Sunday, September 5, 2010

Physicist Stephen Hawking Puts God Out of Picture

"Why do I worry for Stephen Hawking? I suppose it is a fear that I have misinterpreted his moving forces, and that what I have characterized above as "unemotion­al scientific detachment" is in fact an almost passio­nate desire to live in an alternative universe without God. If that be true, to whatever degree, then his inner world will almost certainly be at cross purposes to his work in the outer." ~Don Pendleton, A Search for Meaning From the Surface of a Small Planet.

Physicist Stephen Hawking has made statements in his upcoming book that seems to have surprised many. Apparently in his new book, Hawking claims physics can provide an explanation for many things without there being a need for a benevolent creator who made the universe for our benefit. In other words, he puts God out of the equation. These theories he now holds in contrast to his previous ideas, follow on the heels of another recent statement he made that that we should not try to communicate with extraterrestrial life as they would have malevolent intent to "conquer and colonize."

When I read Hawking's statement about God I was reminded of what my husband, Don Pendleton wrote in his book more than 15 years ago in regards to Hawking and God. Don was concerned about Hawking then, and I would imagine if Don was here today, he would be even more concerned about the man.

At the time, Don's original draft was even a little more harsh about Hawking than it ended up in the book. Don discussed this chapter with me then he decided to soften it a bit out of respect for the scientist, which he did. This is what Don wrote in his Search for Meaning, Chapter 13:

A recent reading of Nobel physicist Stephen Hawking's excellent A Brief History of Time, though it is charm­ing and entertaining throughout as well as provocative in many of its movements, served chiefly to remind me that science still continues its almost desperate struggle to elucidate every possible alternative to God. This is good, I suppose, in that the ongoing process of elimination guarantees that the scientists will not throw up their hands in surrender to an insol­uble riddle; meanwhile they are moving ever closer to the truth and all of us benefit even from their mis­takes. We are, after all, a long way removed from the cave, and the largest strides have been muscled by the advance of knowledge through science.

I do worry a bit, though, about the scientists themselves. It seems to be a human tendency that our inner worlds become ordered or tainted by the work roles that we take on in the outer world. Thus the lawyer may have to guard against a creeping cynicism and a world view based on lies, deceits, greed, avarice and all the other ills that form the working world of the lawyer, lest he become just like that himself. The clergyman may find it wise to constantly remind himself that he serves the problems of earth, not those of heaven, and that his power (professional value) comes from those he serves, not from some supposed mantle of authority which may seduce him into the mistaken con­viction that he is the voice of God on earth, lest he find himself denying his own humanity. The psycholo­gist or psychiatrist, I should think, must be wary of any idea that because he is instrumental in restoring order to disordered minds, he is then competent to dictate order to all minds everywhere, lest he become a bit unbalanced himself in the attempt.

And the scientist, God love him, should be ever so careful in dealing with the foundations of the universe that he not begin to fancy himself the builder, lest he become disdainful of the process or, worse, go a little mad because he is not therefore worshiped for having built it.

Case in point: Isaac Newton. This giant of 17th century science, upon whose findings are based much of our modern world, became a pygmy in his inner world and an insufferably pompous egomaniac in his relations with others. Though the first scientist to be knighted by the British Crown, he was notorious among his peers as furiously arrogant and disputatious, devious, unforgiv­ing and vindictive, and he spent the final thirty years of his life in an obscure political post far removed from the march of scientific achievement. How much more would Sir Isaac have given our world if his inner world had not entrapped his genius?

Albert Einstein, on the other hand, seems to have been a gentle and humble man who turned down an offer to become president of Israel and labored until his death at the age of 76 to develop a unified field theory that would link the big and little of things in one grand theorem. He did not succeed in that, but he'd long since moved the world a quantum leap beyond Newtonian physics and perhaps would have found his grand theorem but for an intrusion from his own inner world. While agreeing with the basic tenets of quantum physics (as early as 1905 he'd revolutionized the theory of light with his proposal that it is composed of individual quanta which behave not only as waves but also as particles) he ultimately rejected the principle of uncertainty inherent in the new physics as absolute because it offended his sense of order, expressed in two widely quoted statements, "God does not play dice," and "God is subtle but he is not malicious."

