Some Thoughts on Stephen Hawking, Science, and Faith

My grandfather introduced me to the writings and thoughts of Stephen Hawking when I was a young teen. I read much more from him in astronomy/physics electives in college and then in teaching apologetics later. I would describe Hawking as a paradigm-breaker. I would never claim to have been able to understand all that he wrote, or to feign interest in it all either. I always felt, though, that he was just a couple steps away from proving the divine origins of the universe without a doubt. That’s funny, I know, considering how often Hawking publicly denied the need for a Creator regarding the universe. 

Just last week my grandfather and I were discussing Hawking’s latest description of the “pre-big bang”; which sounded incredibly close to the ancient Church’s belief in ex nihilo. We both wondered if Hawking reconsidered a divine origin or divine-initiated singularity in his last weeks of physical life.

Out of respect for Stephen Hawking and his family, I will not speculate on whether he ever settled his belief in God pre-mortem. His passing this morning did create a desire in me to have a brief, wider discussion about science and faith.

In my opinion, even the most secular aims of modern science end up pointing to God’s consistent handiwork in the universe and the life therein, even when they are presented in opposition to creation.

Consider, for example, the fascinating topic of light. The prime singularity that our most basic modern science textbooks include, which is often called the “Big Bang,” is described as an instant explosion of light. In Genesis 1 there was light (1:3) before the sun was created (1:14). There is a light that emerges in the universe from a greater source. It is a light that continues to expand and penetrate every part of the universe and beyond. As cosmologist Marcus Chown says,

“The constant thing in our universe isn’t space or the flow of time but the speed of light. And everything else in the universe has no choice but to adjust itself to maintain light in its preeminent position.”

Another example, is found in the way things work from the cosmos to cellular level. In everything there is design and movement. Therefore, the belief in a Designer and Mover has been held almost universally for millennia. For the vast majority of the last 2,000 years, the scientific progress and discovery went hand-in-hand with at least some form of the Church. Consider Aquinas’ “Five Ways,” which I have attempted to explain:

  1. Motion – Every movement has a mover.
  2. Cause and Effect – There must be an uncaused cause.
  3. Contingency – There must be a necessary being.
  4. Virtues/Vices – The idea of good must come from intrinsic goodness.
  5. Design – The universe is both intentionally and well put together.

In the last couple of centuries, however, the Church and science have entered a new schism of sorts. This is not true for all, but it is true for many. Many Christians fear that adherence to modern science threatens a historical view of the Bible, while others feel affirming the Bible’s claims makes one too simple-minded.

Stephen Hawking was a culprit in this area too, saying things like,

“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?”

Over the years I have had fascinating conversations with physicists, geologists, and others who work in biological fields, who are also Christ-followers. The two things I hear them lament the most are: 1.) The scientific community‘s reluctance to see how clearly the Bible and the pursuit of modern science lineup; and 2.) The approach of far too many Christians who try to force a narrow interpretation of the evidence using bad science and theological shaming, ultimately resulting in complete dismissal of their assertions by the larger scientific community.

I am thankful for my first introductions to science by my grandfather, and that our journey continues. He has taught me well, and helped set me on a path that has included both the joy of discovery and the wonder of attributing everything that exists to the work of God.

So I want to end with a two-part question, and I would love to hear your responses. Can we use Scripture and science together to have open dialogue? Or should we furnish our own interpretation of Scripture first and accept only the science that matches?

7 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on Stephen Hawking, Science, and Faith

  1. Bill Poindexter says:

    Nice write up Eric. I would note that while Hawking was a brilliant theoretical physicist he was not so much in the area of philosophy. In fact as noted Bill Craig and Ravi Zacharias he said philosophy was dead (using philosophy to make the point). I was a great admirer of Hawking as a scientist partly due to my mom suffering the same disease for 35 yrs. He was not without his errors and I remember seeing an article where he did not think the Higgs would ever be found. Ufottunately he was very anti-Christian and we can only hope that God touched him somehow before his passing and that he came to the knowledge of the truth.

  2. gbnickerson says:

    If God is truth and all truth exists and finds its source in Him, then science and faith are not at odds. Of course, that supposes a grasp of truth on both sides, science and theology. When we are willing to see truth and strip away our presuppositions then we will likely be amazed at how they agree with one another.

  3. kyletresch says:

    Nice and thanks for sharing. While I have virtually no understanding of theoretical astrophysics, I did just finish reading Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry.” As the title suggests, it was kind of astrophysics for dummies. So, it was an appropriate read for me. And, while it was not the author’s intention, I found many aspects of the book to be profoundly spiritual. For me personally, I see science and it’s search for truth to be a beautiful way to discover more about God, who St. Augustine reminded us, is afterall truth.

  4. Brenton McLaury says:

    For the first question, I think we can use scripture and science to have open dialogue, but I wouldn’t say together. They both stand on their own. I believe in scripture and I believe in science, but the Bible is not a science text and you can’t use science to prove the existence of God. I think science often points to a creator and does so beautifully, but it is up to an individual to draw that conclusion. Matthew 11:25 comes to mind here, especially for those that think they are wise. I am an engineer and marvel at creation around me and have a deep appreciation for the design in nature. An example is a bird being able to fly. The wing of a bird is a wonderful design that is meticulously designed for flight, and if I didn’t believe in a creator, I would have to believe in something that is implausible to me. I would have to believe that a form of wing first existed for a different purpose and then changed over time to allow flight, exaptation. I have read hypotheses about the possible purposes of pre-wing structures, and I can’t bring myself to believe that these structures developed into wings that could create flight.
    For the second question, I think we do our best to interpret scripture and we do our best to interpret science. If there seems to be something that is not harmonious between the two, it is probably due to our limited understanding. I need to point out that things accepted in science change over time. To bring this back to Hawking, it was accepted for quite awhile that the universe came to be through the big bang, but now it is being questioned whether this is true.

  5. Pauline Davis says:

    Your new post on Doxology regarding Stephen Hawking, Science, and Faith was absolutely fascinating and I am just about the most ignorant of most science as you can find. But thank you for it all the same. How can I access your “Doxology” without having to go through some social media? Is there a way? Hope things are going well for you. Just don’t snap up anymore of our church members! Just kidding, and it was bound to happen. I must admit having your church in my backyard is pretty enticing at times. Take care…

    Polly Davis

    On Wed, Mar 14, 2018 at 10:14 AM Doxology – by Eric Costanzo wrote:

    > Eric Costanzo posted: “My grandfather introduced me to the writings and > thoughts of Stephen Hawking when I was a young teen. I read much more from > him in astronomy/physics electives in college and then in teaching > apologetics later. I would describe Hawking as a paradigm-breake” >

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