This essay is an investigation of the clever lies Stephen Hawking tells in his latest book, The Grand Design, co-authored with Leonard Mlodinow. The thoughts expressed below consist largely of a summary of the excellent little book, God and Stephen Hawking, by John C Lennox, professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford. Augmenting the book are many thoughts of my own and extra research added in places. I first read the book several years ago, then re-read it while travelling through Europe recently. It was one of those tomes that niggled at my mind. I just had to summarise it and add it to my website when I saw how easy it was to see holes in Stephen Hawkins logic. It was like Toto had pulled the curtain back, exposing the great wizard’s weaknesses. Here was one of the greatest theoretical mathematicians of our era making fundamental errors of logic. His atheism had blinded him to simple, sensible and just conclusions about origins.
Stephen Hawking is rightly famous for having spent his life exploring the frontiers of mathematical physics. He recently retired from the Lucasian Professorship at Cambridge University, a position once held by Isaac Newton. He has been honoured by fellow academics from around the world and is one of the greatest scientists to have ever lived. He has also battled motor-neurone disease stoically for forty years and now speaks to the world today with the aid of his famous voice synthesiser. He has even had a movie made about his life, a rare event for any living scientist.
Stephen Hawking loves to deal with the big questions of life. So when Hawking speaks, the world listens. His latest book, one we have had to wait for over a decade, did not disappoint the media. The Grand Design is a 200 page fly-though of the universe which comes to the conclusion that physics, and in particular, quantum mechanics, can now explain the origin of the universe without the need for a creator. The global headlines were immediate and complimentary. Comments like “Hawking says universe not created by God” (Gabbott, 2010) were splashed around in book reviews all over the western world. Hawking was definitely saying what the humanist media wanted to hear. The grand master of physics had at last banished the grand master of the universe.
Or so it would seem. Before delving into the book it is important to hear a few words from the person who knows Stephen Hawking better than anyone else on the planet, his ex-wife of 25 years, Jane. In her own memoir about life with the famous scientist called Music to Move the Stars, she shines a spotlight on the elite world of theoretical physics that we mere mortals never get to see. In it she describes Stephen as an extremely arrogant man who held religion in contempt. His mind was at all times, and in every direction, completely closed to theism. She tellingly notes that in later years in their marriage his peers became the elite of the scientific world, men who were a dry, obsessive group of competitive fanatics, little concerned with people, but very concerned with their personal scientific reputations (p 296). Having a front row seat in her husband’s life, Jane summarized her concept of much of the research of which her husband was in the forefront, as “theorizing on abstruse suppositions about imaginary particulars traveling in imaginary time in a looking-glass universe which did not exist except in the mind of the theorists.” (p. 372). She then drops a bombshell that the Hawking’s media fan club would never repeat. In a personal conversation with Jane he once admitted that, like religion, his own science of the universe also required a leap of faith (p. 465).
After caring for her husband 24 hours a day for a quarter of a century, Jane was eventually abandoned by Stephen for another woman. These insights into the true character of Stephen Hawking are essential if we are to understand the philosophical foundations of The Grand Design. It is far from neutral science.
So now let’s begin…
Philosophy is Dead
Hawking starts out by asking familiar grand questions about life and origins such as: How did we get here? What is the nature of reality? Where did it all come from? These questions have been the foundation of philosophy since time immemorial. However, Hawking then makes a very interesting, and insightful statement. He says that “philosophy is dead” and that “scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery”. (p.5) Ouch! He just dismissed all the great human thinkers, systems of logic and understanding that has gone before the great and wonderful Stephen Hawking. These two statements tell us three things about him. First, he does not understand the very nature of philosophy, which is critical thinking. This is because the statement “philosophy is dead” is itself a philosophical statement! Second, it tells us he believes in “Scientism”, which is the philosophy that believes that only science can answer any and every question about life and origins, to the exclusion of all other forms of inquiry. Third, his ego is huge. To be so dismissive about the great thinkers of history is arrogance in the extreme. Such hubris is dangerous to say the least. This danger soon emerges. Having denigrated philosophy in chapter one, he then declares that the purpose of the book is to answer why the universe exists and why we exist, which is philosophy!
