someone who wields science as a weapon against religion. Yet he also offers the counter-example of Francis Collins, who argues that belief in God makes more sense of science than an atheistic interpretation.

In the case of Hawking’s argument, McGrath writes that he has confused laws with agency. Laws, notes McGrath, do not create; they merely describe what happens. He uses the illustration of the Mona Lisa to show that while the laws of physics can explain how the picture emerged, they wouldn’t lead us to write Da Vinci out of the equation as an unnecessary agent.

Furthermore, McGrath notes that implying that there is no need for a creator because the laws of physics already exist simply postpones the question of God one stage, as the question of where the laws came from still exists.

Finally, writes McGrath, Hawking’s very assertion about God oversteps the boundaries of science:

Darwin's great supporter Thomas H. Huxley (1825-1895) famously declared that science "commits suicide when it adopts a creed." Huxley was right. If science allows itself to be hijacked by fundamentalists, whether religious or anti-religious, its intellectual integrity is subverted and its cultural authority is compromised.

That is one of the reasons why so many scientists are troubled by the New Atheist agenda. They see this as compromising the integrity of science, and hijacking it for the purposes of an anti-religious crusade.

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conrad - #30160

September 15th 2010


New Scientist had an article on the 10 main “creation myths” a few months back.
Naturally they listed the Bible.

But the myths them selves were hilarious.
If you sought concordance with science THERE WAS NONE.

As Nobel prize winner Arno Penzias said,..“the best cosmology text i ever read was the old Testament !”

Callisto - #30209

September 15th 2010

Post continued:

2. An infinite number of finite things is an actual impossibility. There can’t be an unlimited number of limited universes.
3. Even if there were more universes, they would also need fine-tuning just TO exist. So it doesn’t eliminate our need for a Designer, it multiplies it. Our universe is incredibly improbable.
4. The theory is so broad that we could say anything that happens could be explained by it: They write, “it’s akin to the Apollo 13 astronauts denying the fact that NASA built their spacecraft in favor of the unsupported theory that there are an infinite number of naturally occurring spacecraft out there and the astronauts are just lucky to be on one that happens to support life.”.

Callisto - #30211

September 15th 2010

Sorry, the comments cut off my previous post. This is the first one:

I’ll take a leaf from Norman Geisler and Frank Turek’s book, “I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist”, because it so well addresses this, and I have a hard time getting around their logic.

Problems with the Multiple Universe Theory:
1. There’s no scientific evidence for it. Turek and Geisler write, “The evidence shows that all of finite reality came into existence with the Big Bang. Finite reality is what we call ‘the Universe’. If other finite realities exist, they’re beyond our ability to detect.” Remember Hawking’s “imaginary time”?

Roger A. Sawtelle - #30218

September 15th 2010

To address the issue noted above as to the relationship between theology and science.

Life is not compartmentalized and neither can be our thinking about the universe, life, and reality.

Science is knowledge about the universe.  Theology is knowledge about God, the Source of the universe.  Philosophy is wisdom about how humans understand the universe and God.

Each discipline plays an important role in the life of an individual and culture.  They are needed to create a dynamic balance in life.  Right now, in our culture, philosophy is dead, theology is sick, and science is lost because our culture is floundering in the black hole of dead modernism and demented postmodernism. 

Unles we wake up and find our moorings we will become extinct.

conrad - #30251

September 16th 2010

I finished the Hawking book in one day.
The finish is weak.

He cites the utter improbability of a perfectly conditioned universe like our own and resorts to the same tired anthropic principle.

Then something about gravity.
I think he is losing it.

EricG - #30254

September 16th 2010

Callisto—surely Hawking is overstating the theological implications of his theory, and the support for it isn’t there, at least as of yet.  But it strikes me as unfair to borrow arguments from a book seven years ago by non-scientists that don’t engage the points Hawking is making now.  The third argument you list from those authors suggests they don’t understand the prior arguments some cosmolgists have made about multiple universes (yes, any universe would need to be fine tuned to have a shot, but the probability that at least one is fine tuned increases if there are large numbers of them that are different; it doesn’t make the problem worse, as those authors suggest).  Hawking addresses the first argument; he could be wrong, but it is unfair IMO to not at least respond to what he is saying (see comments above).  The second argument also seems to misconstrue his current argument; *if* he is correct about application of Feynman (admittedly big if) then the question of infinite alternatives doesn’t appear to be an issue.

conrad - #30389

September 16th 2010

Hawking certainly has not disproved the existence of God.

But the book will give us an uphill climb.
The Big Bang was the most profound proof of Bible truths in my lifetime.

Now Hawking is saying it doesn’t mean anything,  BUT THE MYSTERIES OF RICHARD FEYNMAN’S DUAL SLIT EXPERIMENT HE FINDS REALLY PROFOUND AND MYSTERIOUS and basically he worships that.

adobesoftware - #30514

September 17th 2010

Quoting the book, “Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing.

conrad - #30580

September 17th 2010

Yeaah so Gravity turns out to be God?


They have been looking for gravitons and gravity waves unsuccessfully for years.

EricG - #30616

September 17th 2010

adeobessoftware and conrad,

To me, Hawking’s logic regarding gravity is quite flawed.  His argument is essentially that a negative energy force like gravity is necessary to balance energy out to zero in the creation of any universe.  Its existence means there is no energy constraint on the ability to create universes out of nothing.  My reaction is:  So what?  The fact that gravity overcomes energy constraints on the creation of universe says very little about how they actually come about—it doesn’t for example, mean that universes pop will automatically pop out of nothing.  At most, he is saying a force like gravity is a necessary condition to create universes out of nothing; it doesn’t mean it is a sufficient condition.  Am I just misunderstanding him, or is his argument very weak?

Roger A. Sawtelle - #30622

September 17th 2010

Eric G,

I would suggest that his agrument is basically weak, but that doe not make it “unscientific.”

Ther problem for me is that this whole debate ignores the very real problems we humans face in this world that science does not begin to adress.  While the church is very imperfect, it has made some effort to adress the problems of poverty, ignorance, hatred, war, etc and this is where we all need to be working.

Headless Unicorn Guy - #30657

September 18th 2010

Has anyone considered Hawking might be pulling a Fred Hoyle?

Propose an outrageous theory and dare someone to prove him wrong?

Mohammad Shafiq Khan - #31806

September 25th 2010

All science Hawking knows and on the basis of which he has written the book ‘The Grand Design’ has been proved wrong and baseless. The theory of everything has been recently published in the peer reviewed journal namely Indian Journal of Science & Technology which is available on http://www.indjst.org and the articles prove Big Bang Theory, Special Theory of Relativity, General Theory of Relativity and space-time concept to be wrong and baseless. So nobody needs to read the book and instead people should read the articles. Hawking is selling the wrong science to the innocent people of the world. The theory of everything is a theistic theory.

Uchitrakar - #62796

June 22nd 2011

“Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.”

SPAN style=“mso-spacerun: yes”>                                 - Stephen Hawking

BR>Here three questions can be asked:

1) Which one came first, universe, or law of gravity?

2) If the universe came first, then how was there spontaneous creation without the law of gravity?

3) If the law of gravity came first, then the law of gravity is Hawking’s “God”. Therefore Hawking will have to answer the question: Who created Hawking’s God?

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