Stephen Hawking is famous. Partly for his science and partly for his disability that gives him the even greater sense of intelligence and dispassion as we hear his thoughts via an electronic voice.
His perseverance in overcoming severe physical limitations to become that most rare of things – a famous scientist – is admirable indeed.
Last week the Times published a few days of material on the (supposed) battle between Science and God. In particular, they gave space to Stephen Hawking’s latest cosmological proposal “M-Theory”. This idea (M stands for Multiverses) has, according to Hawking removed the need for God, has proved that God isn’t there.
This is nothing new. Richard Dawkins suggested that evolutionary theory had done the same. He is not alone in the last 250 years of European thinking.
On the other hand, many Christians have sought to look at the same world and same universe to ‘prove’ that God does exist. Ray Comfort (an evangelist that I usually quite like) got himself into some trouble for claiming that the banana was evidence for God being the creator as it is so suited to human consumption. It was pointed out to Ray that the lovely yellow banana that we know today is the product of a couple of thousand years of selective breeding by humans – the ‘natural’ banana being almost inedible.
So where do we go for the answers. Well, in this instance I suggest an editorial from the Financial Times. It points out (as do so many others) that data about how the univesre works is often neutral in answering the question of God’s existence. Both believers and atheists look at the same stuff and can interpret it in both ways. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t consider such things – but we need to tread carefully when making definite assertions (like Stephen Hawking) that the data ‘proves’ things one way or the other.
Here is the article from the FT:
No friend of God
Published: September 3 2010
Sometimes you don’t appreciate your allies till they’re gone. Apparently the world’s religions had a friend in Stephen Hawking, the Cambridge cosmologist, until this week when he proclaimed in a highly publicised book that God could not after all have created the universe. His previous view was slightly more supportive: God might have been involved.
Such is the cult of the celebrity scientist – and the skill of Prof Hawking’s publicists – that his conversion from agnostic to atheist was the main front page story in The Times for two days running. While Richard Dawkins exulted that physics had joined biology in kicking God out of science, Britain’s religious leaders combined to attack Prof Hawking.
The furore shows how invoking the name of God, in a positive or negative sense, can attract attention. Prof Hawking himself has done it before, and so have other famous physicists, with phrases like “finding the God particle” and “seeing the face of God”.
In reality, Prof Hawking’s latest thinking should not affect anyone’s views about the likelihood of divine creation. He has espoused a speculative framework called M-theory, which shows how multiple universes – each with different laws of physics – could arise out of nothing. But this cannot exclude the idea that God (whatever that means) set the conditions for existence of the “multiverse”.
Cosmology is on the threshold of a golden age, in which new data from space observatories and atom smashers will feed a ferment of theories. We shall learn a lot more about the origins and structure of our universe – and possibly other universes too – but none of it can tell us anything about God.
Our human minds have not evolved in a way that will allow us ever to understand scientifically the ultimate secrets of existence. The field will therefore remain clear for those who want to invoke a deity to explain what science cannot.