Stephen Hawking’s Issues with God

According to Reuters, theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking has deigned to inform the rest of us that it’s OK to be an infidel because, according to the most up-to-date physics models of the universe, God isn’t necessary:

In “The Grand Design,” co-authored with U.S. physicist Leonard Mlodinow, Hawking says a new series of theories made a creator of the universe redundant, according to the Times newspaper which published extracts on Thursday.

“Because there is a law such as 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, why we exist,” Hawking writes.

Hawking’s latest won’t be released until tomorrow, and I hesitate to commence panning him until I’ve read it, but this story smacks of a well-managed publicity stunt. In the first place, it’s a virtual carbon copy of the great urban myth about the exchange between the great French mathematician, Laplace, and Napoleon (hattip Wiki):

Laplace went in state to Napoleon to accept a copy of his work, and the following account of the interview is well authenticated, and so characteristic of all the parties concerned that I quote it in full. Someone had told Napoleon that the book contained no mention of the name of God; Napoleon, who was fond of putting embarrassing questions, received it with the remark, ‘M. Laplace, they tell me you have written this large book on the system of the universe, and have never even mentioned its Creator.’ Laplace, who, though the most supple of politicians, was as stiff as a martyr on every point of his philosophy, drew himself up and answered bluntly, ‘Je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là.’ (“I had no need of that hypothesis.”) Napoleon, greatly amused, told this reply to Lagrange, who exclaimed, ‘Ah! c’est une belle hypothèse; ça explique beaucoup de choses.’ (“Ah, it is a fine hypothesis; it explains many things.”)

Well, it’s not really that well authenticated, but it still captures the substance of Laplace’s thought on the subject accurately enough.  In the second place, if that’s really all Hawking’s got, he was beaten to the punch by the brilliant Frenchman Jean Meslier in his Testament by more than 250 years:

Is it not more natural and more intelligible to deduce all which exists, from the bosom of matter, whose existence is demonstrated by all our senses, whose effects we feel at every moment, which we see act, move, communicate, motion, and constantly bring living things into existence, than to attribute the formation of things to an unknown force, to a spiritual being, who cannot draw from his ground that which he has not himself, and who, by the spiritual essence claimed for him, is incapable of making anything, and putting anything in motion.

Indeed, all of the best arguments of the likes of Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris, appear in Meslier’s work, along with much else besides.  As an infidel myself, I fail to see what, if anything, Hawking is contributing to the discussion, assuming he’s being quoted accurately.  After all, how do physical laws prove anything?  Laws can have no disembodied existence of their own, floating around in nothingness.  If they don’t apply to any real thing, then they cease to exist themselves.  If they do apply to something real, it still begs the question, why do the real thing(s) exist to begin with?  We’re still left to wonder, “How did all this stuff get here?”

Author: Helian

I am Doug Drake, and I live in Maryland, not far from Washington, DC. I am a graduate of West Point, and I hold a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the University of Wisconsin. My blog reflects my enduring fascination with human nature and human morality.

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