Stephen Hawking in the News

Stephen Hawking in the News

Stephen Hawking in the News


Transcript Stephen Hawking in the News

Stephen Hawking:: Physicists believe that the universe is governed by scientific laws. These laws must hold without exceptions or they would not be laws. That doesn't leave much room for miracles or God. I regard the afterlife to be a fairy story for people that are afraid of the dark.

Kevin Harris: Well, Dr. Craig, I think it’s about time we talked about Stephen Hawking. He is back in the news. According to this headline, he lays out the case for a big bang without God. He spoke recently at Caltech to a packed house. People were offering up to a thousand dollars for a ticket just to get in. There is a picture here of people just lined up to see Professor Hawking.

Stephen Hawking began the event by reciting an African creation myth, and rapidly moved on to big questions such as, Why are we here?

He noted that many people still seek a divine solution to counter the theories of curious physicists, and at one point, he quipped, “What was God doing before the divine creation? Was he preparing hell for people who asked such questions?”

After outlining the historical theological debate about how the universe was created, Hawking gave a quick review of more scientific cosmological explanations, including Fred Hoyle and Thomas Gold’s steady-state theory. This idea hypothesizes that there is no beginning and no end and that the galaxies continue to form from spontaneously created matter.[1]

Well, Dr. Craig, Hawking says this theory and several others don’t hold up. Steady-state has pretty much been ruled out.

Dr. Craig: Before I comment on Professor Hawking’s remarks, I think Kevin, that it would only be appropriate to express my tremendous admiration for this man’s courage and pluck. It’s difficult for a healthy person to travel from England to California, to deal with the jet lag and everything else, but for someone in his condition, as debilitated as he is, it must require tremendous courage and drive to do this, and he has just faced what would seem to be insurmountable obstacles and managed to pursue a scientific career.

Kevin Harris: 50 years with Lou Gehrig's Disease. 50 years.

Dr. Craig: Yeah, it really is astonishing and can only, I think, merit our sincere and tremendous admiration. I think perhaps it is for that very reason that it is all the more tragic that we should then see a man of this stature offering such sophomoric comments on religion. For example, on this remark that people are seeking a divine solution to counter the theories of curious physicists. Now, maybe this was an editorial gloss by the newspaper writer rather than a direct quote from Hawking, but it’s just fighting against straw men if you are attacking people who are trying to counter the theories of physicists by seeking a divine solution. I don’t know of people like that and certainly I don’t represent that. I don’t think that the serious Christian scholar thinks that in believing that God created the universe he is trying to counter any theory of physics that is out there. This is just to take, I think, a needlessly adversarial and unsympathetic approach to questions of religion and science.

Kevin Harris: From there, he goes on in his lecture to talk about how steady-state theory and bouncing universes have been pretty much ruled out. Can we safely say that steady-state and bouncing universes . . .

Dr. Craig: Well certainly steady-state theory was, I think, buried long ago and he seems to think that the Hawking-Penrose singularity theorems that he helped to write in the 1970s would rule out any sort of oscillating or cyclical universes. Now, there are contemporary cyclical universe models that attempt to get around the Hawking-Penrose singularity theorems but Hawking doesn’t interact with any of those more recent models in this talk apparently. He takes it that, on the basis of the Hawking-Penrose singularity theorems, the idea of an oscillating universe is excluded. So, apparently according to the article, he holds that time began at the moment of the singularity and that this has likely occurred only once.[2] So, this is a remarkable affirmation of creatio ex nihilo - that the universe came into existence at a beginning point of time, this has happened only once, and that there simply was nothing prior to the universe, which is of course fully in accord with a Judeo-Christian view of creation.

Kevin Harris: Continuing with the article, Bill, it says,

In another observation of modern religion, Hawking noted that in the 1980s, around the time that he released a paper discussing the moment the universe was born, Pope John Paul II admonished the scientific establishment against studying the moment of creation as it was holy.

“I was glad not to be thrown into an inquisition,” Hawking joked.[3]

Dr. Craig: Again, that is a real misrepresentation of what the Pope said. An earlier Pope had said that the Big Bang Theory was actually confirmatory of the biblical doctrine of creation and was, therefore, to be embraced. And I am not aware that John Paul II said anything that would attempt to stifle cosmological exploration of the creation of the universe. Again, I think this is just a needlessly unsympathetic and tendentious construal of what the Pope had to say.

Kevin Harris: Well, let’s take a look at what the Pope said, and I think this is what Professor Hawking was talking about. In October of 1981 in an address to the Pontifical Academy of Science, Pope John Paul II said,

Cosmogony and cosmology have always aroused great interest among

peoples and religions. The Bible itself speaks to us of the origin of

the universe and its make-up, not in order to provide us with a

scientific treatise, but in order to state the correct relationships

of man with God and with the universe. Sacred Scripture wishes simply

to declare that the world was created by God, and in order to teach

this truth it expresses itself in the terms of the cosmology in use at

the time of the writer. The Sacred Book likewise wishes to tell men

that the world was not created as the seat of the gods, as was taught

by other cosmogonies and cosmologies, but was rather created for the

service of man and the glory of God. Any other teaching about the

origin and make-up of the universe is alien to the intentions of the

Bible, which does not wish to teach how heaven was made but how one

goes to heaven.[4]

I don’t see how you can get out of that quote what Hawking thinks the Pope was saying. Doesn’t seem to be what he was saying at all. From here, Professor Hawking talked about M Theory. M Theory, Bill?

