Did God create the universe?
The quest to find the elegant design of the universe in the language of math is a noble one. Adam's first commission from God was to discover the details of his environment by reviewing and naming the animals. God's mandate for humankind was to subdue and rule creation, and learning about creation is certainly the first step. God created a cosmos filled with order and wonder, and it's our privilege to delve into the finer details.
It is the grandest of human hubris to assume that at any given state in development, we have actually accomplished this. From the pre-Copernicus astronomers who believed the Earth was a flat disk at the center of the universe, to modern quantum physicists, the wonder of discovery is too often quickly followed by the surety that the answer to all has finally been found. The conviction of scientists is then quickly followed by the confidence of the layman who blindly follows the scientists' enthusiasm into inaccurate conclusions that prove to be insidiously difficult to weed out once more data and greater understanding is reached. Which is why Copernicus had such issues when he showed that God did not create the Earth as the center of the universe.
The authors of The Grand Design understand this and acknowledge the historical precedence. But, like every generation of scientists before them, they don't necessarily think it applies to them. For certain, they readily admit they do not have all the answers. But they refuse to allow that the conclusions they have drawn could be in error. They admit that they understand very little about gravity, the core player in their attempt to prove God did not create the universe. But they are convinced that the assumptions they have made about gravity will prove to be absolutely accurate in the future.
There are two basic types of science: that which can be tested and reproduced and that which can't. Those fields that can't include anything that is too long ago to have been recorded, too far away to be able to monitor, and too small to be seen. The origin of the universe fits two, if not three, of those criteria. Therefore, testing must be replaced by modeling. A model is a mathematical theory that takes data and educated guesses and attempts to predict future events and discoveries. Models predicted the existence of subatomic particles and planets in other systems, for instance, when scientists noticed natural phenomena that suggested their existence before the equipment existed to verify. Models are key tools used by physicists because the physical things they work with, from quarks to black holes, cannot be directly observed; only their effect on other objects can reveal their presence and physical properties.
We all use models every day. We don't have access to all the data in the world, so we have to simplify the picture in our minds in order to function. But only the smallest child believes their model is reality. Ideally, we continue to process input from our surroundings to make a more complete model, realizing we will never know everything there is to know about our world (1 Corinthians 13:12).
Combined with natural human hubris, models can lead down a dangerous path. A model that seems to work according to all available data can be prematurely accepted as reality. Plato spoke of this in his "Allegory of the Cave." In his allegory, we are imprisoned in a cave filled with shadows that are mere representations of the real world. But because we know no different, we accept the shadows as reality. Indeed, the authors of The Grand Design even point out that if two different models are equally effective at predicting new discoveries, they can both be accepted as reality—even if they assert different things. Say a brother and sister set out cookies for Santa every Christmas Eve. And every Christmas morning, the cookies are gone. The sister develops the model that Santa is real and eats the cookies. The fact that the next year the cookies are gone confirms her model. The brother, however, insists that aliens use a tractor beam to pull the cookies out of the bathroom exhaust vent. The disappearance equally confirms his model as reality.
The brother and sister are young, creative, clever, and for some reason unwilling to ask a higher authority for input—much like all humans. If they'd had a little less pride and were able to actually ask the right questions, they would find that every year their father eats the cookies, which also explains why he always has heartburn on Christmas morning. Their models, although perfectly suited to determine the absence of cookies in the morning, are not reality.
Fundamentally, this is the biggest problem with The Grand Design. It isn't about the search for truth, it's about the search for a theoretical mathematical model that explains the universe in such a way that humanity can be convinced that math created the universe and not God. It is literally an intentional attempt to prove that it is possible to explain that God doesn't exist.
Which it doesn't even actually do. The authors admit that gravity, the very core of their theory for the spontaneous creation of matter, is something they don't even understand. They have faith that the details of their model will be fleshed out later, thus verifying their point of view. Their model is that the universe is a closed system with zero net energy. The negative energy of gravity cancels out the positive energy of mass and motion. What they don't explain is how the universe spontaneously began; all they say is that the net energy was always zero. But they insist that, somehow, gravity created the universe, not God.
The greatest irony is one of the first statements in the book is that "philosophy is dead." And yet their entire premise is built on the philosophy that a mathematical model (that may or may not predict the behavior of the universe) is more valid than the actual truth. Science should be about the discovery of truth. It should be executed humbly and free of preconceived notions. Developing a hypothesis that the universe spontaneously came to be because of gravity and natural law is acceptable. Doggedly attempting to interpret data to "prove" the bias that God doesn't exist (or any other bias) is not acceptable. Stephen Hawking is a brilliant scientist (and a very funny writer), but his work would be much more effective if he would allow himself the freedom to consider the possibility that God exists. Quantum physics investigated in tandem with the work of a Creator would really be something to think about.
Biblically speaking, the arguments in The Grand Design simply demonstrate the truth that humanity will do anything to suppress the knowledge of the existence of God (Romans 1:18-22). Even exceedingly brilliant men like Stephen Hawking prove themselves to be fools in their attempts to deny the existence of God and explain the universe without a Creator (Psalm 14:1). "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork" (Psalm 19:1).
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