1. He abandoned Scripture as a source of truth about the world.
Stephen Hawking was one of the greatest cosmologists of our time, and his triumph over disability was truly astonishing. He visited South Africa in 2008 when one of us (David) interviewed him. Hawking was a leading light for scientism. What is scientism? Scientism is an optimistic faith in the power of science alone to resolve the mysteries of the world.
In earlier times, during the life of Galileo Galilei, the church and its cardinals ruled supreme and misused the book of Scripture, claiming that it asserted things about science that it did not assert, but they were not yet ready to accept experimental science. This situation was clearly out of balance. Scripture is true in all that it claims, and when interpreted rightly, it harmonizes perfectly with the book of nature. The church had misunderstood this principle and used Scripture to silence science.
The situation today is equally out of balance, to the other extreme. The scientific book of nature is paramount today, and some scientists would have us abandon the Scriptures as a source of truth about our world. The philosophical viewpoint of these self-appointed “cardinals of scientism” is driven as much by the mood of the age and the personalities and beliefs of individuals as it is by scientific data and rigorous theory. Today, atheist fundamentalism flourishes, with its basic philosophical agenda to avoid any need for a Creator.
Some of our scientific colleagues, blind to scriptural revelation, are ready to trash theology as an inferior and worthless discipline, devoid of all truth. This is the ideology of scientism—a form of science that dismisses God, who entered our world, like a fairytale.
We see two cathedrals before us; the traditional cathedral in which the Scriptures are expounded, and the new cathedral of scientism, wherein science is the bearer of all truth. For the great scientist Blaise Pascal, Jesus, who grants us salvation, was the prize beyond all prizes; the cathedral of scientism never threatened his God-centered worldview.
2. He thought the truth of nature includes everything worth knowing.
Hawking’s life, as a genius of the first rank and a legendary cosmologist, was centered on the truth of nature. However, are such the torchbearers of all truths?
The truth of nature belongs to the physical or scientific realm. In contrast, the much broader nature of truth includes both the physical and spiritual domains; God’s revelation of himself to us is the work of his grace. To insist that truth lies in only one or the other domain is only half the story, as in watching trees swaying and bending without recognizing the presence of the wind.
In his book titled Tremendous Trifles, the literary giant G. K. Chesterton wrote an essay named “The Wind and the Trees.” Chesterton sets the stage:
I am sitting under tall trees, with a great wind boiling like surf about the tops of them, so that their living load of leaves rocks and roars in something that is at once exultation and agony. . . .The wind tugs at the trees as if it might pluck them root and all out of the earth like tufts of grass. Or, to try yet another desperate figure of speech for this unspeakable energy, the trees are straining and tearing and lashing as if they were a tribe of dragons each tied by the tail. . . . I remember a little boy of my acquaintance who was once walking in Battersea Park under just such torn skies and tossing trees. He did not like the wind at all; it blew in his face too much. . . . After complaining repeatedly of the atmospheric unrest, he said at last to his mother, “Well, why don’t you take away the trees, and then it wouldn’t wind?
The great human dogma, then, is that the wind moves the trees.
The great human heresy is that the trees move the wind.1
The nature of truth lies in the stereoscopic view of the physical and spiritual realms. To insist that truth lies only in one or the other domain is tunnel vision, which belongs to the land of the partially blind. Science deals with the truth of nature.
Those who claim to see the complete human story from within the hallways of the cathedral of scientism alone are spiritually blind to his revelation. In the words of the apostle Paul: “The God who said, ‘Out of darkness the light shall shine!’ is the same God who made his light shine in our hearts, to bring us the knowledge of God’s glory shining in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6 GNB).
We believe that God has visited us in person (John 1).
God of the macrocosm is God of the microcosm, shining into our hearts if invited in. We can never know God by scientific analysis but only by his grace. By grace, the spiritually blind on earth are given sight to behold him, God incarnate.
God’s revelation of himself to us is the work of his grace.
3. He believed science has no hidden agenda.
For some scientists, science has a finely tuned agenda to expunge God from our view of reality. Pronouncements from famous public scientists carry a lot of weight with those who are not themselves scientists. Atheist fundamentalist scientists use scientific words to convey their views.
To quote Alister and Joanna McGrath:
During the 1990s, [Richard] Dawkins introduced the idea of God as some kind of a mental virus that infected otherwise healthy minds. It was a powerful image that appealed to a growing public awareness of the risk of physical infections from HIV and software infections from computer viruses.2
Viruses—what an evocative word, with its flashing red warning signs and red flags—“Hazardous,” “Danger,” “Stay Away.”
God as a virus of the mind? There is no way that science can prove or disprove the existence of God. Of course, it cannot; such are the boundaries of the book of nature.
We recall that there was a degree of arrogance among the theologians involved in the Galileo affair, and a similar arrogance appears now among some in the realm of science. Scientists should learn with humility from the Galileo affair, lest they fall into the same trap of partial blindness. Our red flag would be this: Beware of atheist agendas masquerading under the mantle of science.
