God and Stephen Hawking, a Review (John C. Lennox)

MAIN THEMES:

  • HAWKING AGAINST PHILOSOPHY
  • HAWKING AND THE ARGUMENT FROM NOTHING
  • GOD OR SCIENCE?
  • THE MULTIVERSE
  • QUOTES ON THE MULTIVERSE FROM OTHER SCIENTISTS

REVIEW:

John C. Lennox (left), Christopher Hitchens (right)

I must begin with a clarification, John Lennox is one of my favorite authors. This even despite the fact that I consider myself an agnostic, leaning atheist. To be frank, there are no reasons not to like him. He is a well-read mathematician, has studied at numerous prestigious universities, and is now teaching Mathematics at the University of Oxford. As is expected, he is highly articulate and hence debated well-known atheist thinkers such as Richard Dawkins, Peter Atkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Peter Stinger, to name a few. I confess that he continues to persuade me towards religious belief, or at least towards a more agnostic position. Although I do not think he primarily writes for non-believing readers such as myself. My understanding would be that his books, especially this one, is for the average evangelical reader that is interested in apologetics. I believe that it was a crucial book for this time and for the evangelical world; it is important to defend your beliefs if a world-renown physicist, or anyone else for that matter, decides to disregard them. And that is what has happened with this book.

God and Stephen Hawking is a critique of Hawking’s most recent book, A Brief History of Time. A Brief History of Time mainly focuses on physics and the potential origins of the universe and is not meant to be entirely focused on religion. So it’s hard to expect Hawking to be accurate on every point when speaking on religion. However it still comes across as if Hawking has not put any serious thought into religion, which proves to be unfortunate since he chooses to mock it. He makes startling claims such as that philosophy is dead to which Lennox responds, that Hawking’s statement that philosophy is dead is in itself a philosophical statement, and thus an oxymoron: “It would seem that some of [Hawking’s] arguments could have profited from a little more attention to the matter of clarity of definition and logical analysis” (29).

Hawking also mistakenly points towards the multiverse as negating the existence of God and makes the worn out argument that God must have had a creator and hence could not have existed before time and the beginning of time since he must have been created. This has been argued by others before, such as by the well-known philosopher Bertrand Russell and already mentioned scientist Richard Dawkins. I could not stress this enough, this is my least favorite argument against Christianity. It is laughable in every regard. There is no space to deal with it here, that could possibly require a blog post of it’s own (I need to make note of that).

Don’t get me wrong, I do not agree with everything Lennox says in this book. The last chapter attempts to cover the resurrection and illustrate the gospel (“The Good News”), both of which I did not find very helpful. If anything they raised more questions than the multiverse concept. However one argument that came across to me as the strongest and most difficult to argue with was that laws do not create matter and hence laws needed to be constructed. It seems puzzling that laws needed to be created but then the question is how did they come about? Sometimes it is okay not to know. For centuries this view was acceptable as Karen Armstrong has pointed out in her book, A History of God. It is better to say that you don’t possess the answers to questions than to live within a religious or philosophical system and later have to deal with consistent lying and hypocrisy. As Aristotle stressed, and this is paraphrased, “The more you know, the more you know how little you know.”

I furthermore find some of his conclusions troubling. To clarify a very important point, with which, no doubt, Lennox agrees: it is not because of science that Lennox is a Christian. We know this because the Bible itself does not testify to such a basis of saving faith. It hence seems counter-productive to criticize a physicist on how science proves the glory of God (in this case the Judeo-Christian God) or even the existence of that God because it is purely the work of God that saves the person. Lennox goes so far as to suggest that nature points to the existence of God. If nature points to the existence of God, one must ask the question, why is it that so many scientists are not Christians?

And that is where I leave it. He answered questions I did not have and did it very helpfully. He also helped me to conclude why exactly I disagree with his concept of nature testifying to the glory of God, mainly because of its dismissal of the concept of God’s deterministic nature. I believe it to be obvious within the Bible and human biology that there is not much room for free will. I hope to cover this topic soon when I re-read and write a review on Sam Harris’ helpful book, Free Will. Until then I leave this question unanswered for myself.

I hope this review was a good introduction to what you should expect if you decide to pick this up. Lennox argues extensively from the Bible and philosophy and references both philosophers that support his claims and ones that don’t. It is obvious that he has read all of the New Atheist’s claims. And this is an encouragement. It means that reason is not lost within Christian circles, despite what some would claim.

Just down below I include some of my favorite quotes from the book. These have been divided into categories that are indicated above the review. This is meant to be an indication of what you should expect in the book.

HAWKING AGAINST PHILOSOPHY

“One of the main tasks of philosophy is to train people in the art of definition, logical analysis, and argument. Is Hawking really telling us that this also is dead? Surely not. However, it would seem that some of his arguments could have profited from a little more attention to the matter of clarity of definition and logical analysis” (Lennox, 29).

HAWKING AND THE ARGUMENT FROM NOTHING

“The main issue for now, however, is that gravity or a law of gravity is not ‘nothing’, if he is using that word in its usual philosophically correct sense of ‘non-being’. If he is not, he should have told us. On the face of it, Hawking appears, therefore, to be simultaneously asserting that the universe is created from nothing and from something — not a very promising start. Indeed, one might add for good measure the fact that when physicists talk about ‘nothing’ they often appear to mean a quantum vacuum, which is manifestly not nothing. In fact, Hawking is surely alluding to this when he writes: ‘We are a product of quantum fluctuations in the very early universe’ ” (30).

