Stephen Hawking and the Design of the Universe

Stephen Hawking died last week at the age of 76 after long outliving his life expectancy as someone diagnosed with ALS at just 21 years old. He is and will be regarded as one of the greatest minds of his generation for his work in physics and many remarkable insights into the intricacies of outer space.  It is no small feat that he achieved so much in his lifetime despite the limitations of a life-changing illness.

I have reflected some on his death over the past days, and on my own impending death as well, something I find myself doing frequently. The fact that one day I will close my eyes and end my time on earth is a truly sobering reality, and I think we do ourselves a disservice when we distract ourselves from thinking about this fate that awaits every one of us.

While Stephen Hawking deserves much admiration for aspects of his life, I cannot help but feel a deep sense of disappointment. Hawking made no qualms that he was an atheist, and as far as I’m aware, died holding firmly to such a belief. This grieves me greatly. Without a doubt, Hawking possessed a brilliant mind which understood things about our universe which I can’t even hope to grasp. He is intellectually head and shoulders above me and just about everyone else, yet he tragically denied the most obvious truth that was staring him right in the face.

Hawking is quoted as saying:

“We are each free to believe what we want, and it’s my view that the simplest explanation is; there is no god. No one created our universe, and no one directs our fate. This leads me to a profound realization; There is probably no heaven, and no afterlife either. We have this one life to appreciate the grand design of the universe, and for that I am extremely grateful.”

He is right that we each can believe what we want to believe. That, however, does not affect wether or not what we believe is actually true. People believe all kinds of things that are not true to their own detriment. My contention is that Hawking was in such a position concerning the most important subject one can think of.

Hawking denied the existence of God. This is not surprising, since many people are atheists. But it is tragic, because as someone who had such profound exposure to the workings of the universe, he should have known better. In the quote above, Hawking says we should “appreciate the grand design of the universe”. Indeed! But what is ironic is the use of the word design. Hawking looked to the skies and saw design—and no wonder! Our universe is packed full of fantastic displays of power and complexity and beauty and interconnectedness that are enough to baffle the mind. There is clear and obvious design. What should also therefore be just as clear is that design necessitates the existence of a designer.

We take this principle for granted in every other phase of life. We look at a motor and see the way all the parts function together and assume someone made it to work that way. We drive past a farmhouse in the countryside and assume someone built that home. We see an airplane flying overhead and assume a pilot is flying a machine put together by intelligent people. Everywhere we look we see the markings of design and assume a designer is behind it. Yet there are many who see the obvious workings of design within the natural universe and do not assume a designer is behind it.

Psalm 19:1 says “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork”. Few statements in Scripture are more obviously true than this. Virtually every human being has had the experience of looking up into the night sky, seeing all the heavenly hosts up there shining in all their brilliance, and having their breath taken away. It is one of those moments that transcend the day-to-day doldrums we usually live in and we realize we are part of something so much bigger than ourselves.

While every person knows this, men such as Stephen Hawking have an even greater sense of the awe of the universe. His academic work proves he spent much time reflecting on the greatness of the universe and what makes it “tick”. He himself was “grateful” to have been one small part of this “grand design”. Yet this is not completely true. If he was grateful, I may ask, grateful to whom? Did he mean just a sense of good fortune to have existed and not a special indebtedness to a personal designer?

Herein lies fatal blow to every atheist. We all know the universe screams forth “design”. We all feel some sense of thankfulness to exist and be a part of this living drama. Yet far too many refuse to take the next step and acknowledge a transcendent designer to whom we can show our gratitude. The heavens declare “the glory of God”. We are not to just look up at the sky and marvel, only to walk away and go back to our human existence. We are to marvel and then express that awe to the Creator. The heavens are glorious not for their own sake, but to express the glory of the One who made them. God deserves the glory, and I can think of no greater offense than to see the obvious beauty and power of God’s work and then give credit to random chance for it.

Hawking is right. People can believe whatever they want. But they cannot believe whatever they want without consequence. Though God’s existence is plainly obvious to every human being through the things he has made (Romans 1:19-20), many refuse to acknowledge him. This is not because of a lack of evidence, but because of a resistance to the implications of a God existing. If there is a God, what would that mean? It would mean we are accountable to him, that we are indebted to him, and that he rules and governs our lives. Not many people like that idea, so they reject God. And they do so to their peril.

My contention is to agree with Hawking completely on one point and disagree with him completely on another. I agree that people can believe what they want, and that our existence in the grand design of the universe is remarkable and worthy of gratitude. What I disagree with is that the story ends there. It is only the beginning of a journey that can lead to knowing God through a genuine pursuit of the truth. My hope is that you, dear reader, would at least consider for a moment that the smartest man of our generation may have missed the most obvious and life-changing truth that was looking back at him from the other end of his telescope. I pray that you would not do the same.

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