4. He thought multiverses solve all mysteries.
Hawking recognized a grand design in our well-tuned universe, the one and only universe we have ever observed. With his brilliant mind, Hawking attempted to sidestep the notion of a Creator by embracing multiverses—a plethora of universes, much like the blowing of bubbles big and small—and we simply happen to be living in “The Goldilock’s Universe,” perfect for our needs.
This may be the way things are. God could have created a plethora of universes—but it is no more than a hypothesis for which no direct observational test is possible. Is it a genuine scientific theory, asks the famous cosmologist George Ellis (who worked with Stephen Hawking many years ago). Ellis writes: “Can one maintain one has a genuine scientific theory when direct and indeed indirect tests of the theory are impossible?”
The multiverse hypothesis was warmly embraced by some, not on the basis of observational evidence but rather, we believe, to meet a philosophical need.
Has science indeed solved all mysteries in our universe? With regard to the power and domains of the scientific method, we offer two comments. First, by no stretch of the imagination has everything been solved by science. From a cosmological perspective, over 95 percent of the universe is not visible: it is in the form of dark matter and dark energy, about which we know hardly anything more than that they exist. The stars that astronomers see in spiral galaxies, for example, constitute a tiny fraction of their total mass; the disks of spiral galaxies are immersed in enormous envelopes of dark matter—matter that neither emits nor absorbs light. Several decades ago, one of us (Freeman) found that “there must be in these galaxies additional matter which is undetected. . . . Its mass must be at least as large as the mass of the detected galaxy.” Without this dark matter, galaxies may not have been able to form, and we would not be here. But we still have no idea what the dark matter is.
Not only is there the enigmatic dark matter problem. Some exploding stars (known as supernovae Ia) in distant galaxies are, on average, fainter—and therefore farther from us—than predicted. The expanding universe is accelerating! The term dark energy is used to account for the repulsive force fueling this acceleration. Again, we do not yet understand how this works. Second, even if we understood such matters as dark matter and dark energy, science cannot solve the central mystery: “Why are we here?”
In the words of cosmologist George Ellis:
When science studies the nature of cosmology, it does so on the basis of the specific laws of physics that apply in the unique universe we inhabit. It can interrogate the nature of those laws, but not the reason for their existence, nor why they take the particular form they do. Neither can science examine the reason for the existence of the universe. These are metaphysical issues, whose examination lies outside the competence of science per se.3
5. He thought God is only there to explain some mysteries of nature.
Hawking believed that historically “God” was necessary only to solve mysteries which science had not yet solved. The next step would be that readers of his books—with an atheist slant—may come away with the understanding that science has made God unnecessary. What need then for a Creator? Hawking asks. In his book entitled The Grand Design (coauthored by Leonard Mlodinow), he explicitly states this: “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”
Such sentences attract worldwide media attention. Lord Martin Rees (a former President of the Royal Society, who was a student at the University of Cambridge in the 1960s where Hawking was also enrolled) painted a moving and glowing tribute to Hawking upon his death, but Rees noted that:
He [Hawking] had robust common sense, and was ready to express forceful political opinions. However, a downside of his iconic status was that his comments attracted exaggerated attention even on topics where he had no special expertise—for instance philosophy. . . 4
We would distance ourselves from Hawking’s utilitarian understanding of God, who would be a God always on the retreat in the face of new scientific discoveries. This “unnecessary God” does not interact with us or with our universe and its laws of nature. We believe otherwise. The Incarnation is an act of divine grace. Salvation is an act of divine grace. To quote Chesterton again:
Right in the middle of these things stands up an enormous exception . . . It is nothing less than the loud assertion that this mysterious maker of the world has visited his world in person.5
Although science can illuminate the glories of the creation, we believe that it is beyond the domain of science to infer that God does not exist. Now—and this is crucial—we are not talking about “Hawking’s God” at all here. The God we are talking about is a personal God—the God-Man who made the world.
The Logos who became incarnate (John 1) exists outside space and time. Science does not have the weapons to expunge God’s Spirit or the revelation of his spiritual kingdom. At the heart of God’s kingdom is grace. In a universe spanning approximately ninety-two billion light-years, we have come to know its Creator.
1. G. K. Chesterton, “The Wind and the Trees,” in Tremendous Trifles (1909; repr., London: Methuen, 1930), 61–65.
2. Alister McGrath and Joanna Collicutt McGrath, The Dawkins Delusion? Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2007), 68–69.
3. George F. R. Ellis, “The Thinking Underlying the New ‘Scientific’ World-Views,” in Evolutionary and Molecular Biology: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action, ed. Robert John Russell, William R. Stoeger, and Francisco J. Ayala (Vatican: Vatican Observatory Foundation, 1998), 254.
4. Lord Martin Rees, “Professor Stephen Hawking: An Appreciation,” Trinity College Cambridge, March 14, 2018, https:// www .trin .cam .ac .uk /news /professor -stephen -hawking -an -appreciation-by -lord -rees/.
5. G. K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man (New York: Image Books, 1955), 265–66.
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