As Frank Sinatra sang: “Regrets? I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention”.
Well OK, I’ll mention just one. In the early Nineties I was working in Seoul, Korea, and I was invited to attend a lecture in Seoul by Stephen Hawking. I was desperately keen to go, but I had a meeting booked at the same time with the MD of a key customer. Torn both ways, I finally decided to do the decent thing, go to my meeting and miss the Hawking lecture. I’ve regretted it ever since. I couldn’t remember, today, the name of the Korean customer, or why it was important to see him. But I can remember Stephen Hawking, and I may never have another chance to hear him.
Of course I read mathematics at Cambridge (1962/65), and Hawking is the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge – a Chair once held by Isaac Newton – which adds to my interest. Nevertheless, I think Hawking is wrong to argue that new discoveries in mathematics or astrophysics can disprove the existence of God, however much Richard Dawkins may relish the idea.
I don’t pretend for a moment to follow Hawking’s abstruse mathematics. But I find it simply not credible that the Universe should emerge from nothing, which seems to me, at least, to suppose that an effect can be its own cause (and if the Universe can spring from nothing all by itself, then presumably God – or anything else – could do the same, and the whole scientific structure of cause and effect would be lost). Hawking may well have understood, better than anyone else, how the Universe came into being, but no amount of physics will answer the metaphysical question “Why?” (Though our ability to ask a question does not mean necessarily that any meaningful or satisfactory answer exists).
I always like to recall the Mediæval cartographers, who recognised the limits to their knowledge, but rather than leave boring gaps in the corners of their maps, chose instead to populate the unknown areas with mythical beasts, dragons or improbable marine creatures. My view is that despite all the amazing advances in science, it is asking too much for our species, on a rather ordinary planet orbiting a rather ordinary star in an odd corner of a fairly ordinary galaxy, to expect to understand everything in the Universe, to comprehend all knowledge. The amount that is unknown is presumably infinite. But no matter how much we know, our body of knowledge remains finite, so no matter how much information we acquire, no matter how much science we do, the unknown remains infinite.
Some people choose to define God in terms of the gaps. He is out there in the unknown, along with the Mediæval cartographers’ mythical beasts. Others choose to define him in terms of the “Why?” question, rather than the “How?” question which is (or may be) the preserve of physics. But that comes down to faith – either you believe it, because it seems plausible and the arguments persuade you, or (like Dawkins) you are happy to recognise the great unknown, but see no reason to populate it with speculative life forms, whether God or dragons.
My point is that physics and faith are essentially different things, dealing in different questions, and you cannot use ideas from one field to prove or disprove anything in the other. Physics cannot disprove religion, any more than religion can disprove physics. Not even Stephen Hawking.