Perhaps one day Einstein will be proven right, after all, in bypassing the seemingly chaotic condi­tions within the atom, but it seems more likely at this time that he was defeated by a rigid order within his own inner world which would not countenance a creation built of apparent disorder. He gave us enough, cer­tainly–and all built from that same inner appreciation of a splendidly ordered reality, which he equated with God–but I do wonder how much more he would have given us had he sought the possible alternatives to God instead of God itself.

Hawking seems to have the proper approach, an unemotional scientific detachment which objects even to the singularity as another form of infinity, the pure scientist's arch-nemesis. But I worry about him, too, because this brilliant theoretician has begun to mock his own past achievements in physics and now seems bent on proving that this creation we call the universe was not, in fact, created by anything at all. In "solving" the singularity (from which supposedly issued the big bang) by dismissing it, Hawking would erect in its place a universe of two alternate infinities, a uni­verse without beginning and without end, alternately expanding and contracting forever in finite space and finite time but structured in such a way that both space and time would function as infinities.

It is reported that when Einstein first heard the Belgian scientist Lemaitre outline his big bang theory he jumped to his feet with applause and later declared, "This is the most beautiful and satisfactory explana­tion of creation to which I have ever listened." The reaction is characteristic of Einstein, who forever sought and found beauty in the universe and thought of such beauty as the firm imprint of God revealed in the mysterious workings of the universe.

One finds no such appreciation lurking between the lines of A Brief History of Time. Rather, Hawking seems to regard the entire business as an intellectual exercise and, where Einstein sought to reveal God through science, Hawking appears determined to shut God out. And I doubt that Albert Einstein would leap gleefully into spontaneous applause in reaction to Stephen Hawking's finite but boundary-less pulsating universe, especially since the proposal concludes: "The idea that space and time may form a closed surface without boundary also has profound implications for the role of God in the affairs of the universe. With the success of scientific theories in describing events, most people have come to believe that God allows the universe to evolve according to a set of laws and does not intervene in the universe to break these laws. However, the laws do not tell us what the universe should have looked like when it started–it would still be up to God to wind up the clockwork and choose how to start it off. So long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator. But if the universe is really completely self-contained, having no boundary or edge, it would have neither beginning nor end: it would simply be. What place, then, for a creator?"

Why do I worry for Stephen Hawking? I suppose it is a fear that I have misinterpreted his moving forces, and that what I have characterized above as "unemotion­al scientific detachment" is in fact an almost passio­nate desire to live in an alternative universe without God. If that be true, to whatever degree, then his inner world will almost certainly be at cross purposes to his work in the outer. Of course there is also the possibility that the outer world has intruded upon the inner, as suggested in the early examples above, and of this I am even more fearful, for Stephen Hawking–for all his brilliance and intellectual achievements–is a man in strong need of inner peace with his universe. He is a victim of ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease, a progres­sive crippler which has reduced him to the use of two fingers for communication with the outside world–and indeed he wrote his book in that condition, using a specially designed computer attached to the arm of his wheelchair.

But I am told by some who know him that he has an irrepressible sense of humor–which, in such an intel­lect, could mean also a finely tuned sense of the ridiculous–so perhaps he is just putting us all on, particularly his peers in science, with the suggestion that it is better to have an explicable universe with­out God than to live in a world under God which is beyond the final reach of science. This latter could be a definition of hell for those who dare not believe in God because otherwise they could not bear to not be God (to paraphrase Nietzsche).

At the bottom of all this exposition into the alternatives to God is a growing feeling that, indeed, many scientists do find frustration in the fact that all their laboratory models of reality point unerringly toward infinity in both directions–up and down, big and little. Infinity is where the scientist is shut out. Perhaps it is more convenient for many to shut God out instead–because God, you know, does not fund research grants, establish endowments for the sciences, or confer academic honors.

