A MUSLIM RESPONSE TO STEPHEN HAWKING’S LATEST PRONOUNCEMENTS ABOUT GOD

With the Name of God, All-Merciful, Most Merciful

WHAT BREATHES FIRE INTO THE EQUATIONS?

A MUSLIM RESPONSE TO STEPHEN HAWKING’S LATEST PRONOUNCEMENTS ABOUT GOD

by Usama Hasan, 7th September 2010

The Introduction to the original 1988 edition of Prof. Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time (Bantam Press) was written by the late Carl Sagan, a leading American physicist who was also atheist. In this Introduction, Sagan put a decidedly atheist slant on Hawking’s work:

“In this book are lucid revelations on the frontiers of physics, astronomy, cosmology, and courage … This is also a book about God … or perhaps the absence of God. The word God fills these pages. Hawking embarks on a quest to answer Einstein’s famous question about whether God had any choice in creating the universe. Hawking is attempting, as he explicitly states, to understand the mind of God. And this makes all the more unexpected the conclusion of the effort, at least so far: a universe with no edge in space, no beginning or end in time, and nothing for a Creator to do.”

Since many, if not most, people who bought the bestseller failed to make much headway into a rather difficult read for the non-specialist, Sagan’s resounding words at the beginning of the book had enormous influence, no doubt. Many people would have been left unaware that Hawking’s short, concluding chapter maintained an agnostic position, rather open to the idea of God. Just over two decades later, the publication of extracts from Hawking’s latest book, The Grand Design, shows that the “greatest physicist since Einstein” has not followed the latter’s mystical view of God, but rather opted for a Sagan-like position.

Over the past week, many journalists and commentators have dug up Hawking’s concluding paragraph from 1988 (p. 175), and reasoned that he has now simply changed his mind:

“However, if we do discover a complete theory … it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we would know the mind of God.”

However, Hawking had made the more important, philosophical points a couple of paragraphs earlier (p. 174), points that have largely been ignored in the recent debate:

“Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe? The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model to describe. Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing? Is the unified theory so compelling that it brings about its own existence?”

It would now appear that Hawking has forgotten these crucial questions by claiming in his latest book (as reported in The Times, 2nd September 2010) that,

“Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the Universe going.”

Here, Hawking fails to explain where the law of gravity comes from, and fails to answer his own question from 1988,

“What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?”

Or, as Professor Paul Davies puts it,

“A much tougher problem now looms, however. What is the source of those ingenious laws that enable a universe to pop into being from nothing?”

Hawking’s “spontaneous creation” is God-by-another-name: our atheist friends, like theists, have many names for God!

Hawking’s reliance on M-theory (related to string theory) is objectionable because it goes against his own strong positivist position that demands experimental tests for any theory. Paul Davies says, “It is not testable, not even in any foreseeable future,” and Professor Jon Butterworth adds, “M-theory is highly speculative and certainly not in the zone of science that we’ve got any evidence for.” (Both quotations are from The Times)

Furthermore, the physicists Lee Smolin and Peter Woit have both written popular books about the problems of string theory (The Trouble With Physics and Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory, respectively).

As to the idea of the multiverse, the cosmos as a vast (possibly infinite) collection of universes inferred by Hawking from M-theory, Neil Manson once said that, “the multiverse is the last resort of the desperate atheist.” However, whereas some of our Jewish, Christian and Muslim friends may have objections to the multiverse, given the centrality of the Israelite people, Christ and Muhammad respectively in our theologies, others have no such problems. The Qur’an teaches that God created “seven earths” (Surah al-Talaq or Chapter: Divorce, 65:12). The great early commentator, Ibn ‘Abbas, taught that “on each earth there is an Adam, a Moses, a Jesus and a Muhammad.” In other words, there is life on other planets and possibly in parallel universes, and since all creation is there to glorify God, other forms of intelligent life may also reach the heights of spirituality amongst their species.

God as Creator (al-Khaliq, and also the intensive form al-Khallaq) is able to create as many universes as He wishes. So in answer to the question, “God or multiverse?” it is obviously possible to believe in God as Lord of the Multiverse (Rabb al-‘alamin).

In conclusion, it should be remembered that Hawking is a brilliant scientist.  Science does an excellent job of describing Nature, or as a theist would say, how God creates.  But science can say nothing essential about why we are here and how we should live our lives: only true and balanced faith and religion can answer those questions, with Messengers of God to show us the Way.

Dr. Usama Hasan is Senior Lecturer in Engineering at Middlesex University, an imam at Al-Tawhid Mosque in London and a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Click here for a PDF version of this article: On God and Hawking 7-Sep-2010

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20 Responses to “A MUSLIM RESPONSE TO STEPHEN HAWKING’S LATEST PRONOUNCEMENTS ABOUT GOD”

  1. Avas Asghar Says:

    Thank you Usama for an enjoyable & important read.

