Archive for William Hague

Hawking and the Mind of God

Posted in Books, Talks and Reviews, Science Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on September 2, 2010 by telescoper

I woke up this morning to the news that, according to Stephen Hawking, God did not create the Universe but it was instead an “inevitable consequence of the Law of Physics”. By sheer coincidence this daft pronouncement has come out at the same time as the publication of Professor Hawking’s new book, an extract of which appears in todays Times.

It’s interesting that such a fatuous statement managed to become a lead item on the radio news and a headline in all the national newspapers despite being so obviously devoid of any meaning whatsoever. How can the Universe be  “a consequence” of the theories that we invented to describe it? To me that’s just like saying that the Lake District is a consequence of an Ordnance Survey map. And where did the Laws of Physics come from, if not from God?

Stephen Hawking is undoubtedly a very brilliant theoretical physicist. However, something I’ve noticed about theoretical physicists over the years is that if you get them talking on subjects outside physics they are generally likely to say things just as daft as some drunk bloke  down the pub. I’m afraid this is a case in point.

Part of me just wants to laugh this story off, but another part is alarmed at what must appear to many to be an example of an arrogant scientist presuming to pass judgement on subjects that are really none of his business. When scientists complain about the lack of enthusiasm shown by sections of the public towards their subject, perhaps they should take seriously the alienating effect that such statements can have. This kind of thing isn’t what I’d call public engagement. Quite the opposite, in fact.

In case anyone is interested, I am not religious but I do think that there are many things that science does not – and probably will never –  explain, such as why there is  something rather than nothing. I also believe that science and religious belief are not in principle incompatible – although whether there is a conflict in practice does depend of course on the form of religious belief and how it is observed. God and physics are in my view pretty much orthogonal. To put it another way,  if I were religious, there’s nothing in theoretical physics that would change make me want to change my mind. However, I’ll leave it to those many physicists who are learned in matters of theology to take up the (metaphorical) cudgels with Professor Hawking.

No doubt this bit of publicity will increase the sales of the new book, so I’ve decided  to point out that I have  written a book myself on precisely this question, which is available from all good airports bookshops. I’m sure you’ll understand that there isn’t a hint of opportunism in the way I’m drawing this to your attention. If you think this is a cynical attempt to cash in then all I can say is


I also noticed that today’s Grauniad is offering a poll on the existence or non-existence of God. I noticed some time ago that there’s a poll facility on WordPress, so this gives me an excuse to try repeating it here. Anything dumb the Guardian can do, I can do dumber. However, owing to funding cuts I’ve decided to do a single poll encompassing several topical news stories at the same time.