The next part of the book explores the history of science up to the present time. Here Hawking uses the tried and true tool of all good philosophers when they are trying to deceive. He unashamedly lowers himself to a clever “bait and switch” discussion to convince his readers that all belief in God or gods is primitive superstition. He does so by investigating the nature of religion in ancient Greece, and then uses their understanding of the gods as a proxy of any belief in God. His method in this deception is to describe the scientific brilliance of Greek scientists such as Thales, Anaximander and Xenophanes who logically and successfully destroyed the notion of natural phenomena being directly caused by Greek mythological gods. He describes what, to many of his uncritical readers, is a self-evident truth; that religion, like life and the cosmos itself, is subject to evolutionary forces, progressing from the primitive to the complex. Hawking believes that religion is simply “the god of the gaps” and with the advancement of science these gaps shrink. He implicitly asks his audience to choose between all religion and science, a mutually exclusive choice.
However, what Hawking conveniently leaves out of this argument is that the ancient Hebrew people had already been warning surrounding cultures about the stupidity of deifying nature and calling it a god. They too saw the Greek religious experiment for what it was; a lie. Their concept of a law giving creator who stood outside creation as its first cause, its uncaused cause, was in complete opposition to the quarrelsome, adulterous gods of the Greeks who were part of the very creation they supposedly ruled over. They saw Greek religion was a degenerative journey from belief in the original creator. The God of the Bible was not, and never could be a “god of the gaps”. He was more like an engineer who designed and built an “engine” called the universe.
This Hebrew view of the creator was also the prime philosophical insight that led to the development of the scientific method inside a Christian culture over the last 700 years, a tradition that enabled Hawking to pursue a career in science. Science was still-born in all other cultures throughout history, and that included ancient Greece. Hawking never mentions this as he wants his readers to ignore this enlightened Hebrew view of the creator and the contributions of the Biblical worldview to science. He wants his readers to view all religion and all gods as simply gaps in our ever-growing and triumphant scientific understanding of the world. What he does not say is that this his beliefs are simply atheism dressed up in a white lab coat, something Isaac Newton, the fundamentalist Christian, would have found profoundly disappointing. Newton’s discoveries led him to write the most famous book in all science, Principia Mathematica, which tried to persuade the thinking man to believe in God. How ironic that both Newton and Hawking shared the same professorship at the same university.
The Spontaneous Universe
Hawking has already led gullible readers in to believing that only science has the answers to all inquiry, and that religion is primitive. Now he moves on to a third front. The purpose of the book, as a trumpet for western atheism, is ultimately to destroy confidence in the God of the Christians. He goes about this later in the book by attacking the very strong theistic argument that something, like a universe, cannot arise from nothing, that an object cannot be its own cause. On page 180 of The Grand Design he makes the following statement:
“Because there is a law of gravity, the universe can and will create itself out of nothing.”
It sounds polemic but it isn’t. First let’s question the beginning and the end of the statement. How can a law of gravity exist if there is nothing? Doesn’t nothing mean…NOTHING? Hawking assumes the law of gravity exists before the universe exists. Is Hawking simultaneously telling us the universe is created from something and nothing? Shall we call this an oxymoron? This is an elementary school mistake from someone who should know far better. Hawking argues in particular that the universe arose from a quantum fluctuation (p139). Is this also “nothing”?
Hawking is also stating that laws of nature, in this case gravity and quantum mechanics, are causal in nature. This again is false. The laws of nature cannot cause anything. They simply describe the physical world. They enable us to analyse the motion and structure of matter that helps us predict future structures and motions. They cannot of themselves bring anything into existence. Science writer Paul Davies makes this same simple mistake when he says “There is no need to invoke anything supernatural in the origins of the universe or of life. I have never liked the idea of divine tinkering: for me, it is much more inspiring to believe that a set of mathematical laws can be so clever as to bring all these things into being.” But mathematics and the laws of physics describe, they do not create! Yes, one plus one makes two, but never two trees, or two planets. So now we have gravity, mathematics and quantum physics all existing before the universe, when there was nothing!!!???
