By Carlin Romano
Hawking Said, “Let There Be No God!,” and There was Light!
That headline flashed to all corners of the media universe this month. Of course, we don’t know whether a universe has corners. Truth is, we don’t know much about the universe that isn’t astonishingly inferential. Alas, you’d hardly know that from listening to the retired Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge and his media echo chamber.
The breaking news originated in the latest book by Stephen Hawking, The Grand Design (Bantam), co-written with physicist Leonard Mlodinow. It excited front-page editors as few science tomes do. Britain’s Mirror exclaimed, “Good Heavens! God Did Not Create the Universe, Says Stephen Hawking.” Canada’s National Post drolly chimed in with, “In the Beginning, God Didn’t Have to Do a Thing.”
In his new book, Hawking, the celebrated author of A Brief History of Time (Bantam, 1988), declares on the first page that “philosophy is dead” because it “has not kept up” with science, which alone can explain the universe. “It is not necessary to invoke God,” the authors write, “to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.” Hawking sound-bited the hard stuff for interviewers: “Science makes God unnecessary,” he told Good Morning America. Something simply came out of nothing.
If you’ve followed the science-religion debate in recent times, there’s nothing new about such claims. Many scientists take Hawking’s side, some do not. Almost everyone agrees that, as Hawking told ABC News, “One can’t prove that God doesn’t exist.” The Templeton Foundation, which specializes in prodding believers and nonbelievers to discuss such things in civilized ways, has published all sorts of booklets, like “Does Science Make Belief in God Obsolete?,” in which some eminent scientists answer “Yes” and others answer “No.”
Why, then, the uproar? Largely because Hawking has been anointed by the media as possibly “the smartest man in the world” (ABC News) and the “most revered scientist since Einstein” (The New York Times)—a genius, and so on. A genius, presumably, must be right about everything. Especially if he managed to sell nine million copies of a book.
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