Stephen Hawking: Illogical genius

Stephen Hawking is a genius. Anyone who denies that has not been paying attention. What the man has been able to accomplish despite his health and physical limitations is nothing short of amazing. However, the more he gets away from his strong suit, theoretical physics and cosmology, the less of an expert Hawking is. When you get into the field of metaphysics and religion, the former Cambridge professor has no standing. Apparently, the same could be said about logic.

Photo illustration from by Billy Alexander

Hawking has written a new book that argues that God is unnecessary because the universe could have self-formed based upon the existence of scientific laws. In The Grand Design, Hawking writes, “Spontaneous creation is the reason why there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.”

To be fair, no one has read Hawking’s book yet, so I’m not sure of the argumentation he gives for that assertion. I have no doubt that I will disagree with it, but it may be at the very least a logical argument. Many have already pointed out the first question that should be asked, “If gravity is what ‘created’ the universe, where did gravity come from?” By positing spontaneous creation through natural laws, the unavoidable question is the origin of the laws.

It is similar to the concept of panspermia, which argues that life on Earth essentially began as alien life. In order to explain life on Earth, they suggest life came from another planet. The obvious problem? Where did that life come from? You simply move the question to another place. It is a philosophical shell game – attempting to move the objection around, hoping you don’t call them on it.

For Hawking the laws of physics simply become “God.” They are the eternal creator. He endows them with power to bring about life from non-life, matter from non-matter. They are in a very real sense supernatural, as they existed before the natural realm. It will be interesting to see how he explains all this in his forthcoming book.

However, just based on the small sample of the book released, we can already see that Hawking’s entire thought process is based on faulty logic. Here is his argument:

Hawking argues, if there are untold numbers of planets in the galaxy, it’s less remarkable that there’s one with conditions for human life.

And, indeed, he argues, any form of intelligent life that evolves anywhere will automatically find that it lives somewhere suitable for it.

From there he introduces the idea of multiple universes, saying that if there are many universes, one will have laws of physics like ours – and in such a universe, something not only can, but must, arise from nothing.

Therefore, he concludes, there’s no need for God to explain it.

First, I want to key in on the part where he says that any life that evolves is going to find life suitable for it. So? That does nothing to explain how life got here. No one, lest of all the Christian, is arguing that this planet is not suited for life. The question is how did it get that way? Hawking is essentially saying the scientific answer is, “Because.” Excuse me, for not excepting that as an explanation.

A good illustration to demonstrate the fallacy of this type of reason is a man surviving a firing squad. He is tied to the post and blindfold. He begins to prepare himself for his imminent death. He hears, “Ready … Aim … Fire!” followed by multiple gunshots. As he braces, he suddenly realizes that he’s still alive, so he just concludes, “I must be really lucky.” A more logical conclusion would be that the guns had blanks or the firing squad all missed on purpose.

Second, I think several of his premises are debatable, at best. Even with innumerable plants in our universe, life is still unlikely to evolve on its own. The precise variables that are in place to allow life to exist are staggering. The universe could be teeming with planets, all with different variables and there still not be one planet with life on it. It is mere conjecture to say that the number of planets mean that life had to arise somewhere.

His claim about multiple universes is even worse. It has absolutely no scientific support. We are trying to explain this universe and Hawking adds even more universes to the equation. That merely complicates the matter for him as he has to find something else to explain the existence or emergence of all the other universes. To say that there are many universes, all with different laws of physics, you have to simply take a blind leap outside of the bounds of science. Without proof to the contrary, Ockham’s razor takes care of the multiple universes.

Lastly, his conclusion does not follow from his premises, even if you grant them as being true. His argument, simplified, is this:

There are a large number of planets, which increase the probability of one have life.
There are multiple universes, which increase the probability of one having the right laws of physics.
Therefore, God is not needed to explain life.

That is a complete non sequitur. The conclusion does not follow in any way from the premises. Even if the premises demonstrate an increase in the probability of life arising, it still does not speak to the likelihood of God’s existence or role in the origin of life. Simply positing billions upon billions of planets in multiple universes, with no evidence by the way, merely adds more things that arose from nothing which must be explained.

What if I made this argument:

There were lots of quarterbacks in the SEC last year.
There were multiple conferences in college football last season.
Therefore, it is likely that a quarterback won the Heisman trophy.

All three of those things may be true and even related in some way, but the conclusion has nothing to do with the first two premises. Stating the number of quarterbacks in a conference and pointing out there were a number of conferences, does nothing to demonstrate the probability of a QB taking home college football’s top individual honor. My argument left off a lot of valuable information. Hawking does the same thing.

The only way Hawking can get his conclusion is if he adds another premise as follows:

There are a large number of planets, which increase the probability of one have life.
There are multiple universes, which increase the probability of one having the right laws of physics.
The more planets and universes, the less God is needed.
Therefore, God is not needed to explain life.

The new, previously hidden premise exposes the circular argument.  That is the very question we are trying to answer. Is God less probable with the addition of planets and universes? Hawking sneaks an extra premise in and then is able to “prove” his point by using it, without stating it.

Stephen Hawking is a bright and inspirational man. He is to be lauded for much of what he has done, but like many of his fellow atheistic scientist he fell prey to the lure of commenting and proclaiming well outside his area of knowledge. His arguments against the existence of God are illogical. The man is a genius. Illogical, but a genius.

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Aaron Earls

Christian. Husband. Daddy. Writer. Online editor for Facts & Trends Magazine. Fan of quick wits, magical wardrobes, brave hobbits, time traveling police boxes & Blue Devils.