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God, Stephen Hawking and the Multiverse, by David Hutchings and David Wilkinson

by
08 January 2021

Adam Ford on maths crossing into divinity

THE human scale of our daily lives dictates that we live between two unimaginable realms: the quantum world of fundamental wave-particles and the cosmic space-time vistas described in Einstein’s theory of general relativity. How can we begin to visualise the minuscule bits that make up our bodies as bundles of energy said to be both wave-like and particle-like? How do our minds cope with an image of space-time that can be folded in weird and wonderful ways?

Maths (often arcane and beyond the ken of ordinary mortals) offers a way into these mysteries and has done so since the days of Copernicus when he set the Earth in motion in orbit around the Sun. Hutchings and Wilkinson explore the life and work of Stephen Hawking, one of the greatest mathematicians of our age, to see how it touches on belief in God.

We are dealing here with those new realms of physics that no longer offer the certainty that it was once imagined that they might, but speculation, probability, and mystery. Despite the complexity of the subject, the authors manage to write with a light and readable touch, steering the reader with journalistic ease through some difficult concepts. The subject that really interests them is how religious belief fares through all of this, and they find that the Spirit of God hovers over the world of quantum mechanics and general relativity much as it did over the waters of chaos in the creation story of Genesis.

Some of Hawking’s most famous work had to do with the exotic nature of black holes and his (unsuccessful?) attempt, via maths, to unite the laws of gravity that rule the whole universe with the laws governing the atom, to produce a Grand Unified Theory, that Holy Grail of physics.

But it is Hawking’s speculations, later in life, about how the universe came into existence which draw fire from the authors. While mentioning God many times in his writings, he tried to dispense with what he believed to be a need for a Creator by describing a universe that was finite, but boundless, and without a beginning. Here he strayed into a different academic discipline and revealed that he was out of touch with contemporary theology and philosophy.

 

The Revd Adam Ford is a former Chaplain of St Paul’s School for Girls.

 

God, Stephen Hawking and the Multiverse
David Hutchings and David Wilkinson
SPCK £9.99
(978-0-281-08191-2)
Church Times Bookshop £9

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