Stephen Hawking’s mistake

When Stephen Hawking writes a book, people pay attention. His latest volume, The Grand Design, coauthored by Leonard Mlodinow, has made a media splash because Hawking, who used “god language” in his earlier works, has come to the conclusion that there is no need for any sort of god to explain the origin of the universe.

As far as I can tell, there is nothing new or groundbreaking in this book. Instead, it is a very readable explanation of how the laws of physics—especially quantum mechanics and general relativity, which is the theory of gravitation—can explain how we got here with no need for divine intervention.

Basically, from the reviews I have read (I confess I have not read the book), Hawking argues that our universe, with its hundreds of billions of galaxies, is just one of a huge multitude of universes that have been spawned within the larger multiverse, which we cannot see. Each of these baby universes has its own laws of physics; ours just happens to be one that has laws that work well for forming heavier atoms, stars, planets, and life.

Let’s say the basic outline of the author’s story is all true, that there is a larger multiverse that contains or creates baby universes. Think of the Wood between the Worlds in The Magician’s Nephew in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia series. Let’s even say that this multiverse really did create the universe we live in. This still doesn’t solve the basic questions that Hawking and Mlodinow are seeking to answer: Why is there something rather than nothing? Is God Necessary?

This goes back to the cosmological argument for the existence of God. Every effect has a cause. What caused the universe? If the answer is, “the multiverse” or “the laws of physics,” then all the authors have accomplished is to put the question back one step. What caused the multiverse to exist? Has it existed forever? If so, why and how? Did it cause itself to exist? The same questions need to be asked of the laws of physics, or perhaps of the deeper, underlying laws of the multiverse. What is the origin of these laws?  To go back to the Chronicles of Narnia: Where did the “Deeper Magic from Before the Dawn of Time” come from?

To propose that “God” is the answer to these questions is certainly at least as rational as to propose that the multiverse has existed forever or that it created itself. I would say that the “God option” is in reality the most rational answer, as the first option—the multiverse has existed forever—doesn’t answer the “Why is there something rather than nothing?” question, and the idea of a self-creating multiverse is inherently illogical.

The Washington Post review of The Grand Design is here.

Grace and Peace

12 thoughts on “Stephen Hawking’s mistake

  1. This story was on the front page of the Times for two days running, but it wasn’t even a news story. I think the idea of the universe coming out of nothing is more absurd than a universe always existing. The Creator God is the best explanation when you boil choices down to their starkest options.

    Has anyone here read ‘The Devil’s Delusion’ by David Berlinski?


  2. WebMonk

    Shamelessly Atheist – how did Hawking answer that question? I’ve read about the first two-thirds of it and decided I wasn’t particularly interested.

    Did I miss where Hawking dealt with the reason for the existence of the multiverse? Could you quote the passage or maybe just point me to the page?

    From what I remember, Hawking never touched on the reason for the existence of the multiverse rather than its non-existence. Like Geo said, he certainly stated that there wasn’t a need for a God-intervention to create our universe, but I must have missed where he mentioned the reason for the multiverse’s existence.


  3. Gary

    Feeling puny is no excuse for abandoning science and Hawkings and his ilk should know better.

    For among the most fundamental laws of science is the requirement that for every effect there must be a cause and that the effect can never be greater than the cause. Thus there can be no universe (or “multiverse”) without a creative power that is greater than said universe and all that is within it. The invention of “quantum fluctuations” and the “multiverse” in no way addresses this requirement and merely attempts to continually avoid the unavoidable – the ultimate necessity of facing up to “first cause”. The latter of course, by science alone, must be found exterior to the creation itself and in a source ungoverned by its laws. The denial of this inevitability is rooted in self-imposed materialist imperatives – not in true scientific thinking.

    In fact, if one looks carefully, it is apparent that all of evolutionary science originated in the necessity of denying the supernatural and remains entirely convened around this imperitive – materialism and avoidance of the supernatural. Thus we have the absurdity of the self-creating creation and the self-assembling man. The science of origins has thus corrupted respectable scientific inquiry by denying its own laws and replacing them with the religion of material evolutionism.

