God, Time, and Stephen Hawking

By David Wilkinson
Grand Rapids : Monarch (2001). 224 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. William Barrick
13.1 (Spring 2002) : 144-146

 In 1989 I read Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time (Bantam, 1988). It was a very informative and enjoyable adventure into the realm of physical science. As a result, I also read Craig Penrose’s The Emperor’s New Mind (Oxford University, 1990). I came away from the two books with an increased wonder at God’s creation and the delicate balance and intricate symmetry of the universe, the earth, and life. Therefore, I read Wilkinson’s volume with the anticipation that my awe of the Creator would be increased. I was not disappointed.

Dr. David Wilkinson is both minister and scientist. He has a Ph.D. in Theoretical Astrophysics, is a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, and is a Methodist minister and Fellow in Apologetics at St. John’s College, Durham, U.K. The current volume is an expansion and revision of God, the Big Bang and Stephen Hawking (Monarch, 1993). In it Wilkinson interacts with many of the scientific and theological responses to Hawking since the publication of A Brief History of Time.

Beginning with a brief biographical sketch of Stephen Hawking, Wilkinson breaches the subject of God’s role in the origin of the universe. Even Carl Sagan had to admit that A Brief History of Time demonstrated that Hawking himself viewed the “God question” as a significant issue (26). God, Time and Stephen Hawking is divided into two parts: a history of scientific thinking concerning the universe’s origin (Chapters 2–6) and the contribution and interaction of the Christian concept of God with scientific thinking (Chapters 7–12). Occasional illustrations visualize significant concepts.

With the launching of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) in 1991, astrophysical research gained a powerful tool. Wilkinson provides the reader with an engaging description of HST’s influence upon the scientific world’s search for the origin of the universe (29-44). He follows that with a brief history of the “Big Bang” theory that superseded the steady state model of the universe (45-59). Of course, the heart of the discussion of origins focuses on the nature of the proofs that science can offer in support of the Big Bang. So the author gives the reader a guided tour of quantum theory, the uncertainty principle, and chaos theory (63-71). In addition, the nature and methods of scientific investigation are evaluated. Several views of science are defined and discussed, including naïve realism, positivism, instrumentalism, idealism, and critical realism (73-76). Although he does not specifically mention neotheism, Wilkinson does relate the concepts of quantum theory and uncertainty to theological considerations. He writes that man’s free will is related to the area of the uncertainty principle (67). As for God, “Some will say that this unpredictable nature of certain chaotic systems gives an ‘openness’ to the world and this is where free will and the actions of God are located” (70).

“A Singular Problem or Two with the Big Bang?” (79-98) is a fascinating discussion of various problems and challenges to the Big Bang theory. The biggest problem is the matter of equilibrium or a balanced result that would be conducive to the existence of carbon-based life. This would require a balance that is so delicate that it must be within “1 part in 1060 (1 followed by sixty zeros!). In Paul Davies’ words, that is the same accuracy as shooting at a target 1 centimetre square on the other side of the universe—and hitting it!” (90-92). Such subtle balances permeate the forces of the universe and account for the increasing attention to design and the God question in the last two decades of the twentieth century (135).

Hawking’s goal is to discover a unification theory for all the laws of physics. However, as Wilkinson points out, such a theory of everything still fails to provide viable answers for all the questions. Hawking’s book does not answer all the questions. “If this is true in the area of science, it is even more important in the area of God” (108). One such question has to do with the nature of time (109-21). Once more, Wilkinson moves into the realm of “openness” in regard to the inherent unknown involved in the future (119). In spite of this brief excursion into openness, he decides that the biblical concept of time is basically linear and that God transcends time.

How do we know that God exists? One of the arguments often posed is the cosmological argument for God’s existence. Hawking’s unification theory accomplishes two things: (1) it makes the cosmological argument irrelevant in any attempt to convince a physicist of God’s existence and (2) it does not prove that God does not exist (123-33). Wilkinson seems to favor a complementarian relationship between science and theology. Science handles the “How?” questions, while theology takes care of the “Why?” questions (130-32).

The argument from design is equally unsatisfactory since it does not prove the existence of a singular Christian God of goodness, love, and grace (141). The anthropic balances in the universe, however, do demonstrate that science is pressed to give an adequate explanation (143). Wilkinson also stresses the role of wonder and awe that the anthropic balances and the inherent symmetry and beauty of nature produce in the minds of scientists and theologians alike.

Observation of supernovae in 1998 led to the announcement that the post- Big Bang universe is not slowing down its expansion, it is speeding up (153). Although the scientific consequences are yet unclear and the evidence far from proven, Wilkinson claims that “the theological consequences are clear” (155). A rapidly expanding universe directs our attention naturally to a future of futility and death. We might very well be living in an increasingly hostile universe. If the state of the universe is less anthropic-oriented than previously thought, could it be that extra-terrestrial intelligences of an imperfect nature were the creators of our universe (160-63, 166-67)? “The evidence for the existence of God is much stronger than that for superior beings in another universe” (167), Wilkinson concludes.

The final chapter of the volume (169-89) is a refreshing focus on divine revelation as the means of true knowledge about the universe. Human intelligence cannot comprehend the mind of God, so God has initiated the contact and revealed His sovereign w ill. From Scripture the Christian can be certain that “God is the sole creator of the universe” (175-77), “God is the source of the order in the universe” (177-82), “God puts relationship at the heart of the universe” (182-85), and “God is meant to be worshipped” (185-86). All four of these biblical truths come to full fruition in the person of Jesus Christ (186-89). Jesus Himself is the supreme evidence for the existence of God and His creation of the universe.

Wilkinson takes the position that there should not be a conflict between true science and true Christian faith. He explains that the ultimate questions raised in scientific investigation are often of a nature answerable by biblical faith. Without apology he stands firmly against deism and staunchly defends Christian theism. The only seeming failure is his apparent acquiescence to an ancient universe requiring some 12 billion years to reach its current state. In an appendix (“A ‘Brief History’ of Genesis,” 195-205) he lays out in greater detail the reasons why he believes that a literary analysis of Genesis 1 results in a rejection of 7-day creationism, the gap theory, the day-age theory, and the revelatory-days theory. The book closes with a helpful annotated bibliography (207-13), end notes (214-18), and an index (219-24).