Hawking’s God

Stephen Hawking has recently stirred the pot again with his new book, “The Grand Design” in which he asserts that the laws of physics, not God, are all that is needed to explain the beginning of the universe from nothing to something.  Here is an excerpt from Chapter 1:

We will describe how M-theory may offer answers to the question of creation. According to M-theory, ours is not the only universe. Instead, M-theory predicts that a great many universes were created out of nothing.

Their creation does not require the intervention of some supernatural being or god. Rather, these multiple universes arise naturally from physical law. They are a prediction of science.

Each universe has many possible histories and many possible states at later times, that is, at times like the present, long after their creation.

Of course, this excerpt is not enough on which to base too many comments.  But since I had the opportunity to speak to a friend of mine who was in town when this came out, a Jesuit astrophysicist,  I asked him what he thought of Hawking’s comments.  His reply was what I tell my seniors in our section on “God and Science.”   Basically, Hawking’s assertion is that gravity will be able to explain the origins of the universe from nothing to something.  But doesn’t that beg the question?  While this theory may explain the existence of matter, it still does not explain how physical laws such as gravity and the speed of light were present prior to that which they effect.  Or even worse, if they are posited as simultaneous to the events they govern, then how do they come to exist?  There are some hard questions to ask about physical laws.  What are they?  Are they immaterial?  Can we categorize them as “form” writ larger than form as we usually think of it?  They structure our entire universe as we know it without exception.  Yet where do they come from?  Spinoza and Einstein would make them identical to our universe.  But that still makes no sense to me.  If we are dealing with these laws as givens which explain the origins (or so Hawking thinks) of our universe, then where did they come from? 

I look forward to reading the book.


8 Responses to Hawking’s God

  1. Ron Krumpos says:

    In “The Grand Design” Stephen Hawking postulates that the M-theory may be the Holy Grail of physics…the Grand Unified Theory which Einstein had tried to formulate and later abandoned. It expands on quantum mechanics and string theories.

    In my e-book on comparative mysticism is a quote by Albert Einstein: “…most beautiful and profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and most radiant beauty – which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their primitive form – this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of all religion.”

    Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity is probably the best known scientific equation. I revised it to help better understand the relationship between divine Essence (Spirit), matter (mass/energy: visible/dark) and consciousness (fx raised to its greatest power). Unlike the speed of light, which is a constant, there are no exact measurements for consciousness. In this hypothetical formula, basic consciousness may be of insects, to the second power of animals and to the third power the rational mind of humans. The fourth power is suprarational consciousness of mystics, when they intuit the divine essence in perceived matter. This was a convenient analogy, but there cannot be a divine formula.

  2. Frank M. says:


    There’s an old joke about an Astronomer, a Physicist and a Logician traveling together on a train. When they see two black sheep on a hillside the Astronomer exclaims: “I didn’t know all the sheep in this part of the country are black!” The Physicist corrects him: “Don’t be so hasty. You only know that some sheep in this part of the country are black.” The Logician looks askance at them, and points out: “You only know that two sheep on this hillside are black… on one side!”

    I would strongly caution against making too strong a conclusion with regard to how much of the Cosmos any theory of Physics completely describes or the degree to which it may absolve us of the necessity for Faith, no matter how self-consistently elegant or rationally appealing that theory. Furthermore, it seems very likely that the duality of theory/law and particles or wavelets which obey them is due to our human way experiencing reality.

    If the observable universe, the cause of its existence, its matter, energy and the laws which describe their interaction and evolution can be explained by M-theory or any other model, so be it! This still does not disprove God’s existence; it serves to purify what we believe in, and what our Faith is really about.

    Mainstream media have been far too much like the Astronomer in the joke — too quick to indulge the human craving for a conclusion.

  3. brettsalkeld says:

    I should like to know if the book ever defines what Hawking means by “nothing.” That seems to me the real issue here. Most folk assume that we all know what we mean when we say nothing. It is my sense that “nothing” is actually a pretty tough (no)thing to wrap our minds around and I’m not sure how seriously Hawking has taken the concept.

    In any event, I wonder what Aquinas would do with this. It seems a bit of a combo between the everlasting universe and the universe with a beginning, but he famously says that neither explains itself. In other words, we’re still in the realm of contingent being, not “the very act of existence.”