    But see that this was all foretold: for in the “last days” we are warned:

    They do not wish to retain God in their knowledge (Romans 1:28); and for this reason,
    They are willingly ignorant of the creation (2 Peter 3:5); and so
    They are sent strong delusion, so that they shall believe a lie: (2 Thes. 2:11)

    That’d be us alright. When you vainly rule out creation as ‘unscientific’, as we have done, you are immediately cast into the oblivion of evolution. “Vast ages” become the necessary and only framework for speculation on origins. Thus, evolution was never a discovery of science, but rather an idea forcibly imposed on the evidence for reasons other than strict science. For this foolishness the materialist monist remains literally “lost in space” – unwilling to seek God in the prescribed way – the only way by which He may be found. When God says “strong delusion”, He means STRONG.

    Too many people lose their sense of centrality and importance by speculating on the vastness of space and “billions of years” (are you sure?) without asking the all-important question of just how man has come by a mind whereby he is able to penetrate such vastness and to think in terms of the mathematics that describe its movements and dynamics so precisely. Did we self-assemble by accident on the savannahs of Africa (evolution) and just get lucky? Or is it more likely that the One who created the universe also created us together with a mind that can behold and even understand its wonders?

    We are far from a meaningless speck in the void. The human brain has been aptly called the most complex object in the universe, and the DNA in our cells the most profound expression of intelligence in the universe. With the aid of the electron microscope we now know that there is a seemingly infinite universe within us that rivals the apparent infinity around us. With this reflection one can realize that he is most assuredly not an irrelevant speck in a vast, impersonal universe, but central to it in an extraordinarily meaningful way.


  4. In “The Grand Design” Stephen Hawking postulates that the M-theory may be the Holy Grail of physics…the Grand Unified Theory which Einstein had tried to formulate and later abandoned. It expands on quantum mechanics and string theories.

    In my e-book on comparative mysticism is a quote by Albert Einstein: “…most beautiful and profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and most radiant beauty – which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their primitive form – this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of all religion.”

    E=mc², Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, is probably the best known scientific equation. I revised it to help better understand the relationship between divine Essence (Spirit), matter (mass/energy: visible/dark) and consciousness (f(x) raised to its greatest power). Unlike the speed of light, which is a constant, there are no exact measurements for consciousness. In this hypothetical formula, basic consciousness may be of insects, to the second power of animals and to the third power the rational mind of humans. The fourth power is suprarational consciousness of mystics, when they intuit the divine essence in perceived matter. This was a convenient analogy, but there cannot be a divine formula.


  5. Udaybhanu Chitrakar

    Philosophy is dead. Is Logic dead also?

    How did the scientists come to know that an entire universe could come out of nothing? Or, how did they come to know that anything at all could come out of nothing? Were they present at that moment when the universe was being born? As that was not the case at all, therefore they did not get that idea being present at the creation event. Rather they got this idea being present here on this very earth. They have created a vacuum artificially, and then they have observed that virtual particles (electron-positron pairs) are still appearing spontaneously out of that vacuum and then disappearing again. From that observation they have first speculated, and then ultimately theorized, that an entire universe could also come out of nothing. But here their entire logic is flawed. These scientists are all born and brought up within the Christian tradition. Maybe they have downright rejected the Christian world-view, but they cannot say that they are all ignorant of that world-view. According to that world-view God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent. So as per Christian belief-system, and not only as per Christian belief-system, but as per other belief-systems also, God is everywhere. So when these scientists are saying that the void is a real void, God is already dead and non-existent for them. But these scientists know very well that non-existence of God will not be finally established until and unless it is shown that the origin of the universe can also be explained without invoking God. Creation event is the ultimate event where God will have to be made redundant, and if that can be done successfully then that will prove beyond any reasonable doubt that God does not exist. So how have they accomplished that job, the job of making God redundant in case of creation event? These were the steps:
    1) God is non-existent, and so, the void is a real void. Without the pre-supposition that God does not exist, it cannot be concluded that the void is a real void.
    2) As virtual particles can come out of the void, so also the entire universe. Our universe has actually originated from the void due to a quantum fluctuation in it.
    3) This shows that God was not necessary to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going, as because there was no creation event.
    4) This further shows that God does not exist.
    So here what is to be proved has been proved based on the assumption that it has already been proved. Philosophy is already dead for these scientists. Is it that logic is also dead for them?