Dr. Craig: Well, that’s a theory about the fundamental nature of reality that substitutes little one-dimensional strings of energy in the place of particles as the fundamental constituents of the world. But when it is married with inflationary cosmology you can attempt to get a kind of multiverse scenario. Now, these universes don’t really come out of nothing. Here we have the very familiar misuse of the term nothing on the part of Hawking and others to describe the quantum vacuum which is a kind of low level energy state that is a sea of rolling activity, energy fluctuating into particles and disappearing back into the vacuum again. It is most certainly not nothing. As for these multiverse scenarios, once again, Hawking doesn’t deal with some of the very potent objections to this, such as the objection of his erstwhile collaborator, Roger Penrose, that if we were just a random member of the multiverse then we ought to be having very, very different observations than the ones that we have, which strongly disconfirms the multiverse hypothesis. So, Hawking here is giving a talk on a very popularistic level. He is not interacting in a serious way with the alternatives in contemporary cosmology or the objections to his own prefered model.

Kevin Harris: Seems to me that the title of this article from Space.com is rather missleading. “Stephen Hawking lays out the case for the big bang without God.” I don’t see him really laying out that case. He has kind of given the history, what’s been rejected, what’s been confirmed . . .

Dr. Craig: Well, what we need here is the text of the talk, and I think that this newspaper reporter may have given an inaccurate précis of what Hawking actually said.[5] It sounds to me like this talk was basically a rehash of Hawking’s book, coauthored with Leonard Mlodinow, called The Grand Design, in which they argue that, on the Hartle-Hawking no-boundary model, because the universe doesn’t begin at a singularity physics is able to describe the development of the universe right back to the very beginning. But this model does nothing to explain why there should be a universe at all - a universe with a beginning or any other kind of universe. Physics only describes the universe from the beginning point onward, but there is no physics of non-being, obviously. So, there is nothing that would explain why the universe came into existence on the Hartle-Hawking model. It may be that his claim to have gotten rid of God is simply, again, a reprise of what he says in the book about the Hartle-Hawking model having no-boundary, no beginning point or singularity - I guess I should say no singular point - and therefore not needing a creator. In fact, in The Grand Design, Mlodinow and Hawking admit that their model does have a beginning point at the south pole, so to speak, of the model, but it is not a beginning point at which the laws of physics break down.

Kevin Harris: Well again, Bill, you point out an important thing and that is that NBC News picks this up, reports this article, and so, what we are dealing with here is not necessarily the transcript of everything that he said and all of Hawking’s material, but some of it in this reporter’s interpretation of everything that is being said. However, we address things in the podcast that are put out there and are consumed by the population. We want to shed light on that.

This part just kind of got me in the heart when he says, of all these multiple universes, “In only a few of these states would life be possible, and in fewer still could something like humanity exists.” Hawking says that “he felt fortunate to be living in this state of existence.”[6] I’m thinking, here is a man who has been stuck in this wheelchair just virtually unable to move and he feels very fortunate for his life and for his existence and I think he is . . .

Dr. Craig: He has obviously been able to find some sort of significance and meaning and purpose in his life despite his debilitating disease. It is interesting though, Kevin, and again, we don’t know how accurate the transcript is here, but he doesn't say he feels grateful to be living or alive, he feels fortunate, and on an atheist view, that is the right language to use. He feels lucky to be alive but he doesn't really feel grateful to be alive because there is no one to be thankful to.

Kevin Harris: He closed the event by saying that we need to continue to explore the cosmos. He says, “‘We must continue to go into space for the future of humanity,’ he says, adding, ‘I don’t think we will survive another thousand years without escaping our fragile planet.’”[7] That doesn’t seem like very long to me.

Dr. Craig: No, no. One more millenium. That is not very far into the future, is it?

Kevin Harris: There is a movie out about this very topic about having to leave earth because we destroyed it.

Dr. Craig: I mean, it sounds like science-fiction, doesn’t it, but it is so sobering, Kevin, when you think that these kinds of challenges are really going to happen in the future. It frightens me to think what would happen if human beings colonized other places in the solar system, and eventually, like the American colonies becoming estranged from the mother country, Great Britain, one could well imagine these colonial powers in outer space growing up to be quite independent and having a different set of priorities and agendas and could lead to interplanetary warfare and hostility. The history of the human race and getting along with itself is not very encouraging, and what we might be doing in colonizing space is simply spreading the violence and the warfare throughout the solar system and maybe the universe if we live long enough.[8]



[1] Rod Pyle, “Big Bang Didn't Need God, Stephen Hawking Says”, Space.com, April 17, 2013. See http://www.space.com/20710-stephen-hawking-god-big-bang.html (accessed August 2, 2013).

[2] 5:03

[3] Ibid.

[4] Discourses of the Popes from Pius XI to John Paul II to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences 1936-1986 (Vatican City: Pontifica Academia Scientiarum, 1986), pp. 161-164. For a PDF of this book, see http://www.casinapioiv.va/content/dam/accademia/pdf/sv66pas.pdf (accessed August 2, 2013).

[5] 9:58

[6] Rod Pyle, “Big Bang Didn't Need God”

[7] Ibid.

[8] Total Running Time: 14:46 (Copyright © 2013 William Lane Craig)