LONDON (Sept. 2) -- Entering the ongoing debate between faith and science, renowned British scientist Stephen Hawking claims that modern physics has now proved that God played no role in the creation of the universe.
In a new book -- "The Grand Design," co-written with American physicist Leonard Mlodinow -- the theoretical physicist sets out to demolish Sir Isaac Newton's claim that an "intelligent and powerful Being" must have shaped the universe, which he believed could not have emerged from chaos. Hawking and Mlodinow rule out the possibility of divine intervention, saying that new theories have made the idea of a supernatural creator redundant.
"Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing," the pair write, in an extract published in today's London Times. "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."
Evan Agostini, AP
"The Grand Design," which goes on sale next week, is a significant shift away from Hawking's previous comments on the divine. In his 1988 best-seller, "A Brief History of Time," he suggested that it was possible to believe in the concept of God as creator and also hold a scientific view of the universe. "If we do discover a complete theory ... of why it is that we and the universe exist ... it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason -- for then we would know the mind of God," he wrote.
And in a 2007 interview, he appeared to portray himself as an agnostic. "I believe the universe is governed by the laws of science," he told the BBC. "The laws may have been decreed by God, but God does not intervene to break the laws."
Hawking now argues that Newton's assertion that the laws of nature cannot alone explain the existence of life and the universe started to fall apart in 1992, when astronomers discovered the first extrasolar planets (planets beyond our own solar system) orbiting other sunlike stars.
"That makes the coincidences of our planetary conditions -- the single Sun, the lucky combination of Earth-Sun distance and solar mass, far less remarkable, and far less compelling evidence that the Earth was carefully designed just to please us human beings," he writes. Hawking believes that other universes, as well as other solar systems, are also likely to exist. But if God's purpose was to create mankind, he wonders, why would He make these redundant and out-of-reach worlds?
Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist and high-profile atheist, welcomed the book, telling the Times that Hawking had developed a theory of Darwinism for the entirety of nature, not simply the creatures that live within it. "That's exactly what he's saying," Dawkins told the paper. "I know nothing of the details of the physics, but I had always assumed the same thing."
Sponsored LinksHowever, religious commentators have criticized Hawking's theorizing, saying he can never hope to explain what is essentially unexplainable.
"If all the physical laws had been explained and proved -- which is a million miles from the case -- our understanding of the actions of God would not be one whit greater: his existence and his actions are of a different order," writes Quentin de la Bedoyere, science editor of the U.K.'s Catholic Herald newspaper. "Most particularly it would not touch the question of how something existing comes out from nothing. That is a question which science cannot answer, and will never answer, because nothingness is not within its domain. ... Neither [Hawking], nor you, nor I will ever explain creation, except through faith."