Religion vs Science, Hawkings edition

My short piece on the Hawkings/Creation controversy was published by the Bishop of Arizona and is posted on the Diocesan website.

Here it is for your pleasure:

“The Internet lit up like a busy call center last week when The Times published part of Prof. Stephen Hawking’s latest book. In the section published, Hawking writes that Physics has no need of God to explain the origin of the Big Bang.

He says that the modern theories of General Relativity and Quantum Physics can explain how and why a Big Bang happened without having to resort to a formal ‘First Cause’ or ‘Prime Mover’ – what traditional theology would call ‘God.’ Instead of needing a ‘Prime Mover,’ modern cosmology suggests that the Universe exists because the extraordinarily special state of ‘Nothing’ will eventually evolve into ‘Something’ because of the inherent fuzziness of reality.
There’s been a number of responses posted since ranging from the satirical to the dismissive. The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, probably reprising the essence of his response to Britain’s reigning agnostic Richard Dawkins, essentially says that the God that Stephen Hawking is dismissing is not the God that the Church worships. Williams’ point is that Hawking is attacking what is generally called the God of the Gaps – a sort of magical entity who supplies the mechanism for things that science can’t explain. It’s the sort of idea that Kepler resorted to centuries ago when he suggested that the reason the planets moved along their elliptical paths was because there were angels pushing them along.

Certainly as Williams and many other point out, the God of the Gaps, is not the person we see revealed in Jesus, who enters Creation, suffers, dies and is resurrected, is a passionate friend and craves a relationship with each of us. And so at one level, the point that Hawking makes is really a dismissal of Deism or of a rather simplistic understanding of God.

But it’s worth remembering that the Big Bang was quite the scandal among astronomers when it was first seriously considered in the late ’60s. The British Royal Astronomer Fred Hoyle came up with the derisive name ‘Big Bang’ and proposed his own alternative theory called the ‘Steady State’ because he was so bothered by the idea that the Universe had a beginning.
Both Science and Faith have managed to adjust to the idea that there was a beginning to the Universe. It was much easier for Faith frankly, but Science came around eventually. I suspect that the same thing is true now. If Hawking is right (and that’s a big if, because what he’s talking about is considered highly speculative cosmology) then it will be a little bit harder for Faith this time. But Faith will manage. It always has. The person of Jesus has always managed to challenge whatever settled understanding we think we have of who God is and of the meaning of Creation.”

On the Diocesan site here.

Author: Nick Knisely

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...

2 thoughts on “Religion vs Science, Hawkings edition”

  1. Well, reconciling Hawking’s proposition is not difficult for me but Biblical literalists might have a problem. We humans want explanations for everything,and the ancient peoples created explanations that were perfectly logical to them at the time. I like their stories and our stories, but until ET calls home with the answers to all our questions, I’ll continue to believe in God the Creator and in scientific theory of how creation happened.

  2. I just find it interesting that people would give the same respect for Hawking’s religious views as for his scientific views. I would suggest that he is an expert on the latter, not the former.

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