Defending Stephen Hawking From the Soldiers of God

Sep 04 2010 Published by under Featured News

Stephen Hawking

It is interesting that since the Church lost the ability to sanction those who departed from dogma scientists have not felt much threatened by religion or by religious beliefs. Believers, on the other hand – whatever their form of religion – seem to feel threatened by science and by scientists, even though most scientists are themselves Christians.

Take physicist Stephen Hawking, for example, who has raised the ire of every believer in Britain because of his new book, “The Grand Design,” which will be published on September 7 in the United States and September 9 in the United Kingdom.

Hawking’s great sin is to suggest that God is not necessary for creation: “the universe can and will create itself from nothing,” he writes.

The somewhat sensationalist description on CNN.com claims incorrectly that “God did not create the universe, world-famous physicist Stephen Hawking argues in a new book that aims to banish a divine creator from physics.”

But God does not need to be banished from physics. He cannot be banished from where he does not exist. Now if God were banished from religion, that would be news. But physics? Science is not the study of God; science relies on what can be empirically proven through repeated demonstration.

The Bible argues that God created the universe. Stephen Hawking is claiming that “Given existence of gravity the universe can and will create itself from nothing.”

The Bible does not address this issue. It cannot. It is not the province of theology to offer scientific explanations. The Bible relies on a creator God to get the job done. Science cannot address the existence or non-existence of Gods and scientific theory cannot rely on the actions of that which cannot be proven to exist.

Thus God is out of the physics equation, just as he is out of the historian’s purview when it comes to stories of miracles, and so forth.

Galileo Galilei

So why are these believers so upset? You would think Galileo came back to life and said something absurd, such as the earth revolves around the sun.

Galileo stomped all over the Bible by pointing out an inconvenient scientific truth. The earth moves. The Bible says it does not (Psalm 93:1, Psalm 96:10, Psalm 104:5, 1 Chronicles 16:30, Ecclesiastes 1:5). As it happens, Galileo was right; the Bible was wrong. The Church had ultimate sanction on knowledge and Galileo was condemned by the Inquisition.

Look at the similarities here. Copernicus, who developed the heliocentric theory for which Galileo was condemned, had no spaceships or photographs from Hubble Telescopes to prove his theory, but he demonstrated that the movement of objects in space which we observe from Earth is explainable without reliance on an earth-centered universe. Hawking has proved, he says, that the Universe can be self-creating, that no creator god is required.

Even Isaac Newton believed God created and kept order in the universe but Newton fell victim to a science more advanced than his own in 1992 when extraterrestrial worlds were discovered which made earth seem far less unique than in his day. The logic is implacable: if Earth is not unique, if other earth-like planets might exist, and if other life exists, then God is not necessary as an explanation.

You can believe him or not, but few can argue with Hawking with regards to his science. The man is a genius.

You can also argue whether or not his evidence leaves room for the existence of gods or not. My own feeling as a polytheist is that science can no more disprove the existence of gods than prove it; it’s simply not the domain of science to address the issue. That doesn’t mean that science cannot demonstrate that the universe can be self-creating. Nor, in my view, does evidence that the universe can be self creating mean that it did create itself.

There is room for both in the debate. Hawking isn’t teaching in Sunday schools, after all, and the Archbishop of Canterbury isn’t teaching at MIT. There is no need, and no reason, for believers to be up in arms over Hawking’s pronouncement.

But they are. Which leads me to believe they’re feeling just a bit insecure about all this science floating around. It undermines their control over the flock, after all, if holy writ is proven wrong. And religious authorities have never willingly given up power. That we’re living in a more secular world is threatening enough without the Bible’s veracity being called into question.

But this makes their protests somewhat less than honest. You’re undermining our reputation with our clients!  They should be shouting. That, at least, would be honest. Because that’s the real issue. Religious authorities need believers, after all. Without believers, what need of authorities?

But to claim in the same breath that Hawking is attacking the idea of God and that “the Bible simply isn’t interested in how the Universe came into being” is not only untrue, since the idea of God being a creator God is central to Abrahamic monotheism (since there are not one but two creation myths in Genesis) but also begs the question: If it’s no big deal how the universe was created, why are you so upset?

The Archbishop of Canterbury complained that “physics on its own will not settle the question of why there is something rather than nothing.” I don’t know how he can prove this. Certainly not on scientific grounds. He might make an argument based on theology but then we’re back to apples and oranges because theology is not the business of science. Science is. Accuse Hawking of being a bad scientist if you can make that argument; don’t accuse him of being a bad theologian because he isn’t one.

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