Julie MarshStephen Hawking, the eminent physicist, professor, and author, published his latest work (along with co-author Leonard Mlodinow) last week. The Grand Design explores "two questions. Where did the universe come from and why are the laws of the universe so finely tuned to allow our existence." Hawking and Mlodinow conclude: “Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing ... It is not necessary to invoke God to ... set the Universe going.”
Unsurprisingly, such an assertion has resonated with some people, but it has driven others to discount science and reaffirm their faith. If it's a choice between entertaining Hawking's conclusions or believing God created the universe, they'll take God.
What happens, though, when Hawking's work is eventually included in the public school curriculum, like Darwin's Theory of Evolution?
The first court case that involved the teaching of evolution was the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925 -- a lawsuit brought by the state of Tennessee against high school biology teacher John Scopes, who dared to teach Darwin's theory in spite of the state's anti-evolution statute. In fact, "there have been 16 fully adjudicated federal court cases involving evolution and the First Amendment of the US Constitution," with the most recent case in 2005. Resistance to evolution has spanned decades in spite of widespread acceptance of Darwin's theory as scientific fact.
Meanwhile, evolutionary biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins told The Times UK: "Darwinism kicked God out of biology but physics remained more uncertain. Hawking is now administering the coup de grace."
I may agree with Dawkins, but plenty of people do not. It's been over 150 years since Darwin introduced the Theory of Evolution to the masses, and yet people still argue against it. Will Hawking's and Mlodinow's conclusions in the realm of physics be hotly debated over the next century, particularly in terms of what ought to be taught in public schools?
Given that creationists have gotten creative with the dispersal of their message (to wit, the Texas State Board of Education's efforts to include the teaching of intelligent design in public schools), I certainly don't expect they'll sit by quietly and allow the concepts of spontaneous creation and alternate universes to be taught to their children.
Mlodinow cautions that The Grand Design's conclusions do not preclude a god, simply that physics makes it possible for the universe to be created without the benefit of a creator. However, in the eyes of creationists, such an assertion nonetheless diminishes the central, all-important, and all-powerful role of God. It follows that they will (and already have) denied Hawking's and Mlodinow's conclusions out of hand.
Which is fine, on an individual basis. If you want to believe that dinosaurs and people lived at the same time, if you want to believe that the Bible should be interpreted literally (you know, except for all those pesky internal discrepancies and the parts you don't like), if you want to put a ridiculous magnetic "Truth" fish eating a "Darwin" fish on the back of your pickup truck -- have at it.
But don't try dressing it up as science and teaching it to my kids in place of Darwin and Hawking, because I'll be glad to make a federal case out of it.