Post Author: Bill Pratt
In Stephen Hawking’s latest book, The Grand Design (I haven’t read it yet, but I have read Hawking’s introduction and pre-release interviews), he offers explanations as to why our universe exists and why there is such incredible fine tuning in our universe to support advanced life on earth. His answer seems to be that the laws of physics are the explanation. There is no need for God.
Enter Professor John Lennox. He wrote an excellent piece recently dealing with Hawking’s claims head on. Lennox begins:
According to Hawking, the laws of physics, not the will of God, provide the real explanation as to how life on Earth came into being. The Big Bang, he argues, was the inevitable consequence of these laws ‘because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.’
Unfortunately, while Hawking’s argument is being hailed as controversial and ground-breaking, it is hardly new.
For years, other scientists have made similar claims, maintaining that the awesome, sophisticated creativity of the world around us can be interpreted solely by reference to physical laws such as gravity.
It is a simplistic approach, yet in our secular age it is one that seems to have resonance with a sceptical public.
But, 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.
Lennox then goes on to further explain the mistake that Hawking is making:
What Hawking appears to have done is to confuse law with agency. His call on us to choose between God and physics is a bit like someone demanding that we choose between aeronautical engineer Sir Frank Whittle and the laws of physics to explain the jet engine.
That is a confusion of category. The laws of physics can explain how the jet engine works, but someone had to build the thing, put in the fuel and start it up. The jet could not have been created without the laws of physics on their own - but the task of development and creation needed the genius of Whittle as its agent.
Similarly, the laws of physics could never have actually built the universe. Some agency must have been involved.
To use a simple analogy, Isaac Newton’s laws of motion in themselves never sent a snooker ball racing across the green baize. That can only be done by people using a snooker cue and the actions of their own arms.
The rest of Lennox’s article takes on other aspects of Hawking’s arguments and is well worth reading.
*Another response: Alister McGrath has also written a brilliant article addressing Hawking’s book.