Stephen Hawking is still wrong

Stephen Hawking is at it again:

The Big Bang and the subsequent expansion of the Universe did not need God to set it off, theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking suggested to an audience in California this week.

A combination of quantum theory and the theory of relativity [would better] explain our existence than divine intervention, he told a packed auditorium at the California Institute of Technology.

Hawking is doing a tremendous disservice to science. In his later years he is transforming himself from respected physicist and successful author of popular science books to a pathetic amateur philosopher with a grudge against the notion of God. Here are the major problems with what he said in California:

1. The combination of quantum theory and the theory of relativity would explain a great deal. That’s why so many great scientists have tried to unify the two theories for almost a century. The problem is that no one has yet figured out how to combine them. So, Hawking is writing God off on the basis of a scientific achievement that hasn’t occurred and shows no sign that it is even achievable.

2. Even if physicists manage to combine them or figure out some other way to the long sought after theory of everything, it would not provide the ultimate answer to the question of how the universe came to be. At best,  we might be able to push back the question of the universe’s origin one step. But, then what? Hawking’s speculation implies the laws of nature pre-date the universe, which raises the question, where did the laws of nature come from? Are they eternal? How would we know? Remember that science is limited to studying our material universe.

3. Far from ruling out God as the creator of the universe, the idea of pre-existing laws of nature is supportive of biblical truth. As Gerald Schroeder points out in his book, God According to God, the Bible tells us that wisdom (the collective laws of the universe) predates the creation of the universe:

John 1:1: “In the beginning was the logos [logic, intellect, word].”

Psalm 33:6: “With the word of God the heavens were made.”

Proverbs 8:12, 22-24: “I am wisdom. … God acquired me [wisdom] as the beginning of His way, the first of His works of old. I [wisdom] was established from everlasting, from the beginning, from before there ever was an earth. When there were no depths I [wisdom] was brought forth.”

Putting these passages together with a translation of the opening words of the Bible more faithful to the ancient Hebrew of Genesis 1:1 (“With a first cause, God created the heavens and the earth.”), the Bible tells us that with the first cause of wisdom (the laws of nature), God created the universe. We already know the laws of nature predate the universe, and with the help of the Bible we know Who acquired those laws.

I have respect for Hawking as a scientist and great admiration for him as an individual who has prevailed over a devastating disease. But, he is tarnishing his reputation and diminishing the public’s respect for science when he abuses the authority that comes with being a physicist by making these silly and unscientific pronouncements about God’s redundancy.

Related post:

Questions from Christian Students, Part 6

Sarah was recently invited, along with two other scientists, to take part in a panel discussion for a group of mostly Christian students. After the main discussion, students were invited to submit questions via text message; there was very little time to address them, so only a few were answered. The questions were quite good, so over the next few weeks, Surak and Sarah will answer most of them here. All of the questions are listed in the Intro to this series. See also: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4; Part 5

What’s the most common scientific argument you encounter against Christianity? How have you responded?

The most common scientific arguments against Christianity are the following:

1. The six days of creation are completely contrary to modern science.

This is false. See here for a thorough explanation of this.

2. Evolution explains everything and makes God ‘unnecessary.’

The first part of this statement is false; the second part is an extremely weak and silly argument. First, Darwinism in all of its forms has not provided answers for the most fundamental biological questions of all: how did life originate, what caused the tremendous explosion of life forms in the Cambrian explosion, why do different phyla of animal life share common genes, what is human consciousness, and where does human consciousness come from? Modern biologists who make grand pronouncements about God end up sounding like teenagers who discover where their mom and dad keep the car keys and the credit cards and then declare that their parents are no longer necessary. They are also like kids in their immature conviction that they know everything. They once confidently declared that they knew how life started: huge amounts of time in which nearly infinite random combinations of chemicals occurred solved the problem of the origins of life on Earth. Then the fossil evidence destroyed that argument by showing that life arose almost immediately after water formed on the Earth; there was no long period of time for random processes to work their magic (it really was a case of magical thinking all along).

Then the Darwinists said, well, never mind that we really don’t have an explanation for the origins of life; once life started, it developed and diversified without any supernatural help. According to evolutionary theory the various phyla of the animal kingdom all evolved separately according to the laws of random mutation and natural selection. That claim turned out not to be true either.

