Is Stephen Hawking Right About God and the Cosmos?

On August 7, 2011, a Discovery Channel program featured Stephen Hawking’s reflections about the nature and origin of Everything. Hawking stated unequivocally that the universe could have spontaneously sprung into being without being caused by a creator-god. For a Christian view of the program see:

http://www.christianpost.com/news/stephen-hawking-explains-creation-big-bang-sans-god-53589/

For a wide variety of atheist responses see:

http://richarddawkins.net/videos/642571-curiosity-with-stephen-hawking

I was impressed by Hawking’s courage in making a bold statement which many will condemn. My main criticism of the program is that he sometimes stated his own opinions as if they were based solely on science. For example, he said the laws of the universe are never violated, but obviously we cannot prove that this is so. How could we tell whether some law of nature was violated last September in some minuscule way in the center of the Large Magellanic Cloud, 160,000 light years from Earth? Or in three molecules on top of Everest last Tuesday?

Science operates on the working hypothesis that nature’s laws are inviolable, and this hypothesis is quite helpful. It may well be true, but to believe that it’s true, always and everywhere, is a statement of faith rather than fact. To be fair, however, even though this is a faith-statement, it is based upon evidence and theoretical analysis rather than on tradition or special revelation.

Hawking also says that since time did not exist before the Big Bang, there was no time in which a creator could have made the universe. But there may be atemporal causal processes about which we know nothing. When we talk about what may or may not occur outside of our universe, we are speculating, pure and simple.

Despite these criticisms, I appreciated Hawking’s “here I stand” proclamations, and his ability to unveil marvelous cosmic mysteries. Since my goal is to find common ground among theists, atheists, and agnostics, I recommend that theists read or watch Hawking to see why an intelligent person might believe the universe appeared spontaneously. I recommend that atheists examine Hawking to decide for themselves which of his statements are based on research data, and which ones are faith-statements of his personal philosophy of life.

If you saw the TV show or you’ve read Hawking’s comments about the origin of the cosmos, what do you think? Agree? Disagree? Perplexed? Or all of the above?

Roger

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2 thoughts on “Is Stephen Hawking Right About God and the Cosmos?

  1. :To be fair, however, even though this is a faith-statement, it is based upon evidence and theoretical analysis rather than on tradition or special revelation.

    Fair enough, but who is to say that religious tradition and/or special revelation are not based upon various forms of evidence and a certain amount of theoretical analysis thereof?

    :Hawking also says that since time did not exist before the Big Bang, there was no time in which a creator could have made the universe.

    Sounds like another Stephen Hawking faith-statement to me. . .

    How does he know with any certainty that time did not exist before the Big Bang?

    :When we talk about what may or may not occur outside of our universe, we are speculating, pure and simple.

    Heck half the time people (including scientists) are talking about what may or may not occur *within* our universe, they are speculating, pure and simple. . .

    Much television “news” is sheer speculation these days.

    No?

    :I recommend that atheists examine Hawking to decide for themselves which of his statements are based on research data, and which ones are faith-statements of his personal philosophy of life.

    Why not recommend that to theists as well? Here is one of Hawking’s faith-statements of his personal philosophy of life that I kind of like which I found reproduced on his (alleged) Twitter account –

    God not only plays dice, He also sometimes throws the dice where they cannot be seen.

    Here is my Tweet in response to that faith-statement –

    Sometimes God even throws the Sun where it cannot be seen Stephen. Please give *that* idea some thought

    • Responses to Robin Edgar:

      :who is to say that religious tradition and/or special revelation are not based upon various forms of evidence and a certain amount of theoretical analysis thereof?

      Absolutely right. In fact, it would be hard to imagine a tradition or a revelatory experience that involved absolutely zero evidence and analysis. For one thing, the only way we can draw any conclusions from a revelatory experience is to reflect upon it, and such reflection always involves evidence and analysis. (Such reflection may be brilliant or moronic, or in between, but it’s still reflection.)

      Without after-the-fact reflection, we can only say how the experience made us feel, not what it means.

      Some spiritual communities emphasize evidence/analysis, while others downplay these “rational” considerations and emphasize the authority of religious tradition. I think of William Jennings Bryan’s proclamations that “If the Bible had said that Jonah swallowed the whale, I would believe it” and, “If we have to give up either religion or education, we should give up education.”

      I favor those spiritual communities that respect reason, while realizing that reason isn’t enough. Despite all that we know, our ignorance remains vast, so we need the courage to act despite the limits of our knowledge.

      :How does he [Stephen Hawking] know with any certainty that time did not exist before the Big Bang?

      Robin, the simple answer is that time is said to be a dimension like space, and it came into being when the big bang gave birth to the dimensions of our cosmos. The more complicated answer depends on knowing what in the world physicists mean when they this! I freely confess that I am baffled at the idea that time is a dimension on a par with space.

      Thanks for your comment, Robin,
      Roger

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