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Stephen Hawking’s Three Arguments Against God

Sun, Oct. 05, 2014 Posted: 10:14 AM


In a recent exchange with a Spanish journalist, physicist Stephen Hawking affirmed again that he was an atheist and asserted that a supernatural Creator is not necessary to answer the foundational philosophical question posed long ago by philosopher/mathematician Gottfried Leibniz: “why do we have something rather than nothing?”[1]

There is no doubt that Hawking’s intellect exceeds the vast majority on this planet (including mine) and that his professional achievements are astounding, especially given his physical handicap, and deserve high respect. But when he argues against the existence of God, I’m rather surprised at his core arguments, which can be found in various works such as The Grand Design.

Let’s take a look at Hawking’s three key arguments against God and see what answers for them can be had.

No Gaps, Just Science

Hawking’s first argument against God can be summarized by saying that God is simply unnecessary; that the idea of a Creator has historically been substituted for true knowledge about reality, but today we know better. Hawking writes, “Ignorance of nature’s ways led people in ancient times to invent gods to lord it over every aspect of human life.”[2]

This is the “God of the gaps” contention, which states that science has now filled past gaps in human’s knowledge of how the universe works and any remaining holes in that fabric will be mended by future discoveries.

The last part of the argument should be recognized by those who have studied logic as the “appeal to the future” fallacy, which says that someday evidence will be discovered to justify a person’s current position. But what about the core contention being presented here?

Hawking and others are right in that the removal of various false deities behind the actual forces of nature was a step in the right direction for better understanding our world and the universe in general. But ridding oneself of these false gods of the gaps is much easier than evicting the God of the Bible.

Why? Because the former blurs the concepts of agent and mechanism together whereas the latter properly separates them. Or, viewed another way, it confuses and blends different types of causations (material, instrumental, efficient, etc.) For example, the laws of science can certainly explain the way my computer works and the various mechanisms and causes that went into making it (the ‘how’), but such explanations don’t negate the need for the agent/efficient cause that designed it, which answers the “why my computer exists” question.

The same is true where a cause for existence is concerned, which leads us to Hawking’s second argument against God.

The Self-Creating Universe…Or Not

The impression that the universe had a beginning has bothered many atheists, including Hawking who once remarked, “Many people do not like the idea that time has a beginning, probably because it smacks of divine intervention.”[3]  To get around the universe having a beginning, Hawking has made a couple of propositions.

First, he postulated a ‘no boundary’ model for space-time in an effort to avoid a cosmic beginning. However, Hawking likely realized that still doesn’t answer the “why” question of existence, so he turned to espousing the following: “Because there is a law like gravity the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”[4]

Cutting to the chase, Hawking is affirming an eternal universe or eternal multiverse (an ensemble of universes), which is definitely one of the only two possible choices for existence, the other being God. In other words, it can only be matter before mind or mind before matter.

But let’s be clear about a few things.

First, when he says “the universe can and will create itself from nothing”, the “nothing” he’s talking about isn’t the standard definition of the word (i.e. “no thing”, non-being). Instead, he’s very much referring to “something”, in this case gravity, space, a quantum vacuum, and a set of laws at work referred to as M-Theory.

Second, this “thing” can very correctly be referenced as an uncaused cause…much the same as God. So it is fair to ask Hawking why having an uncaused cause like his is so reasonable while the Christian’s uncaused cause is preposterous.

In his critique of Hawking’s position, science journalist Tim Radford recognizes this inconsistency and writes: “The laws of quantum and relativistic physics represent things to be wondered at but widely accepted: just like biblical miracles. M-theory invokes something different: a prime mover, a begetter, a creative force that is everywhere and nowhere. This force cannot be identified by instruments or examined by comprehensible mathematical prediction, and yet it contains all possibilities. It incorporates omnipresence, omniscience and omnipotence, and it's a big mystery. Remind you of Anybody?”[5]

Speaking of miracles, that brings us to Hawking’s third argument against God.

No Miracles, Please

The God of the Bible clearly performs miracles, which is something Hawking believes cannot occur. Instead he believes in the “concept of scientific determinism, which implies that … there are no miracles, or exceptions to the laws of nature.”[6]

Hawking believes that natural laws cannot be “violated” in any way, and thus the God of the Bible who is reported to perform miracles cannot exist. But why must this be the case? Why can’t the God who created the universe and all its natural laws suspend them when He chooses?

Further, Hawking and other atheists generally confuse the supposed violation of natural laws with the application of those laws. This is something that C. S. Lewis helps to explain and clarify in his classic work on miracles: “If I put six pennies into a drawer on Monday and six more on Tuesday, the laws decree that – other things being equal – I shall find twelve pennies there on Wednesday. But if the drawer has been robbed I may in fact find only two. Something will have been broken (the lock of the drawer or the laws of England) but the laws of arithmetic will not have been broken. The new situation created by the thief will illustrate the laws of arithmetic just as well as the original situation.”[7]

Conclusions

In the end, what do we find when we examine Hawking’s three core arguments against God?

His god of the gaps line of reasoning is one that has been sufficiently answered and clarified numerous times. His redefinition of “nothing” in no way removes God (and actually introduces us to something like God), but instead only reacquaints us with the standard debate between two eternal ‘somethings’ – the uni/multiverse and God.[8] Lastly, his argument against miracles is simply opinion, confuses the violation and application of natural laws, and is succinctly answered by C. S. Lewis who said: “But if we admit God, must we admit Miracle? Indeed, indeed, you have no security against it. That is the bargain."[9]

Again, Stephen Hawking has a supreme intellect, demonstrates great courage and strength in his life, and is someone to be respected. But when it comes to God, he unfortunately has fallen into the trap of being someone who is, “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:7). My hope and prayer is that he is blessed one day to rise above his current denial of the truth and come to know the One who created the universe he has studied for so long.[10]



[1] G. W. Leibniz, Principles of Nature and Grace Based on Reason, 1714. http://www.earlymoderntexts.com/pdf/leibprin.pdf.

[2] Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design (London: Bantam, 2010), pg. 17. A full PDF version of the book can be found here: http://www.qiraat.net/media/downloads/process/?f=sciences/stephen_hawking_the_grand_design.pdf.

[4] Hawking, pg. 180.

[6] Hawking, pg. 34.

[7] C. S. Lewis, Miracles (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1974), pg. 92.

[8] Dr. Alexander Vilenkin has showcased how even a multiverse cannot escape a beginning. For more information on his conclusions, see: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21328474.400-why-physicists-cant-avoid-a-creation-event.html.

[9] Lewis, pg. 169

[10] For a detailed rebuttal against Hawking’s arguments against God, see John Lennox’s excellent work, God and Stephen Hawking: Whose Design is it Anyway?

Robin Schumacher