If Hawking was not so dismissive of philosophy he would be able to see the fundamental flaws in his own reasoning. But his ego is inflated and he has lived so long in the world of theoretical mathematicians of similar ego that he has come to believe in its creative powers. This surely shows how desperate atheists really are when it comes to origins.
Let’s now challenge the faulty logic in the middle of the sentence with some more elementary school logic. We all know that the laws of physics, specifically the laws of thermodynamics and the conservation of matter and energy, preclude the universe from creating itself. They also tell us it is not eternal, having been created through a “big Bang’ creation event. Third, we know that an object, even the size of a universe cannot be its own cause as nothing in all of creation can be its own cause. These three truths put Hawking in an impossible situation as he knows they point to the universe having a cause outside itself. He doesn’t want us to know this so uses the word “nothing” in the loosest possible way imaginable. He defines nothing as “the law of gravity and the quantum fluctuations. Hawking believes in self-contradictions. Nonsense is still non-sense, no matter who says it.
This is not Hawking deductively concluding from scientific evidence that the universe does not need a creator. This is Hawking imposing his atheistic worldview on the evidence and twisting the logic so he gets the conclusion he wants.
Hawking is a good communicator, and is excellent at bringing complicated scientific concepts into clear focus for a lay audience. But it is odd that after almost a whole chapter on the concept of design in the universe, he summarily dismisses any conclusion that there is a designer! His weapon of choice for this dismissal turns out to be the idea of the multiverse, that there is not one universe, but many, not one set of physical laws, but many (p162, 164).
This staggering concept comes from the amazing world of quantum physics, where sub-atomic particles can appear and disappear, becoming both matter and energy, electrons can teleport, electron twins can communicate across the universe instantly, and do many other seemingly impossible stunts such as be “aware” they are being watched. It postulates some 29 dimensions and time travel at the electron level. Into this theoretical never-never land Hawking introduces us to the concept that there could be an almost unlimited number of universes, many-fold more than there are atoms in this universe (4 x 1080), in fact up to 10500 is the figure we are given, a mind bending number. The assumption Hawking now offers to his readers now becomes…anything that can happen and will probably happen in some universe because of the sheer number of choices and probabilities. Sound plausible?
First a few quick observations. First, if there is indeed a multiverse, how does Hawking know it was not also created? God could create as many as he wished. Second, the multiverse still does not deal with the question of the miraculous fine-tuning in this universe (Craig, n.d.). Third, what if the whole multiverse is as finely tuned as this one? Hawking assumes they are not, but he doesn’t know because they exist only in the realm of theoretical physics. We will never, ever, ever be able to observe them. Fourth, Hawking confuses probability with possibility. If the universe, as we have just shown, cannot create itself, then any number of attempts will still create nothing. Fifth, we will never ever be able to see or observe these other universes, so they remain a convenient escape for the mind of a desperate atheist like Hawking who is uncomfortable with the “miraculous” design he sees in THIS universe.
Now on to a second line of argument. By invoking the multiverse, Hawking has launched himself off the good ship science and into the rarefied atmosphere of what he has already called “dead” philosophy. Paul Davies rightly points out that “All cosmological models are constructed by augmenting the results of observation by some sort of philosophical principle.” (Davies, 2007) Hawking would like us to think he is giving us pure scientific observation, but he is not. He is creating philosophical conceivability and calling it proven science. Hawking’s former collaborator, Sir Roger Penrose, says this about Hawking’s use of the multiverse, “It’s over-used, and this is a place where it is over-used. It’s an excuse for not having a good theory.” (Penrose, 2010)
The only known observation that relates to the whole concept of a multiverse is particular super-positioning. This refers to the separation and reconstitution of different quantum states such as in the double slit experiment. To jump from there to a belief in a limitless number of parallel universes is pure speculation. Sir John Polkinghorne, a fellow atheist who was also once a professor of Mathematical physics at the University of Cambridge, asks us to “recognise these speculations for what they are. They are not physics, but in the strictest sense, metaphysics. There is no purely scientific reason to believe in an ensemble of universes. By construction, these other worlds are unknowable to us.” (Polkinghorne, 1986). Metaphysics is that branch of philosophy that deals with first things, origins and the big questions of life. It is not science. Hawking’s mistake is that he wanders into this arena calling it science instead of philosophy. Science is about empirical observation leading to reason and physical descriptions of reality. This is by definition impossible when talking about the multiverse. It is therefore not science but metaphysics. The layman’s term for metaphysics is “faith” in the unseen and unknowable.
