Monday, September 13, 2010


Hawking, God and Philosophy

As a philosopher I am personally convinced, to borrow the title of the ‘last will and testament’[1] by recently deceased philosopher Antony Flew (1923-2010), that There is a God. Flew, ‘a legendary British philosopher and atheist [who was] an icon and champion for unbelievers for decades’[2], publically renounced atheism in 2004 after coming to the conclusion that ‘the case for an Aristotelian God who has the characteristics of power and also intelligence, is now much stronger than it ever was before.’[3] Interestingly, Flew stated that ‘the most impressive arguments for God’s existence are those that are supported by recent scientific discoveries . . .’[4]

Flew’s conclusion is at odds with the recent headline-grabbing but philosophically naïve assertion by physicist Stephen Hawking that ‘Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing’[5], and hence that ‘God did not create [the] Universe.’[6]

Hawking opines that while fundamental questions about the nature of reality and the need for a creator have traditionally been questions for philosophers, ‘philosophy is dead’ because ‘Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.’[7]

Of course, it was precisely keeping up with modern science that Flew testified led to his change of mind on the question of God! Moreover, as Professor George Ellis, President of the International Society for Science and Religion argues: ‘Philosophy is not dead. Every point of view is imbued with philosophy. Why is science worth doing? The answer is philosophical... Science can’t answer that question about itself.’[8] Professor Chris Isham, a philosopher and theoretical physicist at Imperial College London, is similarly unimpressed: ‘I groaned when I read this. Stephen’s always saying this sort of thing... but I suspect he’s never read a philosophy book in his life.’[9]

On the one hand, one needn’t know anything about cosmology to see that it’s logically impossible for anything to literally ‘create itself from nothing’ since things can only have causal effects if they exist and ‘nothing’ is by definition the absence of anything capable of doing anything whatsoever. As theologian and Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams dryly observed in response to Hawking: ‘Physical laws... are about the regular relations between actual realities. I cannot see how they explain the bare fact that there is any reality at all.’[10]

On the other hand, for many contemporary scientists and scientifically informed philosophers (contra Hawking, they do exist!) the discoveries of modern science have actually served to strengthen the case for theism.[11]

A collection of responses to Hawking's pronouncements can be found here.

[1] Antony Flew, ‘Exclusive Flew Interview’
[2] Craig J. Hazen, ‘My Pilgrimage from Atheism to Theism: An Exclusive Interview with Former British Atheist Professor Antony Flew’
[3] Flew, ibid.
[4] ibid.
[5] Stephen Hawking, ‘The Grand Design’ in Eureka/The Times, September 2010, p. 25.
[6] The Times, Thursday September 2nd, 2010, Front Page Headline.
[7] Hawking, ‘The Grand Design’, op cit, p. 18.
[8] George Ellis, The Times, Friday September 3rd, 2010, p. 8.
[9] Chris Isham, ibid.
[10] Rowan Williams, ibid, p. 9. cf. Craig, William Lane, ‘Why Does Anything At All Exist?’
[11] cf. William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, third edition (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2008); William Lane Craig & J.P. Moreland, ed. The Blackwell Companion To Natural Theology (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009); Dean L. Overman, A Case for the Existence of God (Plymouth: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009); Robert J. Spitzer, New Proofs For The Existence Of God: Contributions Of Contemporary Physics And Philosophy (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2010).

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