A year and a half ago, in September 2010, blogger John S. Wilkins posted something I meant to remark on here. A response to the public discussion going on at the time about Stephen Hawking’s book The Grand Design, it was titled “Stephen Hawking and the Creation of the Universe.” Mr Wilkins’ point was that, while some presented Professor Hawking’s book as presenting an argument against the existence of God, the argument Professor Hawking actually presents tells only against a theology that was discredited in the nineteenth century. Once mathematicians demonstrated that simple processes could yield complex and stable systems, the Enlightenment theory of the universe as a grand machine and of God as the grand machinist, a view expressed in, among other movements, deism, lost its logical warrant. Mr Wilkins closing paragraphs read thus:
Can we come up with a deist god that is consistent with the modern physics? One way is called “block universe” theory, and I have discussed this before. Any deity that is not themselves bounded by ordinary causal relations and time is able to set up a universe that does things causally even if that universe is unpredictable within spacetime. But this is rather more like the traditional theist God, only without all the intervention. In losing the Laplacean deist god we find ourselves back with the Augustinian-Thomist deity. If you think it matters. I’m a block theorist for other reasons than theology, but the option is there if you need it.
A universe that can “create” itself is a state of affairs that is actualised, and may very well be actualised by a deity that desired it. The notion of cause has been so stretched and modified that it is almost unrecognisable, but there is nothing I can see that is self-contradictory about it, and so I conclude that Hawking, if he’s being reported correctly, has disproven a view of God that had currency solely among scientists and philosophers who were still Enlightenment thinkers.
Now somebody will tell me that the book is more subtle and interesting than that. Which is what these posts are for…
I bring this up now because Mr Wilkins has announced that both his blog and his Twitter account are likely to be dormant for a time, since he’s out of work and short of funds. If you have profited from his temperate and learned posts on biology, the philosophy of science, and the case for agnosticism, you might consider donating money to him. If you haven’t read him and are interested in the natural world, philosophy, science, or religion, or if you simply enjoy hearing a calm and rational voice, you should have a look. Even if you don’t decide to help him financially, I’m sure your reading of his blog would bring both satisfaction to him and fresh intellectual stimulation to you.