The Creationist Quote Mine of Hawking on Expansion Rate of the Universe

Many creationists that are proponents of the fine-tuning argument likes to quote physicist Stephen Hawking to try and demonstrate that certain parameters of our universe is fine-tuned for life and therefore requires an intelligent designer. Victor Stenger, also a physicist, has explain how creationists such as William Lane Craig and Dinesh D’Souza misrepresent Hawking in his recent thought-provoking book The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning: How the Universe is Not Designed for Us in detail, and I will just give an example of a text that this fallacy of quoting out of context occurs, what the lifted quote says, and what the context of that quote is.

A more or less representative case of a creationist who quotes Hawking out of context is the popular Christian apologist William Lane Craig. He may be the most prominent Christian apologist alive today. This does not, of course, mean that he is necessarily right, but it goes to show how popular he is and how many people he influence. Here is the relevant passage that he often repeats, almost verbatim, in many of his debates:

During the last 30 years, scientists have discovered that the existence of intelligent life depends upon a complex and delicate balance of initial conditions given in the Big Bang itself. We now know that life-prohibiting universes are vastly more probable than any life-permitting universe like ours. How much more probable?

The answer is that the chances that the universe should be life-permitting are so infinitesimal as to be incomprehensible and incalculable. For example, Stephen Hawking has estimated that if the rate of the universe’s expansion one second after the Big Bang had been smaller by even one part in a hundred thousand million million, the universe would have re-collapsed into a hot fireball

The reference for this claim is page 126 in Hawking’s A Brief History of Time (1996 edition) and the relevant quote from Hawking is:

If the rate of expansion one second after the big bang had been smaller by even one part in a hundred thousand million million, they universe would have recollapsed before it ever reached its present size

This sounds like Hawking is accepting that the expansion rate of the universe is fine-tuned. However, this quote is taken out of context. Hawking is actually asking a couple of intriguing questions that he later answers with, among others things, cosmological inflation (an initial, very rapid expansion of the universe compared with today). Hawking explain what he means (p. 133):

Moreover, the rate of expansion of the universe would automatically become very close to the critical rate determined by the energy density of the universe. This could then explain why the rate of expansion is still so close to the critical rate, without having to assume that the initial rate of expansion of the universe was very carefully chosen.

That is, cosmological inflation solves the supposed fine-tuning of the expansion rate of the universe. Hawking is then saying the exact opposite of what the proponents of fine-tuning claim that he is. The context stretches out over the chapter, so perhaps we should be charitably and say that maybe Craig and others just missed that part of the book? I doubt it.

Emil Karlsson

Debunker of pseudoscience.

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