Philosophy Magazine

Challenging Hawking’s Statement on God

By Stuart_gray @stuartg__uk

Challenging Hawking’s Statement on God

Reflecting on the inspiring life of the late Stephen Hawking, John Lennox (Professor emeritus of Mathematics at the University of Oxford) is full of praise for Hawking’s greater talent and his extensive contributions as a scientist[1]. Hawking’s work on gravity, and his development of the standard model, have been immense contributions to scientific knowledge and have given many “yet to be proven” theories for physicists to explore. Hawking has taught many famous physicists who are carrying on the work today. Further – he was someone of inspiring personal resilience and determination. He beat the odds that he faced as a result of motor neurone disease.

Lennox went on to quote Lord Rees, previous president of the Royal Society, who observed that Hawing “attracted exaggerated attention even on topics where he had no special expertise – for instance philosophy.”[2] There was a downside to his iconic status. Rees went on to say that we shouldn’t attach any weight at all to what Hawking says about God.[3] Rees is referencing Hawking’s atheism that is presented in his book The Grand Design.

Lennox makes a further observation: “Outside his own field, a scientist is as dumb as the next guy. Statements of scientists are therefore not always statements of science.”

Even though Hawking’s scientific opinions are held in high esteem, when he spoke outside of his field – philosophy and theology – he made some basic mistakes that he never seemed to try to correct. Lennox doubts that any philosophers or theologians ever read The Grand Design before it was published.

One of these mistakes is the central premise of his book. “Because there is a law of gravity the universe can and will create itself from nothing.”[4] What is wrong with this statement? Lennox observes that it is self-contradictory.

  • Because there is something (the law of gravity)
  • The universe creates itself from nothing
  • But if there is something there is not nothing – therefore this reasoning contains a basic contradiction.

To put it even more simply:

  • x can create y
  • but x cannot create x

What’s sad to Lennox is that Hawking claimed to produce a universe from nothing, but did no such thing because what he calls nothing … is not.

Lennox also observes that both Hawking and Isaac Newton held the Lucasian chair of Mathematics at Cambridge. While Newton didn’t say “I’ve got gravity…so I don’t need God,” he did say, “how brilliant for God to do it this way.” Yet Hawking was different. He saw God as a competing explanation for the existence of the universe. In other words – God fills the gaps in our knowledge, and as the gaps decrease so does the need for God.

Lennox observes that viewing God and science as competing hypothesis, is like saying “Henry Ford is an alternative explanation of the motor car from the laws of internal combustion. This is just nonsense. Ford doesn’t compete with the physical laws in any way – he is simply a different kind of explanation. He is agency, rather than natural law.”

So too with God. God’s not an alternative explanation to the universe from science. Hawking was mistaken. God’s a complementary explanation…the agency that harnesses the physical law he created.

Lennox deeply respects Hawking as a scientist, but not as a philosopher or theologian. For what it is worth…I agree with Lennox.

[1] John Lennox, John Lennox Reflects on Stephen Hawking’s Life and Beliefs, accessed 11th April, 2018, https://fixed-point.org/articles/john-lennox-reflects-on-stephen-hawkings-life-beliefs/, this source synthesised and summarised in the blog.

[2] Lord Martin Rees, Professor Stephen Hawking: An Appreciation by Lord Rees, Trinity College Cambridge, published 14th March, 2018, accessed 11th April, 2018, https://www.trin.cam.ac.uk/news/professor-stephen-hawking-an-appreciation-by-lord-rees/.

[3] Martin Rees: ‘We shouldn’t attach any weight to what Stephen Hawking says about God’, The Independent, published 26th September, 2010, accessed 11th April, 2018, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/martin-rees-we-shouldnt-attach-any-weight-to-what-hawking-says-about-god-2090421.html

[4] Great Minds: Stephen Hawking -The Grand Design of the Universe, uploaded 12th September, 2010, accessed 11th April, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vPvQY8L481o.


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