On Sunday August 7, Discovery Channel premiered a new series: “Curiosity.” The first episode was a show entitled “Did God Create the Universe?” The episode was narrated by Stephen Hawking and presented his own arguments and scientific explanations. The show is available online here.
Stephen Hawking continues to be a man that both amazes me and frustrates me. I have a great deal of respect for him and read his popular works with enthusiasm. He has a very large platform for his ideas. He is highly respected and has become a “rock-star” in the scientific world. He is likely the most famous mathematician who has ever lived and the second most famous scientist next to Einstein. We all know that he can do the math to prove the existence of eleven dimensions in our multiverse. In more recent years he has become a vocal atheist and philosopher. Although he would say that philosophy is dead, there is little doubt that as he speaks of cosmology (the nature of the universe) he often strays into the areas of philosophy and cosmogony (the study of how the universe came to be).
In this episode of “Curiosity” Hawking makes bold statements about how science can explain the universe such that there is now no need for God. He suggests that those who hold to a belief that God did create the universe are simple minded. He compares them to ancient Vikings who screamed at the “wolf god” to prevent it from eating the sun as they experienced a solar eclipse. He apologizes to people of faith and then firmly states that there is no God, no heaven, and no after-life.
I am not a logician or a philosopher. There are plenty of others who are writing about this program and Stephen Hawking's line of reasoning. One can easily compare my explanation with others. My understanding of Stephen Hawking’s reasoning goes something like this. First, Hawking says that we can mathematically analyze our universe in ways that allow us to “see” the creation of our universe right up to the “Big Bang” from which our universe sprang. So far, so good, Hawking and other physicists have the technical knowledge of math and science that allows them to analyze things which others cannot.
Second, he maintains that for most things in the universe “it takes something to make something.” You can’t make a mountain of dirt without taking dirt from a hole in the ground. However, the universe, he claims, is the ultimate “free lunch.” Quantum physics suggests that subatomic particles can spring into existence out of nothing. I would want to check with physicists to see if they would agree that this is what is happening at the subatomic level. Perhaps others would express it as not knowing the source of such particles. But since you and I are not physicists (I doubt that physicists read this blog) we will concede this point to Professor Hawking. He states that when we consider anti-energy, anti-matter, and other universes, it all adds up to zero. So, as long as the net sum is zero, the universe can come to exist out of nothing (at least nothing in our universe). Okay, that was the hard one to understand. Hang in there for one or two more paragraphs before you give up on this blog.
Third, Hawking says that, at the Big Bang, time came into existence. Therefore, we cannot talk about a time when God existed before the creation of the universe because there was no time prior to the Big Bang and God could not be in a place where there was no time. Plus, we have filled in all of the gaps in our understanding of the universe and there is no need for God. Therefore, God does not exist. That, in simplified terms, is the argument Hawking wishes us to follow and with which he would like us to agree.
Okay, here is where my small brain begins to disagree with Professor Hawking’s large brain. Just because I don’t see a need for something does not mean that thing does not exist. He might have convinced me of his argument if he had said that "there is an alternative explanation of how the universe came to be and the explanation does not require God." I might grant him that and we could agree to disagree on which explanation suits our philosophical understanding (since we are now solidly in the realm of philosophy, theology, and cosmogony). But the leap from “we don’t need God to explain the origins of the universe” to “there is no God” is too great for me. Even other atheists have pointed out the weakness of this argument. As for there being no time before the Big Bang, in first year Bible College we considered the possibility that God existed outside of time. Einstein’s theory of relativity has always been a great source of comfort to me as I have grappled with understanding just how God might indeed be able to see all of time at once and stand outside of it. Again, Hawking can say that there is an alternative explanation that does not require God but this is not the same as saying "God cannot exist."
Curiosity, I am all for it! I think it is appropriate to ask the questions proposed in this television program. We should seek to learn all we can about this amazing universe. We should seek to explain how things came to be in the world in which we find ourselves. We should hear from scientists who wish to explore these topics as well. But science and mathematics are still not the only tools we use for analyzing our world. Philosophy and theology continue to be valid disciplines which add to our understanding of the questions and the answers. I appreciate the Discovery Channel programming and the way they challenge us to think, dream, investigate, and experience the world. These questions lead me to a greater sense of awe about the God who calls us into relationship with Him.