Book Review. The Grand Design – Stephen Hawking.

The Grand Design

“The Grand Design – New Answers to the Ultimate Questions of Life,” was written by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow.[1] Both authors are highly credentialed scientists. Stephen William Hawking CH CBE FRS FRSA is a British theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and author, director of Research at the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics (DAMTP) and the Founder of the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at Cambridge University.[2] Leonard Mlodinow is a physicist, author, screen writer, designer and producer of computer games.[3]

The book is nearly five years old now, having been first published in 1010, which within days become the number one seller on Amazon.[4] It’s a follow up from “A Brief History of Time” which was published twenty two years earlier.[5] It is small in size measuring 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches, it has eight chapters and is 208 pages long – excluding the glossary, acknowledgements and index. It’s printed on glossy photo paper which create a tactile and visual aesthetic akin to a typical glossy magazine. In keeping with the magazine theme, is published in a ‘popular science; rather than a technical academic referenced style format; a beef which I refer to later. This aligns with his confession that he wants his books sold in airports. [6]Though their book is co-authored; there is no indication throughout the book as to who contributed what to the book.

It’s A Creation Account.

They begin by asking the big questions of life: “How can we understand the world? How does the universe behave? What is the nature of reality? Where did this all come from? And did the universe need a creator?” They briefly sketch a historical overview of the history of scientific / religious / philosophical thought regarding the universe; and declare with some boldness that philosophy is dead and that only science can truly answer life’s questions. From there, while ignoring current other cosmological research, and using a ‘scientific deterministic’ style they build on the ‘big bang theory,’ draw heavily on Richard Feynman and his proposal that every system has every possible history and then, set the stage for a new hypothesis called the “M Theory,” whereby they show how gravity created the universe from nothing.[7] One of the major conclusions coming from their work, is that God has now been made redundant, because the universe was created and run via the laws of science.

William Lane Craig, synthesises their questions into three major questions;

  1. Why is there something rather than nothing?
  2. Why do we exist?
  3. Why this particular set of laws, and not some others?

He observes that the answers are brief and that question two isn’t even answered. In answering these questions they rely on the “no boundary” model from Hawking’s prior book, “A Brief History of Time,” which was published twenty two years beforehand; without providing any evidence for it, nor mentioning other scientific models. [8]

Building on Craig’s observation of lack of evidence, the book lacks rigorous scientific and academic respectability by not referencing their sources, through either foot or end notes. I found it particularly frustrating where they quoted references to make Christians look like total idiots, take the following quote as an example. “In the eighteenth century another Christian theologian went so far as to say that rabbits have white tails in order that it be easy for us to shoot them.”[9] I not only want to know who this theologian is, what was his status and how has he influenced contemporary Christianity, I want to know the context of what he said and why? I also want to know the others he quotes without providing a reference, such as Einstein’s purported question to his assistant, “Did God have any choice when he created the universe?”[10]

Ironically, in the beginning of the book, the authors declare that philosophy, which is the traditional way of answering most of those questions, “is dead,” and states the purpose of the book is give answers which are suggested by then recent discoveries and theoretical advances;[11] yet the contextual framework of the book is philosophically driven, and as others point out, philosophy is well represented and respected at Cambridge and Caltech universities as major disciplines and is far from dead.[12] [13]

As you read through the book, it becomes obvious that they don’t believe philosophy itself is dead; rather they believe the theistic worldview which has driven much of traditional philosophy has become obsolete; whereby pure science is now the basis of all philosophy. There is a strong anti-religious polemic whereby they build a case against ancient deistic understandings and traditional religious world views and show how science has ‘supposedly’ either debunked or improved on those theories and traditional scientific beliefs. However, it appears that a lot of the examples used to illustrate this debunking have a straw man foundation, as no engagement has been made with current theological research and thought throughout the book. [14]

Understanding the nature and nuances of philosophy is an important overriding factor to understand this book. The authors begin by a shallow discussion of “model-dependent realism,” which is discovered to be a form ontological pluralism, or in other words, the authors are “extreme anti realists,” a philosophical foundation on which they build their thesis [15]

I find it interesting that the authors develop a theme about the “Laws of Science,”[16] while they debunk some of the Old Testament stories, (such as the sun standing still.)[17] This leads me to ask the question if this is a deliberate ploy and play on words, as much of the Old Testament is considered to be the book of law. I suspect that Mlodinow’s experience in computer gaming production has influenced the author’s insistence that the laws of the universe are what created the universe, as games can only operate within the parameters in which they were coded to operate.

