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Did Stephen Hawking Really Say that Believers in God are Standing on Ground as Solid as Scientists?

This morning, J. Clare Peteet posts the following in a comment to Irregular Times:

J Clifford, science admits it cannot tell us what caused the Big Bang….

The famous astrophysical scientist, Stephen Hawking, says, “Anyone who chooses to believe in a Universal Creator is standing on ground as solid as a scientist who denies Creative Purpose as First Cause. Because of the laws these same scientists have discovered, there is absolutely no way to tell what made it happen. Whatever you choose is an act of pure faith.” *

…*could not find the source of the Hawking quote but it is found numerous times through Google in association with articles

Is this really true? Did Stephen Hawking really say that there is “absolutely no way to tell” what made the universe happen? Did Hawking really say that believers in God as the “First Cause” are standing on ground as solid as scientists who deny the existence of a creator? Let’s look into this; it’s time for a fact check.

The asterisk Peteet provides is the first inkling of trouble. A renowned scientist issues a quote rebuking scientists and uplifting religion, the source can’t be found, but the quote is nevertheless found “numerous times” via Google search? That’s odd, since actual contemporary quotations tend to link to sources, which tends to promote the sources to the top of Google rankings.

To look into this further, I decided to search Google myself and see if I could find the original source. A search for this quote, or any sufficiently long subquote, consistently leads to just 18 results (the first page of Google’s results provides an estimate of “42 links,” but these include many redundant links to the same discussion forum posts. A Yahoo/Bing search returns just 2 links, which are included in the set below). These results are:

2015: hardwarezone, boardreader, golivewire, blogspot, irregulartimes
2014: pdxradio, news24, thecoli, youtube, reddit
2013: tumblr, facebook
2012: tumblr, tumblr, tumblr, topix
2011: none
2010: huffingtonpost

and one more:

“Years” before 2011: Larry Leonard

This last link is the most important, for two reasons.  First, in an article he posted to Oregon Magazine in October 2011, Larry Leonard notes that “originally under the pen name, Eric Blair, this piece first appeared in print years ago.”  This makes Larry Leonard the first known user of the phrase that Peteet shared with Irregular Times this morning.  Second, in his article Leonard does not use quotation marks.  Here’s the entirety of all paragraphs, in order, in which Leonard discusses Stephen Hawking:

Stephen Hawking holds the Lucasian chair at Cambridge University in England. In the end of his classic book, A Brief History of Time, Mr. Hawking states that based on the physical facts presently known by science, one may feel free to believe in a Creator or not, as one wishes. No scientist, he says, has the information necessary to prove a conclusion in this regard either way.

Most scientists today probably do not believe in God. They believe their disbelief is logical. The greatest scientist on earth, the man who sits in the chair first occupied by Isaac Newton, says, in effect, that they are fools to be sure.

So, we have established two basic facts, here. First, the greatest living astrophysical scientist, Stephen Hawking, says that anyone who chooses to believe in a Universal Creator is standing on ground as solid as any scientist who denies Creative Purpose as First Cause. Because of the laws these same scientists have discovered, there is absolutely no way to tell what made it all happen. Whichever one you choose, says Hawking, you are performing an act of pure faith.

This means that the massive crowd of doubting educators, liberal politicians and media types are supported by but one concept. Hawking allows God, and Genesis could be a training paper for basic astrophysics and evolutionary biology. All that is left to the idiot secular progressives is the biblical description of the time it took for all this to happen. And, this brings up the sweetest irony of them all.

There are two important pieces of information here.  First, Larry Leonard cites a source: the conclusion to Stephen Hawking’s book A Brief History of Time.  Second, Leonard writes out the paragraph regarding “anyone who chooses to believe in a Universal Creator” without quotation marks.  Leonard isn’t quoting Stephen Hawking.  Checking my own copy of A Brief History of Time, I can confirm that Hawking didn’t actually write those words in his book.  I’ve looked at the conclusion for other editions of A Brief History, and those words aren’t present there either.  These are Leonard’s words, reflecting what Leonard thinks Stephen Hawking has to say.

As you can see for yourself by following the links I’ve provided, every single other website using Leonard’s words has put quotation marks around them.   The witting or unwitting culprit is probably the late Hollywood producer David L. Wolper, who wrote the second-oldest article in 2010.  It appeared on the popular website Huffington Post and was the first to place quotation marks around Larry Leonard’s words, making them appear to be Stephen Hawking’s.

Conclusion: Stephen Hawking did not actually write the paragraph placing scientists and creation believers on the “same ground.”  The quote attribution is false.

With that said, let’s turn to a more fundamental substantive question: was Larry Leonard’s interpretation of A Brief History of Time correct?  Does Stephen Hawking actually believe that believers in a God of creation are standing on ground just as solid as scientists who don’t share that belief?  Does Hawking really say that there is “absolutely no way to tell” what made the universe happen?

