The latest atheistic rage against God came with publication of Stephen Hawking’s new book, The Grand Design, co-authored with Leonard Mlodinow. Hawking is reported to argue that “the universe can and will create itself from nothing.” Self-originating creatio ex nihilo, that is his explanation for the origin of the universe. I’m hardly equipped to interact with Hawking on the scientific aspects of his argument, given that I have neither been trained in that field nor read his actual argument. I have, however, been trained in formal logic and the notion that the universe, or anything for that matter, has, prior to its own creation, the power to create itself seems to mock the law of non-contradictions and push the boundaries of credulity.
The issue I want to take with Hawking, and others who have recently made similar pronouncements (e.g. Christopher Hitchens), is that because the origins of the universe can be hypothetically explained apart from affirming the hand of the divine creator, that belief in God is no longer necessary. So Hawking, “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.” According to the report, Hawking argues that this “new series of theories [makes] a creator of the universe redundant.”
The problem with this statement is that its not an argument. Who says the only reason to believe in God is because we need to explain the origins of the universe? Why should we think that an atheistic explanation of origins makes the existence of God redundant? If I were to take a glass of Dr. Pepper and ask you how the Dr. Pepper got into the glass, and you explained that the Dr. Pepper is in the glass because Tom poured it there from the can in which it was previously contained, and I were to claim that I can explain the presence of the Dr. Pepper in the glass by appealing to the hypothesis that Suzy poured it there and I, as a result, do not believe in this Tom fellow of whom you speak, then you would laugh at me and consider me unworthy of intellectual engagement.
If Hawking’s hypothesis is correct (and that is an infinitely big if), then it neither makes God unnecessary nor redundant. If it were true that the universe actually created itself from nothing (whatever that means), then it merely demonstrates that God did not create the universe. It hardly demonstrates that God does not exist.* The difference is enormous, and a man of Hawking’s intellect should understand the difference.
Christians don’t believe in God merely because they need a way to explain creation. This may have been the case for the many pagan religions (e.g. the Greeks as evidenced in their mythology). But it is hardly the case for the Christian. Christians believe in God because he has spoken and made himself known, particularly and most perfectly in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, who presently reigns as Lord of the universe. It is most certainly the case that the existence of God explains the origins of the universe, but it is not the case that alternative theories of origins make the existence of God unnecessary.
Christians need to press the atheists on these points. Their tactic is to use science to influence the general public with lofty speech and technical language, from which are drawn conclusions that do not actually follow from the propositions. The reality is that Hawking’s hypothesis has absolutely no impact on the debate as to whether God exists. He is using irrelevant evidence to support not an argumentative conclusion but his secularist presuppositions. His propositions have nothing to say on the matter of God’s existence, and, as a good rule of thumb, he ought to avoid speaking about things of which he has nothing to say.
*Though if God does exist, and he alone eternally, then he is the obvious explanation for the existence of everything else.