Stephen Hawking possesses one of the most brilliant minds of our time. And since he can ponder and comprehend the most complex theories of the nature of time and space, you know the man understands how to sell a TV show.
That was likely part of the impetus between Hawking’s Sunday night debut episode of Curiosity on Discovery networks, provocatively subtitled: “Did God Create the Universe?”
Spoiler alert if you haven’t caught it in reruns yet: Hawking says no.
Much of the informational content – the description of the Big Bang, the discussion of the nature of gravity and the theoretical descriptions of the creation of stars – were nothing new to anyone (like myself) with an addiction to documentaries about space. In fact, Hawking himself has covered that ground in previous shows for Discovery networks.
That leaves Hawking’s religious opinions as the only new information in the show – and unlike his understanding of the laws of physics, he doesn’t appear to grasp the fundamental concepts of religion. Like so many others who seek to draw some type of dichotomy between science and faith, Hawking tries to establish a false choice. “Did we need a God to set it all up so that the Big Bang could… bang?” he asks. “I have no desire to offend anyone of faith, but I think science has a more compelling explanation than a divine Creator.”
The thesis is that the Big Bang and everything that came after are wholly consistent with the laws of physics, with no need for “divine intervention” to spark existence.
That’s a fair assessment, but completely parallel to the concept of a universal Architect. That the machinations of the Universe are intelligible does not preclude the presence of divinity. In fact, the idea of laws of physics which govern so rigorously and unfailingly the motion of each cosmic body – from supermassive stars on down to subatomic particles – seems to give an awful lot of power to Whoever it was that wrote those laws, doesn’t it?
In fact, let’s take it one step further and consider the Big Bang, in Hawkings own words:
“Follow the clues, and we can deduce that the Universe simply burst into existence… but I’m afraid we have to stop a moment, before we get carried away by fire and noise. At the very beginning, the Big Bang happened in total darkness, because light didn’t exist yet. To see it, we’d have needed some type of cosmic night vision. But even this, a view from the outside, is impossible. Again, it sounds strange, but space didn’t exist then either.”
Another account of those momentsis probably more familiar to most people:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.
The latter is, of course, the beginning of the book of Genesis, which is certainly no science textbook. The juxtaposition proves nothing, though it does seem interesting that the description of the creation of the Universe written in ancient times mirrors so closely the result of centuries of astronomical research.
Putting the items side-by-side does demonstrate that even where they intersect, science and religion need not clash. Forcing a choice between God and the laws of physics is like arguing whether the stuff you learn in history or English is more correct – both subjects are occasionally intertwined, but distinct.
Similarly, someone who studies math and science should also be able to appreciate the beauty and symmetry of the universe without being accused of being irrational. Isn’t it amazing that the ratio of every circle’s circumference to its diameter is the same (pi)? Isn’t it fascinating that electrons buzz around nuclei, nuclei buzz around each other, planets buzz around suns, suns buzz around the centers of galaxies? This type of view of the natural world most likely inspired Georges Lemaitre, who first proposed what would be called the Big Bang theory in 1927. You might also refer to the good professor by his other job title, Monsignor.
Of course, for all the discussion it has raised, you can say this about Hawking’s thesis: it makes for very provocative television, even when the factual subject matter has been done before.