Hawking is extremely smart, but so are others, and he is a long way from being Einstein’s successorby Philip Ball / September 8, 2010 / Leave a comment
It’s a harsh reality of journalistic life that you will sometimes have to write up “news” that is neither new nor significant, simply because your editor knows that everyone else will do so. That is the generous interpretation of the blanket media coverage of Stephen Hawking’s pronouncement that God is no longer needed to create the universe.
Hawking has form in this arena, having previously been accorded oracular status when he uttered some comment about a Theory of Everything permitting us to “know the Mind of God,” the kind of idle metaphor that only someone lacking any serious interest in the interface of science and religion would employ. Hawking clearly had not read Francis Bacon’s Advancement of Learning, which wisely declares that “if any man think, by his inquiries after material things, to discover the nature or will of God, he is indeed spoiled by vain philosophy.” Although it is unlikely such pieties show Bacon as a closet atheist minding his back, he did at least have the good taste thus to dispense with God at the outset.
Let’s not be too harsh on Hawking: the man is one of the best physicists in the world. The problem is that, in the public view, this statement probably seems as absurd as saying that Messi is a good striker: a lame way of acknowledging incomparable genius. Most people will be astonished to hear that Hawking is not rated by his peers among the top ten physicists even of the 20th century, let alone of all time. They probably imagine he has so far been denied a Nobel prize out of sheer jealousy. Hawking is extremely smart, but so are others, and he is a long way from being Einstein’s successor.
More importantly, Hawking has no reputation among scientists as a deep thinker. There is nothing especially profound in what he has said to date about the social and philosophical implications of science in general and cosmology in particular. There is far more wisdom in the views of Martin Rees, John Barrow or Phil Anderson, not to mention the old favourites Einstein, Bohr and Feynman.
Hawking’s latest remarks on the redundancy of God have little depth, as Paul Davies showed easily enough in the Guardian: if you have any kind of law-like regularity in the universe,…