Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

John Lennox and William Lane Craig respond to Stephen Hawking

Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking is in the news again theorizing about untestable speculations. He thinks that physical laws, (which are just descriptions of the way matter operates), can actually bring the entire space-time universe into being. Specifically, he thinks that the law of gravity can create matter out of nothing.

Here’s John Lennox of Oxford University responding to Stephen Hawking.

Excerpt:

There’s no denying that Stephen Hawking is intellectually bold as well as physically heroic. And in his latest book, the renowned physicist mounts an audacious challenge to the traditional religious belief in the divine creation of the universe.

According to Hawking, the laws of physics, not the will of God, provide the real explanation as to how life on Earth came into being. The Big Bang, he argues, was the inevitable consequence of these laws ‘because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.’

Unfortunately, while Hawking’s argument is being hailed as controversial and ground-breaking, it is hardly new.

For years, other scientists have made similar claims, maintaining that the awesome, sophisticated creativity of the world around us can be interpreted solely by reference to physical laws such as gravity.

It is a simplistic approach, yet in our secular age it is one that seems to have resonance with a sceptical public.

But, as both a scientist and a Christian, I would say that Hawking’s claim is misguided. He asks us to choose between God and the laws of physics, as if they were necessarily in mutual conflict.

But contrary to what Hawking claims, physical laws can never provide a complete explanation of the universe. Laws themselves do not create anything, they are merely a description of what happens under certain conditions.

What Hawking appears to have done is to confuse law with agency. His call on us to choose between God and physics is a bit like someone demanding that we choose between aeronautical engineer Sir Frank Whittle and the laws of physics to explain the jet engine.

That is a confusion of category. The laws of physics can explain how the jet engine works, but someone had to build the thing, put in the fuel and start it up. The jet could not have been created without the laws of physics on their own  -  but the task of development and creation needed the genius of Whittle as its agent.

Similarly, the laws of physics could never have actually built the universe. Some agency must have been involved.

To use a simple analogy, Isaac Newton’s laws of motion in themselves never sent a snooker ball racing across the green baize. That can only be done by people using a snooker cue and the actions of their own arms.

Hawking’s argument appears to me even more illogical when he says the existence of gravity means the creation of the universe was inevitable. But how did gravity exist in the first place? Who put it there? And what was the creative force behind its birth?

And here is an MP3 file with Bill Craig’s response. Craig thinks that Hawking’s new book is basically the same as his previous book where he introduced the idea that his quantum gravity theory can explain the creation of the universe out of nothing, and then the multiverse to explain the fine-tuning.

UPDATE: I added a new post with Henry F. Schafer’s take on Hawking’s no-boundary proposal.

My thoughts

The law of gravity is just a mathematical equation that describes nature. Gravity is part of the natural world – it is a force of attraction between material objects. How can this force exist causally prior to the creation of all matter at t=0? It cannot. Self-creation is a self-refuting contradiction. For a thing to create itself, it would have to exist before it existed.

Maybe that passes for intelligent thought in the world of atheistic speculations, but not in the world of experimental science, which provides strong evidence for a Creation out of nothing, and a Design plan for the universe. Maybe this is just like Dawkins avoiding a debate with William Lane Craig – it’s not about seeking truth, it’s about book sales. It’s not like Hawking is going to subject his speculations to a public debate.

You can learn more about the argument for God’s existence from the creation of the universe in the Big Bang.

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9 Responses

  1. Mary says:

    Nice! Having a conversation with some atheists at the moment who make the sort of claims Hawking makes. Nothing new at all. I referred them to Lennox and Craig. :)

  2. Richard Ball says:

    Hawking’s argument lacks gravitas.

  3. VitriolicCynic says:

    The thing that strikes me about these statements from Hawking, is that there isn’t anything new here. This is the same argument “argument from science” on God being superfluous that atheists always make; I’m unimpressed.

  4. mojo.rhythm says:

    VitriolicCynic,

    I don’t believe that Hawking is making an atheological argument. He shows in his book that we do not need to use Goddidit to explain the creation of the universe. If God exists, he could have some other role.

    • He’s a theoretical physicist, not an experimental cosmologist.

      His quantum gravity model relies on imaginary time to eliminate the singularity.

      Here’s Henry F. Schaefer to explain.

