The Grand Design — Truth Or Fiction?

William Lane Craig

When it came to the creation of the Universe, God just wasn’t necessary. This is the conclusion renowned English physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking has made in his latest book with Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design. “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the Universe going,” Hawking writes. According to Hawking, the big bang was a natural event that would have happened without the help or involvement of God. Thus, Hawking and Mlodinow’s new book has made a big bang among laypeople. But what about these authors’ conclusions? How accurate are they? William Lane Craig, noted Christian philosopher and theologian, responds to Hawking and Mlodinow’s new book.


 (Winter 2011), pp. 118-22.

The Grand Design

 and Philosophy

Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow open their book 

The Grand Design

 with a series of profound questions: What is the nature of reality? Where did all this come from? Did the universe need a Creator? Then they say, “Traditionally these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead. 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 for knowledge.”1

The professional philosopher can only roll his eyes at the effrontery and condescension of such a statement. Two scientists, who have to all appearances little acquaintance with philosophy, are prepared to pronounce an entire discipline dead and to insult their own faculty colleagues in philosophy at Cal Tech and Cambridge University — many of whom, such as Michael Redhead and D.H. Mellor, are eminent philosophers of science — for supposedly failing to keep up.

The professional philosopher will regard their verdict as not merely amazingly condescending but also as outrageously naïve. The man who claims to have no need of philosophy is the one most apt to be fooled by it. One might therefore anticipate that Mlodinow and Hawking’s subsequent exposition of their favored theories will be underpinned by a host of unexamined philosophical presuppositions. That expectation is, in fact, borne out. They assert their claims about laws of nature, the possibility of miracles, scientific determinism, and the illusion of free will with only the thinnest of justification. Clearly Mlodinow and Hawking are up to their necks in philosophical questions.

What one might not expect is that, after pronouncing the death of philosophy, Hawking and Mlodinow should themselves plunge immediately into a philosophical discussion of scientific realism vs. antirealism. The first third of their book is not about current scientific theories at all but is a disquisition on the history and philosophy of science. I found this section to be the most interesting and mind-boggling of the whole book. Let me explain.

Having set aside a Monday afternoon to read Hawking and Mlodinow’s book, I had spent that morning working through a scholarly article from Blackwell’s 

Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics

 on a philosophical viewpoint known as ontological pluralism. Ontological pluralism is a view in a subdiscipline of philosophy whose name sounds like stuttering: meta-metaphysics, or, as it is sometimes called, meta-ontology. This is philosophy at its most ethereal. Ontology is the study of being, or of what exists — the nature of reality. Meta-ontology is one notch higher: It inquires whether ontological disputes are meaningful and how best to resolve them.

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