Questions for Stephen Hawking
In 2010, renowned physicist Stephen Hawking made a statement in his book The Grand Design (co-written by Leonard Mlodinow), which raised quite a few eyebrows:
“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.”
Of course Richard Dawkins was among the first to welcome this statement, proving once again that his emotionally driven campaign against religion sometimes gets in the way of more rational judgments. Despite the overwhelming availability of objections, I’m still confronted with this issue from time to time, and with some misconceptions surrounding it. So I decided to summarize what I consider the main problems with Hawking’s statement, problems which someone like Dawkins doesn’t seem to consider.
Hawking’s statement implies that we don’t need anything else than a scientific explanation to present our world ‘as it is’. Moreover, it implies that a scientific explanation is the only valuable explanation, the only ‘true’ explanation so to speak.
1. The claim that reality is presented ‘as it is’ only in a scientific explanation can never be proven.
2. If we can never prove that science presents the world ‘as it is’, then the statement that ‘we don’t need God to explain the universe as it is’, cannot be proven either.
Hawking seems to forget that his variation of scientism concerning the origin of our universe is a philosophical position and not a scientific one. One can believe that science eventually reveals the complete and true nature of reality, but this metaphysical claim can never be proven. Moreover:
Scientism, in the strong sense, is the self-annihilating view that only scientific claims are meaningful, which is not a scientific claim and hence, if true, not meaningful. Thus, scientism is either false or meaningless. – The Skeptic’s Dictionary.
Maybe an analogy can broaden the discussion.
Applied to the phenomenon of sex, the implicit principle of scientism used by Stephen Hawking might raise the following questions:
1. Does a scientific explanation of sex present you sex ‘as it is’?
2. If so, why don’t we experience the same thrill of sexual intercourse during biology class?
3. Can it be proven that the only ‘real’ and ‘true’ goal of sexual intercourse is the one that’s scientifically revealed by biology?
4. Actually, we know that some things cannot be proven scientifically (e.g. the statement that science eventually tells you all there is to know). Doesn’t this fact show that there’s more to know than science can reveal? Applied to the phenomenon of sex: isn’t there anything more to ‘know’ about sex than what a scientific description can teach us – or any other description for that matter? Isn’t reality ‘as it is’ far more than what we can say about it, scientifically or otherwise? A mystery which transcends us, anywhere, anytime?
No explanation, scientific or otherwise, can ever resolve the mysterious fact “that there is something rather than nothing”, or “that there is something which came to be in such and such a way”.
I can imagine not needing God to practice science… I don’t need God to explain or describe the world (and its origin) scientifically. It’s like I don’t need my brothers to work at school, or to go to bed, or to enjoy a song one of them recorded, or to tie my shoelaces, or to breathe… But if I wanted to love them – specifically them -, I’d need them. By the way, I do, you guys… And if I desired life for a child who died at a very young age, because I experience this as something unjust, I couldn’t count on myself or any other human being to fulfill this desire. I’d need something or someone beyond our human capacities. Well, all I’ve got is a bag of hope, with some other matters of the heart…
For more on the relationship between “faith” and “modern science” as distinguishable spheres, I recommend some articles by Joseph R. Laracy, mainly focusing on Georges Lemaître, a well-known astrophysicist and a Catholic priest who formulated the Big Bang hypothesis. Lemaître refused to mix “matters of science” with “matters of faith” and claimed he could not say anything about “God as creator (or not)” from a scientific point of view.
TO READ THE ARTICLES BY JOSEPH R. LARACY, CLICK THE FOLLOWING:
– Priestly Contributions to Modern Science: The Case of Monsignor Georges Lemaître (pdf)
– Christianity and Science: Confronting Challenges to Faith and Reason in the Histrory of Philosophy and Theology