Stephen Hawking, whom has been called “the most revered scientist since Einstein,” published his new book last week. Titled The Grand Design, it quickly became the No. 1 book on Amazon.
Not because it is a particularly well-written book (it isn’t).
Not because it contains any breakthroughs in physics or mathematics (it doesn’t).
No, it is because Mr. Hawking has decided to officially announce that God is pretty much dead. He ended his bestselling Brief History of Time in 1988 by suggesting that the discovery of a unified theory of physics could help us “know the mind of God.” As the New York Times has noted, it “was a line that – cynically, some thought – allowed glints of fuzzy sunshine to warm the cold blade of his thinking.”
No more sunshine.
In The Grand Design, Hawking maintains that the creation of our universe (and any others) “does not require the intervention of some supernatural being or god.”
If you care for the science side of his argument, it’s built around the relatively new candidate for a grand unifying theory (bringing together general relativity and quantum mechanics) known as “M-theory,” which, if you follow such things, is an extension of “string theory.” According to Hawking’s latest musings, there are multiple universes, and all were created out of nothing.
(If your mind is beginning to fog, look into Natalie Anger’s The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science for a quick primer, particularly her chapter on physics; on string theory, I would suggest the writings of Brian Greene,particularly The Elegant Universe).
This is not a new position for Mr. Hawking – his former wife outed him as an atheist a few years ago. And this is not the first time that Mr. Hawking has dabbled in what science writer Timothy Ferris has called “Godmongering.” Nor is he the first scientist to use such sensationalism to sell books. Paul Davies may be the most shameless, with titles such as God and the New Physics and The Mind of God.
While shutting out a theistic worldview as a possible foundation upon which to build, many scientists seem eager to establish themselves as pastors and priests in a new secular society - and we seem only too willing to ordain them. I am sure that more people will read Hawking’s stance on religion this year than any of the top 100 evangelical authors combined.
But most scientists are very poor philosophers, and even worse theologians. Consider the weakness of Hawking’s rash conclusion. As Alan Guth, the V.F. Weisskopf Professor of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has written, if the creation of the universe can eventually be described as a quantum process, we would still be left with a deep and abiding mystery: Where did the laws of physics come from?
So once again we should remind ourselves of the words of Robert Jastrow, for 20 years the Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, on what continues to be the best prediction for the final interplay between science and religion:
"For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries."
James Emery White
The Grand Design by Stephen W. Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow.
A Brief History of Time by Stephen W. Hawking.
The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science by Natalie Anger.
The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory by Brian Greene.
Traveling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen by Jane Hawking.
The Inflationary Universe: The Quest for a New Theory of Cosmic Origins by Alan Guth.
God and the Astronomers by Robert Jastrow.