Recently, the scientific community began mourning the loss of Dr. Stephen Hawking, a brilliant man who made countless contributions to the area of cosmology and theoretical physics. Following his death, the Hawking estate published his final work Brief Answers to the Big Questions, in which Dr. Hawking addresses a popular-level audience, providing his thoughts concerning the existence of God, the possibility of time travel, and the like. This brief article will examine Hawking’s contentions against the existence of God—a stance which is said to be deeply rooted in science.1
Recognizing the Straw Man
Rather than considering the positive arguments of highly educated Christian philosophers, theologians, and apologists, Hawking adamantly rejects a God of the gaps hypothesis, in which uneducated people merely postulate God in the absence of scientific understanding. Accordingly, advancements continually mitigate such propositions and reduce the opportunity to insert God into the equation. Emphasizing this point, Hawking writes, “The one remaining area that religion can now lay claim to is the origin of the universe, but even here science is making progress and should soon provide a definitive answer to how the universe began.”2 Although Hawking believes the existence of God is a valid question for consideration by the scientific community, he sees the physical sciences as abolishing the need to postulate a divine creator.3
However, sound deductive philosophical arguments and cogent inductive empirical arguments provide a rational basis for belief in God.4 For example, the Kalām Cosmological Argument (KCA) contends:5
1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
Since the KCA is a logically valid deductive argument, the conclusion follows necessarily, unless one (or both) of the premises are false. Furthermore, by using abductive reasoning, we can deduce the cause of the universe must be 1) self-existent, 2) non-spatial, 3) immutable, 4) immaterial, 5) powerful, 6) personal, and 7) intelligent. Such arguments represent the highest level of scholarly work and are entirely dissimilar to the God of the gaps contentions Hawking rightly rejects.
Recognizing Failures in Hawking’s Contentions
Although Hawking does not specifically address the KCA in his publication, he explicitly concedes the time-space-matter universe began to exist (premise 2), while denying the principle that contingent substances require explanation (premise 1).6 Elucidating his view, Hawking writes,
Our everyday experience makes us think that everything that happens must be caused by something that occurred earlier in time, so it’s natural for us to think that something—maybe God—must have caused the universe to come into existence. But when we’re talking about the universe as a whole, that isn’t necessarily so. . . . The laws of nature itself tell us that not only could the universe have popped into existence without any assistance. . . but also that it is possible that nothing caused the Big Bang. Nothing.7
Interestingly, Hawking requires his audience to deny their rational intuition and everyday experience in the real world by believing that things arbitrarily pop into existence from nothing. Nothingness remains devoid of properties, potentialities, and powers, rendering it utterly impotent in causing anything. Accordingly, notable philosopher William Lane Craig comments, “The first premiss is so intuitively obvious, especially when applied to the universe, that probably no one in his right mind really believes it to be false.”8
Besides undermining our ordinary experiences, this proposition destabilizes the principle of causality—the very foundation of scientific investigation. Everyday experience and empirical evidence continually verify the causal principle and falsification has never occurred. Such considerations lead Dr. Craig to conclude, “It is somewhat unwise to argue in favor of it [the first premise], for any proof of the principle is likely to be less obvious than the principle itself, and, as Aristotle remarked, one ought not to try to prove the obvious via the less obvious.”9 Therefore, it seems Hawking’s contentions do not correspond with our experience in the work or well-established empirical facts of reality.
Furthermore, Hawking appeals to the laws of nature (i.e., the physical or natural laws of the universe) as the fundamental basis for the origin of the universe, commenting, “I think the universe was spontaneously created out of nothing, according to the laws of science.”10 So, when Hawking says nothing created the universe, he actually means something (i.e., the physical laws) created it.11 Since the laws of nature are not logically necessary nor eternal, such affirmations only push the problem back one step requiring one to account for the existence of the laws themselves.12 Consequently, Hawking’s explanation fails in explanatory power, proving unable to account for these physical laws.
Regrettably, Dr. Hawking does not interact with strong arguments levied by well-educated Christian philosophers, theologians, and apologists, and his adamant rejection of God appears to stem from an a priori commitment to the naturalistic worldview rather than a posteriori analysis. Although he attempts to escape the conclusion of the KCA, he remains unable to provide a rational refutation of the first premise. Additionally, his supposition fails in explanatory power, proving unable to explain the existence of the natural laws he credits with the creation and sustainment of the universe.
- Stephen Hawking, Brief Answers to the Big Questions (New York, NY: Bantam Books, 2018), xxiii.
- Ibid., 28.
- Ibid., 29; 49.
- See Is it Rational to Believe in God?
- For a more detailed explanation of the KCA, see "Facing the Facts: The Kalām Cosmological Argument".
- Hawking, Brief Answers to the Big Questions, 29-31; 34-35; 49-51.
- Ibid., 34-35.
- William Lane Craig, The Kalām Cosmological Argument (1979; repr., Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2000), 141.
- William Lane Craig, “The Kalam Cosmological Argument,” in Philosophy of Religion: A Reader and Guide, ed. William Lane Craig (Scotland, United Kingdom: Edinburgh University Press, 2008), 92.
- Hawking, Brief Answers to the Big Questions, 29.
- Hawking appears to hold a Necessitarian Theory, advocating a strict scientific determinism, and even appears to deify the laws of nature at times. Cf. Hawking, Brief Answers to the Big Questions, 27-29; 36.
- Dr. Thomas Hertog—a collogue of Dr. Hawking—highlights the finitude of the physical laws in a recent interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), commenting, “The laws of physics that we test in our labs did not exist forever. They crystallized after the Big Bang when the universe expanded and cooled. The kind of laws that emerge depends very much on the physical conditions at the Big Bang.” Pallab Ghosh, “Prof Stephen Hawking's multiverse finale,” BBC News, May 02, 2018, https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-43976977.