Stephen Hawking was asked in a TIME magazine interview in the Nov 15, 2010 issue, p. 8 —
If God doesn’t exist, why did the concept of his existence become almost universal? Basanta Borah, Basel, Switzerland
I don’t claim that God doesn’t exist. God is the name people give to the reason we are here. But I think that reason is the laws of physics rather than someone with whom one can have a personal relationship. An impersonal God. Stephen Hawking, Cambridge, England
This is a very abstract statement of what God is and how he/she/it relates to an individual personally. To Hawking, God’s personal relationship to you is like gravity and seems to be indistinguishable from gravity.
Hawking said, “Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing.” Isn’t that exactly what God is reported to have done, in the opening words of the Bible, to have created everything out of nothing. In that generalized way you have a gravity relationship with every atom, every photon in the Universe. The only gravity relationship most people ever notice is that with the Earth because it pulls on us all the time. But we are moved by other gravity sources like the Sun and Moon in appreciable ways and these also are traditional gods. It is a part of our combined gravity for us, because our bodies are part of Earth’s gravity and we together are circling the Sun. But our relationship with those distant gravity sources is usually only seen in the form of ocean tides. We are moved by Jupiter too and that planet no doubt has a tidal influence on us and our oceans but that is probably immeasurably small and couldn’t be detected even by the most sophisticated instruments amongst all the other confounding factors like wind. But to carry that idea to a Hawking like conclusion every physical thing in the Universe is affecting us with its gravity.
But these gravity speculations are so generalized and so predictable that they mean nothing to a person and his life in terms of how he should adapt his behavior. Our senses can only perceive differences in weight to two orders of magnitude at best but gravity is almost infinitely predictable and measurable orders of magnitude beyond what we can perceive. It is the same with Hawking’s “God” concept. His concept extends to the limits of the Universe but beyond the very close-in effects and applications we might apply to it, there really isn’t much that can be done even if we wanted to. But we can’t affect anything very much and probably not at all by addressing this concept directly for special favors. Really, our best option is to simply operate within its constraints and the better we understand those constraints the better we will function and the more contented we will be.
The question put to Hawking by Basanta Borah was from the perspective of ordinary humans, ordinary cultures and the other tens of billions of humans who have lived and died with some unknowable relationship to their ultimate values. His answer didn’t come remotely close to answering these ordinary people’s concerns. I have no way of measuring what most people have thought over the millennia, and most people are dead people anyway so we can’t ask them, but my suspicion is that most humans believe in some ultimate reason for our existence and believe in a higher power which has some accommodation with their personal beliefs and needs. That may be an empty hope but it comforts their lives. I think Hawking’s concept of God is so close to what everyone would call atheism that to them it is indistinguishable and moot and it is so cold leads to an inhuman and inhumane ways of relating to people.
We must find our existential meaning relative to real people not artificial gods.