Good Intuitions

March 26th, 2018

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Stephen Hawking died March 14th at his home in Cambridge, England. He was 76. Some of his intuitions remind us that everyone gets part of the story right.

Hawking was a Cambridge University physicist who lived most of his life in a wheelchair. He was diagnosed with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, in 1963, just shy of his 21st birthday. Hawking was not expected to live more than two years. He lived another fifty-five.

Science is not my strong suit but Hawking made it accessible. Like Einstein, he thought in pictures. Everyone thinks in pictures, which accounts for Hawkins’ and Einstein’s enduring popularity (same with C. S. Lewis, who felt images precede language).

Einstein and Hawking doubted Descartes’ three-dimensional model of the universe—height, length, and breadth. An imagination exercise will show you why. Imagine a mattress. Draw straight lines to depict its height, length, and breadth. Drop a bowling ball on the bed. The lines bend. Einstein intuited that light bends. He was right.

Einstein imagined four dimensions of reality. Quantum theory imagines ten. Hawking imagined even more. Working with James Hartle of the Institute for Theoretical Physics in Santa Barbara, California, he got this by imagining the history of the universe as a sphere. He felt a black hole, a sphere, points to our origin as well as our destiny.

Hawking described all this in his 1988 book, “A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes.” If you haven’t read it, here are Hawking’s big ideas made simple.

Here’s the Dummies Version (for the rest of us). A black hole is a region of space having a gravitational field so intense that no matter or radiation can escape. The entire universe is being compressed into it—what Hawking and Roger Penrose, a mathematical physicist at Oxford, called a “Singularity”—an infinitely dense mass of energy.

But Hawking went a step further and ran a thought exercise. What if we run the film backward? He imagined a Singularity causing the Big Bang. Now matter and energy is being compressed into a Singularity to then explode in incredible energy. This means black holes are not destroyers but creators—or recyclers—of seemingly infinite energy.

Scripture says the infinite God created the universe. He is redeeming it so that all the universe will eventually be renewed by being in all of God (“all in all,” I Cor.15:27-28). God’s infinite energy will then burst out into the new heavens and the new earth. Difficult to imagine? The Apostle Paul said eternity is beyond our imagination (I Cor.2:9).

It’s a little easier to imagine if we start with spheres. The ancients imagined divinity and the cosmos as a sphere. Giordano Bruno, an Italian Dominican friar in the 16th century, described God as of “an infinite sphere whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.” A spherical model tears up the rule book of physics, suggesting there are more dimensions to reality than most of us imagine.

It’s sad that Christians tend to be skeptical of Hawking because he didn’t believe in a personal God. In his 2010 book, The Grand Design, Hawking said the Big Bang is the consequence of the laws of physics alone. “One can’t prove that God doesn’t exist, but science makes God unnecessary.”

Hawking overlooked that we can’t “prove” anything about God. Fact is, we can’t know God the way we know anything else. God is infinite. Everything else is finite. Finite beings can only “figure out” finite stuff. We can’t figure out an infinite God.

But we can intuit God—sense, feel, experience, perceive him. Our intuitions can be pointers, but never proofs. Hawking’s intuitions point to God. In the fine phrase of Edward Norman, he got it “broadly right.”[1]

C. S. Lewis believed everyone gets part of the story right. “I couldn’t believe that nine-hundred and ninety-nine religions were completely false and the remaining one true.”[2] He saw Christianity as the fulfillment of all faiths, even faiths that deny God’s existence. Hawking, Made in God’s image, got an incredible part of the story right, as Andrew Strominger, a Harvard string theorist, said of Hawking’s theory, “If it’s really true, it’s a deep and beautiful property of our universe—but not an obvious one.”

An infinitely pure God can’t be obvious, or perfectly clear, to finite fallen beings (Ex.33:20). We’d be vaporized. God can, however, give us pointers through people, since everyone, including Stephen Hawking, gets part of the story right.

 

[1] Richard John Neuhaus, “C. S. Lewis in the Public Square,” First Things, December 1998, 35.

[2] C. S. Lewis, God In The Dock, ed. Walter Hooper. (Eerdmans, 1970), 54.

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