Stephen Hawking and the Mind of God

IMG_0006It was one of those mind-blowing moments gifted to students when we have direct access to the great thinkers of our times.  The speaker at the Cambridge mathematical physics seminar sat hunched in his wheelchair, a PhD student of his assisting with the acetate slides on the overhead projector (this was 1987 after all). The robotic voice that even then Stephen Hawking had to use accompanied the appearance of a slide of mathematics that was clearly a version of quantum mechanics’ fundamental ‘Schrödinger Equation’ – but with an enormous ‘Psi’ character for the wave function.

‘…. Consider Psi …. The… wavefunction….of….the….Universe…’

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I reeled mentally, my mind unable to catch up with the cosmic change of perspective that it was being asked to follow. This was the equation used, in my experience, for systems like single electrons; now we were being asked, even casually, to apply it in one go to the entire universe!

But this was typical of Steven Hawking’s capacity to think on a vast canvas and in ways that others had not even imagined, making connections that others had never seen. Most of his physics orbited around the extraordinary objects we call ‘black holes’ – the collapsed remains of dead heavy stars whose gravity is so strong that even light is unable to escape from them. His imagination reached though the ‘event horizons’ of the black holes to the weird points inside them where space-time breaks down, he wrestled with the problem of the apparent disappearance of information from the universe (that was the big Psi thing it turned out), and predicted the holes’ strange ‘Hawking radiation’ by connecting two of Einstein’s great loves – the gravitational curvature of space and the thermodynamics of heat – with one of his great loathings: the weird unpredictability of quantum mechanics.

No wonder that he used, in his best seller A Brief History of Time, the metaphor of the ‘mind of God’ when trying to describe the ultimate goal of understanding reality:

“If we discover a complete theory, it would be the ultimate triumph of reason – for then we should know the mind of God.”

But it was always a metaphor for him.  Hawking was clear time and again that he found the ‘case for a Creator’ unconvincing, but the reason for that seems to have never moved from a failure of that otherwise all-seeing mind to see beyond physics itself. His conclusion that we do not ‘need God to light the blue touch paper of the Big Bang’ is not contested in terms of physics. But ‘why there is something rather than nothing’ is not a physics question – it lies in the theological realm to which, in spite of many thoughtful Christian correspondents over the years, including former archbishop Rowan Williams and Oxford mathematician John Lennox, Hawking seemed to remain impervious.

While we may sorrow over Hawking’s rejection of God, the Creator who is and loves and gives – rather than just ‘explains’, we may nevertheless be thankful to that God for the gift of one who articulated, even in unbelief, that our Biblical calling is indeed to know His Mind, to look into nature with the same love and insight as its creator, and to live with courage using the gifts we have rather than surrendering to our incapacities.

(first written for Premier Christian Radio Blog)

 

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7 thoughts on “Stephen Hawking and the Mind of God

  1. Don’t forget that while Hawking was undoubtedly very clever, he not wise at all, in any biblical sense. As the Scriptures state repeatedly:
    “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Prov. 9:10).

    How sad then that you prefer Hawking’s ‘wisdom’ – e,g, “His conclusion that we do not ‘need God to light the blue touch paper of the Big Bang’ is not contested in terms of physics.” – to God’s wisdom:
    e.g. Isaiah 40:25-26:
    “To whom then will you liken Me,
    Or to whom shall I be equal?” says the Holy One.
    Lift up your eyes on high,
    And see who has created these things,
    Who brings out their host by number;
    He calls them all by name,
    By the greatness of His might
    And the strength of His power;
    Not one is missing.”

    This is supremely how we know God’s mind: through his unique and God-breathed word.

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    • Please explain the intrinsic value of being “wise in a biblical sense”. It seems rather pointless to be fearful of something for whose existence there is not a scrap of evidence. I reckon Hawking was probably as afraid of the Christian God as he was of Zeus.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ha! Please explain to me the “intrinsic value” of shouting “There is no God!” your whole life because you are afraid of being judged guilty by him… Only to face the Lord of Glory (Jesus Christ) one day in his blazing holiness and wish for the mountains to fall on you to hide you from his gaze. Seems rather pointless to me.

        There is a better way to live.

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  2. There is no value to shouting “There is no God!” because to do so would be a faith claim. Atheists simply live without believing things on insufficient evidence. As Tom rightly says, true value is to be found in leading a creative, loving and just life, unless of course you are a psychopath and find value elsewhere. Of course, one may lead this type of life without religion, for none of the aforementioned qualities depend on faith. Neither of you have answered my question about the intrinsic value of ‘biblical wisdom’.

    Liked by 1 person

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