Here are some of the assumptions Hawking makes when extrapolating from the multiverse concept: He believes in the underlying philosophical stance that “everything that can happen in physics does happen”. He then claims the multiverse is the inevitable outcome of these physical processes that generated our own universe. If one accepts this foundational assumption then one can then use probability to justify that one of the possible universes, appears to be fine-tuned for life and consciousness, and it just so happens to be our universe. But Hawking is speculating about other universes that can never been seen, based on theories that may never be testable. This is not science, and he says philosophy is “dead”! Discover Magazine sums up the dilemma well: “Critics say it [the multiverse] doesn’t even qualify as a scientific theory because the existence of other universes cannot be proved or disproved. Advocates argue that, like it or not, the multiverse may well be the only viable nonreligious explanation for what is often called the “fine-tuning problem”; the baffling observation that the laws of the universe seem custom-tailored to favour the emergence of life.” (Folger, 2008)
Paul Davies is also dismissive of the multiverse: “The general multiverse explanation is simply naïve deism dressed up in scientific language. Both appear to be an infinite unknown, invisible and unknowable system. Both require an infinite amount of information to be discarded just to explain the finite universe we observe.” (Devlin, 4th September 2010).
But wait; what if we accept Hawking’s assumptions about an infinite number of universes with infinite probabilities for physical laws and governing systems. Wouldn’t that also allow for a universe where a creator existed, since his existence is now logically possible as one of an infinite number of possibilities? And since his existence is just as probable as the existence of our universe, couldn’t this creator quite possibly be the God of our universe? Funny how, given unlimited choice, you can make any scenario work! Nevertheless, by far the safest place for an atheist to avoid the existence of God is in a multiverse, so Hawking will stick with the concept till his dying day, but not beyond.
In discussing M-Theory, Hawking moves on from the concept that pure probability created an almost infinite number of universes, so that at least one can have robust physical laws and life, to an attempt to provide the initial creative spark that set the multiverse going. He calls it “M-Theory”. M-theory is the latest attempt to pull together the five underlying string theories and 11D-supergravity into one causal theory. Hawking confidently calls it the “unifying theory that Einstein was expecting to find” (p118).
However, M-theory is not quite the done deal Hawking would like his lay audience to think it is. For a start it suffers from the same intractable dilemma as the multiverse; it is untestable in any remotely scientific sense. At the moment it is just a compelling and beautiful mathematical construct, and in fact only one of a number of candidate “Theories of Everything”. Hawking says that M-Theory “allows” for different universes with different laws of physics. However, to allow for something is entirely different from creating something. So we still do not have a causal agent, the elusive uncaused cause. Hawking wants to get rid of God by granting causal creative powers to a mathematical theory, but knows he can’t use those words. This is his ultimate dilemma.
Tim Radford, in his review of The Grand Design sums it much better than most: “Just like Biblical miracles, M-Theory invokes something different: a prime mover, a begetter, a creative force that is everywhere and nowhere. This force cannot be identified with instruments or be examined by comprehensible mathematical prediction, and yet it contains all possibilities. It incorporates omnipresence, omniscience and omnipotence, and it’s a big mystery. Remind you of anybody?” (Radford, 2010)
Roger Penrose, who shared the 1988 Wolfe prize for physics with Hawking and is a fellow atheist, comes from a different direction and comes to the same conclusion: “For Theories whose space-time dimensionality exceeds what we directly observe (namely 3+1), I see no reason to believe that, in themselves, they carry us much further in the direction of physical understanding.” (Cape, 2004)
In an on-air interview after the publication of Hawking’s book, Penrose had this to say “I think the book suffers rather more strongly than many. It is not an uncommon thing in popular descriptions of science to latch onto an idea, particularly things to do with string theory, which have absolutely no support from observation. They are just nice ideas… The book is a bit misleading. It gives you the impression of a theory that is going to explain everything; it’s nothing of the sort. It’s not even a theory.” (Penrose R. , 2010)
As well as being a critic of the multi-verse, Paul Davies makes the point that M theory “is not testable, not even in the foreseeable future”. (Devlin, 2010) Devlin’s article also quotes John Butterworth from the Hadron Collider as saying that “M-Theory is highly speculative and certainly not in the zone of science that we have any evidence for”.
