It’s being reported that Stephen Hawking, the wheel-chair bound theoretical physicist, has declared that he’s an atheist. This really isn’t news.
Hawking has argued that the laws of physics allow for the universe to have created itself. In his latest book, The Grand Design, he states:
“Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist.”
This is science? Laws don’t create anything. It’s like saying that economic laws made Warren Buffett a billionaire. If they did, then why don’t billionaires spontaneously appear? Laws didn’t create computers, software programs, jets, the shoes we wear, or the cars we drive.
This is why Hawkins told Reuters in 2007 that he believed “the universe is governed by the laws of science. The laws may have been decreed by God,” he said, “but God does not intervene to break the laws.” He gave up deism for atheism sometime later.
Atheism is a belief system — a faith. Atheists believe the cosmos spontaneously appeared. Hawking has asserted that the universe was created by gravity. That’s like saying that a dropped egg created a chicken.
C. S. Lewis gets to the point when he writes that laws “produce no events. . . . Bookkeeping, continued to all eternity, could never produce one farthing. . . . Bookkeeping needs something else (namely, real money put into the account) and metre needs something else (real words, fed into it by a poet) before any income or any poem can exist. If anything is to exist at all, then the Original Thing must be, not a principle nor a generality, much less an ‘ideal or a ‘value,’ but an utterly concrete fact.”1
Lewis expanded on Haldane’s materialist logic:
“If minds are wholly dependent on brains, and brains on bio-chemistry, and bio-chemistry (in the long run) on the meaningless flux of atoms, I cannot understand how the thought of those minds should have any significance than the sound of the wind in the trees. Christian theology can fit in science, art, morality, and the sub-Christian religions. . . . The scientific point of view cannot fit in any of these things, not even science itself.”2
Then there’s the question of morality. How do we account for morality among the conglomeration of colliding atoms and baths of chemicals and electrical charges?
I saw the following on a drink label of Kombucha, a fermented green tea. It was written by a student at the University of Georgia:
“Although you may never know the reasoning, everything happens according to plan. The Universe does not make mistakes.”
Only sentient beings – beings with minds – make planes. The universe is not a person. It has no regard for you or me. In an atheist’s world, it’s a thing. Without God, it’s just stuff that’s there. As Nicholas cage’s character in Knowing says, “There is no grand meaning, there is no purpose. I think s**t just happens.”
One more thing in Hawking’s worldview of cosmic impersonalism, there are moral and cultural consequences. George Orwell begins his 1940 article “Notes on the Way” with a vivid picture of what happens when we lose our collective moral reference point, smoothing that can’t be accounted for in Hawking’s worldview:
“Reading Mr Malcolm Muggeridge’s brilliant and depressing book, The Thirties, I thought of a rather cruel trick I once played on a wasp. He was sucking jam on my plate, and I cut him in half. He paid no attention, merely went on with his meal, while a tiny stream of jam trickled out of his severed œsophagus. Only when he tried to fly away did he grasp the dreadful thing that had happened to him. It is the same with modern man. The thing that has been cut away is his soul, and there was a period — twenty years [writing in 1940], perhaps — during which he did not notice it.
“It was absolutely necessary that the soul should be cut away. Religious belief, in the form in which we had known it, had to be abandoned.
“For two hundred years we had sawed and sawed and sawed at the branch we were sitting on. And in the end, much more suddenly than anyone had foreseen, our efforts were rewarded, and down we came. But unfortunately there had been a little mistake. The thing at the bottom was not a bed of roses after all, it was a cesspool full of barbed wire.”
- C.S. Lewis, Miracles.)
Hawking is speculating, but because he is a noted scientist whose speculations fit with what atheists need to believe in order to keep their faith intact, some people are willing to believe him. He is their source of special revelation.
The biggest gap in the theory of evolution is answering, in a scientifically satisfactory way, where all the cosmic stuff came from. One of the first lessons a student in biology class learns is that something cannot and does not come from nothing. Spontaneous generation has been disproven so many times that it is no longer seriously considered, unless you’re a die-hard Darwinist and you need to “prove” the theory in order to account for something-from-nothing evolution.
Then there’s the mind problem. Hawking is working with an evolved mind. How does he know to trust it? How does anyone know whether what is being generated by electrical impulses in a chemical bath housed by chemicals is a trustworthy instrument for pure thought?
As J.B.S. Haldane famously stated, “It seems to me immensely unlikely that mind is a mere by-product of matter. If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motion of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically.” ((Possible Worlds and Other Essays (London: Chatto & Windus, 1927), 209. [↩]
- C. S. Lewis, “Is Theology Poetry,” delivered at the Oxford Socratic Club, 1944, published in They Asked for a Paper (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1962), 164–165. [↩]