In short, no.  I enourage you to read A Brief History of Time for yourself, in which:

* Stephen Hawking only uses the phrase “First Cause” once in the first chapter to his book, using it to describe others’ theological arguments — not his own — that the universe must have had an origin at some finite time 6-7 millenia in the past;

* Hawking shares an anecdote regarding a visit to the Vatican for a cosmological conference:

“Throughout the 1970s I had been mainly studying black holes, but in 1981 my interest in questions about the origin and fate of the universe was reawakened when I attended a conference on cosmology organized by the Jesuits in the Vatican. The Catholic Church had made a bad mistake with Galileo when it tried to lay down the law on a question of science, declaring that the sun went round the earth. Now, centuries later, it had decided to invite a number of experts to advise it on cosmology. At the end of the conference the participants were granted an audience with the Pope. He told us that it was all right to study the evolution of the universe after the big bang, but we should not inquire into the big bang itself because that was the moment of Creation and therefore the work of God. I was glad then that he did not know the subject of the talk I had just given at the conference – the possibility that space-time was finite but had no boundary, which means that it had no beginning, no moment of Creation. I had no desire to share the fate of Galileo, with whom I feel a strong sense of identity, partly because of the coincidence of having been born exactly 300 years after his death!”

Hawking continues to discuss throughout the book his idea that spacetime has no boundary, and therefore no discrete beginning, and therefore no need for a creator.  This is a direct contradiction of Larry Leonard’s depiction of Hawking’s book, because Hawking as a scientist is indeed attempting to use science to explain origins in a way that the fake Hawking quote says is impossible to do.

* Hawking does not conclude his book by telling scientists that they cannot possibly understand why the universe exists.  On the contrary, he spends the last page of the last chapter of his book chastising scientists for not trying hard enough to explain the origins of the universe:

“Up to now, most scientists have been too occupied with the development of new theories that describe what the universe is to ask the question why…. However, if we do discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientsts.  Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of why it is that we and the universe exist.  If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason — for then we would know the mind of God.”

Stephen Hawking comes right out and says at the end of the book that scientists can know and should try to know what made the universe happen, and that the answer should be a product of human reason.  This is, again, a direct contradiction of the interpretation of Hawking made by Larry Leonard in his not-quote.

But “Aha!,” some of you may be thinking.  What about that last sentence?  What about Hawking’s notion that, after the successful development of a scientific theory of the origin of the universe, “then we would know the mind of God?”  Isn’t that an endorsement of the idea of a creator of the universe?

No, it’s not.  Last year, the Spanish newspaper El Mundo pressed Hawking about his enigmatic last sentence in A Brief History of Time.  Does that sentence imply that Stephen Hawking believes in God the creator of the universe?  Hawking’s response was emphatic:

“Before we understand science, it is natural to believe that God created the universe. But now science offers a more convincing explanation. What I meant by ‘we would know the mind of God’ is, we would know everything that God would know, if there were a God, which there isn’t. I’m an atheist. …Religion believes in miracles, but these aren’t compatible with science.”

There you have it.  Not only is the supposed quote of Stephen Hawking not actually real, but Stephen Hawking actually believes the exact opposite of what the fake quote implies.

As this morning’s Google search indicates, the fake Stephen Hawking quote has had little purchase in the past but has been gaining increasing circulation in the last two years.  I hope that this article puts the claim, and the fake quote, to rest.




2 thoughts on “Did Stephen Hawking Really Say that Believers in God are Standing on Ground as Solid as Scientists?”

  1. J Clifford says:

    Crickets from the Creationists.

  2. Huseyn Qurbanov says:

    Logically complete cosmological concept. /due to lack of knowledge of the English language was not able to correct the translation Implemented by Google/

    In order to present the unlimited space originally:
    1. homogeneous – enough to postulate the presence in it of two elements with Simple and Complex /closed systematically/
    2. heterogeneous – enough to postulate the presence in it of one more element – the Most High and Almighty God – with open systematically.
    It is easy to assume that even at the lowest possible deployment of the intangible component of the essence of God – the Spirit of God – for the level of the original downwardly directed the permanent deployment of the material component of the essence of God, there is a curtailment of Simple and Complex /i.e.. It is their decay due to blocking of origin upwardly directed constantly deploy intangible components of the entity / as much as possible heterogeneous to God’s essence minimum possible number of cell uniformity (1H), and God on the basis of the material components of the 1H deploys the minimum possible heterogeneous to its essence as possible numerically elemental homogeneity (2H). Coagulation process will begin in 2H known God start time since the completion of its deployment. curtailment of the Spirit of God to the level of initial deployment again unfolds 1H – God potential for transformation 1H into 2H and 1H into 2H limitless!

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