I think you get the picture: The grand announcement that M-Theory was the answer to the origin of the universe was premature, does not have any evidence from the real world and is not one shared by a great many fellow scientists. At this stage postulating the existence of a creator as the uncaused cause still wins hands down over postulating the existence of 10500 universes that self-created without a cause, all of which will never be observed by humans, with a theory that is not believed by many of the world’s best minds.
Hawking’s M-Theory idea is clearly designed to appeal to lay atheists whose minds are already made up. Based on the widespread press coverage it received, it did just that. As an example, here is how the Washington Post promoted the book “The conclusions that follow are ground-breaking. Of all the possible universes, some must have laws that allow the appearance of life. The fact that we are here already tells us that we are in that corner of the multiverse. In this way, all origin questions are answered by pointing to the huge number of possible universes and saying that some of them have the properties that allow the existence of life, just by chance.” (Trefil, 2010) Boiled down, that quote goes something like this “We believe this book. Multiverses are true. We exist, therefore the multiverse has to be true. All origin questions are answered. Chance wins, God loses. Period” Somewhere along the line they forgot to ask the following questions: Is the multiverse real science? Can probability create something that is impossible? How can an uncaused universe cause itself? What do other eminent scientists say? And finally, what evidence is there for this idea?
The Grand Design
In the final chapter of the book Hawking and Mlodinow make some very revealing statements about their personal philosophy of life. On page 180 they tell us that “Spontaneous creation is the reason why there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist”. We can now clearly see that spontaneous creation is by definition his god, his uncaused cause. All religions and worldviews rest on an uncaused cause. In all cases, bar none, this uncaused cause is a belief or a faith, as it (or “he”, “she” or “they”) is an unprovable assumption, whether it is belief in a creator, or spontaneous creation.
Hawking is very dangerous ground. Once upon a time people believed the same about life, that it could spontaneously generate given the right conditions. Louis Pasteur put that notion to flight. However, desperate to keep a divine foot from the door of our science labs, we kept our belief in spontaneous creation of life and pushed it back to a once off event that triggered evolution, an event we cannot subject to testing or real science.
Hawking has done exactly the same with the universe. He knows that cause and effect rule the present with an iron fist, every cause has a cause beyond it. But he believes that if we go back far enough we can once again use the word “spontaneous” and get away with it. The only alternative is an uncaused cause that lies outside the universe, anathema to any red blooded atheist, and the modern media. Hawking’s worldview begins and ends in materialism and he twists logic into contradiction after contradiction to fit that worldview.
Here is what Hawking is really saying in the statement quoted above: “There is something rather than nothing because that something comes about spontaneously without reason or cause.” It is hard to be impressed with this type of logic. Why does he tie his research and reputation to such a non-logical belief? It is because he believes in the triumph of his own ability and arrogance. Atheism is ultimately a belief in absolutes, but without the absolute knowledge required to make such claims! By faith it believes that what we don’t yet know do away with the need for a creator. That is where arrogance comes in to fill the gap. This is the religion of “scientism”.
This is not to say that belief in God is about filling those gaps. If it was then it would simply feed Hawking’s own agenda. Hawking believes in atheism ultimately because he believes in a closed universe where physical laws rule supreme and do not allow a divine foot in the door. Early in the book he says “Given the state of the universe at one time, a complete set of laws fully determines both the future and the past. That would exclude the possibility of miracles or an active role for God.” (p.30) Further on he writes “These laws should hold everywhere and at all times; otherwise they would not be laws. There could be no exceptions or miracles. Gods or demons could not intervene in the running of the universe.” (p.171). However, this position can only be true if we assume both a closed universe and an eternal universe. The emergence of the Big Bang theory of origins proved once and for all that we do not have an eternal universe. In our universe, that clearly had a beginning, the very next question becomes: Where did the physical laws come from to start this universe as they clearly came into existence at a point in time. They therefore cannot “determine both the future and the past” in an ultimate sense. And since the universe is not eternal, and physical laws were not present to cause it, it had to have a causal agent outside of it, it is not closed. End of argument. Both Hawking’s assumptions are wrong, but that’s how atheism works and you are not supposed to question it. The media certainly doesn’t.
