I have enormous respect for Stephen Hawking. He was one of the greatest minds of the last century, a genius with an IQ of 160. His contribution to science and our understanding of the Universe and our place in it has been immense.
In 1962 Hawking was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease and given two years to live. He passed away two years ago at the age of 76! His quirky humour and cheeky attitude were beautifully captured by Eddie Redmayne in the movie, The Theory of Everything. His humour is displayed in his comments about computer viruses, “I think computer viruses should count as life. Maybe it says something about human nature that the only form of life we have created so far is purely destructive. Talk about creating life in our own image.”
Although Hawking’s body may have weakened, his intellect stayed sharp. He said, “I don’t have much positive to say about motor neuron disease. But it taught me not to pity myself, because others were worse off and to get on with what I still could do. I’m happier now than before I developed the condition. I am lucky to be working in theoretical physics, one of the few areas in which disability is not a serious handicap.” He advised that other people suffering from serious illnesses to not “be disabled in spirit.”
I’ve recently read Hawking’s final book, Brief Answers to the Big Questions. I like to read widely, and some of the topics in this book intrigued me. I wanted to find out what Stephen Hawking thought about time travel, black holes, artificial intelligence, and life on other planets. I was particularly interested in what he had to say about the existence of God and how the Universe began.
The Universe Coming into Being
Stephen Hawking believes “the universe was spontaneously created out of nothing, according to the laws of science.” No argument there. In times past, many scientists would ask the question, “what was before the Big Bang?” Hawking finally concluded that there was nothing. That’s where we part ways.
He writes, “You can’t get to a time before the Big Bang because there was no time before the Big Bang. We have finally found something that doesn’t have a cause, because there was no time for a cause to exist in. For me this means that there is no possibility of a creator, because there is no time for a creator to have existed in.”
While I affirm that time, space and matter began with the start of the Universe, I don’t agree that “there is no possibility of a creator because there is no time for a creator to have existed in.” If God is truly as remarkable as many people believe God to be, then dwelling outside of time would be no problem. Hawking stated elsewhere, “One can’t prove that there wasn’t a creator.” So, like Richard Dawkins and other atheists, Stephen Hawking was probably more agnostic than atheist.
Big Creator, Small Creatures
I don’t believe the human mind can fully grasp the concept of an eternal God. We are limited by time, space, and matter. It’s our frame of reference. To consider a being that has no beginning and no end, who chooses to dwell in the eternal now, but is outside of time itself, is totally beyond our comprehension. Outside of time, there is no duration, no beginning, no end, no space, and no matter. The finite human mind cannot begin to grasp this concept
When I was young, my dad and I discussed the Universe. I was fascinated by the fact that the Universe had no end. I asked him what if there was a brick wall at the edge of the Universe. He answered by asking me how wide the brick wall was and what was on the other side. Try and meditate on that for any length of time, and your head will do a double backflip!
For many years I taught Religious Education to Grade 6 primary kids. Every year one bright spark would ask me, “who made God?” I loved answering that question. I’d say, well, if God had a maker, then God’s maker is God, but who made God’s maker? And if God’s maker had a maker, then who created God’s maker’s maker? I’d keep going for a while until all the kids were laughing.
Case in point, either the Universe, galaxies, solar system, and Earth are all the product of a spontaneous explosion 13 plus billion years ago, or they are the result of an incredibly intelligent divine mind with an IQ far higher than 160.
Creating Out of Nothing
I believe God “spontaneously created out of nothing” and that the creation works according to the laws humans have discovered ever since and chronicled in the discipline known as science.
In his final book, Stephen Hawking writes, “We do not know how DNA molecules first appeared. As the chances against a DNA molecule arising by random fluctuations are very small, some people have suggested that life came to Earth from elsewhere – for instance, brought here on rocks breaking off from Mars while the planets were still unstable – and that there are seeds of life floating round in the galaxy. However, it seems unlikely that DNA could survive for long in the radiation in space.” And so, we still don’t know how the most basic structure of life came into being unless we attribute it to divine intelligence.
While I understand people being agonistic, I have come to strongly believe that we are here on this planet for a purpose. We are not some random chance mishaps floating around in the Universe on a planet called Earth. We are not the product of a monkey who got lucky.
I am grateful that, at the age of 19, this God, who I wasn’t looking for, looked for me. I have progressively come to know and love this God who is expressed so beautifully in the man, Jesus. God is not an impersonal divine force but rather a profoundly personal being who knows, loves, and cares for all, for you.