The controversial claims of Stephen Hawking’s new book, The Grand Design, have been hitting headlines and igniting debate. In an article at The Wall Street Journal, adapted from his book, Hawking (with Leonard Mlodinow) writes:
“As recent advances in cosmology suggest, the laws of gravity and quantum theory allow universes to appear spontaneously from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”
Spontaneous creation may not be all that new as a theory for the origin of the universe but with an advocate such as Hawking behind them, all that changes. But what of the responses? Although The Grand Design isn’t out yet (and the provocative nature of his statements will no doubt further heighten anticipation), some have addressed Hawking’s incipient claims:
John Lennox, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford, offers some thoughts in a piece for The Daily Mail:
“As both a scientist and a Christian, I would say that Hawking’s claim is misguided. He asks us to choose between God and the laws of physics, as if they were necessarily in mutual conflict.
But contrary to what Hawking claims, physical laws can never provide a complete explanation of the universe. Laws themselves do not create anything, they are merely a description of what happens under certain conditions.”
James Anderson, Assistant Professor of Theology and Philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary, writes on his blog:
“If Hawking really has proven that the laws of nature are logically necessary, that would be a stupendous scientific breakthrough: a dead cert for a Nobel prize. But then why didn’t he publish it in a peer-reviewed scientific journal rather than a popular science book (as The Grand Design appears to be)? Furthermore, if the laws of nature really are logically necessary then our knowledge of them couldn’t be based on empirical observation (despite what we’ve always thought) because empirical observations cannot in principle establish necessary truths (such as the laws of logic and the laws of arithmetic). Our observations can only tell us what actually is the case and not what must be the case.
If Hawking thinks there is some law or principle that explains the very existence of the universe, he must have in mind a metaphysical law rather than a physical law. Unless I’m much mistaken, the law of gravity is a physical law. It appears that Hawking intends to leave behind physics (a subject on which he is eminently qualified to speak) and enter the realm of metaphysics (a subject on which he has no particular expertise, so far as I know). It’s more than a little ironic therefore to find Hawking declaring on the very first page of his new book that “philosophy is dead.” If philosophy is dead, why is Hawking now turning his hand to philosophy? No, philosophy is in very good health, despite its frequent mistreatment at the hands of scientists.”