Have you heard someone say that the universe created itself? Perhaps someone of high profile? Stephen Hawking is among those who’s stated that the universe can create itself. Is this reasonable? Is it logical? Can the universe create itself? Unfortunately, the skilled scientist was a poor logician. The universe cannot create itself.
One of the biggest issues among people who debate such topics is that it is generally debated only from the scientific perspective and hardly ever from the philosophical perspective. Philosophy is important because it gives us our book of rules for how to reason and arrive at sound conclusions. Unfortunately, those who unwittingly sink into the quicksand of scientism, do not seem to understand their descent into nonsense.
In his 2010 book co-authored by Leonard Mlodinow, Hawking claimed the following:
“Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.” IStephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design (New York: Bantam Books, 2010)Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow
I’ve written previously about why Stephen Hawking’s views are arrogantly misleading when he claims that we are all in a fishbowl that distorts our view of reality. Instead, we’ll simply look at the central claim of the book that the universe can and will create itself. But first, we need to examine Hawking’s initial claim that philosophy is dead.
Toward the beginning of The Grand Design, Hawking claimed the following:
“Traditionally these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.” IIStephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design (New York: Bantam Books, 2010), 5.Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow
To say that Philosophy is dead is a rather big claim. Philosophy encompasses various fields of study, such as ontology (essence), epistemology (knowledge), logic, etc. Are we to dispense of these fundamental building blocks of human reason and inquiry? Despite the brilliance of Hawking as a scientist, one does not have to think all that hard to realize how absurd the claim is that “philosophy is dead.” First, and foremost, if philosophy is dead and since it includes logic, one can not reason his way to the conclusion that philosophy is dead because one has to use logic to discredit the field that deals with logic. If one uses logic to discredit logic, then he has already failed.
Even more ironic is the fact that after Hawking pronounces the death of philosophy at the onset of the book, he used the rest of the book to philosophize and offer us his philosophical view of reality. Though Hawking’s position is one arrived at through data points offered to him through science, the conclusions he drew (erroneously) were philosophical in nature.
It seems as though during the course of his life, Hawking became more and more scientistic in his view of reality. Scientism is the view that only the sciences can give us knowledge about reality. Scientism is demonstrably false, has been completely debunked, and is ironically ultimately hurtful to science.
Regardless of his insistence that philosophy is dead, we need to use philosophy to assess his claims. We’re going to use some plain old rules of logic. So what’s logically fallacious with saying the universe can and will create itself?
What is the universe? At bottom, the universe is all of space-time, matter, and energy, in other words, all of the potentially observable nature.
For the universe to do anything it first needs to exist. But that’s what we’re trying to figure out – how did it begin to exist. For the universe to create anything it first needs to exist. The universe did not have to exist – it does not exist necessarily, which means that it exists contingently – it needed to be caused to exist by something. The universe cannot cause itself to exist because
If the universe existed forever, there would be no need for it to “begin to exist.” However, that the universe began to exist is a foregone conclusion and assumed by those who erroneously posit that the universe created itself.
What about the force that supposedly created the universe that Hawking referred to?
“Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.” IIIIbid.
So, the law of gravity created the universe? Wait, what? Can laws actually create? And from nothing to boot? If the universe was created from “nothing,” as Hawking postulated, why would we assume that the laws of nature existed in the first place? The laws of nature are not “nothing.” If there was at one point indeed “nothing” out of which the universe began to exist, then the laws of nature did not exist either. If something existed at some point, then there was never really “nothing” as “nothing” implies not anything, and laws are actually “something.”
And what about the essence of the laws of nature? Do physical laws have causal power? Unfortunately for Hawking, the answer to that question is a big ‘no.’ Laws describe how nature works; Laws don’t cause things to happen. Laws are descriptive, not prescriptive.
Perhaps Hawking was not clear enough in his communication of what he meant when he stated that the universe can create itself out of nothing but given that the quote appeared in a book coauthored, edited and no doubt reviewed before it even made it out to the public, I’m not entirely sure it’s warranted to assume anything other than what he stated clearly is precisely what he meant to state. Taking the statement at face value, it’s demonstrably false that the universe can create itself. A hypothesis that any entity performing “spontaneous creation” of itself by causally impotent means is more like a fairy tale than seriously careful, rational thought. Such musings belong in books of fairy tales, not books purporting to give us a scientific account of the world.A hypothesis that any entity performing "spontaneous creation" of itself by causally impotent means is more like a fairy tale than seriously careful, rational thought. Click To Tweet
The claim is worse than replacing God with some other creative force; this is actually postulating an entity capable of creating itself – something even God can’t do. It’s a logically fallacious rhetorical clobbering of the actual scientific facts, which only allow us to go back to the point at which nature began and no further. The earliest point of the natural world, when we can see laws of nature acting on nature, is precisely what we’re trying to explain. At this point, the universe already exists. To go back beyond this point is what needs an explanation. Using the features of nature to explain what was before nature is, to be as charitable as possible, simply wrongheaded.
What’s frightening is that Hawking is not alone in his cosmic bootstrap theory that the universe created itself. Peter Atkins and Lawrence Krauss are among those who postulate it as well. It is striking and quite revealing that people would opt for logically fallacious incoherent hogwash that creates more questions than it answers rather than the one hypothesis – God – that is logically coherent, has the depth of explanatory power, the breadth of explanatory scope, and is metaphysically satisfactory.
Of course, asking for a scientist, even one of Hawking’s caliber, to be completely objective about his conclusions is often asking for the impossible. There are, after all, psychological motivations we all harbor. If underappreciated and unchecked, we are bound to imprison ourselves within our own wants and desires, instead of opting to allow the truth to lead us. In response to whether he believes in God, Hawking once answered,
“The question is: is the way the universe began chosen by God for reasons we can’t understand or was it determined by a law of science? I believe the second. If you like, you can call the laws of science ‘God’, but it wouldn’t be a personal God that you could meet, and ask questions.” IVLaura Roberts (2010-09-02). “Stephen Hawking: God was not needed to create the Universe”. The Telegraph. Retrieved 2019-01-05.Stephen Hawking
How would a scientist know whether the God who created the universe is a personal God or an impersonal God? There’d be no way to know purely from science. And there’s really no reason to distinguish a personal God from an impersonal God looking purely at the science. What Hawking is doing here is unwittingly exposing his preference and loathing of any personal God who could possibly have the audacity to demand any moral values and duties, including his very own belief.
Since publishing this article, I’ve had some people objecting to what I’ve said here on the basis that expertise in physics is required in order to critique Stephen Hawking. While this may be an appropriate objection if my critique was regarding the academic scope of Hawking’s work on science, it holds no water on this critique of Hawking’s philosophical inferences. I’ve detailed why such an objection to my critique of Hawking is fallacious in a separate post.
References [ + ]
|I.||↵||Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design (New York: Bantam Books, 2010)|
|II.||↵||Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design (New York: Bantam Books, 2010), 5.|
|IV.||↵||Laura Roberts (2010-09-02). “Stephen Hawking: God was not needed to create the Universe”. The Telegraph. Retrieved 2019-01-05.|
Arthur is an author, a former agnostic, and current ambassador of Jesus of Nazareth who loves to share the best of reasons for God's ultimate reality. His love and passion are helping skeptics and Christians grow in their faith and knowledge of God through accessible materials.
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