The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible. Albert Einstein
Even though he was scheduled to speak at the Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne, Australia, in mid-April 2012, Richard Dawkins, one of the illuminati of the new British atheist movement, has been forced recently to admit that he is not an atheist at all but rather an agnostic. This recent admission by one of the high priests of atheism that he “cannot be sure that there is no God,” was made during a “discussion” at Oxford University with Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Even though most of the discussion involved simply Dawkins expounding on evolution, and the Archbishop sitting by passively in perfect acquiescence, Dawkins was forced to admit that he was not certain that there was no God, but was “6.9 out of 7” sure of his position. When the moderator, Sir Anthony Kenny, interrupted and said, “Why don’t you call yourself an agnostic?” Dawkins said that he did. When Sir Anthony retorted, “But you are known as the world’s greatest atheist,” Dawkins tried to justify his seeming revocation of a position that most of mankind has found to be completely counter-intuitive by stating, “I think the probability of a supernatural creator existing is very very low.”1
The recent death of Christopher Hitchens and the complaint of the chairman of the British Conservative Party, Baroness Warsi, about “a tide of militant secularism challenging the religious foundations of British society,” has focused attention on a debate raging in Britain concerning the place of religion in British society and the very reality of God Himself. As regards this current manifestation of the apostasy of Great Britain from its foundational traditional Catholic faith, there has been a positive breakthrough which should not escape our notice. Professor Anthony Flew, another one of the Englishmen praised as “the world’s most famous atheist” and a philosophic expert on “debunking” miracles, including the miracle of Our Lord Jesus Christ’s Resurrection, has in recent years completely dropped his atheism and has had to admit that he believes there is a Creator who is both omnipotent and omnipresent, since these two attributes must be present to a Deity that has brought forth all things from nothing. Even though he still shies away from anything other than affirming the raw existence of a Creator God, namely anything relating to Divine Revelation, an after-life, the divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, or, even, the attribution of basic goodness to God, Flew, in an interview with Dr. Gary Habermas, has affirmed that it has been due to recent scientific advancements, he mentions specifically the research into DNA, that he has had to admit the existence of an all-knowing and all-powerful Creator.2
After reading some of the various writings and interviews of the New British Atheists, I have found it to be evident that the most profitable encounter for a Catholic critique of this movement would be one with a mind that uses modern science, or at least his spin on modern science, particularly quantum mechanics, to substantiate his conclusion that there is no God. Much of what the other British atheists use to “debunk” God’s existence are psychological “proofs,” which tell us what it is about God that does not appeal to the post-modern domesticated British intellectual, like the existence of Hell or the prevalence of evil in the world, or, if a debate is going poorly, the Crusades.3
It is for this reason that I have decided to focus my attention on the writings of Stephen Hawking, the Oxford celebrity physicist, and, in particular, his most recent work, written in 2010, The Grand Design. It is here where Hawking makes his most forceful apologetic for a scientifically-based atheistic nihilism, which is meant to be a final patronizing “farewell” to the idea of a Creator God and a purposeful universe. What we will also find in this work is an attempt by Hawking to draw the “proper” conclusions from his attempt at deicide. Hence his claim that his book will attempt to answer, “the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.”4
What is incredible about Hawking’s text is not only the title The Grand Design, while the whole book is dedicated to arguing against the existence of a Grand Designer. What is more, much of the text is dedicated to presenting overwhelming evidence supporting the Anthropic Principle, the scientific and philosophic principle which holds that the entire solar system, and indeed the whole universe is constructed in such a singular way that even the slightest changes in the microcosmic and macrocosmic aspects of its structure would render human life on our planet impossible. In other words, modern science is coming to realize that the entire universe is exactly structured in order to render human life possible. For example, even though Hawking will try to use what happens at the sub-atomic level as “proof” that something can come from nothing “spontaneously,” it is specifically the precise order that can be found at the subatomic level which provides an astonishing confirmation of the Anthropic Principle. According to the evidence cited by Hawking himself in his book, “Most of the fundamental constants in our theories appear fine-tuned in the sense that if they were altered, by only modest amounts, the universe would be qualitatively different, and in many cases unsuitable for the development of life.”5
