Some of you might have heard of the recent brouhaha surrounding Stephen Hawking’s announcement that we don’t need God any more. I am always surprised how what is taken to be novel and revolutionary has in fact been said before, and countless times before. Didn’t Laplace once reply to Napoleon, many years ago, that God was a hypothesis that we no longer required? Has it taken this long to be heard by our newspapers?
Of course this is absurd thought. No it isn’t even absurd. It is just plain stupid. Unfortunately, being a physicist does not make one a good philosopher (or a philosopher of any sort), and it is equally unfortunate that Professor Hawking thinks that philosophy is dead (the ‘love of wisdom’ dead? Who would wish such a thing?), for he might have otherwise actually bothered to read some philosophy.
The scientific idea (and that is what it is) that the universe requires God to exist probably has its origin, at least in our culture, more in Aristotle’s Physics, than it does it any religious text. Does Hawking serious think that the first book of Genesis, for example, is meant to be read as a cosmology? (but then since he thinks philosophy is not worth reading, he’s not likely to read theology either).
Just as much as we shouldn’t trust a creationist’s statements on physics, we should not take it for granted that a scientist knows much about anything accept science, and the belief that science knows everything, or that a ‘theory of everything’ really does contain everything, is precisely that a belief and not a scientific theory at all.
For those of you who want to think (and our students on RPE 201, Religion, Science and Belief might want to) about these issues a bit more, and might even have the slight feeling that philosophy is not quite as dead as Hawking wants it to be, would not be wasting their time in reading this article by Carlin Romano in The Chronicle.