Do physicists exist?

Do physicists exist? It could be old college rivalry between engineers and physicists that makes me ask this, or it could just make a change from tired questions such as “does Stephen Hawking believe in God?” or “does God exist?”

Professor Hawking's latest book (The Grand Design, published by Bantam Press) makes people ask such questions, and wonder whether he, or science, seeks to or can ever prove the existence (or non-existence) of God.

I'm very impressed by an article by Revd Dr Keith Ward in the Church Times (10th September 2010). I'll attempt to summarise it, but you'd be better off just reading it!

He laments Hawking's naive portrayal of the views of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish theologians about creation. Hawking portrays them, Ward writes, as believing that God “lights the blue touch paper” to get the universe started, and that the universe was created just for the sake of human beings. Thus Ward sees that Hawking misses the similarities between traditional theology and modern cosmology.

He writes, “The Christian doctrine of creation is not that God sat about for ages wondering whether or not to create a universe, then one day decided that he would, and started it off. The doctrine of creation, as it is found in Augustine and virtually all other significant theologians, is that the whole of space-time is dependent upon a non-spatio-temporal reality. If God brings time into being, God does not do so in time; for time does not exist until God brings it about. The timeless reality of God timelessly generates the whole of time and space. God can generate many different space-times, and Augustine mentioned this possibility in The City of God.

I like this: God (as far as creation is concerned) is outside time, so limiting God to acting inside time with a “blue touch paper” idea is naive, and also (Ward writes) it doesn't make sense to conceive of Him thinking, wondering, or deciding, and there is much in common therefore between theology and what Hawking writes. In the rest of his article he points out our belief that the universe was brought about intentionally by God – we are not an accident – and that God creates and explains physics (and physicists) and not the other way around!

Revd Dr Keith Ward is a former Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Oxford. Read his article here.