    • Ron Krumpos says:

      Scriptures, theologians and many religious leaders tell us what the divine is by listing grandiose attributes. Most mystics worship the personal aspects of the divine, but they also speak of what it is not. Many of them said that the divine essence is nothing, i.e. no thing, that it is immanent in all things, yet it is transcendent to everything. Mystics consider this seeming paradox to be a positive negation.

      Aquinas once said “All that I have written seems to me like straw compared with what has now been revealed to me.” After experiencing divine union (unio mystica), he abandoned writing Summa Theologiae.

  4. Not Stephen Hawking says:

    This was an interesting article to read. I fully agree with you on the origin of the physical laws like gravity and such. There must be something that caused those laws to come into play. But I feel that I must inquire about a few specific points and question the way you’re thinking about this. First off, could this force that set the laws into motion be God? Or more specifically, is God necessarily an almighty being? We could look at it a different way, and say that “God” is just a name that humanity cam up with to describe that spark of life that set of a chain reaction leading to the universe as we know it. Would you agree that God might not be anything specific, but rather the source term used to describe the beginning of life and the physical laws? To me, religion and science is not as separate as it seems to be. Take the Big Bang theory, for example. It was the event that led to the creation of the universe, the same thing we accredit God with doing. But maybe they are the same thing. God and the Big Bang could possibly be two words used to describe the same event. Although modern day obsessions with the self are causing more people to turn to science rather than religion, perhaps they are, in the end, the same thing.

  5. Frank M. says:

    Not Stephen:

    Or more specifically, is God necessarily an almighty being? We could look at it a different way, and say that “God” is just a name that humanity cam up with to describe that spark of life that set of a chain reaction leading to the universe as we know it.

    That would be a very limited view of God. Why would we say that God is “just” the spark of life that started the universe, and nothing more? That would reduce God from infinite Creator, who loves the Cosmos into being, to a finite “watchmaker God” who sets the finite universe in motion and then has no connection with it. What motivates this half-God postulate?

    Take the Big Bang theory, for example. It was the event that led to the creation of the universe, the same thing we accredit God with doing.

    Present-day science tells us nothing about what “preceded” the big bang event, nor even whether that event was truly a point singularity or a zero-point of time. There is no reason to assert that the big bang is the universe’s creation “point” (although that may well be the case). Furthermore, common-ness of accreditation between big bang and God is nothing like equivalence. Again, this assumes a finite “God” who exists only to “start” the universe and then has no participation in it. Why should we limit our concept of God this way?

  6. Engli says:

    Indeed, Stephen Hawkings’ new book is very controversial among religious circles. His views, for the most part, contradict much of religious belief. I tend to side with more concrete explanations (science), and shy away from abstract ideas (the creation story). However, I do agree with a few points of the author. If Hawkings is correct, then what ultimately governs the laws of physics? Something had to start this all. Is it God, someone like God, or something completely different? Assuming that the Jesuit author believes that God created everything, I must disagree him. I believe that religion is more of a man-made construct — one of our better inventions — that gives direction to those who need such guidance in their lives. Having once studied religion at a Jesuit institution, I recognize the necessary critiques that religion places on modern society. The existence of God, however, is a different story. In the same way that Stephen Hawkings’ teachings are fallible, so too are the Church’s.

  7. Gravity says:

    Reading this article really inspired me to think. I never thought about how the law of gravity has always been assumed to have just been there. I completely agree that just correlating them with the identification of the universe does not make much logical sense. However, it can be said that the beginning of the universe did cause this creation of gravity too.

    You say that the Hawking’s theory “may explain the existence of matter, [but] it still does not explain how physical laws such as gravity and the speed of light were present prior to that which they effect”. Does this need an explanation? Can’t is be assumed that the creation of the matter created these laws. Gravity draws things to the core of the earth. Without the core, or the matter, there is no gravity.
    Although I am still reverent to God, can’t it then be said that science is also a possibility then? If a big bang theory created all matter, wouldn’t it therefore also create the law of gravity and the speed of light? Perhaps these laws, or constants, are only man made to describe a phenomenon that is not truly understood, and cannot be fully explained because science cannot back it up.

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