Stephen Hawking passed away at the age of 76 this week. A theoretical physicist, professor of mathematics at Cambridge University (a position once held by Isaac Newton), and author of the best-selling book A Brief History of Time, he was a legend in the scientific community. When Hawking spoke, the world listened. At one time, he seemed to be ambiguously deist (open to the possibility of God, but not as a loving Creator). But by the end, he was a devout atheist.
In light of his death, the media has proudly displayed some of his most notorious atheist quotes, as if they’re the brave words of a hero for his cause. He once said, "I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark."
Don’t get me wrong; I respect Hawking for his immense contributions to science. He clearly knew a lot more about astrophysics than I do. But he emboldened atheists to be comfortable in their rejection of God. After all, if someone as smart as Hawking figured out there’s no God, who do we ignorant theists think we are in disagreeing? I’ve run into this before. When the challenge of the origins of the universe has come up, many atheists I’ve debated (not all…I never like to generalize) immediately retaliate “Stephen Hawking’s work shows the universe doesn’t need a causality!”
So, with all due respect, I want to reflect on his legacy in the ongoing debate of atheism versus theism. And of course, I’m critiquing his views as a Christian and hoping to educate readers on certain misconceptions about the scientific community’s consensus on the universe’s beginnings.
Sadly, atheists have been very good at revising history to make it sound like every scientific discovery post-Enlightenment has been on their side, leading to the “inevitable downfall of religion and advancement of the great futuristic scientific utopia.” But the reality is that many of the scientific discoveries of the past century have overwhelming supported intelligent design, while atheism has had to consistently backpedal and rewrite itself to keep up. One of the central points at this debate is whether or not the universe had a beginning.
Although the Big Bang theory has a reputation as a godless argument, I’ve pointed out that it was actually first proposed by a Catholic priest, Georges LeMaitres, two years before Edwin Hubble first observed that the universe was in a state of expansion. Atheists before this believed that the universe was static and pre-eternal, discounting the need for a Creator (Bertrand Russell and Charles Darwin both assumed this). Einstein himself professed profound irritation over the discovery.
Simply put, if the universe is expanding, then it exploded from a starting point, meaning something caused it to come into existence. And if the creation of the laws of physics, time, and space coincided with that expansion, then the force that caused the Big Bang was not itself bound by the laws of physics, time, and space. While this doesn’t exactly prove an eternal being akin to the God of the Bible, it certainly is valid scientific support for Him.
Theologians have long called this the kalam argument, first originated in the fourth century by Christian philosopher John Philoponus of Alexandria, Egypt. The name, Arabic for “speech” or “doctrine,” comes from its popular use by Muslim scholars, who came to dominate the North African region at the time and at least agreed with Jews and Christians on a created universe. It follows three simple steps: 1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause. 2. The universe had a beginning. 3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
I contributed to the argument in one of my previous blogs that the idea of an expanding universe is consistent with the Bible’s descriptions of the cosmos, and I’m not just referring to the Big Bang as the point where God said “Let there be light.” I identified ten scriptures that are especially important need to be read via the King James Version, for this particular reason:
“Most notable are Isaiah 40:22, Isaiah 44:24, and Zechariah 12:1, because the word used to describe that expansion was “stretcheth.” The word “eth” was Hebrew for “perpetual time.” In the King’s English, verbs in a present tense fell into two categories. If they ended in an s, they referred to something happening now and only now (today, all present tense verbs end in s). But verbs ending in “eth” described actions being done perpetually. For example, John 3:16: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. When we translate this into “believes,” it loses some meaning, because the indication is that one is only believing now. “Believeth” refers to someone believing now, in the future, and forever; it is a continual believing that never ends.
“This is why it is so profound that the King James translators (who had no idea that the universe is expanding) wrote that God “stretcheth” the heavens. Without their knowledge, the Holy Spirit through their pens was already proclaiming that the Lord is expanding the universe now, continually, and forever. More than 300 years before Hubble made his discovery, the King James Bible had already declared that the universe was in a state of constant expansion.”
You can read the entire blog (The Universe: Part 4) here.
That the universe is expanding isn’t in doubt. That it is expanding from a central point is unquestionable. That the explosion and massive flash of light and energy spurning all matter into existence caused this rapid expansion is clear. The question is, did the explosion have a cause? For the non-believer, in steps Stephen Hawking to save the day.
