I recently listened to a conversation between Ravi Zaccharias and Professor David Block. Professor Block is currently the director of the Cosmic Dust Laboratory at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and a Professor in the School of Computational and Applied Mathematics. His accomplishments speak for themselves.
David Block was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society of London when he was 19. Block had a paper (on relativistic astrophysics) published by the Royal Astronomical Society in London when he was 20. Block has a Master of Science degree in relativistic astrophysics and a PhD that focused on the morphology of spiral galaxies. He has participated as a visiting research scientist at Australian National University, the European Southern Observatory in Germany, Harvard University, the California Institute of Technology and the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii and other places.
And there is more. Professor Block has been featured on the cover of the prestigious scientific journal, Nature, twice. He won the NSTF-BHP Billiton award in 2013 for “outstanding contribution to SETI through Communication for Outreach and creating Awareness over the last 5 years – sponsored by the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA)”. He wrote a book for which two Nobel Laureates wrote the preface.
US astronomer, John Kormend, says, “David Block is to South Africa what Carl Sagan was to American astronomy – his pioneering discoveries are reshaping astronomical paradigms….” David Block was the person to accompany Stephen Hawking and introduce him when he met Nelson Mandela.
These things are relevant when considering the conversation he had recently with Ravi Zaccharias. He isn’t just some self-important Internet pundit. He is highly respected for his science, and he is a Christian.
In that context, Block says, “A great scientist, even like Stephen Hawking, if he had to admit a creator, it would be unavoidable, he would have to seek him because he is a great scientist.”
Given Block’s status in the world of science, and his personal knowledge of Stephen Hawking, this statement carries some weight and bears some consideration. It isn’t presented here as proof of anything other than this: the stakes are high when it comes to the proposition of God.
The implications of the God question are life altering, and anyone who has invested a great deal of his life dependent on the proposition that God does not exist and is not relevant has a great deal of motivation to keep that question at bay. Hawking is surely aware of staggering implications of evidence that points to God, for himself and all of mankind – these implications are as haunting for the atheist as evidence suggesting no God is haunting for a theist.
CS Lewis famously quipped that an atheist can’t be too careful about the books he reads if he wants to “remain a sound atheist”. The suggestion is that a person who lets his guard down may find God sneaking in. Indeed, Hawking swung close in his agnosticism to theism once as he struggled with the implications of the beginning of the universe which was confirmed by his singularity theorem. Hawking, however, has seemingly managed to struggle free of the gravitational pull of that implication since that time.
He once said, “It is difficult to discuss the beginning of the universe without mentioning the concept of God. My work on the origin of the universe is on the borderline between science and religion, but I try to stay on the scientific side of the border. It is quite possible that God acts in ways that cannot be described by scientific laws.”
While Hawking seemed to lean at one time toward the proposition of God, he has decisively leaned the other way since that time. In the same book in which Hawking addressed the implication of a Beginner (a creator) that is suggested by the conclusion that the universe had a beginning, Hawkins used his great intellectual force to reach for an opposite conclusion:
“So long as the universe had a beginning, we would suppose it had a creator (the cosmological argument). But if the universe is really completely self-contained, having no boundary or edge, it would have neither beginning nor end: it would simply be. What place, then, for a creator?”
In its context, the question has a rhetorical tone. The question reads like a challenge to find an escape hatch. Indeed, Hawking has spent much of the time since he wrote that book looking for explanations of the universe that deny the implications of a Beginner, looking for evidence and developing theories indicating that the universe is really a closed system after all, in spite of the startling discovery of the Singularity Theorem.
To that end, Hawking has championed the idea of an infinite number of universes in which “anything can and does happen” – the multiverse theorem. If we live in a multiverse – one universe among an infinite number of universes in which reality is a virtual universe producing machine – the odds of some universe creating life like we have in our universe is not only expected, but inevitable.
Hawking has also developed the idea of “imaginary time” that he says is not like time as we know it, but is nevertheless “real”. He proposes that imaginary time, together with space, are without boundary, making the universe a closed system. In essence, he is saying that the universe (from our angle) only looks like it had a beginning. This is similar to what some scientists like Hawking say about design: the universe and life within it only looks like it was designed.
What an enormous amount of creative energy and thought has been spent in the pursuit of reasons not to assume the universe had a beginning (and a Beginner)!
I have often quoted Richard Dawkins from his first debate with John Lennox when he identified the theory of evolution as man’s greatest “achievement”. The reason, he said, is because it allowed man to free himself from the necessity of God. That Dawkins describes the theory of evolution as an achievement has always struck me – as if anything that we might discover is a product of our own doing (an achievement). Certainly great discoveries are profoundly significant milestones in human knowledge and history, but we don’t “achieve” anything by discovering something.
The word “achievement” is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “a result gained by effort”; a “great or heroic deed”; or “the quality and quantity of a student’s work”. Achievements are human endeavors, which seems an odd way of describing the discovery of a fact (if it be a fact). Facts exist regardless and in spite of, not because of, any human endeavor. Facts are not human achievements.
What I take from this is that Dawkins is lauding the construction of a theory that does away with the necessity of God. It is an achievement only in the sense that Darwin constructed a way of thinking that excludes God from its premise, syllogism and conclusion. It is a human construction; and, therefore, it is an achievement.
But what if it is only a fabrication? If there be a God, can such human achievement do away with Him?
Ravi Zaccharias says this in the course of the interview I mentioned above:
“God has put enough into this world to make faith a most reasonable thing, and he has left enough out of this world to make it impossible for men to live by sheer reason alone.”
Men like Darwin, Dawkins and Hawking have constructed ways of thinking that are designed to box God out of the equation of reality, but they struggle to keep their universe closed. It takes great human effort, maybe even heroic effort, but to what end?
People like Dawkins attempt to rig the system (of thinking) by defining faith to mean belief without evidence or facts, or belief in spite of the facts, but they fail to see the faith they must have to believe what they believe.
We humans, being finite, will always have to embrace faith of some kind. We don’t know what we don’t know, and that is precisely where faith begins.
Even scientists have faith where reason leaves off. A person who believes that nothing exists but the natural world takes that on faith because science cannot prove that statement.
Still, there is evidence to suggest that the achievements of men like Darwin and Hawking in their endeavor to exclude God from the universe are tenuous at best. David Block, the very accomplished scientist who has gained the respect and admiration of his scientific peers, ended the conversation I listened to with this remark:
“The world is exceedingly old at 4.5 billion years, but it is still too young to have produced a single gene by random mutation and natural selection.”
The theories of men who would like to exclude God from their activities find real difficulties in holding their paradigms together, try as they might to make them fit the facts. Human rationality has its limitations. We need faith to go even one step beyond where reason will take us.
 From A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking (NEW YORK: BANTAM, 1988), P. 141.