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A Voyage into Stephen Hawking’s Godless Universe: With Javed Ghamidi, John Lennox, Alan Guth, Paul Davies, John Polkinghorne, Wolfgang Smith, David Albert, Stephen Mumford & other experts on-board (1)
Dr. Junaid Hassan



Dedicated to Harris, Aléa, Ibrahim, Ayaan, Aden, Hana, Zamad, Angelina, Imaan, Adam, Amina, Sophia, and all those young ones who will, sooner or later, ponder upon ultimate questions of life





‘Temperate, sincere, and intelligent inquiry and discussion are only to be dreaded by the advocates of error. The truth need not fear them.’

James Rush

Provisions of the Last Will and Testament of Dr. James Rush (1869), 13


Arrogance – presupposing that all with a different viewpoint to ours are simpletons or wrong, ego-satisfaction – ridiculing stereotypes of an opposing school-of-thought, self-deception – blind faith or evading the evidence opposing our views, self-consolation – getting false reassurance by the like-minded, submission to in vogue views in the name of modernity, and know-it-all disposition after a superficial survey of our opponents’ views, unfortunately, are still ubiquitous attitudes of so-called seekers and bearers of truth in the modern world. Our topic here – the all-important theism and atheism[1] discussion – is no exception to this, even at the academic level. This short book is written to urge both the camps to listen to each other with due respect, follow evidence and one another’s arguments to conclusions, engage in a constructive debate, and approach this disagreement in a rational and academic manner.

Although I exclusively belong to one of the two camps, I have tried to sincerely understand arguments of both sides and present them as impartially and plainly as I could. To represent the naturalistic worldview, Stephen Hawking’s narrative is used, as it is his Godless universe we intend to explore here. Surely, not all naturalists endorse all of Hawking’s views, so this book by no means represents all major views within naturalism. The same goes for theism.

In accepting or rejecting a viewpoint or drawing my own conclusions, I have tried my best to listen to the voice of my conscience and follow reason and evidence. I hope this humble attempt will pave the way for a small step forward in our quest for knowledge, truth, and enlightenment.


Junaid Hassan

Moss, Norway





‘There is no quicker way for a scientist to bring discredit upon himself and upon his profession than roundly to declare […] that science knows, or soon will know, the answers to all questions worth asking, and that questions which do not admit a scientific answer are in some way non-questions or “pseudo-questions” that only simpletons ask and only the gullible profess to be able to answer.’

Peter B. Medawar, Nobel Laureate in Physiology/Medicine (1960)

Advice to a Young Scientist (1979), 31

‘The existence of a limit to science is, however, made clear by its inability to answer childlike elementary questions having to do with first and last things – questions such as “How did everything begin?”; “What are we all here for?”; “What is the point of living?” […] It is not to science, therefore, but to metaphysics, imaginative literature, or religion that we must turn for answers to questions having to do with first and last things.’

Peter B. Medawar

The Limits of Science (1984), 59-60


In search of ultimate answers: metaphysics, religion, and science

Theoretical contributions of scientists, particularly in biology and physics, have prompted many of them to directly or indirectly make their way into the realm of religion and philosophy. With immense intellectual and technological success of science in the physical world, we are now lured to set hopes on scientists, instead of philosophers or theologians, to unravel metaphysical[2] mysteries of the universe as well. We are keen to know what scientists have to say about ultimate questions of life pertaining to the existence of God, the ultimate cause of the universe, human soul/mind, purpose of life, determinism/free will, eternity, resurrection, true nature of reality, and so on. ‘Philosophy is dead,’ claims Stephen Hawking. ‘Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest of knowledge.’ (Hawking and Mlodinow 2010, 5)

Caution must be taken here for, at least, two reasons:

1. The limits of science

Great achievements of science in the physical world is no guarantee of its success in the metaphysical world, too. Scientific method[3] appears to be inherently inadequate to answer metaphysical questions[4], such as whether our senses and scientific instruments reveal the real picture of reality (See Medawar 1985). It seems extremely implausible, if not impossible, to design an experiment to confirm or falsify this. Thus, Hawking and Mlodinow (2010, 42) write:

‘How do we know we are not just characters in a computer-generated soap opera? If we lived in a synthetic imaginary world, events would not necessarily have any logic or consistency or obey any laws. The aliens in control might find it more interesting or amusing to see our reactions, for example, if the full moon split in half. […] But if the aliens did enforce consistent laws, there is no way we could tell there was another reality behind the simulated one.’

