[A slayer of gods.]
We ought to acknowledge the significance of Stephen’s Hawking’s statements that the “creation” of our universe did not require “God.”
“The Grand Design," which the publishers call Hawking’s first major work in nearly a decade, challenges Isaac Newton’s theory that God must have been involved in creation because our solar system couldn’t have come out of chaos simply through nature.Now, I have not yet read Hawking's new book, so I cannot say I have the full context of the statements as reported. Yet, we know that these statements come from a man who understands the physics of the early universe as well as anyone. These statements reflect a measured conclusion established by decades of interaction with the relevant physical data and theories. These statements emerge from an informed intellect.
But Hawking, who is renowned for his work on black holes, says it isn’t that simple.
In his best-selling 1988 book “A Brief History of Time," Hawking appeared to accept the possibility of a creator, saying the discovery of a complete theory would “be the ultimate triumph of human reason — for then we should know the mind of God."
But “The Grand Design’’ seems to step away from that.
It says that physics can explain things without the need for a “benevolent creator who made the Universe for our benefit."
“Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing," the excerpt says.
Sean Carroll has a neat explanation of Hawking's point:
Hawking’s statements seem not to rule out God or to oppose the idea of God. However, he seems to say that physical “laws” are by themselves sufficient to explain the universe, and that this explanation is available for all to see and consider. If so, then anyone who now wishes to claim that God was necessary for the universe better have an equally good explanation rooted in empirical data.
Hawking’s “beliefs,” as some of the indignant religious say, may indeed be incorrect, misguided, or hasty. I am not claiming that Hawking is “right,” and this is not the important point. The important point is rather that now the arena of the debate is at the level of physics. Hawking claims to have a physical model of the universe’s birth. This model works fine without a creator. From now on, sufficient counter-responses must also have physical models.
Hawking has just upped the empirical ante of the debate.
UPDATE: Uber-apologist William Lane Craig has a reasonable response, particularly for one who has not yet read the book.
One issue I have with WLC's response is his philosophical jockeying around, for instance, with the terms "nothing" and "non-being" Of course, he can hardly do anything else besides establishing philosophical concepts that reside "outside" the physical/mathematical description that Hawking may be discussing. But notice that WLC's concessions just keep pushing God back farther: If Hawking's "nothing" is not philosophical "non-being," WLC says, then why couldn't God have created that "nothing"? OK, well why do we need to postulate that God created it?
But go back to what I said before: WLC wants to make this a philosophical debate, but my sense is that Hawking's not trying to engage the philosophy. Rather, my sense is that Hawking is laying out the physical case. If WLC and others want to come at the physics with philosophy, that's their prerogative. They will of course succeed in re-assuring their followers that God is not yet impossible. However, that is going to be God's future, permanent home: not impossible. A good many of us have no reason ever to be in that neighborhood.