In A Brief History of Time, in the chapter called “The Origin and Fate of the Universe,” Hawking proposed a new quantum gravity model that he claimed eliminated the need for a starting point. Think of the universe as a giant cone. The bottom of the cone, the point, is the Big Bang. As the universe grows older, the cone expands and the wide-open mouth end is its size today.
Hawking’s model eliminated the pointy end and replaced it with a round end, reshaping the universe from a cone to thimble. In doing so, he got rid of the starting point. Now, as you go further back in time, instead of reaching a point “before the universe began,” you start to travel forward in time. Sort of like how if you travel far enough north and pass the North Pole, you start moving south even though you never changed direction.
With this model, he was able to bypass any pre-existing cause while eliminating the starting point yet bringing the universe back into a denser original state. So, no need for God now, right?
Not so fast.
In chapter 5 of The Case for a Creator, Lee Strobel interviews Christian apologist William Lane Craig, a professor at the Talbot School of Theology. Craig has authored several books on cosmology himself and has contributed to dozens of scientific and philosophical journals. When presented with Hawking’s model, Craig points out the major flaws.
First is that in this particular case, Hawking was engaging in bad science. Rather than following the evidence to an objective conclusion, Hawking committed the classic error of starting with his conclusion then manipulating the data to reach it. To arrive at the rounded end at the universe’s beginning, he admitted in a later book (co-authored with Roger Penrose) to having concocted “imaginary numbers.” As Craig describes it:
“They (imaginary numbers) are multiples of the square root of negative one. In this model, they have the effect of turning time into a dimension of space. The problem is that when imaginary numbers are employed, they’re just computational devices used to grease the equations and get the result the mathematician wants. That’s fine, but when you want to get a real, physical result, you have to convert the imaginary numbers into real ones. But Hawking refuses to convert them. He just keeps everything in the imaginary realm.”
When one does in fact convert the imaginary numbers into real ones, sure enough, the singularity (pointy end of the cone) reappears!
Another book that brilliantly addresses this is J. Warner Wallace’s God’s Crime Scene. Wallace, a former homicide detective, is author of the apologetics must-read, Cold Case Christianity. This book, however, addresses the idea of whether God created the universe in an intriguing way: imagine a dead body is found inside a home. If it was a suicide, the death occurred inside the room with no outside help. But if it was a homicide, there will be evidence of breaking and entering. So Wallace examines the cosmos to see if things came from within it, or whether there’s evidence of tampering from the outside. Can God’s fingerprints and footprints be found across the galaxies?
In addressing Hawking’s quantum model, Wallace has this to say: “Hawking and Hartle’s cone, although it has no definitive point at its base, would still hold a scoop of ice cream quite nicely.” So in the thimble with the rounded end, time, space and matter still trace back to a starting point of sorts (and that’s assuming it could even be real in the first place). In eliminating the need for a beginning of the universe, Hawking would have had to propose an open-ended model; that is, rid himself of the cone altogether and create a cylinder.
His model, which was based on imaginary concepts in the first place, failed to eliminate the need for a cause in the universe, and Hawking would admit as much. “Only if we could picture the universe in terms of imaginary time would there be no singularities…When one goes back to the real time in which we live, however, there will still appear to be singularities.”
I’m not making the claim that God’s existence has been proven (that’s another argument altogether). But I am disputing the claim that science has in any way disproven it, or that anything Hawking has said could be construed as explaining the origins of the universe without God. Such widely-circulated claims need to be examined and refuted with truth. None of this is meant as a personal attack on Hawking. But he, along with many other atheist scientists and thinkers, are responsible for much deceit in the world today. If Hawking remained defiant to the end that there is no God, He will answer to God for that himself. I have no right to judge or condemn him to hell in any way. But as I have pointed out, many around the world are more confident in not believing in God because of claims he made. And that is a terrifying thing to be held accountable for.
-Bowerman, Mary. “Heaven 'is a fairy story': This is what Stephen Hawking says happens when people die.” Usatoday.com. March 14, 2018. Accessed March 17, 2018. <https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/nation-now/2018/03/14/heaven-fairy-story-what-stephen-hawking-says-happens-when-people-die/423344002/>
-Strobel, Lee. The Case for a Creator. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 2004. Pages 112, 97-109, 120.
-Wallace, J Warner. God’s Crime Scene. David C Cook, Colorado Springs, CO, 2015. Pages 205-207.