In his new book: 'The Grand Design', physicist Dr Stephen Hawking claims that he has proved the universe 'created itself from nothing', and therefore God is 'unnecessary'.
Catholic physicists and faith leaders say his remarks misconstrue the real relationship between God and creation.
Jesuit priest and scholar, former president of Gongaza University Fr Robert Spitzer, said Hawking's dismissal of God reflects fundamental confusions about the Christian concept of God, as the creator of all that exists - "both the physical universe, and the laws of physics which apply to it."
Although Hawking talks about the universe “creating itself from nothing,” he is presupposing that this “nothing” somehow involved gravity and other fundamental laws of physics, Fr Robert said.
But principles such as gravity are not irreducible or self-evident axioms. Rather, they are non-physical laws which govern the ordinary operations of the physical world. Thus, Fr Robert explained, there is no comparison between a creation which unfolds and develops according to laws followed by matter, and Hawking's proposal of “spontaneous creation” from
Fr Robert writes: “Let’s take the law mentioned by Dr. Hawking above – the law of gravity. It has a specific constant associated with it and specific characteristics, and it has specific effects on mass-energy and even on space-time itself. This is a very curious definition of 'nothing'.”
“Now if we rephrase Dr Hawking’s statement in the above fashion, then he has clearly not explained why there is something rather than nothing. He has only explained that something comes from something,” by describing the development of a functioning universe on the basis of laws such as gravity.
Historically, many Christian theologians, as well as non-Christian philosophers, have argued precisely the opposite of Hawking's point: namely, that the laws of physics can only be ascribed to an infinite, intelligent and non-physical creator.
Brother Guy Consolmagno, SJ, astronomer at the Vatican Observatory, told CNA on Friday how the preconditions for the universe's unfolding and operations were not a form of “nothing,” as Hawking considers them to be. Rather, he said, they are the conditions created by God for the ordering of the world.
“God is the reason why space and time and the laws of nature can be present for the forces to operate that Stephen Hawking is talking about,” he said.
Br Consolmagno said Hawking's dismissal of God was based not only on his incorrect designation of physical laws as “nothing,” but also on a failure to grasp the notion of God's transcendence. As such, he concluded, Hawking was really dismissing a kind of “god” in which Christians do not believe.
“The 'god' that Stephen Hawking doesn’t believe in, is one I don’t believe in either. God is not just another force in the Universe, alongside gravity or electricity. God is not a force to be invoked to . . . 'start a scene or two' and fill the momentary gaps in our knowledge.”
Br Consolmagno said: “God is the reason why existence itself exists.”
Fr Spitzer said that this 'profound mystery' was one which Professor Hawking was actually indicating, at the very same time he was attempting to dismiss it.
He concluded: “In my view Dr Hawking has not yet shown the non-necessity of this reality. Indeed, he implies it by assuming the existence of a beginning in his assertion about the universe coming from nothing.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, said: “Belief in God is not about plugging a gap in explaining how one thing relates to another within the universe. It is the belief that there is an intelligent, living agent on whose activity everything ultimately depends for its existence.”
“Physics on its own will not settle the question of why there is something rather than nothing.”
The Chief Rabbi of Britain, Dr Jonathan Sacks said: “Science is about explanation. Religion is about interpretation – the Bible simply isn’t interested in how the universe came into being.”
The Archbishop of Westminster, Most Rev Vincent Nichols, said: "I would totally endorse what the Chief Rabbi said so eloquently about the relationship between religion and science."
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