Stephen Hawking is amazing. He’s an amazing physicist, and an amazing human being for being so active with the crippling disability he has. And the bulk of his observations and books have managed to not only increase our understanding of the universe around us, but have kept up an amazing, inspiring optimism. And part of that optimism was the concept of God. Not the I-will-kill-you-if-you-don’t-agree-with-me God of radicals everywhere, but the concept of a Creator, Point of Origin, Higher Intelligence that existed before existence.
In his 1988 book A Brief History Of Time, he wrote “If we discover a complete theory, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason—for then we should know the mind of God.” This is not just flowery poetry, but it speaks to the order of things. The idea that these laws, the physics that Hawking has dedicated his life to, sprang from something. Something had to begin the beginning. And for what exists to have such order, it makes sense that the original Intelligence wanted order. To unravel the mysteries of that order, is to understand, to come closer to that Intelligence, than we ever have before.
Tragically, Hawking’s degeneration has left him nearly completely paralyzed. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of psychology must know that this has deeply profound effects on ones optimism and mood. He’s already warned us that contacting aliens might just mean the death of humanity. And who knows, it may—but that is certainly a rather dour view of what might also be a wondrous, eye-opening encounter. And it seems now he’s set his sites on God.
Hawking is getting a lot of attention for a quote from his latest book, The Grand Design. As Reuters (and nearly everyone else) has reported, Hawking writes:
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. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.
He goes on to explain that a 1992 discovery of planets around other suns made him question if we were so special. The problem of course, is that his paragraph doesn’t answer the fundamental question. There are other theories of how our universe began, of what “lit the blue touch paper,” that don’t involve God. Perhaps our universe bumped into another one. Perhaps a black hole from another universe opened a white hole that exploded matter into ours. Perhaps our universe is a “string” as string theory would have us believe, and the energetic collision of two strings caused the bang. Any of these ideas may end up being true, who knows.
But that doesn’t answer the question of what began the beginning, it just pushes it further. Okay, gravity spontaneously created matter in our universe. But how did the law of gravity get set in motion? How did the other universes, or strings, or whatever get there? At some point, something had to “begin the beginning” so to speak.
This isn’t a new idea. I guess what made me shake my head is how since Hawking is so smart and respected, this pronouncement is getting extra attention, as if somehow this made the potential reality of God less likely. That’s just silly. Whatever that beginning was isn’t going to change if we believe in it or don’t, if we discover it or not. And so it is, no matter what someone theorizes began our particular universe. In other words, if there is a God, regardless of what anyone thinks, God exists. And if there isn’t a God, God never existed. But either way, Hawking latest pronouncement changes nothing.
It doesn’t bother me that Hawking doesn’t think God created the universe. It doesn’t change any of my fundamental opinions about God. And I believe him when he says that this change is based on his observation and theorizing. But I do think it’s a bit cheeky for him to theorize that our universe was created by gravity this means no God is required…and to stop there, knowing that still raises questions as to what created gravity. My guess is that some of his reasons for doing that are based on his emotional and physical state. And that makes me sad. He has contributed so much, and fought so hard to contribute in spite of his ailments, I’d hate to think of him in pain for these last years, however many they may be.