      Let us return to Hawking’s no boundary proposal – the idea that the universe has neither beginning nor end. By treating the universe as a wave function, Hawking hopes to rationalize the universe’s popping into existence 12-15 billion years ago. Critical to Hawking’s research in this regard is the notion of imaginary time. The concept of imaginary time is a powerful mathematical device used on occasion by theoretical chemists and physicists. I remember clearly the day in the autumn of 1965, during my Complex Variables class as a senior at M.I.T., when I learned that the result of contour integration was two pi i times the sum of the residues. For me, it was about as close to a revelation as I had received up to that time in my life. My closest colleague at Berkeley, Professor William H. Miller, in 1969 used imaginary time to understand the dynamics of chemical reactions, and it made him a household word in the world of science. The use of imaginary time is indeed a powerful tool.

      Indulge me while I attempt to convey the essence of how imaginary time is exploited in theoretical physics and chemistry. One approaches a well defined problem, with all variables necessarily being real. This means, for example, real positions for all particles, real velocities, and so on. Real problems begin with all quantities real. Then one undertakes a carefully chosen excursion into the complex plane, making one or more variables complex. Subsequently we do some really cool things mathematically. Finally, all the variables revert to real values, and we find that something important has been mathematically derived that would have otherwise been impossible to prove.

      Hawking and Hartle’s no boundary proposal begins by adopting a grossly oversimplified model of the universe. Then the authors make time imaginary, and prove in their terribly restricted model that the universe has neither beginning nor end. The flaw in the exercise is that the authors never go back to real time. Thus the notion that the universe has neither beginning nor end is something that exists in mathematical terms only. In real time, to which we as human beings are necessarily attached, rather than in Hawking’s use of imaginary time, there will always be a singularity, that is, a beginning of time.

      In an obviously contradictory statement in A Brief History of Time, Hawking actually concedes this point. What we are seeing in this situation is Hawking versus Hawking. I view the following statement as Hawking speaking in his right mind: “When one goes back to the real time in which we live, however, there will still appear to be singularities . . . In real time, the universe has a beginning and an end at singularities that form a boundary to space-time and at which the laws of science break down” (first edition, page 144). Only if we lived in imaginary time (not coming soon to a neighborhood near you!) would we encounter no singularities. In real time the universe was created ex nihilo 12-15 billion years ago.

      With some trepidation, I will venture further. A case can be made that the Hartle-Hawking “no boundary proposal” is only of marginal scientific interest. The reasons for this conclusion might include: (a) the theory is a mathematical construct that has no unique empirical support; (b) the theory makes no verifiable scientific predictions that were not achieved earlier with simpler models; (c) the theory generates no significant research agenda. The primary purpose of the theory seems to be an attempt to evade the cosmological argument for the existence of God, via the claim that nature is self-contained and effectively eternal.

      Schafer is one of top 5 quantum mechanics in the world, with over a thousand peer-reviewed publications.

  5. Muhammad says:

    Excellent work. thank you.

  6. A says:

    The most key point is that the fine tuning we see is the result of a massive amount of universes, where most universes do not have inhabitants. It implies that the creator is extremely wasteful, neutralizing the “fine tuning” argument.

    • That’s a nice opinion, but where is the observation that confirms the speculation that a multiverse exists? I want a peer-reviewed article, not your opinion. If your next comment does not contain a link to a peer-reviewed study with observations from experiments confirming the multiverse, I will not publish it.

      Here’s my case for the fine-tuning argument:
      https://winteryknight.wordpress.com/2010/04/11/how-the-progress-of-science-strengthened-the-fine-tuning-argument/

      And there’s some specific examples here:
      https://winteryknight.wordpress.com/2010/09/02/does-the-progress-of-science-support-atheism/

      Personal opinions are not a refutation to the fine-tuning argument, which is based on EVIDENCE. I don’t care that you like broccoli or ice cream. I deal in facts. Show me the experimental data.

      To assume the existence of billions of unobservable, untestable universes that are not fine-tuned for life in order to explain the existence of our finely-tuned universe commits the so-called “gambler’s fallacy”. You assume probabilistic resources with no evidence that those resources even exist, just because your hypothesis requires it. A better way forward is to deny the assumption of naturalism, and to go where the evidence leads. The fine-tuning argument is not the ONLY argument for theism, either. You have to defeat the caused beginning of the universe from nothing, the origin of biological information, the Cambrian explosion, stellar fine-tuning, planetary fine-tuning, irreducible complexity, and so on.

      • Dimitrios Palonopos says:

        Bravo Wintery Knight

        I am always amazed at how many atheists want their opinions accepted as facts ‘just because’ they believe them. As if they are exempt from having to ‘show your work’ as my teachers always say.

        An atheist once told me: “well since we don’t believe in God, we don’t have to prove His existence therefore any statement that assumes he doesn’t exist doesn’t have to be proven.”

        Illogical and irrational to the nth degree for sure.

        Hilarious and really really sad!

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