|Green Lake, Wisconsin|
(Some initial reflections...)
Stephen Hawking says there is no God. (See "Stephen Hawking's Final Book Says There's 'No Possibility' of God in Our Universe.")
Hawking's new book is Brief Answers to the Big Questions. The media is sensationalizing his atheism, but we saw it clearly in The Grand Design.
How does Hawking arrive at his atheism?
"I think the universe was spontaneously created out of nothing, according to the laws of science," Hawking, who died in March, wrote. "If you accept, as I do, that the laws of nature are fixed, then it doesn't take long to ask: What role is there for God?"
This is an amazing statement. Because where there is no time, and no space, hence no matter, the laws of science are also nonexistent. From nothing, nothing comes. (Lawrence Krauss was criticized on equivocating on the word 'nothing' in his book A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing.)
This must mean that, according to Hawking, the universe has no cause. And, indeed, that is what he seems to be saying. Our universe is not the "effect" of something.
Hawking's use of 'created' is misleading, since 'created' implies a 'creator;' therefore, a cause. Perhaps he meant to say "The universe spontaneously began to exist out of nothing." "Spontaneously beginning to exist" means "having no cause." If the phrase implies having a cause, since whatever begins to exist has a cause, then the cause of the universe must be something rather than nothing, since 'nothing' has no causal properties.
"The universe itself, in all its mind-boggling vastness and complexity, could simply have popped into existence without violating the known laws of nature," he wrote.
Hawking gets this from quantum mechanics, which claims "subatomic particles like protons and electrons seemingly appear out of nowhere, stick around for a while and then disappear again to a completely different location. Because the universe was once the size of a subatomic particle itself, it's plausible that it behaved similarly during the Big Bang."
The word "seemingly" is important. Subatomic particles "seem" to "appear out of nowhere." But from this it does not follow that they do appear out of nothing. ("Nothing," in physics, is hard to define. See Nothing: A Very Short Introduction.)
Hawking believes our universe did begin to exist. But before its existence he believes there was no time. He writes: "We have finally found something that doesn’t have a cause, because there was no time for a cause to exist in." But this is not a problem if it is possible for a cause to exist where there is no time. (See God and Time: Four Views.)
Hawking concludes: "For me this means that there is no possibility of a creator, because there is no time for a creator to have existed in." But many theists understand God's existence prior to the beginning of the universe as nontemporal. The theistic Creator does not require time to exist. Indeed, in the Kalam Cosmological Argument for God's Existence, it is precisely God's nontemporal being that best explains the beginning of a temporal universe out of nothing.
Hawking described his explanation of the origin of the universe just popping into existence out of nothing as "simpler" than the explanation that God created the universe out of nothing. I'll need some further explanation of "simpler" to agree with him.