In Stephen Hawking’s new book, The Grand Design, according to MSNBC, he declares that God is not necessary, physically speaking, to get the universe going. The only people who should be surprised here are those who took Hawking’s final lines from A Brief History of Time too literally: “However, if we do discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we would know the mind of God.” I remember being a bit surprised when I read that the first time.At some level, it seems, many people took comfort in knowing that one of the greatest scientific minds alive had left a door open for God. The great cosmologist looking through a theoretical telescope and seeing God on the other end looking back. There was a symmetry here, a sense of rightness. Some, to gauge by the reactions reported, feel that Dr. Hawking has betrayed us in stating the obvious. God was never to be found in the petri dish or under the electron microscope. According to the theorists of a theological stripe, God has no quantifiable qualities that might be measured. As the article states, the only God to disappear here was the God-of-the-gaps.
As a young, undergraduate religion major, when I first heard that God-of-the-gaps was bad philosophy/theology, I was a bit surprised. (I spend a lot of time being surprised.) If God has no explanatory value in the real world, whence deity at all? If religious folks behaved better, there might well be cause to suggest that the evidence for God comes in human kindness and charity. Unfortunately, religious folk quite often instigate the hatred and suffering that scars much of human society. No, Stephen Hawking has not killed God, just as Friedrich Nietzsche did not commit deicide in the nineteenth century. If the God-of-the-gaps is gone, nothing of value has been lost. The minds of theological thinkers will only have to be stretched just a bit farther.