  6. //For among the most fundamental laws of science is the requirement that for every effect there must be a cause and that the effect can never be greater than the cause.//

    Within our universe, this is true.

    So, what greater thing created God? Or are you special pleading?


  7. WebMonk

    There are a variety of answers to this question. If you’re serious about it, I’d be glad to enlighten you, but I’m not sure if you’re serious or not. I would have said that EVERYONE knows the Cosmological Argument (CA) and the soundness of it, but then I read this: :-)

    The CA is a foundational sort of argument, and there have been quite a few world-class level philosophers who have worked with arguments against it, but they’ve been unsuccessful.

    The approach you mention, “special pleading” is one such unsuccessful objection. Depending on how deeply you want to fall down the rabbit hole, it can get pretty complicated. But a short description is that even though there have been several way put forward to disprove the CA (and some might say some of the arguments are valid, but most philosophers would disagree with those people), the “special pleading” one has never been sustained as a valid objection.


  8. WebMonk

    There are some good arguments against the CA (I don’t think they’re correct, but I admit they are good) but the special pleading argument isn’t one of them.


  9. Zalpha,

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    My analysis of Hawking’s book was not as strong as it should have been. I know better now, and see even more clearly why the argument of The Grand Design is unsatisfactory.

    The cosmological argument does not state that everything has a cause. What it does state (at least in some forms of the cosmological argument) is that everything that has a beginning has a cause. We can explain how a rock arrived at the bottom of a steep hill through a series of causes, extending back to the beginning of the universe if we knew everything. Each step includes a cause and effect. We could do the same thing with our universe: What caused the universe to exist? The answer, to Hawking, would be the multiverse. What caused the multiverse to exist? Perhaps a deeper-level multiverse. This is all, it is said, explainable by mathematics and cosmology. So what causes multiverses to exist? Some deeper laws of physics that perhaps we don’t really understand yet.

    But even at this level, there is a fundamental question that is not being addressed: Where did those laws come from? Why is there something rather than nothing? It is at this level that the theistic answer becomes, in my mind, compelling. We basically have only three possible answers:

    1. The universe/multiverse has always existed.
    2. The universe/multiverse—including its laws—created itself.
    3. The universe/multiverse was created by something outside of itself.

    #1 doesn’t answer the “Why is there something rather than nothing” question.
    #2 is considered by most to be impossible. We are not talking about a multiverse spawning baby universes, but the entire cosmos coming into existence from absolutely nothing. By “nothing” we mean no matter, no energy, and no laws.
    #3 is a very reasonable explanation. We don’t have to explain where God came from, because God did not come into existence.

    I think it comes down to either the universe/multiverse had no cause, or God had no cause. Everything we know about the universe—with its string of contingency/causality—screams against it having no cause. I would say that the existence of God, rather than being a case of special pleading, is the only reasonable explanation.

    With respect,
    Kevin N


    1. The issue then becomes, “Does everything need a cause?”

      This seems to be the pivot point of the argument.

      Although the book, “A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing” by Larry Krauss attempts to answer the question. However, I think the answer “We don’t know, yet” is sufficient for now. Absence of a clear explanation for me at least, does not open the door to any specific god.

      As an agnostic atheist, I can say I do not believe in any human described god (due to the logical issues of nay such being), but the possibility that there is a creator somewhere is not off the table. However, it is entirely possible that the multiverse is eternal. Yes, it does not answer the “Why there is something rather than nothing” question, but if there was no beginning to the multiverse, then why is the question relevant?

      Although the evidence of #2 is promising, it isn’t very satisfying.

      #3, to me, is the least likely because it assumes an even larger existence outside of existence, again falling back to the “Well, where did that existence come from?” question and infinite regress.

      The most logical explanation given current evidence is that the multiverse has no cause and is infinite. Positing a being that created existence from outside really has no logical support beyond it being an answer to the question.


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