Sean B. Carroll is a current Darwinist biologist at the forefront of a new field of study known as evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo). In his book, Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo and the Making of the Animal Kingdom, he announces the startling discovery that animal life forms as different as mammals and insects share interchangeable genes, something that Darwinists always believed was impossible:

[T]he prevailing view of the architects and adherents of Modern Synthesis was that the process of random mutation and selection would so alter DNA and protein sequences that only closely related species would bear homologous genes. … Virtually everything I have described … has been discovered in the past twenty years. … The insights provided by these discoveries … [have] forced biologists to rethink completely their picture of how forms evolve. (p. 285, emphasis added)

In other words, Darwinists (“the architects and adherents of Modern Synthesis”) are “completely” wrong about how life developed on Earth. With a track record like this, biologists should be humble enough not to make grand pronouncements that God does not exist or is unnecessary.

3. The idea of a creator god doesn’t provide any final or satisfying answer, because the question remains ‘who or what made God?’

This is more of a philosophical question with scientific overtones and implications.

Whether atheists like it or not (and they don’t), big bang theory necessitates the inclusion of the supernatural in all philosophical and scientific discussions about the origins of the universe and life. Something outside and greater than (super-) the universe (nature) must have caused it to come into being. Taking this logic one step further, there must be something outside our universe that has, as an inherent quality, the power to exist. In other words, at the bottom of everything is something or ‘someone’ that was not made by something else. We can’t understand this power or the nature of the thing that holds it, but we are living proof that it ‘exists’ in some unfathomable manner.

Rather than argue about the unknowable, we should pose the most obvious question worth asking, “Is this entity that possesses the power to exist conscious or unconscious?” These two alternatives seem to exhaust the possibilities and be mutually exclusive. If you can think of another possibility, let me know.

If one prefers to believe that the creative power behind the universe is unconscious, then the fundamental entity would be some form of eternal material universe based on equally eternal natural laws. Since we are reasonably sure this universe is not eternal, we would be forced to fall back on notions such as the multiverse. Because of the limitations of science, these ideas will never be anything more than unprovable speculation forever consigned to the realms of philosophy, science fiction, or anti-Christian dogma.

I find these unconscious alternatives not only emotionally and intellectually unsatisfying, but truly terrifying. Atheists generally take this idea just one baby-step further by grandly pronouncing that all we have is this one life, and we should courageously accept the truth and live that life to the fullest. But, why bother? According to them, all of humankind will be exterminated and nothing anyone does, feels, or learns will have any lasting significance. As bad as that sounds, the reality of an eternal universe is actually far worse.

One of the most annoying things about atheists who make this argument about ‘who made God’ is their inability to take an idea all the way to its most logical conclusion. Consider for a moment the two most fundamental aspects of their eternal material universe:

  1. Another word for eternal is infinite (in time).
  2. In the unconscious eternal material universe, everything would happen according to the laws of probability.

Put these two things together and the result is total weirdness that offends reason.

We don’t know what the exact probability of you existing in an eternal material world is, but we do know it is some positive non-zero value, because you exist. So, what is the probability that you could exist twice? According to the mathematics of probability, you can calculate that by multiplying the probability you will exist by itself. Well, a positive number multiplied by a positive number is … a positive number. In other words, you could exist in two or more places at the same time, and you will definitely exist again given an infinite amount of time. But it gets more complicated than that because an infinite amount of anything plays havoc with our sense of reality.

If the universe is eternal, you have already lived an infinite number of lives. You have already lived each of these lives an infinite number of times. Each life was lived and then completely lost—no memories, no lasting achievements, no personal growth, no enduring love. There is only an endless and pointless repetition. Really! I can imagine no more terrifying prospect than this utter and endless lack of purpose.

Science is ultimately incapable of proving anything either way. So, I chose for non-scientific but rational reasons to hope that the creative power behind the universe is conscious. That is the only chance we have for meaning, purpose, and love.

Questions from Christian Students, Part 5

Sarah was recently invited, along with two other scientists, to take part in a panel discussion for a group of mostly Christian students. After the main discussion, students were invited to submit questions via text message; there was very little time to address them, so only a few were answered. The questions were quite good, so over the next few weeks, Surak and Sarah will answer most of them here. All of the questions are listed in the Intro to this series. See also: Part 1Part 2Part 3; Part 4

What was it about Christianity that made you feel hostile towards it before you read the Bible?

There were three childhood experiences that I think set the stage for the hostility that would manifest later. The first was an experience with some overtly Christian children in my elementary school. They belonged to a denomination that didn’t allow participation in any of the holiday celebrations at my school or celebration of birthdays at home. As a kid whose entire kid-existence revolved around holidays and birthdays, this got me thinking that Christianity must be pretty dismal.

The second was one of the TV shows my brother and I were allowed to watch. (Even though my parents weren’t religious, they carefully scrutinized everything we watched on TV.) The show was called Little House on the Prairie, and most of the characters were good, moral, church-going people. But I remember thinking these people were fairly wimpy when it came to dealing with the jerks and evil-doers who would appear in their community from time to time. Because of this, in my mind, Christianity came to be associated with weakness.

