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Hawking, science and atheism

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

Joe Tkach and Tammy TkachThe movie The Theory of Everything tells the compelling story of theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking. Though I respect his brilliance and the way he continues to work despite battling Lou Gehrig’s disease, it amuses me when Hawking and other scientists who are atheists claim to be smarter than and thus superior to people who hold to non-atheistic worldviews. The fact is, smart people are found everywhere (including in prison!) and intellectual ability certainly does not equate with superiority.

Stephen Hawking in Cambridge (Creative Commons attribution)
Stephen Hawking (Wikimedia Commons, creative commons attribution)

You’ve likely heard of Hawking’s best-selling book, A Brief History of Time, in which he seeks to explain the origin and future of the universe. A few years ago he wrote a sequel with Leonard Mlodinow titled The Grand Design, which asks, “Is the apparent ‘grand design’ of our universe evidence for a benevolent creator who set things in motion? Or does science offer another explanation?” Though the book does not break new scientific ground, it received a lot of attention because Hawking revealed his leaning toward atheism with sweeping statements like these: “Because there is a law of gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing” and “Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing…why the universe exists, why we exist.” Though thought-provoking, such statements don’t explain why there is something rather than nothing. Hawking and Mlodinow assume the existence of gravity and spontaneous creation, which then bring forth other things. This line of reasoning is like arguing that a preexisting process of carbonation brought forth Coke and Coors.

Though in times past Hawking would refer to God as “the embodiment of the laws of physics,” he now self-identifies as an atheist, saying, “There is no God” and “Religion believes in miracles, but they are not supported by science.” Being a world-class scientist, Hawking’s statements have credibility in the scientific community, but that should not blind us to his magical thinking when he refers to creation without a creator, law without a lawgiver, and grand design without a Grand Designer. When Hawking and others speak in such terms, they are making assumptions that lack scientific evidence. This is ironic when you consider that atheists often accuse Christians of believing in an imaginary God.

No scientific experiments can “prove” the assumptions that underlie Hawking’s atheistic thinking. Why? Because those assumptions have to do with realities outside the realm of science. It might interest you to know that Hawking’s mother, Isobel Hawking, pointed out the need to keep her son’s comments in perspective. In the book, Stephen Hawking: An Unfettered Mind, she is quoted as saying this:

Not all the things Stephen says probably are to be taken as gospel truth. He’s a searcher, he is looking for things. And if sometimes he may talk nonsense, well, don’t we all? The point is, people must think, they must go on thinking, they must try to extend the boundaries of knowledge; yet they don’t sometimes even know where to start. You don’t know where the boundaries are, do you?

In the book God and Stephen Hawking: Whose Design Is It Anyway? John C. Lennox, professor and emeritus fellow of mathematics at the University of Oxford notes that many of Hawking’s conclusions about origins are not only unproven—they are fundamentally unprovable. He is particularly critical of Hawking’s attempt to explain how something comes from nothing. One of Lennox’s concluding statements gave me a chuckle: “What all this goes to show is that nonsense remains nonsense, even when talked about by world-famous scientists.”

What should we do about scientists like Hawking who hold to atheistic positions? Let us pray for them, knowing that the Father, Son and Spirit continually are reaching out to all people (atheists included!) that they might come to know God and his unconditional love for them. Because I share God’s love for scientists and science, it brings me joy when brilliant scientists like Hawking come to know God and join in proclaiming the reality of God’s love and grace for all people.

Sharing the Grand Designer’s love,
Joseph Tkach

3 thoughts on “Hawking, science and atheism”

  1. Physics seems to be a search for general fundamental laws (or a law)from which we derive specific laws. I suppose a true “theory of everything” would be a law that leads to all other laws, but science will have no explanation of why such a theory exists. Thank you, Dr. Tkach, for this update.

  2. Excellent essay. In the war between believers and non-believers it is easy for one side or the other to believe they have more ammunition than they really have. Atheists mistakenly believe they have science on their side. But when you examine further, they are just as involved in “belief” as Christians are. Atheistic scientists may be launching from a scientific platform in this battle but their ideas are nevertheless a matter of conjecture and their atheism a trust in conjecture. In that sense, atheism is a kind of godless “faith” or religion.

  3. Thank you for this essay. The following quote by Stephen Hawking was published in the Telegraph newspaper taken from an interview with the Guardian newspaper and illustrates why your comments are valuable and helpful. Professor Hawking thinks that we believe in ‘fairy stories and afraid of the dark’!

    “I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years,” he told the newspaper.

    “I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first.

    “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail.”

    He added: “There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”

    Asked how we should live he replied: “We should seek the greatest value of our action.”

    He is due to speak at the Google Zeitgeist meeting in London, in which he will address the question: “Why are we here?”

    He will argue that tiny “quantum fluctuations” in the very early universe became the seeds from which galaxies, stars, and ultimately, human life began.

    He will join other speakers including George Osborne, the Chancellor and Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel prize-winning economist.

    In A Brief History of Time, Prof Hawking’s most famous work, he did not dismiss the possibility that God had a hand in the creation of the world.

    He wrote in the 1988 book: “If we discover a complete theory, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason — for then we should know the mind of God.”

    In his new book he rejects Sir Isaac Newton’s theory that the Universe did not spontaneously begin to form but was set in motion by God.

    In June last year Prof Hawking told a Channel 4 series that he didn’t believe that a “personal” God existed.

    He told Genius of Britain: “The question is: is the way the universe began chosen by God for reasons we can’t understand, or was it determined by a law of science? I believe the second.

    “If you like, you can call the laws of science ‘God’, but it wouldn’t be a personal God that you could meet, and ask questions.”

    In his latest book, The Grand Design, Prof Hawking claimed that no divine force was needed to explain why the Universe was formed.

    It led to a backlash from Religious leaders.

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