You have to hand it to the marketers. In their zealous efforts to sell you a copy of Stephen Hawking's new book: The Grand Design, they have granted its author god-like powers.
Through the intermediary spirits called editors they have flooded the media with the news that Stephen Hawking has discovered that there is no God.
If you have ever had any doubt about the question, then surely the opinion of a great physicist should solve the problem for you.
If Hawking says that there is no God, then there is no God.
Inadvertently, all of these editors have ascribed god-like characteristics to Hawking. Remember that, in the beginning, God said: Let there be light. And there was light.
Like Stephen Hawking's God's word became reality. But, while God caused something to exist, Hawking caused a lot of people to believe that something did not exist.
If you are not familiar with the argument, Hawking insists that the universe was formed through a spontaneous action. Apparently, he believes that this disproves the existence of a God who would have set it all in motion.
But what if God is the name one would want to give to the spontaneous action that creates a semi-intelligible universe, then Hawking's belief in having disproved the existence of God would not make very much sense.
Carlin Romano has written the best essay on this marketing ploy. Link here. Romano points out the argument from authority that underlies this ploy.
He notes that Hawking is widely recognized as a genius. Nothing to dispute there. And he is a genius who has sold millions of books. That makes him even more of a genius.
In the minds of the gullible and the lazy, that is good enough to make his pronouncements into dogmatic truth. They are not about to spend their precious time thinking through the issues, are they?
Anyway, you can go to a dinner party and proclaim that you are so smart that you agree with Stephen Hawking, and that, based on his authority, you and all thinking people know that God does not exist.
Even if you are wrong-- and who would be able to prove it-- you will have commanded no small amount of respect at the dinner party. And that's what it's all about, isn't it?
Why are we so ready to accept that genius is worthy of so much respect, even when said genius is making statements about topics he knows very little about?
After all, being the world's leading authority of physics does not mean that you are an authority on theology or philosophy. And being the world's leading authority in mathematics does not mean that you are an authority on Greek poetry. And being the world's leading authority on baseball does not mean that you can hit a golf ball. It is fatuous to suggest otherwise.
When you quote the words of a genius as though they are, for having been uttered by a genius, absolute truth, you are also saying that a genius is something like a superhuman demigod, like an angel or... a genie.
While we only call human beings geniuses, the term used to refer to what we now call: genies. This makes it difficult to use the fact that you are an intermediary between the mundane and the divine to announce that God exists. After all, genius means that you have privileged access to God's mind.
And don't we believe that Stephen Hawking is the ultimate genius because he has, through illness, been largely deprived of the use of his body. A pure mind, unencumbered by a body, has better access to divine intelligence than someone whose mind is constantly being corrupted by bodily interests.
Where did Hawking go wrong? Simply, he was trying to use science, even physics, to prove or disprove the existence of a metaphysical being.
If God is a metaphysical being, then His existence or non-existence is not subject to experimental verification.
If you think that proving and disproving can only take place under the aegis of the scientific method, you have chosen one among many usages of the word: "proof." And then you misapplied it.
Proving a hypothesis is not the same as proving a theorem. Neither is the same as a philosophical proof of the existence of God.
One does not need to wander aimlessly in the philosophical thicket that Aristotle dubbed metaphysics, but a brief explanation is needed.
Ask yourself this: Do you believe that ideas exist? Given that you have never seen, heard, touched, tasted, or smelled an idea, can you prove scientifically that ideas exist?
If science deals with observable and measurable phenomena, then how can it offer an opinion about the existence of metaphysical objects like ideas?
Let's admit that ideas exist. Do they still exist when no one is thinking about them? That is the crux of the problem.
Whether you take the idea of gravity or the idea of evolution, and you assume that the phenomena that we explain with these ideas existed before any scientist discovered exactly how they functioned, isn't it fair to say that there must exist somewhere else? And if they are ideas, don't they, by definition, exist in a mind.
You may call it the mind of God or the mind of one of God's angels, but still... if you or an archangel has an idea, something like a mind must be thinking it.
Scientists make certain aspects of the known universe intelligible to human minds. It helps those of us who have human minds to be able to grasp the universe's operating principles, and thus to see that it makes sense.
Now, if the universe makes sense to a human mind, isn't it plausible to say that it was created, or organized, or ordered by some other kind of mind?
This may not prove that God exists, but it should certainly help us to avoid pretending that we know for a fact that God does not exist.
As Carlin Romano explains, Hawking has fallen into the kinds of errors that were first analyzed by the great philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.
When we say that God exists, or even that ideas exist, we are not using the predicate of existence the same way we would if we were talking about the existence of a thumb tack or of the Gulf Stream.
And when we say that we believe in a metaphysical being like God or a metaphysical entity like an idea, we are not talking about the same kind of belief that we have when we say that we believe in the existence of the sun or that we believe that the Saints won the Super Bowl.
Just because you are using the same word does not mean that you are talking about the same thing.