Building upon the big bang theory, they heavily promote and rely on the ‘law of gravity,” through the proposal of “M Theory.”  M Theory, is a ‘theory’ of supersymmetric gravity that involves a connection of sorts (through String Theory) with eleven dimensions – which is the unified theory which Einstein thought would be found.[18] However, it appears that the theory is controversial within the scientific realm, is not widely accepted, and at the time of publishing, the theory by many highly credentialed scientists was considered more to be a collection of abstract thoughts, hopes and aspirations; then it was a fully formulated observable theory.[19]

In Chapter 5 the authors make the bold statement that the universe is comprehensible because it is governed by scientific laws.[20] Prominent theologian, and ex scientist Alister McGrath engages their statement. He counteracts with the argument that they are confusing laws with agency, stating that “Laws themselves don’t create anything. They are merely a description of what happens under certain conditions,” and illustrates this point succinctly with the story of a cricketer hitting a six, showing that human agency was needed; noting that while science explains how it happened, it’s not the explanation that causes it to happen.[21]

The concluding chapter was a little puzzling, as it should have wrapped up the research and answers to questions that they presented in the earlier chapter; but they use the concluding chapter to start answering the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” and bring in fresh information not previously discussed to answer it. In chapter six, they go to great pains to show there was nothingness in the origin of the universe – but in the concluding chapter, they conclude that there was something, which is called “vacuum energy,” which voids their presented hypothesis in chapter six. [22]

Conclusion.

While I found the book to be written in a clear, concise and witty conversational style, which clearly explained complicated scientific terms that made for easy reading; I found their dogma confusing, disjointed, and lacking logical coherence. While they claim they have no philosophical foundation; it’s clear it’s a theological philosophy they are ignoring. However, the weakness of the book is that it doesn’t disprove God’s existence, nor does it weaken God’s continual work in the creation process.

Hawking’s dismisses the need for God, as science doesn’t look for the cause of the big bang, and as we discover the ways the universe work, we have no need for God.

However, as Christians, our faith starts and finishes with Christ. Regarding the starting point for us, regarding the existence of God within a framework of Christian faith, we can’t go past the Trilemma of infamous atheist philosopher turned Christian C.S. Lewis, who gave three possible answers to the question of who was Christ – he was either a liar, lunatic or who he said he was. [23]

Bibliography

Craig, William Lane, The Grand Design – Truth or Fiction, Reasonable Faith with

William Lane Craig http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-grand-design-truth-or-fiction [accessed 24th May 2015]

Dupuche John, Book Review / The Grand Design Australian eJournal of Theology

London, Bantam Press, 2010 18.1 April 2011

http://aejt.com.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/436139/AEJT_18.1_BR_2.pdf

[accessed 24th May 2015]

Freeman, Nate Hawking’s Book Shoots to Top of Amazon Sales After He Denies

God’s Existence Culture / Observer, 2010. http://observer.com/2010/09/hawkings-book-shoots-to-top-of-amazon-sales-

after-he-denies-gods-existence [accessed 24th May 2015]

Hawking, Stephen, A Brief History in Time. New York, Bantam Books, 1988

Hawking, Stephen & Mlodinow, Leonard, “The Grand Design – New Answers to the        Ultimate Questions Of Life” (Great Britain, Bantam Book, 2010)

Hawking, Stephen, About Me page, Cambridge University Website,

http://www.hawking.org.uk/stephen-at-cambridge.html [accessed 24th May 2015] http://aejt.com.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/436139/AEJT_18.1_BR_2.pdf [accessed 24th May 2015]

Lennox John C., God and Stephen Hawking – Whose Design Is It Anyway. Oxford

England, Lion Books, 2011

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity. 1952; Harper Collins: 2001

McGrath, Alister, Stephen Hawking, God and the role of science, (ABC Religion And

Ethics, 14 SEP 2010)

http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2010/09/14/3011163.htm?topic1=home

