A Muslim has been posting on Facebook some rather selective cherry-picked quotes from John Lennox’s Daily Mail article of 3rd Sept 2010. The fact that our Muslim friend did not attribute the source of his quotes and so by default implied they were his own is rather dishonest, but perhaps understandable because he was in fact quoting a Christian apologist in order to justify his specific variation of Islamic beliefs and clearly did not want to reveal that rather embarrassing fact.
Having not previously seen Mr Lennox’s article that is entitled , “As a scientist I’m certain Stephen Hawking is wrong. You can’t explain the universe without God“, I thought that I would now take a look at the claims being made. He is apparently “certain” God made everything, and since he is a “scientist”, well that means he just must be correct … right?
The fact that the title of his own article is nothing except an appeal to authority, and the authority he is appealing to is himself, would imply that the entertainment value here should be quite good.
So what arguments does he present?
But, as both a scientist and a Christian, I would say that Hawking’s claim is misguided. He asks us to choose between God and the laws of physics, as if they were necessarily in mutual conflict.
But contrary to what Hawking claims, physical laws can never provide a complete explanation of the universe. Laws themselves do not create anything, they are merely a description of what happens under certain conditions.
What Hawking appears to have done is to confuse law with agency. His call on us to choose between God and physics is a bit like someone demanding that we choose between aeronautical engineer Sir Frank Whittle and the laws of physics to explain the jet engine.
In essence his argument here boils down to, “I have no idea how the Universe could have happened naturally, therefore God did it by magic”, and that is essentially an appeal to ignorance. When faced with “Physics” the stuff we observe and can measure and detect, and “God”, a supernatural entity for which we have exactly zero observational data, then rather unlike Mr Lennox, I much prefer to discard the fantasy and embrace the things that we can actually detect and measure. If there is indeed something that we do not yet fully understand, then the only valid rational conclusion we can have is, “I don’t know …yet”, you simply cannot stick God in, because then all you are doing is making stuff up.
It might also be worth pointing out that Mr Hawking simply pointed out that you don’t need a god to explain the universe. When you live in a reality where you can see and observe fundamental particles popping into and out of existence in what some might label as “empty space”, then no supernatural leap is required as an alternative.
Some agency must have been involved.
And the reason he “knows” this is because?
To use a simple analogy, Isaac Newton’s laws of motion in themselves never sent a snooker ball racing across the green baize. That can only be done by people using a snooker cue and the actions of their own arms.
Hawking’s argument appears to me even more illogical when he says the existence of gravity means the creation of the universe was inevitable. But how did gravity exist in the first place? Who put it there? And what was the creative force behind its birth?
… For me, as a Christian believer, the beauty of the scientific laws only reinforces my faith in an intelligent, divine creative force at work.
We are now on the topic of causality. The assumption is that everything has a cause, and since that is true then the ultimate cause must be a god. Oh but wait a second, there is a rather obvious flaw in his thinking here …
- There is an implicit rule that states that everything has a cause and that there are no exceptions to this rule
- Since there are no exceptions to this rule, then the initial cause must be a God.
Ah but then you need to ask “What caused god?”. The standard reply is, “Oh, but God has no cause”. So new we suddenly discover that this rule we used to infer the existence of a god has an exception to it … “God”. But since the only reason we inferred God is that the rule cannot have any exceptions, has now been broken .. well you get the idea.
In other words, all he has done is to make stuff up and declare it to be the magical answer … using exactly zero data, and for no logical reason at all … except for the fact that he just happens to believe.
So he then moves on to argue like this …
The very reason science flourished so vigorously in the 16th and 17th centuries was precisely because of the belief that the laws of nature which were then being discovered and defined reflected the influence of a divine law-giver.
And so of course we have the old “Since there are laws, then there must be a law maker” argument. This is simply the previous causality argument dressed up in different clothes – the observation remains the same … who made the law maker, who made the maker of the law maker, etc… Just adding additional levels of complexity (for no reason at all) does not really solve anything.
If the brain were really the result of an unguided process, then there is no reason to believe in its capacity to tell us the truth.
That is essentially correct, and that is why the scientific methodology deploys double blind controls, peer review and strives to be objective and not subjective. We have learned that it is very easy to fool ourself into believing things that are not actually true (such as a belief in gods), and must eliminate all human bias.
When we see a few letters of the alphabet spelling our name in the sand, our immediate response is to recognise the work of an intelligent agent. How much more likely, then, is an intelligent creator behind the human DNA, the colossal biological database that contains no fewer than 3.5 billion ‘letters’?
Let me translate that for you – here is something that is very complex, I have no fracking clue how it could have possibly happened naturally, so I will simply assume that my god concept did it.
The fact that Mr Lennox is not an Evolutionary Biologist perhaps explains why he does not actually understand why natural selection beautifully exlains how such diverse complexity can develop quite naturally without recourse to any supernatural entities.
It is fascinating that Hawking, in attacking religion, feels compelled to put so much emphasis on the Big Bang theory. Because, even if the non-believers don’t like it, the Big Bang fits in exactly with the Christian narrative of creation.
How somebody can be so smart and yet so utterly ignorant is a wonder to behold, the above claim is pure utter bollocks. The “big bang” says nothing at all about the origin of the universe, it is simply a model that describes the early expansion of the universe. As for the claim that it fits his bible narrative, would that be the one where god makes light and then makes the earth and grass, and a few days after that finally decides to make the sun. Is he seriously asserting that it is a nice fit.
It is about this point in his article that he goes even more religious …
the religious experiences of millions of believers cannot lightly be dismissed
And yet he will happily dismiss the experiences of all Muslims and all Hindus as being the wrong belief and that his is the right one. Should I not also remind him that he earlier made the point about how easily our brains can fool us, and that from his viewpoint is a good reason to dismiss objective science, but apparently he does not apply this same standard to subjective religious experiences.
So finally he plays the morality card …
The existence of a common pool of moral values points to the existence of transcendent force beyond mere scientific laws. Indeed, the message of atheism has always been a curiously depressing one, portraying us as selfish creatures bent on nothing more than survival and self-gratification.
People are moral, not because a supernatural entity told them what is right and what is wrong, but rather because our very natural human empathy enables us to be like that. Should I perhaps remind him that the bible is from cover to cover a pro slavery book, even Jesus states “Slaves, obey your masters”, and never suggests that the idea of owning people is morally wrong. Mr Lennox will of course acknowledge that slavery is wrong, but he has not used either the bible, nor his supernatural god to work that out, but rather has absorbed that from our modern culture that has reached that conclusion through experience and reason.
As for his quip about atheism, once again “utterly clueless” best describes it. Atheism is simply the rejection of god claims due to the total lack of any credible evidence at all, it says nothing at all about anything else, that is it’s entire scope. People who have reached that conclusion are generally both moral and decent, and find meaning for non-religious reasons so don’t need a mythological god to do so.
Do we have any evidence here for anything at all? Actually, yes we do, we can clearly see that smart intelligent people will indeed rationalize crazy beliefs in smart ways, and that none of it makes any of the claims actually true.