In his new book entitled “The Grand Design,” physicist Stephen Hawking, alongside co-author Leonard Mlodinow, presents an ambitious claim that breaks stride from thousands of years of belief and a faith supported by billions: the obsoleteness of God. The book has sparked differing responses from UR academia and students in the physics and religion and classics departments.
Hawking’s work is centered around the Big Bang Theory, the idea that the universe was created from nothing. His work reaffirms the idea behind the theory, adding further scientific evidence to support it. The crux of his argument lies in the existence of gravity and its influence on the universe. The universe can and will create itself from nothing, according to Hawking, thus it is unnecessary for God to be in the equation.
The ideas behind such a statement lie in the balance of energy. Matter, antimatter and photons all consist of positive energy: an energy that is perfectly balanced by the negative pull of gravity. Henceforth, the total energy of the universe is zero, and the creation of the universe didn’t require any input of energy.
Senior Dev Ashish Khaitan, president of the Society for Physics Students, interpreted Hawking’s words as just that: an observation of how the universe can create itself on its own, not as a question of whether or not it actually did.
“Hawking did not state explicitly that God didn’t create the universe,” he said. “He states that ‘calculation’ is irrelevant for physics, and in Hawking’s ‘grand design’ of our universe, there is not the necessity for a Divine Creator. I would almost compare Hawking’s statement on the existence of God to Albert Einstein’s statement on the existence of ether after the Michelson-Morley experiment.”
Hawking’s idea of creationism dates back centuries. In his efforts to add scientific evidence to this long-held view of God’s absence from creation, Hawking ties in physical knowledge that has recently begun to chip away at the unknown.
Senior Mario Morales, president of the Undergraduate Religion and Classics Council, regards Hawking as a scientist whose book is reinforcing a long-held view, but Morales remains resolute with his own set of beliefs.
“I believe whether God created the universe or not is immaterial,” he said. “I do not see any touch of the divine upon my life, I live as if there were no divinity guiding my steps or determining my morality.”
Junior Ashley Nelson, a religion and classics major, feels that the UR religion courses offer an unbiased and historical observation of creationism and enable individuals to devise and reinforce their own set of beliefs.
“The creation of the universe is generally approached based on the religion on which the class is based,” she said. “For example, in ‘Asian Search for Self,’ we are learning that early Hindu communities did not contemplate the creation of the universe. However, in a class like ‘History of Christianity’ or ‘Intro to the New Testament,’ you study the Bible and other primary sources from around 0-200 AD, and those peoples believed that God created the earth.”
Anne Merideth, Director of Undergraduate Religion and Classics Studies, reinforces the idea of presenting a wide array of viewpoints.
“In our department, professors do not take a particular stance on matters of creation,” she said. “Rather, we explore, in relevant courses, the varied and multiple ways in which people throughout history and in many different religious traditions have conceptualized the origins of the world and of humanity.”
Viewing religion as a derivation of the human need to cope, Eric Blackman, also of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, believes that although different faiths may work for different people, the likelihood that any correspond to the actual “truth” is slim as religion cannot be tested.
“I am often very cynical when the scientific questions are muddled with religious implications,” he said. “I view such as a strategy by the publisher to sell books. Just because we do not know something in science does not mean it has a religious answer. Also, his critics would say that his work in theoretical physics for which he is famous has not actually produced predictions that can easily be tested.”
Despite Hawking’s apparent refutation of religion, he respectfully allots credit to Isaac Newton by admitting that he understands the feeling of God’s role in creating and conserving universal order. The logic behind Newton’s claim was first publicly questioned in 1992 with the discovery of other solar systems.
This feat was a blow to Newton’s concept of how our uniquely designed world, one so perfect for human life, could only have been created by a divine being. Hawking argues that if there are countless planets in the galaxy, any form of intelligent life that evolves anywhere will automatically find that it lives somewhere suitable for it.
One of Hawking’s explanations of the Big Bang, M-theory, is a controversial rationale for some UR academics. Dan Watson, of the UR Department of Physics and Astronomy, feels it is a poor model because many cosmologists have already moved past this theory; Watson is no fan of Hawking’s popular-science writing.
“There are many other scientists who write popular science, whose personal characters aren’t quite as far in the foreground of the story; I like those better,” he said. “But lots of other people like the ‘guy in the wheelchair’ even better than the stories he tells. To each her or his own.”
Hawking’s book was published on Sept. 7 in the United States and on Sept. 9 in the United Kingdom.