Similarly, questions of morality – without which no human or, at least, humanly life can be imagined – are beyond the scope of science, such as whether or not murder, rape, or violence is evil; or truth, justice, or faithfulness are to be cherished. Albert Einstein made this point with utmost clarity when he said the following, as quoted by one of his close colleagues, Max Jammer (2002, 69):

‘Einstein declared that our moral judgements, or sense of beauty, and religious instincts are “tributary forms in helping the reasoning faculty towards its highest achievements. You are right in speaking of the moral foundations of science, but you cannot turn round and speak of the scientific foundations of morality." Einstein proceeded to point out that science cannot form a base for morality: "every attempt to reduce ethics to scientific formulae must fail".’

Richard Feynman (2005, 33 & 43), Nobel Laureate in Physics (1965), also expressed a similar view when he argued that ‘the sciences do not directly teach good or bad’, and that ‘ethical values lie outside the scientific realm’.

However, the inability of science to answer ultimate questions pertaining to metaphysics, purpose, morality, and so on does not undermine it. Rather, it only reminds us of the scope and limits of science. Medawar (1984, xiii) elegantly illustrated this point as follows:

‘Science is a great and glorious enterprise – the most successful, I argue, that human beings have ever engaged in. To reproach it for its inability to answer all the questions we should like to put to it is no more sensible than to reproach a railway locomotive for not flying or, in general, not performing any other operation for which it was not designed.’

2. The blind following of scientists is no less hazardous

We must not forget that when Greek philosophy ruled the world, we enthusiastically placed our faith in philosophers to lead our way, so much so that even such propositions gained currency: ‘Males have more teeth than females in case of men, sheep, goats, and swine.’ Similarly, most of us submitted our will to that of the clergy during the so-called ‘age of faith’[5]. Those heroes of ours now seem outdated and defeated, at least, to many of us. Scientists are our new superheroes. Surely, they deserve to be so, but we must be careful not to start, so to speak, hallowing, idolising, idealising, or following them blindly, as is commonplace in the so-called ‘celebrity’ and ‘popular culture’. The hazard here is twofold:

First, when scientists make science-based claims, we must be aware that not all science comes with the same credibility and authority. For example, gene mutation and evolution within similar species (sometimes called “microevolution”) is an observable, repeatable, and testable phenomenon, but no one has ever observed or replicated the evolution of, for instance, fish into reptiles or reptiles into mammals (sometimes called “macroevolution”); the idea is based on inference from indirect observations. Regarding more acute cases in scientific disciplines like evolutionary psychology, the evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne[6] (2000) warns:

Unfortunately, evolutionary psychologists routinely confuse theory[7] and speculation. […] Depression, for example, is seen as a trait favored by natural selection to enable us to solve our problems by withdrawing, reflecting, and hence enhancing our future reproduction. Plausible? Maybe. Scientifically testable? Absolutely not. If evolutionary biology is a soft science, then evolutionary psychology is its flabby underbelly.

But the public can be forgiven for thinking that evolutionary biology is equivalent to evolutionary psychology.’

