Monday, September 06, 2010

Improbabilities Don't Prove a Creator

According to Stephen Hawking, God did not create the universe.  Apparently this is the revelation found in his recent book, Grand Design which has gotten all the press.  Sadly, there are probably much more fascinating comments in the book, but in the interest of internet clicks, God vs. the atheists is always good seller.

In a Wall Street Journal article, Stephen Hawking explains the fire behind the smoke.  If I understand him correctly, Hawking suggests that we shouldn't be fooled by the amazing improbabilities that life even exists.  What improbabilities?  The scientist gives us a litany.
  • The distance from the earth to the sun is just right.  Too close water would boil.  Too far water would freeze.
  • If forces were not conducive to the formation of stars, heavier elements would never have formed including carbon and oxygen which is necessary for us to exist.
  • If the dynamics of stars did not include that some would explode, then those heavier elements would not be distributed throughout the universe.
  • Change 0.5% or the strong nuclear force or 4% in the electric force and all carbon and oxygen would be destroyed in stars.
  • The orbit of our planet needed stability for a few hundred million years in order for life to develop.  This is an amazing feat considering all the gravitational influences from other bodies in the solar system.
I find such facts quite incredible, and at the very least suggest a posture of humility.  Laying coincidence upon coincidence, for many the probabilities seem too improbable.  As a result, they postulate a Creator.  Hawking suggests we make those conclusions too quickly. 

I see his point.  Moving backwards from a swarm of improbabilities to a certitude of a Creator is a leap.  God doesn't play dice with the universe, at least according to Einstein, but we certainly do.  What is the probability that someone would throw a "6" on a regular die?  Around 17%.  The odds are against it.  After the die is thrown and the player actually gets a "6".  What are the odds now?  100%.  To put it another way, The odds that a particular person would win a lottery are millions to one.  Let's say Homer Noodleman of Houston, Texas actually wins.  Is it fair to argue backwards?  It was so improbable that Mr. Noodleman would win that he must have cheated or the gods of luck favored him or something.  However, the improbabilities prove no such thing.

For the person of faith, of which I am one, the improbabilities are not a proof but a hymn of praise.  I thank God for the incredibly complex and fragile universe that he created.  The atheist who has read this far will suddenly take issue.  So be it.  However, I am intrigued by Stephen Hawking's assertion, "Everything in the Universe follows laws, without exception."  That there is a discernible logic to the universe may not prove God's existence, but it certainly moves us away from a meaningless and random universe.  It even opens us to the possibility of natural laws relating to justice or ethics.  During the Enlightenment, many thinkers who spoke of God or Providence were thinking precisely of those natural laws.

It's interesting.  I believe in the God of the Old and New Testaments.  However, I have much in common with a person like Thomas Jefferson or even Christopher Hitchens who despite religious differences, believe that the universe is reasonable.  We are in fact living with many of the same epistemological assumptions, most growing out of the fertile soil of religious belief.  Stephen Hawking hasn't ended the God debate.  He still is indebted to his opponents.

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