In our March 15 article on this site, we mentioned the death of Stephen Hawking. We noted some of the amazing things that Hawking accomplished. We have received some mail about Hawking and his role as an atheist. How much Hawking’s battle with health issues affected his view of God is hard to answer, but his resistance to believing in God is undeniable as shown in his book The Grand Design.
In his otherwise excellent book A Brief History of Time (Bantam Books, 1988), Hawking did a masterful job of explaining the second law of thermodynamics. He even intimated that the second law was supportive of the existence of God. That was something Hawking didn’t want to do, so at the end of the book he invented something he called “virtual time.” He couldn’t define virtual time, and it is not testable and therefore is not science. By accepting virtual time, Hawking was able to deny that there was a beginning and that the beginning had to be caused by an entity outside of space/time.
Hawking’s first wife was a believer in God and expressed concern about the integrity of the virtual time argument. Many have suggested that Hawking’s belief system was all that the last chapter of the book was trying to defend.
In his 2010 book The Grand Design, Hawking declared that God is not needed to explain the existence of the universe. In an interview, he said, “There is no heaven or afterlife… that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.” That was a statement of faith based on the imaginary concept of virtual time. Virtual means unreal. A grand design based on virtual time is not real.
Hawking was an outstanding thinker in cosmology, and he overcame enormous challenges to continue to live a productive life far beyond what was expected. It is sad that he allowed bias to shadow his thinking in areas outside of his specialty. A friend of mine with a Ph.D. in physics says, “My Ph.D. in every-day life really stands for post hole digger.” Like Richard Dawkins and other popular atheists, Hawking was incredibly ignorant in spiritual matters, but a genius in his own field of expertise. Let us admire and praise his professional accomplishments, but not attach much significance to his religious opinions. Tomorrow we will examine “virtual faith.”
–John N. Clayton © 2018