  • My problem with this statement is that Lennox is defining “nothingness” in the sort of term that doesn’t apply to Hawking. How do I know if Hawking means nothingness by a world where there is no gravity? Maybe he doesn’t even believe in absolutely nothing, because there was always something.

“Here is Hawking’s definition of a law of nature: ‘Today most scientists would say that a law of nature is a rule that is based upon an observed regularity and provides predictions that go beyond the immediate situations upon which it is based’ ” (33).

GOD OR SCIENCE?

“It is clearly nonsensical to ask people to choose between Frank Whittle and science as an explanation for the jet engine. For it is not a question of either/or. It is self-evident that we need both levels of explanation in order to give a complete description. It is also obvious that the scientific explanation: they complement one another. It is the same with explanations of the universe: God does not conflict or compete with the laws of physics as an explanation. God is actually the ground of all explanation, in the sense that he is the cause in the first place of there being a world for the laws of physics to describe. Offering people the choice between God and science is therefore illogical. In addition, it is very unwise, because some people might just choose God and then Hawking could be accused of putting people off science!” (37).

“Science does not answer the question as to why something exists rather than nothing, for the simple reason that their science cannot answer that question. They also fail to see that by assumption it is their atheist world-view, not science as such, that excludes God” (39).

“C. S. Lewis grasped this issue, with characteristic clarity. Of the laws of nature he writes: . . .

Laws give us only a universe of ‘Ifs and Ands‘: not this universe which actually exists. What we know through laws and general principles is a series of connections. But, in order for there to be a real universe, the connections must be given something to connect; a torrent of opaque actualities must be fed into the pattern. If God created the world then He is precisely the source of this torrent, and it alone gives our truest principles anything to be true about. But if God is the ultimate source of all concrete, individual things and events, then God Himself must be concrete, and individual in the highest degree. Unless the origin of all other things were itself concrete and individual, nothing else could be so; for there is no conceivable means whereby what is abstract or general could itself produce concrete reality. Book-keeping, continued to all eternity, could never produce one farthing.

The world of strict naturalism, in which clever mathematical laws all by themselves bring the universe and life into existence, is pure (science) fiction. Theories and laws do not bring matter/energy into existence” (42–3).

MULTIVERSE

“As Hawking points out, the first actual scientific evidence that the universe had a beginning did not appear until the early 1900s. The Bible, however, has been quietly asserting that fact for millennia. It would be good if credit were given where it is due” (46).

“Hawking has once again fallen into the trap of offering false alternatives This time it is: God or the multiverse. From a theoretical point of view, as philosophers have pointed out, God could create as many universes as he pleases. The multiverse concept of itself does not and cannot rule God out. . . . What of the multiverse itself? Is it fine-tuned? If it is, then Hawking is back where he started. Where is Hawking’s argument to prove that it is not?” (49)

QUOTES ON THE MULTIVERSE FROM OTHER SCIENTISTS

“John Polkinghorne, another eminent theoretical physicist, rejects the multiverse concept:

Let us recognize these speculations for what they are. They are not physics, but in the strictest sense, metaphysics. There is no purely scientific reason to believe in an ensemble of universes. By construction these other worlds are unknowable by us. A possible explanation of equal intellectual respectability — and to my mind greater economy and elegance — would be that this one world is the way it is, because it is the creation of the will of a Creator who purposes that is should be so” (50).

“Don Page, a theoretical physicist from the University of Alberta, who is a former student of Hawking and has co-authored eight papers with him, says: ‘I certainly would agree that even if M-theory were a fully formulated theory (which it isn’t yet) and were correct (which of course we don’t know), that would not imply that God did not create the universe’ ” (51).

“Paul Davies says of M-theory: ‘It is not testable, not even in any foreseeable future.’ . . . Oxford physicist Frank Close goes further: ‘M-theory is not even defined … ‘No one seems to know what the M stands for.’ Perhaps it is ‘myth’.’ Close concludes: ‘I don’t see that M-theory adds one iota to the God debate, either pro or con.’ Jon Butterworth, who works at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, states: ‘M-theory is highly speculative and certainly not in the zone of science that we have got any evidence for.’ ” (53–4)

“There is a subjective element in science. The idea of a completely independent observer, free of all preconceived theories, doing investigations and coming to unbiased conclusions that constitute absolute truth, is simply a myth. . . . Scientists have preconceived ideas, indeed world-views, that they bring to bear on every situation. Furthermore, they are well aware that it is almost impossible for them to make any kind of observation without resting on some prior theory; for example, they cannot even take a temperature without having an underlying theory of heat” (65).

“The more I understand science the more I believe in God, because of my wonder at the breadth, sophistication, and integrity of his creation” (73).

“Crick writes: ‘You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules’ ” (73).

“Physicist John Polkinghorne describes its programme as:

Ultimately suicidal. If Crick’s thesis is true we could never know it. For, not only does it relegate our experiences of beauty, moral obligation, and religious encounter to the epiphenomenal scrapheap, it also destroys rationality. Thought is replaced by electro-chemical neural events. Two such events cannot confront each other in rational discourse. They are neither right nor wrong. They simply happen… The very assertions of the reductionist himself are nothing”

  • taken from God and Stephen Hawking by John C. Lennox.