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Great minds falter on questions of Faith

Even brilliant scientists miss the point when they put their faith in atheism, says Gerald Warner

After the death in March this year of Professor Stephen Hawking, the well-known physicist and cosmologist, his final book has just been published this month. Titled Brief Answers to Big Questions, it consists of 10 essays. Predictably, the one on which the media have focused is Hawking’s response to the question: is there a God?

Since Hawking answers in the negative, it is convenient for the proponents of secular society to cite him as a kind of authority confirming the case for atheism. One of the cleverest men in the world, who knew more about the universe than almost anybody else, says there is no God, so it must be so. Time to get rid of belief in a divinity and all that guilt about sin —time just to do your own thing. Man, creator of the world of high tech, is now God.

Secularists are trying to conscript Hawking’s atheism as an authoritative endorsement of their views. The universe? He studied it, from Big Bang to the present day, and found no sign of God.

Well, why on earth would he? Citing a physicist as arbiter of the existence of God is as logical as asking a plumber to rewire your electrical system. Since God is a pure spirit, the least likely person to encounter Him is a physicist. The term physics says it all: a discipline concerned with the physical world, however minute.

Hawking wrote: “I think the universe was spontaneously created out of nothing, according to the laws of science. If you accept, as I do, that the laws of nature are fixed, then it doesn’t take long to ask: what role is there for God?”

Has anyone ever begged so massive a question in one brief comment as in that fine distillation of illogicality? The universe ‘was spontaneously created out of nothing, according to the laws of science?’

Who established the laws of science? If the laws of nature are fixed, who fixed them? Fulfilling both those functions, as well as being prime mover of that creation out of nothing, is precisely the role of God.

It seems extraordinary that a man supposedly so intelligent as Hawking could, at the end of his days, respond to the primary question of existence in so confused and contradictory a manner. It is a typical instance of the decline of fine minds when they venture into disciplines that are not their own.

Hawking’s fellow atheist Richard Dawkins built a considerable reputation as a pioneering geneticist, only to succumb to derision when he embarked on a second career as an atheist polemicist, in which he was quickly exposed as lacking fundamental understanding of theology.

A similar misunderstanding of the very concept of God can be glimpsed in Hawking’s arguments. Having stated that ‘there was no time before the Big Bang,’ he wrote: “We have finally found something that doesn’t have a cause, because there was no time for a cause to exist in. For me this means that there is no possibility of a creator, because there is no time for a creator to have existed in.”

Since God exists outside of time, what does that argument amount to, other than that Hawking has eliminated any credible natural cause, accidentally making the case for the existence of God as the sole remaining agency that could have caused the Big Bang? We need to bear in mind, of course, that the Big Bang theory is just that and could potentially be displaced by another theory as science progresses.

The Big Bang, of which Hawking was a champion, is peculiarly consistent with Christian belief. Pope Pius XII was greatly attracted by it, since it was so congruent with God’s ‘Let there be light.’ Wisely, however, he never attempted to pronounce upon it, leaving such matters to cosmologists, respecting disciplinary boundaries in a way that scientists such as Hawking and Dawkins might profitably have imitated.

Stephen Hawking believed the universe was once the size of a subatomic particle, a proton-sized, ultra-dense ‘singularity’ that exploded in the Big Bang. Fair enough; but where did that microscopic singularity come from? Hawking attempted to explain the creation of the universe by citing the laws of quantum mechanics, gravity, relativity, etc. But where did that whole coherent body of physical laws originate?

Hawking’s endorsement of atheism is being presented as the outcome of a life of scientific investigation. That is not the case: he was an aggressive atheist as a teenager and simply found no reason to change his views. Last year, in America, an 11-year-old boy prodigy, the son of a Greek Orthodox priest, challenged Hawking’s view: “It takes more faith to say the universe created itself than to say something other created the universe because that is more logical.”

Out of the mouths of babes…

 

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