&topic2= [accessed 24th May 2015]

Mlodinow Leonard About Me, Face Book Page. https://www.facebook.com/LeonardMlodinow/info?tab=page_info [accessed 24th May 2015]

Penrose, Sir Roger, Critical reaction to ‘The Grand Design,’ by Stephen Hawking.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2kVPnussGo [accessed 24th May 2015]

Soloman, Deborah, “Questions for Stephen Hawking, “The Science of Second

Guessing,” (New York Times Magazine, New York, 2004) http://www.nytimes.com/2004/12/12/magazine/12QUESTIONS.html?_r=0 [accessed 24th May 2015]

[1] Stephen Hawking & Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design – New Answers To The Ultimate Questions Of Life (Great Britain, Bantam Book, 2010)

[2] Stephen Hawking About Me Page, Cambridge University http://www.hawking.org.uk/stephen-at-cambridge.html [accessed 24th May 2015]

[3] Leonard Mlodinow FaceBook Page https://www.facebook.com/LeonardMlodinow/info?tab=page_info [accessed 24th May 2015]

[4] Nate Freeman Hawking’s Book Shoots to Top of Amazon Sales After He Denies God’s Existence (Culture / Observer, 2010)

http://observer.com/2010/09/hawkings-book-shoots-to-top-of-amazon-sales-after-he-denies-gods-existence [accessed 24th May 2015]

[5] Stephen Hawking, A Brief History In Time ( New York, Bantam Books, 1988)

[6] Deborah Soloman, Questions For Stephen Hawking, The Science of Second Guessing,(New York Times Magazine, New York, 2004) http://www.nytimes.com/2004/12/12/magazine/12QUESTIONS.html?_r=0 [accessed 24th May 2015]

[7] John Dupuche, Book Review / The Grand Design” Australian eJournal of Theology 18.1 (April 2011) http://aejt.com.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/436139/AEJT_18.1_BR_2.pdf  [accessed 24th May 2015]

[8] William Lane Craig, The Grand Design – Truth or Fiction, Reasonable Faith http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-grand-design-truth-or-fiction [accessed 24th May 2015]

[9] Stephen Hawking & Leonard Mlodinow, p.208.

[10] Ibid. p.210.

[11] “Ibid”. p.13.

[12] John C. Lennox, God and Stephen Hawking – Whose Design Is It Anyway. (Oxford England, Lion Books, 2011) p.18.

[13] William Lane Craig, The Grand Design – Truth or Fiction, Reasonable Faith http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-grand-design-truth-or-fiction [accessed 24th May 2015]

[14] Ibid. p. 45.

[15] Ibid,

[16] Stephen Hawking & Leonard Mlodinow, p.41.

[17] Ibid. p. 111.

[18] John C. Lennox, God and Stephen Hawking. p. 51

[19] Sir Roger Penrose’s Critical Reaction to ‘The Grand Design,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2kVPnussGo [accessed 24th May 2015]

[20] Stephen Hawking & Leonard Mlodinow, p.11.

[21] Alister McGrath, Stephen Hawking, God and the role of science (ABC Religion And Ethics, 14 SEP 2010) http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2010/09/14/3011163.htm?topic1=home&topic2= [accessed 24th May 2015]

[22] William Lane Craig, The Grand Design – Truth or Fiction, Reasonable Faith

[23] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins: 2001) 51-52.

About Craig Benno

I'm an average aussie guy who has lived perhaps a not so average life.
This entry was posted in Apologetics, Book Review, Grand Design and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Book Review. The Grand Design – Stephen Hawking.

  1. Pingback: May 2015 Biblical Studies Carnival | Dr. Claude Mariottini – Professor of Old Testament

  2. bobmacdonald says:

    Thanks for relieving me of the need to read this. Like Dawkins (The Selfish Gene) and Hofstader (Godel, Escher, Bach), Hawking did his best work in his first book and should have left off the sequels.

    • Craig Benno says:

      Bob, sorry for the tardy reply. I did reply back 10 days ago, but, for some reason, the comment didn’t post up.😦 I have not read his first book – but,heard it was a good one. Regarding this one, I think his co-writer did most of the writing and I think he needs to go and read some philosophy 101.

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