Einstein grew more and more isolated from the main­stream of science during his declining years because he rejected the logical inferences that new scientists were drawing from his own brilliant work with relativ­ity and the theory of light. Scientists such as Hawking and his fellows who are engaged in particle physics research are perhaps becoming isolated in turn because they have not yet recognized the full ramifi­cations of their own brilliant work. The reason that they have not could well be because their work has led them to a point very close to the end of their trail–in just a couple of generations the trail has become a rut, and extrication from the rut requires a leap of mind which few seem willing or able to make.

Part of the reason for this was expressed by Tolstoy, long ago: "I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives."

But the problem goes even deeper than that, having to do with the revolution of thought and the ability to see old things in a new way. Einstein looked at the principle of uncertainty and shuddered at the concept of an underlying chaos in nature. A new generation of scientists looked at the same concept and leapt to their feet with applause, as Einstein did when encount­ering the big bang theory, because they saw through the disorder with a new vision that sought patterns instead of particles.

If one bases one's view of the macrocosm upon what is observed from the random collision of particles in a laboratory, and if the view expressed depends entirely upon the interactions observed between particles according to the principles of probability physics, then one is certainly justified in a view that the world is built accidentally by an unpredictable process that builds the most probable reality–not by plan but, as Einstein feared, a roll of nature's dice. A leap of mind, however, that sees underlying chaos as mere raw product for invisible patterns in space, alters the view dramatically and restores plan to the universe.

This is where the most exciting things are happening in science today, for the patterns are there and an excited new generation of science is busily pursuing them.

It is both sad and ironic that Einstein was instrumental in developing and popularizing the original field theories on which the new science is built. Even his explanation of gravity as a result of curved space rather than the force deduced by Newton was a precursor of things to come, since the curved space surrounding a massive object such as our earth or sun is now being understood as the boundary areas of an invisible pattern or field which orchestrates the physical activities within it.

The leap from particle to organizing field seems to be a leap in the right direction for modern science, which has virtually exhausted the resources of particle physics anyway, a fact with which Stephen Hawking almost plaintively agrees. Only time will tell if it is merely another alternative to God–but it really does not matter in the long view because all altern­atives are themselves structures in space, spiraling toward the center, and all will ultimately be seen as pathways to the one reality. The churnings of science are themselves processes of chaos responding each in its own way to the insistent pull of the universe. Let us leap to our feet and gleefully applaud them all.


There was a young muon from Trevyn,
Who sought but could not find a leaven,
He said, "Lone though I be,
I will never agree
With an ugly old gluon from heaven."
There was a bright scientist named Hawking,
Who could not put up with the squawking
Of his brothers in arms,
Or his sisters in charms,
So he gave them a fighting charmed chalking.
If you've found a massless particle,
For a scientific article,
You can give it some spin
for a Nobel prize win:
Introduce it with God parenthetical.

Excerpt from the book, A Search For Meaning From the Surface of a Small Planet by Don Pendleton, © Copyright 2000, 2002 by Linda Pendleton

Don's book is available in print and Kindle at



Ricky Kendall said...

The existence of self awareness and intelligence, neither of which can be explained by any scientific equations that I am aware of, convinces me that there is a God. Whether it be an energy force, male, female or an entire sea of super spirits, something is behind all this.

I don't believe that self awareness can be extinguished and I also believe there is a plan. I don't know what that plan is but I truly enjoy the journey and the possibilities of what will be waiting for me when I leave this body.

Life is a wonderful miracle and yes, it can be explained by science. Awareness of myself, however, can not be explained and only I can attest to the fact that I exist, nobody else can do it for me. I also can not attest for the awareness of life around me, I can only observe to make my conclusions. I can only testify by what I feel inside my being. There is a God.

Linda Pendleton said...

Thanks for your inspirational and insighful comments.