At first I was going to stay out of this discussion since, as I said before, I believe the argument over science versus religion is often unfruitful. But after reading some interesting comments by fellow cosmologist Peter Coles, whom also has written some good books on cosmology shown above, I decided to comment. First, from Coles: (by the way, I've coauthored 4 papers with this guy. Small world!)
It’s interesting that such a fatuous statement managed to become a lead item on the radio news and a headline in all the national newspapers despite being so obviously devoid of any meaning whatsoever. How can the Universe be “a consequence” of the theories that we invented to describe it? To me that’s just like saying that the Lake District is a consequence of an Ordnance Survey map. And where did the Laws of Physics come from, if not from God?
Stephen Hawking is undoubtedly a very brilliant theoretical physicist. However, something I’ve noticed about theoretical physicists over the years is that if you get them talking on subjects outside physics they are generally likely to say things just as daft as some drunk bloke down the pub. I’m afraid this is a case in point.I agree. Moreover, I find it funny that when Hawking and others find physical theories that can completely describe our universe, they seem to forget that certain questions about the universe still remain a mystery such that, as far as I can tell, can only be solved using tools beyond science. For example, I am interested if science can ever understand these basic questions about the universe:
1. Why does the universe obey laws at all? I've read several papers and textbooks written by physicists where they admit it seems unexplainable to know why the universe obeys laws. Science may demonstrate which laws are being explained and how, but can science ever explain why? Furthermore, why do these laws happen to be mathematical in nature?
2. Why, of all possible physical theories, has the universe chosen to follow string theory? First off, I must say my first reaction to Hawking's claim was: "So he feels comfortable replacing God with a highly speculative theory. :)" But given I believe string theory has a good chance of being the true "theory of everything", and for sake of argument I will assume that it is. Fine, but can science ever show that it is impossible for a universe to exist without string theory being true? If so, why did our universe select string theory of all theories to follow? People will say: "It has to because it is composed of strings." Fine, but then why is it, of all things, composed of strings?
3. Why does the universe even exist in the first place? So that we can exist? So that ...? Hawkings says it is natural because gravity exists. Fine, but that just kicks the can down the road. Why does gravity exist in the first place? Etc...
4. If the answers to these questions are always philosophical in nature, why bash religion? I admit that I have heard potential answers to these questions but they all have one thing in common: they are philosophical answers! Or they say such questions are pointless which is again just a subjective belief. But that's just it! On one hand scientists have their own philosophical answers/subjective beliefs concerning these types of questions that bring confort to their minds but then go on to attack religion as being unscientific. It's as if their unprovable philosophical beliefs concerning deep mysteries of the universe are okay but religious explanations for such questions are not to be tolerated.
So in a nutshell: First, I do believe something like string theory is probably a true physical theory. Second, I know from experience such theories can explain the existence of the universe "naturally". But, why the universe happens to obey laws at all and why of all theories string theory was selected is, and I am sure will always be, a mystery to me. As far as I can tell, such why mysteries will always be beyond the scope of science and can only be explained philosophically. So if you are going to answer such deep questions about the universe with unscientific philosophy, why be so intolerant of "unscientific" religious explanations to the same questions?