Again to quote Hawking, “calculations show that a change of as little as .5% in the strength of the strong nuclear force, or 4% in the electric force would destroy nearly all carbon or all oxygen in every star, and hence the possibility of life as we know it.” Thus the perfect order at the mico-level; at the macro-level we find the same kind of order “amazingly” prepared for the existence of rational life on earth. Quoting Hawking himself again, “We are lucky in our relationship to our sun’s mass to our distance from it. And yet, assuming the earth-sun distance as a given, if our sun was just 20% less or more massive, the earth would be colder than present-day Mars or hotter than present day Venus.”6 The habitable zone is sometimes called by cosmologists the “Goldilocks zone,” because “the requirement that liquid water exist means that, like Goldilocks, the development of intelligent life requires that planetary temperatures be ‘just right’. The habitable zone in our solar system…is tiny. Fortunately, for those of us who are intelligent life forms, the earth fell within it.”7
What is interesting about the missionary atheist Hawking, however, is the way in which he does not draw from this order the obvious conclusion that was drawn, for example, by Sir Isaac Newton who said that our habitable solar system did not “arise out of chaos by the mere laws of nature.”8
It is on page 17 of a 185-page text that Hawking gives the “conclusion” of his “scientific” analysis of the results of modern physics. It comes in his presentation of a view of history that perfectly fits his ultimate conclusion. History is the movement of the human mind towards a rejection of belief in God. Or to quote exactly the beginning of his analysis of human history up until the time of the rise of Quantum Mechanics in the 1920s, “Ignorance of nature’s ways led people in ancient times to invent gods to lord it over every aspect of human life.”9 We must, therefore, wonder whether it is really Hawking’s own dislike of God “lording it over” “every aspect of his life” that is the true reason for his refusal of God’s existence.
When we begin to read Hawking’s history of mankind, a history that will progress towards the emergence of a complete nihilism, we find that his seeming purpose is to render intellectually illicit any appeal to common human history and common human experience against his own atheistic conclusions. Not only are almost all ages of man labeled as intellectually unproductive, but the human apparatus for knowing itself, our senses and our intellectual reflection on the world testified to by our own senses, is rendered invalid.
For example, after indicating that during the first 191,000 years of supposed human existence there was absolutely no written culture created, Hawking goes on to relegate 197,500 years of the existence of our species Homo Sapiens as being without “scientific thought.”10 After gaining knowledge of the Pythagorean law of strings and a few laws detailed by Archimedes, the world was plunged into 2,000 years of fruitless Aristotelian thought. In this regard, even though the Classical Physicists of the 1600s, like Newton, Descartes, and Galileo, were right about reducing science to measuring quantitative aspects of things, their thought must also be rejected as useless in discovering the true nature of the universe.11
The reason that Newtonian and Galilean physics can no longer tell us what the world is like, according to Hawking, is the same reason that our everyday experience of the world as human beings cannot tell us what the world is really like. To quote Hawking directly: “Until the advent of modern physics it was generally thought…that things are what they seem, as perceived through our senses.” What is critical here are the individuals that Hawking would cut off from the rational discussion of whether God exists or not. Within five pages, philosophy, and more relevantly natural theology, is relegated to the dustbin of intellectual history because it has “not kept up with modern developments in science; particularly physics.” Therefore, “philosophy is dead.”12 Since philosophical reasoning about what is testified to by the senses is the essence of St. Thomas’s Five Ways, any common sense and reasoned approach (i.e., any approach to the reality of God for the normal non-mathematician mortal) is from the beginning identified as irrelevant and illusory. Hawking is here ensuring that the battle over the existence of God, which is what his latest book is about, will be fought on his own ground of mathematical probabilities.
The newborn lamb’s unthinking directedness to suckle within an hour of birth (à la the Fifth Way) is apparently irrelevant to determining whether or not there is an all-powerful and provident creator God. Sadly, these “new Atheists” are not going away; on the contrary, they are more and more seen as the experts to whom modern men can turn to for reassurance that there is no God. Every Catholic who learns the old proofs for the existence of God, proofs which have not lost any salt, can fight against this manifestation of Christophobia.
1 John Bingham, “Richard Dawkins: I cannot be sure that God does not exist,” Telegraph (London), February 24, 2012.
2 Anthony Flew, “My Pilgrimage from Atheism to Theism,” Philosophia Christi, Winter 2005.
3 Ibid. See here Flew’s rejection of Islam, not because it is false, but rather, because “it wants to conquer the world.”
4 Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design (New York: Bantam Books, 2010), p. 5.
5 Ibid., pp. 159-162.
6 Ibid., pp. 152.
7 Ibid., p. 153.
9 Ibid., pp. 17-21.
10 Ibid., p. 18.
11 Ibid., p. 24.
12 Ibid., p. 5.