Monday, October 4, 2010

Hawking: Atheism Is Dead

The challenge posed by Hawking's M-Theory to God isn't that it assumes that God doesn't exist.  In fact, given the actualization of all possible being that is an essential component of Hawking's summation of quantum physics, a being that we'd recognize as functionally indistinguishable from God has the real possibility of existing.  Eternal.  Omnipotent.  Omniscient.  A being that manifests all those omnis, up to and including a 1980 Dodge Omni, has the likelihood of being true.

If M-Theory holds, this is necessary.

Hawking, atheistic though he may be, has scored an own goal.  Taken at face value, M-theory means the end of atheism.  Or, perhaps to be more fair, it is the point at which the...what's the word...claxonic certitude of both classical and neoatheism and the findings of theoretical physics part ways.  Into the atheistic version of theodicy, into that modern-era cry that There Is No Empirical Evidence, You Morons, there is inserted from M-Theory reasonable doubt.  Let the jury take note.

One can still, of course, be a committed agnostic.  Or one could hate the idea of God, refuting God for the sheer cussedness of it. Or one could reject the idea that God has any relevance to human life, or to our spacetime.  But if you attempt to definitively state that God does not exist, what you say is radically undercut by what M-Theory's insights into the nature of the universe tell us.

The M-theory challenge for theists ceases to be whether God exists.  It is, rather, the last of the three questions above.  What would be the relevance of God in the cosmology that Hawking proposes? Hawking clearly believes that the infinitely random and generative character of reality at a quantum level is in and of itself sufficient for existence.  Everything springs into being because it must.

From his cosmological premise, Hawking would be required to cede that among the 10500 possible permutations of physics that spring forth from singularity might be a self-contained, self-aware, and functionally infinite being that met all the checkbox criteria for God.  Heck, he and Mlodinow are willing to overtly say that somewhere, somehow, there exists a moon made of cheese.

But what he would be unlikely to cede is that such a being would be the Creator.  Even if God exists, such a God would be no more relevant to the broader swath of being than my left nipple.  Yes, it has to be part of being.  But so does everything else that might possibly be. 

This "God" would be impressive, but ultimately just another wacky bubbling output of the seemingly absurd physics that underlies all existence.  It would not be the Creator, but rather a part of the fabric of M-Theory existence, not the first cause, but part of the result.  And if this god-thing is part of the result, well, it's not really God in the way that theists or the world's religious traditions conceptualize God.

To this very logical objection, there is a solid theistic response.   The presumption of causality works just fine within the linear flow of our spacetime, but breaks down completely once we step outside of it.  If you have an Anselm 2.0 God that is eternal, unchanging, all-a-knowin' and a-doin', such a God would be aware of and part of the generative process of bringing all existence into actuality.  Even if generativity can be theoretically asserted as necessary in the quantum mechanic randomness of existence near singularity, parsing such a being out from the processes of that generativity would be meaningless.  As Hawking and Mlodinow note, time does not exist near the moment of singularity.  If a form of being is not bounded by time, then it can't be caused.  It has always been that process.  The two things cannot be said to be different.  In the beginning, both were. One was with the other, and one was the other.

That sounds oddly familiar.

Where that gets us theologically is to a being that can be described meaningfully as a Creator, arising from nothing.  But this is only a slightly larger version of the Deist creator, or the Aristotelian Unmoved Mover.   Yes, the clock is waaay more complicated and a teensy bit wackadoodle, particularly that universe made entirely of hampsters, but it's still the Clockmaker God.  Distant.  Dispassionate.  Sadly autistic, utterly unmoved by joy and unphased by suffering. 

What could such a God possibly have to do with the God asserted by Christian faith?

Further up and further in...