Second, as the Oxford mathematician John Lennox (2011, 9) puts it, ‘Not all statements by scientists are statements of science, and so do not carry the authority of authentic science even though such authority is often erroneously ascribed to them.’ Regarding philosophical statements of scientists, we must not forget Einstein’s (1936, 349) remark: ‘It has often been said, and certainly not without justification, that the man of science is a poor philosopher.’ However absurd it may sound, even prestigious scientists are often found guilty of elementary philosophical and logical fallacies, as we shall soon see. Furthermore, scientists (especially contemporary ones) often disregard or are found unaware of the fact that, like all other humans, they carry a priori beliefs, preconceived theories, metaphysical commitments, and philosophical worldviews, even while doing science. Interestingly, the scientific method itself is based on philosophy, not science. In short, as scientists[8] enter a philosophical discussion, like that of theism/atheism, such philosophical shortcomings immediately start to surface. Lennox (2011, 32), therefore, warns:

‘Nonsense remains nonsense even when talked by world-famous scientists. What serves to obscure the illogicality of such [philosophical] statements [of scientists] is the fact that they are made by scientists; and the general public, not surprisingly, assumes that they are statements of science and takes them on authority. That is why it is important to point out that they are not statements of science, and any statement, whether made by a scientist or not, should be open to logical analysis. Immense prestige and authority does not compensate for faulty logic.’

Following where reason and evidence lead

The upshot of the preceding discussion is that, rather than blindly following a celebrated prophet, spiritual leader, philosopher, or scientist, we ought to always follow our conscience, reasoning, and evidence, if it is truth we are after.

Regarding our topic, this proposition implies that one must be able to follow scientific, philosophical, religious, naturalistic, and historical evidence and arguments to their conclusions. That is not straightforward. For one, concepts and theories in all branches of knowledge have become increasingly complex, specialised, and difficult to grasp for nonexperts. Furthermore, we often find interpretational and other differences among experts, so much that even the same evidence sometimes leads them to different conclusions. The way forward, therefore, is to adequately decode specialised knowledge for nonexperts and make plain any disagreements among the experts. Only then can people be empowered to rationally decide for themselves.

A probe into Stephen W. Hawking’s Godless cosmology

As for naturalism/theism debate in view of modern science, many experts have attempted to produce explanatory literature for laypersons. The late Stephen Hawking (1942–2018) is among them, one of the most popular scientists, a brilliant theoretical physicist, and an epitome of fortitude in face of debilitating motor neuron disease. In his last complete book The Grand Design (TGD), co-authored with Leonard Mlodinow[9], he specified some ultimate questions of humankind and set out to answer them in light of modern science, including his own research. In doing so, he challenged some fundamental traditional concepts like that of a personal God, His intervention in the universe, human free will, and philosophical realism.

TGD’s central conclusions are based on mind-boggling concepts from theoretical physics. These concepts are cursorily explained in the text, probably because TGD is a ‘popular science’ book and a general audience might not be too interested in details. But the devil, as they say, lies in the details. Here, therefore, I first interpreted TGD’s narrative, using helpful illustrations and explanations from carefully chosen academic sources. Considering that, this book may be used as a short guide to Hawking’s cosmology. Then, I critically analysed the reasoning, evidence, theories, and conclusions of TGD, using works of some eminent theologians, philosophers, mathematicians, and physicists.

The second exercise was necessary because, first, as the aphorism goes, extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence, and such evidence, I add, demands extraordinary scrutiny. Second, Hawking was not an expert of all the scientific, philosophical, and religious areas he touched upon. Even if he were, history shows that greatest of experts and minds can falter. Thirdly, a good part of the theoretical work in physics upon which TGD’s bold claims are based is by no means as well established as, say, Einstein’s theory of relativity or even the big bang theory. It is still metaphysics rather than physics in that it awaits empirical evidence. More so, it seems rather humanly impossible, as we shall see, to think of experiments which could verify or falsify such work. Fourthly, the extrapolations of TGD from the well-established theoretical physics are debatable, to say the least. Such reasons especially urged me to not only tell Hawking’s part of the story but of those specialists, too, who disagree with him. I hope this exercise would facilitate my readers to adequately explore both sides of the argument and reach correct conclusions.

To represent the religious discourse, I have turned to the Quran. That is because out of the Abrahamic Scriptures – believed to be revealed by God – it is the only book whose historical authenticity, at least, is beyond doubt. It is transmitted through the most reliable mode of historical transmission: unanimous consent of and continuous, verbatim mass-transmission by all generations of Muslims, since Prophet Muhammad (Ghamidi 2018, 158 and Saleem 2012). No disrespect is intended for the Judeo-Christian Scriptures. I have also barred myself from using the Hadith literature[10] from among the key Islamic texts, for it is historically transmitted by individuals. And regarding such transmission, no matter how careful, it is established that it always carries an element of doubt.

