Stephen Hawking’s new book The Grand Design, made front-page news — not because of a scientific breakthrough, but because Hawking used the book to claim that the universe could have created itself.
I’m both encouraged and disheartened by the media-storm that surrounded its publication. I’m encouraged because it shows that the existence of God is a question newspaper editors think will sell papers. And if it will sell papers, then it ought to interest our friends, giving us opportunities to share the gospel. But on the other hand many people will read only the headlines, and not engage with the argument. Some will think the book means science has proved that God didn’t create the universe, which it certainly hasn’t (and Hawking doesn’t claim that it has).
The book itself is surprisingly brief. Your £18.99 gets you just 140 pages of text, padded out with a large typeface, and rather unnecessary pictures. It’s probably around half the length of an average novel. It’s a well-written and concise account of one view of the search of the ‘theory of everything’. Hawking is convinced the theory of everything will be found, and that it will grow out of another theory, which he calls the M-theory. He is equally convinced that the building blocks to the M-theory already prove that the universe has no need of God.
The Grand Design is not another The God Delusion. Hawking’s writing is measured, and sticks mainly to scientific theory. Unlike Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking doesn’t make fun of religion, and he hasn’t cobbled together a book from Wikipedia articles and right-wing blog posts. Hawking’s book is not so much about God, but primarily about the universe and physics. Nevertheless Hawking often strays into the ‘God question’, and obviously believes that science can answer the question.
There are, however two enormous flaws that run through the book. The first is that Hawking never admits that the foundation upon which he builds (the so-called ‘theory of everything’) is far from universally accepted. Many scientists just don’t accept that such a theory is even possible, and even those who do are not agreed that the M-theory will prove to be its foundation. The additional evidence that needs to be found in order to prove the theory make the hunt for evolution’s missing links seem like a walk in the park. (For example, Hawking’s M-theory requires there to be billions of different universes. But there is no evidence for more than one universe, and no-one has suggested any reasonable test for their existence.)
The second flaw is even more fundamental. Hawking seems to think that because he can describe how something happens, he knows why it happens. It’s possible to describe the flight of a football with mathematical equations. But those equations won’t tell you who kicked the ball – or whether no-one did. Yet Hawking appears to think that because he can describe some of the workings of the universe with maths and physics, then he can confirm that no Being was responsible for its creation. ‘Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing,’ he says. But laws don’t cause things to happen — they’re merely a description of what does happen under certain conditions.
Hawking finishes his book with these extraordinary words: ‘The universe has a design, and so does a book. But unlike the universe, a book does not appear spontaneously from nothing. A book requires a creator…’ That might be the opinion of a great scientific mind, but we know better. Even most of our non-Christian friends know better. The Emperor really does have no clothes, and we don’t need to be scientists to say so. The message of the Bible is coherent and clear. Let’s not be ashamed of it, nor cowed by the myths of today. Despite their claim, books like The Grand Design cannot answer the ultimate questions of life — the gospel alone can.