Reflections on the Influence of Stephen Hawking


Lets all go to Mars, sculpture by Stephen Hawking (Depositphotos Photography ID: 169212920 Copyright: irisphoto11 Editorial use only)

Stephen Hawking recently passed away after living a remarkably full life in spite of being stricken by Lou Gehrig’s Disease at an early age. He was one of the most influential people of his time, not because of his condition, but because of his mind. He was brilliant and pioneered new understandings of the universe through applied mathematics in the field of cosmology.

Hawking is a voice that people listened to, not only in science, but in the application of science to such things as philosophy and the origin of the universe. Hawking may have toyed once with the idea of God, but he became an atheist. He chose, as have many a modern scientist has chosen since the 19th century, to view the world without reference to God.

In this article, I explore some comments made by Hawking’s colleague, John Lennox, who begins a recent interview by extolling the brilliance of Stephen Hawking and his scientific achievements. I also introduce two very young geniuses who have different takes on the subject o God.

The context of the article is this: when Hawking went beyond the science that he knew so well, he stumbled into a realm of philosophy as to which he was wasn’t as well informed. This is not because of any lack in intelligence, of course. John Lennox quotes Martin Rees, a cosmologist and astrophysicist and 40 year colleague of Stephen Hawking, who points out that Hawking is not well read in the areas of philosophy and theology:



This unfamiliarity with the sophistication of philosophy and theology led Hawking to make some very unsophisticated statements, like “philosophy is dead” (which is, itself, a philosophical statement which, if true, undermines the very statement Hawking made). Without diminishing Stephen Hawkins’ contributions to science, we need to view philosophical comments for what they are worth and consider the influence of these unsophisticated statements on how we do science in the future

Hawking used his work on gravity as a way to deny the existence of God, which is ironic because Hawking’s predecessor at Cambridge, Sir Isaac Newton, who discovered the law of gravity, came to a different conclusion. John Lennox, a colleague of Hawkings, Lennox explains it this way:

“When Newton discovered the law of gravity, he didn’t say, ‘Now I have a law of gravity, I don’t need God.’ No,  he said,  ‘What a brilliant God to do it that way!’ Because he didn’t see God as a kind of explanation that competes with science. Unfortunately, Hawking does. He has a totally inadequate concept of God because he thinks God is a God of the gaps,  that is an explanation, an unknown X, that explains what science has not yet explained. So that the more science explains the less room there is for God. But the God of the bible isn’t a God of the gaps. The bible doesn’t begin,  ‘in the beginning God created the bits of the universe we don’t yet understand’. It starts,  ‘in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’, that is the everything: the bits we understand and the bits we don’t. Hawking is confused about explanation. He thinks God is the same kind of explanation as science. That’s a mistake. It would be like saying that Henry Ford is an alternative explanation for the motor car and the law of internal combustion….”

Lennox summarizes the difference by saying, “Henry Ford doesn’t compete with the laws of physics; he’s a different kind of explanation.”

Hawking and Roger Penrose are known for discovering Singularity, which is, essentially, the proof of the Big Bang. This discovery set modern science on hits head because modern science has been doing science without reference to God for many decades, maybe centuries. The idea that the universe had a beginning shook the scientific world because it suggests a beginner. Hawking has, basically, been trying to fill that “gap” ever since”

One example of that attempt is his book, the Grand Design, in which he is famous for saying, “Because we have a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing”. John Lennox explains how the book and this statement utterly fails to achieve the purpose that Hawking tried to achieve in the following interview:



This article is not prompted by the John Lennox interview, however, but by a different interview. A young man, William Maillis, we recently interviewed about his goal to prove the existence of God. William is 11 years old, but he isn’t just an average 11-year old.

William graduated from high school at the age of 9, and he is a sophomore in college. He wants to be an astrophysicist. He is a bit more well read on the science about which he speaks than most adults, even scholarly ones. William breaks down the idea that the universe created itself from nothing in this segment of the interview:



William goes on to address the famous Hawking statement:



That this is a hodgepodge of related videos is proven by the next video of Max Loughan, another child prodigy, who is a physicist, by his own description, at the age of 13. Max has a different view of God. His view is more on the level of Einstein’s view of God – a somewhat pantheistic view of God as energy.

It strikes me I listen to the interview that follows that Max doesn’t understand the God of the bible. As brilliant as he is, he believes that the bible describes a god sitting on a cloud. That can only mean that Max hasn’t read the bible or considered something other than a caricature of it.

This leads to me to wonder how Max might wrestle with a more sophisticated view of God and, particularly, the God of the bible. Like Hawking, who didn’t seem to take the idea of God seriously, I wonder how Max might sense of God if he took a sophisticated view of God seriously.

As Lennox points out, Hawking assumed, a priori, that God was nothing but a gap filler. His early efforts at origin science led to the Singularity (Big Bang) theory, which is compatible with a sophisticated view of the God of the bible. His efforts after that, however, were to try to fill the gap with something other than God. Those efforts led him into some very suspect philosophy and pseudo-science.

It certainly isn’t that Hawking was not a brilliant genius of a man; it’s that he never balanced his science with any sophisticated philosophy or theology. Maybe Hawking would still not be a believer if he did. There are plenty of philosophers, and even theologians, who are not believers; but he would have avoided getting out onto thin ice in his philosophical thinking if he had tackled philosophy and theology with similar intent and gusto that he approached science.

If he had simply informed himself about these things, what kind of more sophisticated synthesis of science and philosophy (or even theology) might we have enjoyed from him? William Maillis is starting with a different premise – that God does exist – and he finds the science to be all the more compelling from that perspective, as did Sir Isaac Newton, Johann Kepler and many other brilliant scientists. As for Max Loughan, maybe he will find some time and energy in his young life to consider a more sophisticated philosophical and theological perspective as he launches his scientific career.

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Postscript: here is the Max Laughan interview in its entirety.


 


 

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4 Comments on “Reflections on the Influence of Stephen Hawking”

  1. Henry Lewis Says:

    Professor Hawking–A TRULY great humanitarian and visionary! Let’s hope as a species we wake up and being to reverse the damage already done to our home–Planet Earth!

    Liked by 1 person


  2. The Big Bang theory suggests that something outside the universe created the universe. The most obvious explanation is an intelligent source outside of the universe… e.g. God. In fact, you have to go WAY out of your way to come up with alternative theories, like “colliding universes” which are FAR more complex… predict weird things… and are not proveable (… thus are only science fiction at best). Now if I were Hawkings, I would feel really good about myself that everyone comes to me for answers… and not some other explanation. If I wanted everyone to continue to be dependant upon me for answers, I would want to deny other explanations… like God. While Hawkings was certainly brilliant and a great person, in the end, my suspicions are that he was an atheist because of his ego.

    Liked by 1 person


    • Although we certainly can’t prove something like that, when I read the testimonies of former atheists, like CS Lewis, it does seem to me that pride or ego or a desire for self-determination, whatever you want to call it, is a motivator period at a gut level, a person has to be willing to deny self to concede there is a God to whom we are accountable, and that self can die very hard. I certainly hope, in the end, that Stephen Hawking I was able to find it in him to make that concession within his own heart and to embrace his creator. I believe that God gives us freedom of the will so that we can enter into a loving relationship with him freely, but that also allows us the terrible consequence of rejecting God. A loving God does not force himself upon us, and he will not force us to spend an eternity with him if we are not willing to choose him.

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  3. Blessings rip Stephen Hawkins.

    Liked by 1 person


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