I may be a fan of Sacred Scripture, but that does not mean I ignore news reportage on science and physics. A brief story hit the news wire today that the physicist Stephen Hawking (Cambridge) argues in a recent article that there is no need for God to play a role in physics or the “big bang” theory. In other words, physicists do not need to leave open the possibility that a prime mover initiated the “big bang.”
I suppose this is news because Hawking is himself a member of the Pontifical Academy of Science. Hawking had previously held out the possibility, though he did not believe it himself, that a “God” may have been the only necessary explanation for the “big bang.”
The article got me thinking about the remarks made a few years back by the insufferable physicist Carl Sagan. Sagan argues, somewhat illogically, that it made no sense to call Jesus Christ the center point of human history since the birth of Christ occurred only several billion years after the universe had been in existence. Sagan clearly holds rock and frozen gas in higher esteem than humans, likely because those are the two materials of which his brain is made.
Sagan seems to have forgotten is that the birth of Christ and the Passion actually do occur in the center of recorded human history, which is only about 6,000 years old. Prior to that, humankind recorded nothing. And prior to the dawn of human history, the universe did not harbor intelligent life for its first several billion years of existence. So the universe was, from the point of view of intelligent life, an irrelevant reality – a movie set without any actors.
Human beings give reality – the universe – meaning because humans are self-aware. We reason, we ponder, we consider the cause of our creation, our end, and we ask fundamental questions like “why are we here?” Christ is the center point of human history because God is the “Grand Architect” of the “Grand Design.” Jesus is also God-become-man, an affirmation that God is actively involved in human affairs. God is not a clock winder or an engineer. He is our creator and we are made in His image. Humankind is destined to encounter Christ at the end of time, and what God intends to do with creation as it existed for the past few billion years is a bit moot.
Which brings me back to Stephen Hawking. His latest book is entitled the “Grand Design.” The title is a swipe at Christians who advocate “intelligent design,” a theory that God pre-ordained the universe to end up the way it did. In the “Grand Design,” Hawking rejects the need to invoke God as actor who initiates the “big bang.” According to Hawking, the force of gravity itself explains the creation and destruction of matter.
I have two objections to Hawking’s position. First of all, his prose is impenetrable and rather boring. Anyone who has read “A Brief History of Time” will concede that it is not an exciting read. Secondly, the scientific community canot explain physics at the quantum level, nor at the cosmic level. We simply do not know how the universe was created. And, we simply cannot predict or model the behavior of sub-atomic particles. They behave unpredictably, they have partial charges, and they interact with “black” particles known as anti-matter, which are suspected to exist but are enormously difficulty to measure. In short, physicists like Hawking know little more about the origins of the universe than do most theologians. Here’s what astronomer Guy Consolmagno said about Hawking’s new book:
“The ‘god’ that Stephen Hawking doesn’t believe in, is one that I don’t believe in either. God is not just another force in the universe, alongside gravity or electricity. God is not a force to be invoked to ‘swell a progress, start a scene or two’ and fill the momentary gaps in our knowledge.
“God is the reason why existence itself exists. God is the reason why space and time and the laws of nature can be present for the forces to operate that Stephen Hawking is talking about.”
To say that “God is not needed to explain the creation of the universe” is an infallible statement so flawed and scientifically unprovable that it would embarrass even the Pope.