The Godlessness of the Gaps
Philosophy Professor John Haldane adds his own commentary to the list addressing Stephen Hawking’s lately released The Grand Design. If the subject catches your interest, you should certainly read the whole essay, but one point attracted my attention in particular:
[The authors] then go on to note, however, that “it is not only the peculiar characteristics of our solar system that seem oddly conducive to the development of human life but also the characteristics of our entire Universe, and that is much more difficult to explain.” The forces of nature had to allow the production of carbon and other heavy elements, and allow them to exist stably; they had to facilitate the formation of stars and galaxies but also the periodic explosion of stars to distribute the elements needed for life more widely, permitting the formation of planets suitably composed for the evolution of life; and the strengths of the forces themselves and the masses of the fundamental particles on which they operate had to be of the correct orders of magnitude, and these lie within very small ranges. …
In short, and sparing the detail, ours is but one of an indefinite number of universes with different laws and forces, each universe being a spontaneous creation out of nothing: “Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe [that is, ours] can and will create itself from nothing.”
What’s striking is that the philosophy that emerges from Hawking’s work is almost a precise mirror image of the accusation of last resort for secularists belittling believers. They say that we are always seeking a “God of the gaps” — a divine force that explains the shrinking list of natural phenomena that mankind has yet to decipher. While protesting that such theology is hardly the most sophisticated available for debate (let alone universal), I’ll concede that some folks do take that short cut.
But even so, what Hawking produces is an assumption of ever larger schemes of chaos and chance to explain all of that which appears ordered. That, ultimately, is no less a matter of faith, and it shares with the “gaps” religiosity the attribute of wholly missing the point: That we understand the method of the artist’s craft does not disprove the artist, and we shouldn’t allow it to suck the wonder right out of the work.