    Reflecting on your last paragraph it occurred to me that perhaps scientists do an excellent job of describing what God creates, and occasionally how He creates, but never why He does so.

    By the way, which tafsir is Ibn Abbas’s quote from?

    Thank you once again. Wassalam

  2. Jeremy L. Marks Says:

    This is the beauty of science and consistently gaining a better understanding of ideas and theories. When a better, more concise or appropriate viewpoint is discovered it can be added to the original or it can replace the original idea if the new viewpoint covers the original more correctly. I, personally, do not need to take my ignorance of exactly how anything came to be, personify it and call my ignorance god.

    • Usama Hasan Says:

      Thank you, Jeremy. I should point out that theism is not a God-of-the-gaps faith, as some atheists misunderstand or misrepresent. The recently-retired mathematics professor Eric Priest says, “Modern belief in God is not about covering the gaps in our knowledge, but about answering different types of questions.” (See his article here.)

      Furthermore, atheism appears to have no answer for the fundamental philosophical questions posed by Paul Davies and Hawking himself, i.e. “What is the source of the laws of nature?”

  3. Dustin Says:

    Thanks Usama. This is a great area where we Christians and Muslims can stand together for the truth that God created the world.

    • Usama Hasan Says:

      Thanks, Dustin. I must confess that the basic argument of my article, based on Hawking’s own words, was learnt from a Christian speaker at a Christian student society meeting in Cambridge, about 20 years ago.

      And don’t forget the Jews: the Chief Rabbi in the UK gave a good and immediate response to Hawking – on 3/9/10 with an article in The Times, and a couple of days later with a video on the Sunday Times website, 5/9/10.

  4. Ron Krumpos Says:

    In “The Grand Design” Stephen Hawking postulates that the M-theory may be the Holy Grail of physics…the Grand Unified Theory which Einstein had tried to formulate and later abandoned. It expands on quantum mechanics and string theories.

    In my e-book on comparative mysticism is a quote by Albert Einstein: “…most beautiful and profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and most radiant beauty – which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their primitive form – this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of all religion.”

    E=mc², Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, is probably the best known scientific equation. I revised it to help better understand the relationship between divine Essence (Spirit), matter (mass/energy: visible/dark) and consciousness (f(x) raised to its greatest power). Unlike the speed of light, which is a constant, there are no exact measurements for consciousness. In this hypothetical formula, basic consciousness may be of insects, to the second power of animals and to the third power the rational mind of humans. The fourth power is suprarational consciousness of mystics, when they intuit the divine essence in perceived matter. This was a convenient analogy, but there cannot be a divine formula.

  5. Mike Says:

    Usama could you contend that there is a possibility that an abrahamic god may not exist? Or that the universe does not require a supernatural cause, that is to say it has a purely naturalistic explanation?

    Science for it’s part accepts the possibility of error and updating theories based on sensed evidence.

    • Usama Hasan Says:

      Thanks for the comment, Mike. As Norman Mailer said, it is nonsensical to suppose the cosmos without God as a principle, a first cause. The God of Abraham has many Names, including the Transcendent & Immanent, the Inner & Outer, the First & Last. The existence of God is not in doubt: the real question is how we get to know about God and how we should live our lives.

      If the universe has only a “naturalistic” explanation, where does that Nature or Laws of Nature come from? You and Prof. Hawking are not addressing this question, so you’re in exalted company there.🙂

      You might say that Nature = God, which would be a non-Abrahamic but pantheist position similar to non-theist (as opposed to atheist) positions in eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism.

  6. Mike Says:

    Also I have just read the article about god answering other questions like how to lead a good life. But really do we require religion to tell us how to lead a good life. For instance many people will consider stoning to death as cruel and unnecessary for cases of adultery. Yet in the Islamic religious texts it is full of these harsh punishments of stoning, whipping, crucifying, amputation, cauterising etc. Now if we are to say these punishments are wrong and the crimes they seek to punish are not crimes then we make these judgements based on secular non religious basis not on the need to justify based on scripture or ‘god’s word’.

    If we believe we cannot use God to justify belief in the ‘creation’ of the universe and if we do not need god to justify the good life then do we need religion at all or belief in any supernatural being or beings.

    I’d be most interested in your response

    • Usama Hasan Says:

      Good question, but these are questions of law & jurisprudence. There are many perversions of religion and faith but these only prove that those expressions of religion and faith are wrong. They don’t disprove God, for “is there any doubt about God?” (Qur’an)

      By the way, I recommend you read about the development of Islamic law and the theory of Maqasid al-Shariah (the universal objectives of law) for approaches to the legal issues you asked about. There are many good online materials on the topic, and I also addressed the issue for The Times in 2008 in an article, “What is Sharia?” –

  7. hattim Says:

    Dear Usama,

    Thank you for your proof, but sometimes in life hawking will say. that the big bang (THEORY) is real and there is no such thing called as God (Allah SBT) and scientist are finding it now if there is such thing called as GOD! he created everything for a reason.

