Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Official: God DIDN'T create the Universe - apparently

Good Grief: Stephen Hawking has been all over the media because of his new book, The Grand Design which, in tabloid-speak, said that there is no God - or at least if there is, he didn't design the universe. I still find it odd that in a largely secularised society the media is willing to devote so many splash headlines and column inches to issues of religion marginal to most of their readers. As it happens the book is not a deconstruction of theism: God hardly gets even a passing mention so I'm guessing that, true to form, the tabloid journalists haven't actually read the book.

"It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the Universe going." is Prof. Hawking's conclusion. That's hardly a ringing endorsement of Atheism but we'll let that pass. In answer to the question he posed in an earlier book, "Why does the Universe bother to exist?" Prof. Hawking now believes in spontaneous creation. Well, that's fine as far as it goes but as an argument it still doesn't seem to deal with the issue of why?

Call me a died-in-the-wool theist but I still have a huge problem with the idea of spontaneous creation from nothing. If there is nothing, how can it spontaneously become something? O.K. I am not a scientist but I do try to keep up with the debate as much as I am able and I couldn't help but note that Prof. Hawking's writing - from the quotes I read in various sources - is quite tentative: he uses words and phrases like "could be" and "seems to be".

We also need to recognize that when scientists talk of "nothing" they don't mean nothing in quite the same way that theologians do. When scientists talk of "nothing" they actually tend to mean quite a complicated sort of "something": quantum fields acting on quantum vacuum of space time; string theory; M Theory with its vibrating strings in space/time. (And no, I don't understand those ideas, so please don't ask.)

But if one concludes, as Prof. Hawking does, that "It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper" that is not at all the same as saying "There is no God" so I am not quite sure how his argument sheds any light on the God question. There is no Nietzsche-like statement that God is dead in Prof. Hawking's new writings.

To what extent does it matter? Well, one has to wonder. Have a significant number of Theists had their faith undermined? I would doubt it, but of course I don't know for sure. The media outlets will spin the story to all sorts of conclusions that Prof. Hawking probably never intended. If one reads the editorialized critiques of the book rather than the book itself, who knows what conclusions one might draw?

While I am fascinated in Cosmology and arguments that attempt to prove the existence of God from that perspective, I prefer the argument from personal experience. To me the problem with the Hawking dismissal of a God lighting the blue touch-paper and then retiring from the arena, is that it seems to be missing the point because Theists don't generally accept that God did step back. Those of us who talk of a God who walks with us and sustains us and therefore, logically, the universe, don't subscribe to the idea of God in terms of a one-off creative force.

So, why is there something rather than nothing?