Coming back to TGD (180), its main conclusion is succinctly spelled out like this: ‘Because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.’ This conclusion raises several important questions with direct or indirect implications for theism/atheism debate, which I have summarised as follows:

   1.             What is a law of nature?

   2.             Do fixed laws leave any room for human free will and God’s intervention (miracles) in the universe?

   3.             Where do laws come from?

   4.             How could the law of gravity necessitate a universe out of nothing?

   5.             Is it time to celebrate/mourn a personal God’s death?

Each of these questions constitutes a chapter in this book. In each chapter, TGD’s answer is first presented and elaborated upon, followed by a critical commentary on it taking aboard works and views of other experts, reason, and evidence.

Let’s fasten our seatbelts to embark upon this challenging but fascinating journey now!


1. What is a law of nature?

‘[I]t is a perversion of language to assign any law as the efficient, operative cause of anything. A law presupposes an agent, for it is only the mode according to which an agent proceeds; it implies a power, for it is the order according to which that power acts. Without this agent, without this power, which are both distinct from itself, the “law” does nothing; is nothing.’ 

William Paley

“Natural theology.” The Works of William Paley (1838), 157


 This question may seem irrelevant to our topic of discussion, but it has such profound implications for atheism/theism discussion that without an explicit answer thereof, this discussion will always remain prone to confusion and misunderstanding. The concepts discussed in this chapter will be repeatedly referred to, expounded upon, and used to draw important conclusions in the chapters to follow.


TGD’s Position

Prevalent definition in science

TGD (27-28) says that most scientists today take a law of nature as a rule derived from an observed regularity. Based on this understanding, ‘the sun rises in the east,’ for example, is a candidate for a law because it is a rule derived from the regular rising of the sun in the east, witnessed for thousands of years without exception. Because a law consistently holds, it is expected to provide predictions; for example, we predict on the daily basis that, ceteris paribus, the sun will rise in the east tomorrow. TGD further qualifies the definition of laws as follows.

Definition of TGD

TGD (28-29) says that all observed regularities cannot be put into the category of laws. Seemingly, it says so in the wake of the problem of induction[11]. A law, it argues, is more than just a description of what is commonly observed to happen, for it is based on unavoidable or necessary regularity, such as ‘all uranium-235 spheres are less than a mile in diameter’. The statement is not based on induction or mere observations, but on the theoretical understanding of the phenomenon that if a uranium-235 sphere approaches a diameter exceeding ~6 inches, it will inevitably explode with a nuclear explosion[12]

TGD, however, accepts Newton’s laws of motion, although they need to be modified for objects moving at a speed approaching that of light. That is because these laws consistently hold in our everyday world, where people, trains, aeroplanes, or the like do not move at the speed of light. As per TGD’s definition, therefore, a law must precisely or approximately hold universally or, at least, ‘under a stipulated set of conditions’.

Finally, TGD reminds that a law generally exists as part of a system of interrelated laws and that in contemporary science, laws are generally expressed in the language of mathematics.

Governing laws

At several places, TGD[13] talks about natural laws governing the universe, which ‘is to say, its behavior can be modelled’ (i.e., mathematically expressed). To elucidate the point, let us consider, for instance, Boyle’s law, which can be simply put like this: Under constant temperature, the pressure an ideal gas exerts on the walls of its container decreases proportionally with increase in the volume of the container (expansion of the gas). Mathematically, Boyle’s law can be modelled as P = k/V, where P is the pressure of a gas, V volume, and k is a constant equal to the product of volume and pressure. Once we have established this law or mathematical model through appropriate means, we can say that a gas will obey or be governed by this law under the stated conditions.



The term ‘laws of nature/science’ is misleading. 