    He created us to pray him and all of that. and ill say that hawking is an idiot because he said that there is now god.
    Thank You for reading this letter.😀😀😀😀😀😀😀

  8. hattim Says:

    i mad a mistake in there is no god

  9. Hamza Says:

    I have read Hawking’s book and studied strimg theory or more precosely M-theory. As you pointed out there is no contradiction between the so called theory of everything and Islam, rather Islam is probably the only religion that validates multiverse scenario.
    BTW, good work brother. MASHALLAH..!!

  10. Usman Says:

    “To create everything from nothing” is the power of God. or to make everything NOTHING in trillionth of second!. science can talk about some 13.7 B Year according to our time. but science can never see beyond that. what was before the big bang? answer : No light, No time, No space. Nothing. That is the end of our knowledge and here we are talking big about the existence of God.

  11. Esta página de internet Says:

    Esta página de internet

    A MUSLIM RESPONSE TO STEPHEN HAWKING’S LATEST PRONOUNCEMENTS ABOUT GOD | UNITY

  12. umar saeed Says:

    I will like to clarify and correct the translation of the Quranic verse you have mentioned in your article. Surah At-Talaq Chapter 65:12 says

    “It is Allah who has created seven heavens and of the earth, the like of them. [His] command descends among them so you may know that Allah is over all things competent and that Allah has encompassed all things in knowledge”. This actually refers the 7 Levels of heavens, not replicas.

    The Quran mentions that there are 7 heavens, not 7 earths. Where as you state that “The Qur’an teaches that God created “seven earths” (Surah al-Talaq or Chapter: Divorce, 65:12)” is incorrect.

    Furthermore there is no such hadiths or commentary by Ibn Abbas, if you claim it is, then please provide a reference or else your information has no credibility.

    Since the Quran don’t state any such information you have claimed, therefore the theory of multiverse is incorrect. Sorry if I am a bit harsh in my statements, but I believe such information is important to be corrected so that people are not mislead in understanding Islam. Otherwise a good job.

  13. Ali Raza Says:

    The atheistic thesis of his latest book runs like this: “Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.” Let me repeat the quote once more to make sure you’ve read it right: “Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.” Let’s make three brief observations.

    Observation 1: The law of gravity is not “nothing”.

    Hawking says the universe created itself from nothing. But before the cosmos came into existence, the law of gravity was. It just existed. In other words, before the self-creation of the universe there was ‘something’ and not ‘nothing’. Hence his philosophical affirmation entails a blatant in-your-face contradiction. There was either nothing or there was gravity.

    But in any one of these two cases, a theist can ask our British scientist some very challenging questions: where did gravity come from? Who or what created it? Why was it just there hanging about in empty space? How does anything come from nothing?

    Observation 2: The universe cannot create itself.

    Hawking commits another serious logical error when he asserts that the universe “can and will create itself from nothing.” It’s hard to believe that someone of Hawking’s caliber could be so credulous. Nothing can create itself. Let’s put an example i.e. you. If I say that your parents brought you into the world that makes sense because your parents biologically precede you. There’s no mistake there. But I cannot say you brought yourself into the world. Because to affirm this would mean that before you existed, you already had to exist i.e. exist and non-exist at the same time. That’s preposterous. Nothing creates itself. Neither you nor me nor the cosmos! Hawking has proposed a grave misjudgment.

    Observation 3: Laws create nothing.

    Hawking’s final evident slip-up is that he attributes creative abilities to laws of physics (in this case, the law of gravity). This is another schoolboy blunder. Laws create nothing. Creators are personal agents with intelligence and will. Let’s put another example to clarify matters. The law of gravity can explain why a ball falls when thrown from the top of a block of flats. But gravity never throws the ball. That requires a personal agent. Or laws of mathematics can show that 10 + 10 = 20. But such laws have never put 10 + 10 strawberries in my pocket. That requires a personal agent. The laws of motion can teach why a car moves from A to B. But a law of motion never ignites a car’s engine. That requires a personal agent.

    And in the same way, the laws of physics can give us details of many regularities that occur in the universe; but those laws did not bring the universe into existence. Again, that requires a personal agent with intelligence and will.

    Conclusion

    With these three short observations, I think we should take Hawking’s comments with a pinch of salt and kindly ask him to stop straying into the world of metaphysics when his real realm of work is science. And if he is to make a move into the realm of philosophy, then may he at least think logically and rationally about what he is writing.

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