THE THEORY OF SOMETHING

Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz was an 18th century mathematical genius who first posed the timeless question “Why is there something instead of nothing?” In 1710 he wrote Essays on the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man and the Origin of Evil in which he concluded that our universe was the best of all possible worlds that God could have created. His belief in God was ridiculed by the infidels of his day like Voltaire, René Descartes and Baruch Spinoza. Leibniz’s accomplishments however would surpass that of even our best modern thinkers, like Stephen Hawking, by a long measure. He is probably not a household name because it is far too hard to pronounce. Leibniz was a childhood prodigy who became fluent in Latin and studied works of Greek scholars when he was only twelve. At fourteen he entered university and studied  philosophy, mathematics, and law. As an adult he was one of history’s greatest minds in physics, technology, philosophy, probability theory, biology, medicine, geology, psychology, linguistics, politics, law, ethics, theology, history, and philology to name a few. He published his discovery of calculus three years before Isaac Newton. I suspect he may have also been in a heavy metal band and was the inspiration for Guns and Roses guitarist Slash’s hair style.

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In one of Hollywood’s latest offerings, The Theory of Everything, the subject of the film is the personal life of renowned physicist Steven Hawking. It is based on a book by Hawking’s former wife, Jane Wilde Hawking entitled Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen. It of course touches on his extraordinary career but has more to do with their life together and dealing with his debilitating motor neuron disease ALS.  Actor Eddie Redmayne was particularly convincing as Hawking and won the Best Actor Oscar for his efforts. Although the movie lagged in the last half hour and fizzled to an end, it still packed a highly emotional punch as it recreated the palpable sense of pain the family faced as they dealt with Stephen’s ever diminishing health. For me, the highlight of the film was the faith conflict between Jane and Stephen. This was very much part of their journey and may have been the catalyst that in the end doomed their marriage. The real life Jane has always been a person of faith, whereas Stephen has always prided himself as a rational man of science with no need for a celestial dictator. Jane claimed that he regularly mocked her faith, even as she in return showed him undying care and devotion. The title of the movie is based on Stephen’s oft quoted search for “one simple elegant equation to explain everything.” This so called theory of everything has eluded Hawking his entire life, and I believe always will, because it is based on a flawed premise. Hawking is determined to prove that the universe had the ability to create itself and that there is no need for a creator.

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In his earlier work, A Brief History of Time, which is a fascinating and enjoyable read, he begins with this statement. “However, if we discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable by everyone, not just by a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question 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 should know the mind of God.” Many, including his wife Jane, took this as a nod to the possibility of a Creator. Hawking has, for the most part, now hinted that what he meant by that was that one day we would know as much as God… if there actually was one. It was far more backhanded then most of us realized.

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In his most recent book, The Grand Design, he has made this audacious claim. “Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.” In other words, he claims that gravity created the universe and not God. He has explained this further in interviews by saying, “One can’t prove that God doesn’t exist, but science makes God unnecessary.” What makes this a false, and frankly ridiculous statement, is the fact that science actually demands the opposite. Without getting bogged down in the science of it, every probable model of the universe requires some sort of ‘first cause’. Most notably Hawking has failed to answer the critical and scientific and philosophical question posed by Leibniz 300 years ago,’Why is there something instead of nothing?’ Although in The Grand Design he references the question and even claims to answer it he really only succeeds in re-asking it. If gravity created the universe, then who created gravity?

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As Kathy and I watched The Theory of Everything something jumped off the screen at me so powerfully that I said it out loud. As Stephen became more ardent in his atheism, the existence of God grew ever more evident. The two Christians in the movie, his wife Jane and the church choir director Jonathon Hellyer Jones , demonstrated uncommon selfless love towards an increasingly helpless Stephen. “Those two are more proof of the existence of God than anyone could ever ask for,” were the words that came out of my mouth. 1 John 4:12 says, No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. The only way our world is really going to see God is through the love of Jesus that we demonstrate by our Christian walk. Whether that was the intent of the movie, I am not sure, but it became so clear to me that I think it would be the perfect movie to watch with a skeptic and then engage them in the big questions of God and creation.

By the way, one inaccuracy of the movie was leaving the impression that Jane left Stephen and married Jonathon. The real story was that Stephen left Jane for his nurse in 1990, marrying her in 1995, and Jane did not marry Jonathon until 1997.

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