Maybe Hawking’s quest isn’t over yet

opinion March 21, 2018 01:00

If God does indeed exist, Stephen Hawking was one of His most baffling and controversial products. How come this “creation” dedicated a lifetime trying to disprove the existence of his Creator, aided by one miracle after another?

Did something go wrong in the production process, or was it an example of the brilliance of God, who can point to Hawking and say, “See? Even the brightest genius among you lot can’t rule me out convincingly”?

That would be a legitimate claim. Not only did Hawking fail to nullify God, the late physicist made discoveries filled with miraculous coincidences, outright wonders, precision of the highest order, and what he called “fundamental laws” that he himself could not say who laid down.  

Hawking cast off his physical restrictions to explore a universe most people on our planet never see, but he remained in the dark about God’s existence. He probably still does, even if the scientist is now experiencing some form of afterlife. 

The intro to his famous book, “A Brief History of Time”, suggests his mind was open regarding the “infinity” in which he may now actually be swimming.

The world’s best-known cosmologist, who passed away last week, didn’t give a definitive answer to the riddle of infinity, but his intro mentions the proverbial old woman who insists that the world rests on the back of a giant tortoise, which stands on another tortoise which stands on yet another tortoise. In fact, she says, “it’s turtles all the way down”.

With that, “A Brief History of Time”, supposedly a hard-science book about physics and cosmology, takes up the ultimate argument between believers and atheists – whether Hawking intended it or not. The “turtles all the way down” theory suggests infinity, arguably a compromise between the two camps.

Hawking said we are here because of certain fundamental laws of the universe, which were not necessarily laid down by a supreme being. For most scientists, belief in a supreme being leads to dead ends. For one thing, if God is so perfect and complete, why was it necessary to create humankind? To say that humans were unnecessary but created anyway implies that God was simply bored, but to say that humankind was necessary is to say that we “complete” God, which leads us to more disturbing thoughts altogether.

“Fundamental laws” dispel some paradoxes but they create new ones. Who laid down the laws? To say that they have been in existence forever is as convenient as saying God has been here forever. To say that the laws “created” life is to imply a miracle occurred, a very dangerous word where science is concerned.

“Infinity” offers a cure for such headaches, more or less. We pass the buck to the next turtle, so to speak. Hawking, if he is existing in another form, can still say he is there because of fundamental laws, albeit ones governing the exit of “energy” from human bodies. Those who believe in God will insist that the energy here is in fact the “soul”, a vital piece of evidence for the existence of a supreme being.

Are atheists and believers battling merely because they give different names to what are essentially the same things? Hawking described absolute precision as a key feature in the application of fundamental laws that gave birth to stars and then man. In a television documentary about his work, he admitted that if one tiny thing had gone minimally wrong, none of us would be here.

He never admitted God exists, though. The “miracles” of our universe were unique, but that was only because they might not exist in “other universes” where there was no life or even stars. We are witnessing the miracles simply because we are lucky enough to be in this universe. There are perhaps less fortunate universes where no “miracle” has ever happened.

Hawking was open to the concept of multiple universes, which is gaining greater acceptance in the scientific community with each passing year.

The physicist sang from the same song sheet as late cosmologist and thinker Carl Sagan on the ultimate question of why we are here and where we are heading, although the latter was more willing to entertain the existence of God. Sagan did not say he believed in God, but he pointed out that if God really existed, he must be way more powerful and omnipresent than believers ever imagined.

If Hawking was ambivalent, this was as far as he went: “Because there are laws, such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touchpaper and set the universe going.” 

Hawking has gone down in history for reconciling the laws of the very large – Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity – and those of the very small – quantum physics. But he seemed to fall short of coming up with the elusive Theory of Everything. Is God the elusive theory he was after? Well, if infinity exists, he now has plenty of space and time to find out.