Can you now see that Hawking believes scientific laws are therefore irreproachable, perfect, eternal, causal and immovable? His total faith is in the absoluteness of physical laws. He has therefore moved on from a normal understanding of scientific law as the description of events that provide sufficient predictability as to make assumptions about the future. Physical laws, in his mind, are now deterministic, not descriptive. They are a “god”, capable of creating a universe. This is why he believes gravity can create a universe out of nothing (p.180). What he forgot to tell his readers is that before the universe there were no physical laws, there was NOTHING. Physical laws cannot create a universe when they do not exist.
His iron-clad belief of a closed universe also means that intervention in the universe by a spiritual uncaused cause is an anathema to him. These interventions, often called “miracles” simply cannot exist, they “violate” his precious laws of science. However, all you have to do to completely destroy Hawking’s house of cards is to show the illogical nature of a belief in a materialistic origin to the universe, which this essay has already done. Once that is achieved, then accepting the inevitability of outside interventions in our universe becomes the most logical conclusion possible, indeed inevitable. This is why Hawking fights so hard to convince us “the universe can and will create itself.” (P.180)
Contrary to what Hawking believes about the closed nature of physical laws, the laws of nature simply predict what will happen if God does not intervene. Indeed their consistency helps us know when a miracle has indeed happened. To say physical laws demonstrate the non-existence of God and miracles are impossible is like saying the structure of a car means it created itself and any modifications are impossible. In Hawking’s mind the concept of miracles contradicts his sacred physical laws, therefore they are impossible. He and David Hume would have been good friends. However, they both confused probability with possibility. Just because something is improbable does not make it impossible. The existence of the universe and life itself prove this true beyond argument. The universe therefore qualifies as a miracle by his own definition! It is also odd that Hawking does not believe in miracles but believes in the multiverse, something we will never prove exists and is beyond the physical realm of humans to make contact with.
The bulk of the last chapter is devoted to an explanation of a mathematical model that Hawking believes simulates the creation of reality without outside intervention. It is called “Game of Life” and was invented by John Conway. Hawking points out that there are complex initial configurations that self-replicate under the laws of the game. As a mathematician, Hawking sees great parallels between The Game of Life and the physical universe. He leaves the reader with the impression that the real world is like Conway’s game, where a simple set of laws can create the universe and life itself.
However, the very thing Hawking is trying to prove is disproven completely, once again, when you delve a little deeper. First of all Conway’s laws do not create the squares, they merely act on existing squares that are configured into the computer. This sounds a lot more like God creating matter and then setting up physical laws than physical laws creating matter, as Hawking so desperately wants us to believe. Second, Conway’s world can only exist inside a computer that was created by highly intelligent beings using highly sophisticated algorithms. This intellectual power resembles a creator much more than blind chance. It seems wherever Hawking turns to find evidence for his beliefs, we can also see evidence against his beliefs. His hatred of intelligent design blinds him to the evidence he is giving us for intelligent design.
In the story of the king who wore no clothes, a clever cloth merchant convinced the king that the finest and most expensive cloth in the world was invisible. Once the king bought into this lie, all the nobles had to go along with the idea of invisible clothes as well, or they would incur the wrath of the king. On his next public parade the king proudly showed off his new invisible outfit for all the kingdom to see, and the crowds of common people cheered approvingly, unless they too incur the wrath of the elite for not accepting the “truth”. It was left to a little boy, who knew nothing of the king being fooled or the nobles and citizens having to pretend they could see the clothes, to point out the obvious. The king was in public dressed in underwear! Right now I feel like that child. Many in the scientific establishment has believed the clever cloth merchant, Stephen Hawking, and the media elite of the western world have also bought into the lie and sold it onto the general public.
I don’t, and I trust you don’t either after reading this essay.
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