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