The third experience was with a friend of mine, who would occasionally lecture me that hers was the only true church and everyone who didn’t belong to her denomination would not go to heaven. I remember thinking, if God is that picky about his believers, he must be rather petty.

If those had been the only influences, I doubt I would have felt as hostile towards Christianity as I did later on. I strongly believe my hostile feelings were further influenced by popular culture and public schooling, both of which were already becoming aggressively humanist and propagandizing by the time I was a teenager. When I was about 16 or 17, I had also developed an interest in Objectivism, a philosophy that has some good principles, but is extremely hostile towards religion. This hostility is based on a very flawed and myopic view of religion, particularly Christianity. Foolishly, I believed some of the claims of Objectivists without investigating them for myself.

What is your colleagues’ biggest reason for thinking the Gospel is not worth believing?

There are lots of reasons many educated people reject the Gospel, but in my estimation the two biggest reasons are that they: (1) find Christianity philosophically weak or trivial; and (2) they don’t want any restrictions imposed on them.

With regard to (1), the problem is that many of them have not studied scripture in depth, and instead rely on myths and Christian stereotypes to form their opinions. Unfortunately, some Christians have fed the stereotype of Christianity as un-scientific and anti-intellectual, and this has tainted scripture by association. As Nobel laureate George P. Thomson once said, just about every physicist would’ve accepted the idea of God by now if the Bible hadn’t unfortunately mentioned it a long time ago and made the idea seem old-fashioned.

As for (2), I think even the most intelligent and educated people don’t object to the Gospel on purely logical grounds. Believing the Gospel means taking a narrow path in life, and few people enjoy having restrictions placed on them, particularly if those restrictions seem arbitrary. I think (2) is actually the root of most people’s objection to the Christian faith (or just about any religion)—it certainly was the root of mine. And, in my case, the ‘logical’ reasons for rejecting Christianity were mostly after-the-fact rationalizations.

Questions from Christian Students

Sarah was recently invited, along with two other scientists, to take part in a panel discussion for a group of mostly Christian students. After the main discussion, students were invited to submit questions via text message; there was very little time to address them, so only a few were answered. The questions were quite good, so over the next few weeks, Surak and Sarah will answer most of them here. They are listed below, in no particular order. (Despite the title of this post, at least two of the questions appear to be from students who are currently struggling with belief.) 

Since becoming a Christian and living in an environment where your faith is tested every day, have you experienced doubt? If so, what has brought you through those doubts? (Part 9)

Was Adam the first man created or was he chosen from an already existing population? (Part 2)

Has an effort by students to share their faith with you ever made an impact on you in any way? (Part 3)

Have you ever had a student challenge an idea during class? (Part 3)

How does evolution relate to belief in a creator? And please address the time frame. / Please address the timing of evolution and the Bible. / How do you reconcile biologists teaching evolution and coming from apes with the creation story in Genesis? (Part 11)

What was it about Christianity that made you feel hostile towards it before you read the Bible? (Part 5)

Do you wish you could talk about your faith in the classroom / office hours? If so, what keeps you from doing it? (Part 3)

How do you account for the Higgs boson particle? (Part 1)

How hard is it to work in the field of academia in an anti-Christian environment from a faith perspective? (Part 9)

How do you recommend Christian students react to professors who are intolerant of their Christian faith? (Part 9)

You mentioned the big bang. In your interpretation, does the big bang coincide with the moment of creation? / How does scientific proof of the big bang line up with the biblical teaching of creationism? (Part 4)

Within your field of study what has been the most remarkable observation that you have made that reinforces your faith? (Part 1)

What was the most difficult specific objection to faith (particularly Christianity) that you had to get past? / What was the biggest stumbling block to faith that you had to overcome? / For new believers, how do you get past the line of ‘the Bible is just a story’ into faith? I’ve accepted that there is a God, but I’m struggling with accepting Jesus. (Part 7)

Outside of the creation story, have you found other parts of the Bible that support what you have observed scientifically? (Part 10)

What’s the most remarkable, undeniable discovery you have used to prove or disprove the faiths of different persons? (Part 1)

What’s the most common scientific argument you encounter against Christianity? How have you responded? (Part 6)

What is the most important piece of knowledge you have come to learn about evolution since becoming a believer? (Part 8)

What is your colleagues’ biggest reason for thinking the Gospel is not worth believing? (Part 5)

Would the discovery of intelligent life on another planet disprove the existence of God? (Part 8)

What would you say to someone who can’t believe in Christianity because of its exclusive claims, that no one enters the gates of Heaven without first meeting Jesus? (Part 12)