Saturday, September 4, 2010

Stephen Hawking Thinks that God didn't Create the Universe

Hawkings thinks that God didn't create the world because you can explain the whole creation with natural laws.

Beyond this being a tired argument, I think I should make a couple observations:

1. Even if you were to buy into big-bang cosmology (this is questionable), big-bang cosmology cannot be explained by reference to natural laws. According to those who advocate it, the laws of the universe were created by the big-bang. Consequently, the big-bang cannot explain the existence of the laws of the universe by the admission of those who advocate it.

2. Hawkings argument regarding the instrumentality of natural laws is irrelevant. As Aristotle would put it, instrumental causes are fine and dandy, but for instrumental causes to function, there must be a formal cause. This is something that the new Atheists don't get and I've said about evolution as well. Macro-evolution is, as modern genetics shows, pretty much impossible. But even if you bought into it, you couldn't escape design. Why? Because evolution is a process that has laws, structure and a goal. Consequently it has a design and therefore requires a designer. Similarly, all the natural laws that function as causes, are in fact designed and therefore need a formal cause and a designer.

3. In other words, put in the form of Aristotle's concept of cause, Hawkings wrongly views God as a single instrumental cause along with others. Since all instrumental causes are accounted for, then God is not necessary. The point I would make is that the whole thing doesn't make any sense without divine causation. God is the formal and final cause of everything. Each instrumental and material cause is designed and sustained by God the creator.


  1. I'm interested; what specifically in modern genetics are you thinking of?

    As for the goal of evolution, a one-time co-researcher of mine (in bio-robotics) pointed out that current-day organisms might be thought of as the result of an evolutionary optimization function, but that the function isn't necessarily an optimization of something obvious (speed or strength, for example). Obviously, this function could become so vague that it's essentially meaningless.

  2. I'm interested; what specifically in modern genetics are you thinking of?

    Specifically several things:

    1. DNA cannot be explained via naturalistic causes. It simply can't come together like that minus a designer.

    2. (on a non-genetic note) The fossil record doesn't show transitional species, consequently the idea that one species turned into another is a willful fantasy.

    3. Because gene entropy, species lose genes. When genes mutate they accumulate crappy ones. Hence, the idea that one species adapts so much that it turns into another one is absurd. Actually, the evidence suggests that species are degenerating.

  3. The science talk here is making me cringe a little bit, but if taken as an argument against the existence of God (I'm guessing that's the thrust of the complete book), I thought the point of the Hawking article was of a piece with the millenialist eschatology you were critiquing just before. That is, if we can explain how something is happening in worldly terms, then God is not there, because of course God does not work by means of things in this world. Lots of people think that way: Christians (who argue that if people could adequately explain certain things, it would exclude a divine role) and secular adherents of scientism (who think that if we have a name other than "God" attached to some process that God's hold on the human imagination is reduced). Such a "God of the Gaps" is destined to perish or be elevated to an idol at the expense of the true God when brought into contact with a competing comprehensive worldview. I think this happens in college a lot, often in Religion class!

    If looked at simply as a critique of the "strong anthropic principle" (the idea that our present universe is so statistically unlikely as to suggest design), I think it works pretty well: laying aside the limited value of arguing the probability of past events, the idea that the whole of reality is much much bigger than we could imagine is a good rebuttal to such an argument.

    He does have a bigger problem with causality though, as you note. Consider this sentence: "Spontaneous creation [interesting holdover language, by the way] is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist." That's nonsensical. That something appeared from nothing may be an apt description, but that is not a "why". That's simply saying "no it isn't" to someone attributing the existence of the universe to God's will.

    My suspicion is that the idea, as a scientific explanation, of the spontaneous generation of something out of nothing will go the way of the idea of the spontaneous generation of maggots on rotting flesh, to be replaced by better informed explanations. The metaphysical debate of whether this coming-to-be is the the product of will or chance has been going on for centuries, and will be for centuries to come, I imagine, regardless of how many layers of causality we peel back and examine.

  4. Regarding genetics:

    Another problem with macro evolution is that it is supposed to occur through natural selection. As the name suggests, natural selection is a "selective" process. It weeds out genetic characteristics from what you already have. So if you don't already have it, natural selection can't give it to you. All you do is lose information. You basically have to count on some kind of constant miracle mutation to get more sophisticated genetic information.

    Regarding Philosphy and Science:

    The problem with Science is that it can't deal honestly with things that it does not understand yet. It can't know what it doesn't know. I am always amused when scientists who can't say for certain if we Earthlings are alone in the universe or not can speak with certainty regarding the origin of the existence that we have barely even explored.

  5. Although I have much more to say on this subject, you'll be glad that I only make a couple comments.
    1) Hawking actually responds to the "strong anthropic principle" by positing millions of universes. I think that's rather amusing as well, since they are obviously unobservable.

    2) I also find amusing the ease with which "scientists" launch out into theology despite their claims of separate magesteria. I never believed that they would respect their own distinction, but such is life.

    3) The issue with modern genetics is essentially an information-theoretic problem. This was hinted at several times, but to make this more clear (perhaps) DNA is a language. Strands are sentences (or paragraphs or books...) which carry information. This information is translated into proteins, etc. that actually do something. What evolution demands is that information is increased by a random process. Such an increase of information has never been observed. All the examples of evolution that are cited never amount to an increase of information -- just a shifting around of sentences according to some relatively strict rules...

    Anyhow, I appreciate your point and approve quite heartily. I suppose Leslie Newbigin addressed this extensively in "Foolishness to the Greeks" (or was it Truth to Tell?).