The problem with this term is that it creates a misleading picture in one’s mind as if there are powerless passive particulars[14] in the universe, which are controlled and governed by laws external to them (See Mumford 2004, 204)

The problem worsens when, for example, TGD (8-9) says that out of nothing ‘multiple universes arise naturally from physical law’ or another eminent physicist says (as quoted by Lennox 2011, 41) regarding the origin of the universe and life that ‘for me it is much more inspiring to believe that a set of mathematical laws can be so clever as to bring all these things into being’. Such discourses seem to presume that laws existed when there was nothing, with powers to bring into existence everything. To make plain flaws of such presumptions, we need to consider an alternative view to that of laws, namely ‘lawlessness’.

No external laws, but inherent powers of particulars ‘governing’ their individual and collaborative behaviours or effects

Rather than invoking the rule of (external) law, Stephen Mumford[15] in his book Laws in Nature (2004) correctly traces regularities or necessities[16] in nature to tendencies, capacities, or causal powers in action, which particulars in the universe inherently possess.[17]

To illustrate this view, let us turn to Boyle’s law again. It is an inherent power of gas molecules to diffuse away from each other, and it is an inherent power of a solid material, of which gas containers are typically made, to resist anything trying to diffuse through it. Thus, any gas molecules in a container will necessarily hit the walls of the container and, thereby, produce force per unit area, i.e., pressure. Suppose a container with gas having pressure = 5 newton per each square meter (m2), where the total area of the container = 20 m2. If we increase the volume of the container, its area will concurrently increase too. Suppose an increase in the volume, such that the internal area of the container increases from 20 to 40 m2. Now if everything else remains constant, the pressure of 5 newton per 1 m2 of total area = 20 m2 will necessarily reduce to 2.5 newton per 1 m2 of total area = 40 m2. This negative relationship between pressure and volume of gas is what Boyle’s law describes. To say, then, that Boyle’s law governs the behaviour of gas or gas obeys it can be grossly misleading. Boyle’s law, rather, is only a description of how gas is predisposed to behave due to its inherent powers. Hence, it would be erroneous to assume that Boyle’s law could exist prior to the existence of gas itself and even more erroneous to assume that it could, somehow, create gas. 

Same is true for all other laws. The so-called ‘laws of nature’ are nothing but descriptions of certain consistent behaviours, coactions, or phenomena that particulars in the universe are predisposed to produce due to their inherent tendencies, capacities, or causal powers. Since these powers are dispositions or properties, there is no question of them (what to speak of laws) without a prior existence of particulars (essentially, matter, energy and/or space). So, for a law to be there, there has to be three things first: 1) a particular with 2) consistent power(s), producing 3) a fixed behaviour or outcome (regularity); to describe this regularity, eventually, a law can be formulated (See Paley’s quote at the opening of this chapter).

Next, we shall turn to the problem of free will and miracles, and see how they are thwarted by fixed laws in Hawking’s universe.



 [To be continued….]



[1] Despite nuances of meaning, the terms ‘atheism’ and ‘naturalism’ will be synonymously used in the text.


[2] Metaphysics, a major branch of philosophy, may be understood by comparing its scope and methodology with that of physics. Concerning scope, metaphysics deals with ultimate questions, whereas physics typically deals with practical questions, avoiding the ultimate. For example, the metaphysician may ask if there really exists a world around us, or is it a sort of virtual reality created by our minds or by some being(s) in control of our minds? The physicist, in contrast, would take the external world as given and start exploring it with whatever means available, typically asking questions like these: What are the fundamental forces operating in the universe? What makes up the material universe? How do ships float on the water surface? ‘Why is it easier to walk downhill than uphill? How do natural systems work? Regarding the methodology, the metaphysician uses logic and reasoning to reach a conclusion. Physicists do the same but, in addition, pay special attention to observation and experimentation to gain knowledge. For example, based on reason, Aristotle – the father of metaphysics – postulated that objects fall at speed proportional to their mass. After almost 2000 years, however, Galileo – the father of modern science/physics – thought of an experiment, which ultimately falsified Aristotle’s hypothesis. In metaphysics, such experimentation – the hallmark of physics – is not undertaken. That is why those mathematical proofs or (rational) hypotheses of theoretical physics that lack empirical evidence (observation and experimentation) are often compared with metaphysics. E = m × c2 was such a mathematical proof when proposed by Einstein in 1905, but experimental physics has accumulated so much evidence for it to date that it is now regarded a scientific reality. For a very short and useful overview, see Spitzer, Robert. “What is the difference between metaphysics and physics, and what are the limits of each?” 2016. Available from


