A Brief Response to Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking passed in early 2018, but one of his books is being published posthumously. This book is getting a great deal of press because it expresses Hawkings’ atheistic beliefs of a universe that is explainable without God. Seeing as how Hawking is regarded with great respect in the popular culture for his scientific genius, his points deserve a response.

I will say up front that I am not a scientist. My training is in theology and philosophy. I will be ready to take correction from anyone in the scientific field who can show me the error of my logic, but the laws of logic and reason form the foundation of scientific inquiry.

EX NIHILO NIHIL FIT

A very basic principle of being is that out of nothing comes nothing. This is expressed in the Latin phrase “Ex nihilo nihil fit.” In other words, anything that comes into being must come from something and is not the cause of its own existence.

Hawking believed that the universe came into existence out of nothing. The basis for this idea is that scientists have observed sub-atomic particles seemingly come in and out of existence. Hawking extrapolates this principle to the universe itself. The logic works like this:

A: In order for the universe to come into existence out of nothing, there must be some things that come from nothing.
B: Some subatomic particles come from nothing.
C: Therefore the universe comes into existence from nothing.

There are two main problems with this line of thinking.

The first is that the logic does not follow. Even if we could prove that things came from nothing, it does not prove that this is the case for the universe. A subatomic particle may come into existence, but we would never say that a bowling ball would spontaneously come into existence. And a bowling ball is incredibly less complex than the universe, even nanoseconds after the Big Bang.

The second is that accepting that material things comes from nothing sounds like a scientific dead end. I cannot imagine any other case in which scientific inquiry ends with “and then a miracle happens and then it exists.” You may not classify spontaneous generation as a miracle, but I cannot imagine classifying it as anything else. To say that subatomic particles come from nothing sounds more like a problem of observation than it does a conclusion. Just because we cannot currently observe where these particles come from, it does not therefore mean that they come from nothing. I can think of no other situation in which a failure at finding a cause leads to the conclusion that there is no cause. I may not be able to observe gravitational fields with the naked eye, but since I can see there effects, I can be sure that the exist as a cause. A cause without an effect is a logical fallacy.

TIMELESSNESS OF GOD

Hawking also makes clear that time and space are linked. This has been a principle of physics for years. Without space, there is no time. Hawking says that God could not exist before the universe because there was no “before” the universe. Time comes into existence with the Big Bang. Therefore, he concludes there is no God. His logic is as follows:

A: It is claimed God existed before the universe.
B: But there is no “before” the universe, since time is created by the universe.
C: Therefore, there is no God.

It seems a shame that Hawking speaks about God without really understanding his subject or being aware of the rich body of work written on this subject. This problem was not exactly new to the ancients. They understood that God does not exist in time the way we do. God is eternal. For that reason, God does not exist in time. Instead time exists in God.

I use this example for my students: I draw a line on the chalkboard. I tell them that this is the timeline. I then take my chalk and I run it over the line from left to right. I tell them that the chalk stick represents us. We move from past, to present, to future in one direction. And just as the chalk stick only experiences the line one point at a time, so too we only experience time one moment at a time. I ask them if they understand this analogy and most do. I then tell them that God does not experience the timeline like the chalk stick. God experiences time like the chalkboard. The chalkboard experiences every single moment of the timeline at the same time. In the same way God experience the entire history of creation (past, present, and future), simultaneously. This is one of the reasons we say that God knows “the future.” That is because for Him from his perspective, He is experiencing it right now. Hawking has a very narrow view of what it means for God to be outside of time. He thinks simply as God being “before.” But God is the grounding on which space, time, and all Being are built.

CREATURE GOD

Hawking’s image of God is a very small one. If we were to understand God as the supreme being, the he of course could not simply be a part of the universe in the same way that the stars and orangutans are. Hawking seems to view God as a Divine Legislator and Law Enforcer whose primary job is to write the laws of the universe and to enforce their consequences. But Hawking sees these laws as fixed and consistent, so it makes the existence of this God superfluous and unnecessary.

But this once again views God a bounded inside the laws of the universe, one who is bounded by space and time and not one in whom space and time find their being. He is looking for God like he looking for any other created thing. But this creature God would not be much of a God at all. The thing that Hawking is attempting to disprove is not something that most believers hold. Hawking could say that he has disproved the existence of female popes. Catholics don’t believe they exist, just like they don’t believe Hawking’s creature God exists.

Again, I am not a scientist and my above ideas may be missing some important scientific insight. However, I believe Hawking made some important mistakes regarding God’s existence. And as this great scientist went to stand before Him a few month ago, I pray all of his deepest questions were answered.

Copyright 2018, WL Grayson

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W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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