[3] ‘Contrary to popular impression, there is no one agreed scientific method, though certain elements crop up regularly in attempts to describe what “scientific” activity involves: hypothesis, experiment, data, evidence, modified hypothesis, theory, prediction, explanation, and so on.’ (Lennox 2009, 32) For a typical description of scientific method, see Bradford, Alina. “What Is Science?” 2017. Available from


[4] One may argue that it cannot be said about all metaphysical questions; for instance, theoretical together with experimental physics has provided insights into or given useful directions to approach metaphysical questions about, e.g., the reality of time and space. Those sceptics, however, would not agree who do not trust our senses, instruments, and reasoning as sources of authentic knowledge.


[5] I.e., the period of medieval civilisation from 325 to 1300 AD. It is named so by the historian William J. Durant (1950) because of the extraordinary rise of Christianity and Islam therein.


[6] Emeritus Professor at University of Chicago


[7] In science, the word ‘theory’ is typically used for such an explanation or description of a phenomenon that has been substantiated by experimentation, data, and evidence. For example, ‘diseases are caused by microorganisms’ was merely a hypothesis once, which became a theory subsequent to empirical evidence. In theoretical physics, however, ‘theory’ is used for an interrelated set of mathematically driven rules and notions (hypotheses), whether or not these hypotheses are substantiated by observation and experimentation. For example, Einstein’s special theory of relativity, which gives us the rule E = m × c2, is deservedly called a theory, for it is backed by rich empirical evidence. But the multiverse theory, string theory, M-theory, supersymmetry theory, and so on are also called so, despite lacking evidence.


[8] Such general statements by no means apply to all scientists. Einstein and some other men we just quoted were also, after all, scientists.


[9] Ph.D., theoretical physics


[10] Except at one place, where I used it to explicate something implicitly alluded to in the Quran.


[11] Induction is a form of reasoning in which a generalisation is inferred based on a few or many observations that support, but do not necessarily guarantee that generalisation. For example, after seeing many miserly people from a certain country, one can reach an inductive generalisation that all people of that country are misers. In science, induction may go somewhat like this:




A liquid x1 evaporated when heated at 1000 °C at times t1, t2, t3


A liquid x2 evaporated when heated at 1000 °C at times t4, t5, t6


A liquid x3 evaporated when heated at 1000 °C at times t7, t8, t9








A liquid xn evaporated when heated at 1000 °C at times tn1, tn2, tn3




All liquids evaporate on heating.


The above premises are actually a set of observational statements that are generalised in the form of a law in the conclusion. The premises do not necessarily lead to the conclusion because only some liquids are regularly observed to evaporate at 1000 °C, but the conclusion talks about all liquids. Since there are countless kinds of liquids (and even more are possible through novel chemical reactions), we cannot rule out that there may exist one that would not evaporate at this temperature. Similarly, a liquid which has been repeatedly observed in various laboratory settings to evaporate at 1000 °C may not do so under some conditions not yet tested.


[12] In philosophy, the view that such a physical necessity is a property of natural laws is termed ‘nomological’ or ‘nomic necessity’.


[13] For example, see p. 32, 54, 58, 72, 87, 134, 171, and 181.


[14] ‘Particulars’ is used synonymously here with ‘objects’, ‘existents’, or ‘entities’.


[15] Professor of Metaphysics and Dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Nottingham


[16] That is, something necessarily causing another, as a uranium sphere approaching a diameter of roughly 6 inches necessarily causes an explosion.


[17] Mumford, however, is not the first one to propose this idea. For a brief and well-articulated summary of this view and an overview of other useful resources, see Chalmers 1999, 217-221 & 225.

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