Hawking challenged volunteers to think like geniuses in finding answers to seemingly unanswerable questions. I expected to be intrigued. Volunteers saw plates suspended in the air and spinning. Magic? No, it turned out to be magnets. We were to conclude that the laws of nature answer mysteries of the universe.
All mysteries? Some scientists thought so. Pierre-Simon LaPlace asserted: If we knew all facts of the universe, we would know everything that will happen in the future. He and others posited the clockwork universe of determinism, but I won’t get into that because I didn’t buy it and Hawking didn’t either.
In another puzzle that Hawking set up, a volunteer's head was wired up so that his brain was connected to a screen. When he moved his finger, something moved on the screen. A tiny moment before this change showed on the screen, electrical impulses indicated activity in his brain.
Conclusion? Hawking said that the brain made the decision to move his finger—not a thinking mind but a brain, that is, matter. In other words, we should believe that our decisions are determined by physical stuff, not by thought.
I saw clear signs of consciousness or thought operating in the demonstration, but Hawking and the volunteers never wondered what caused the brain activity before that brain activity caused bodily movement.
Hawking seemed intent on proving that no immaterial force exists. Apparently he is so mesmerized by the foolishness of belief in gods that he cannot grasp a more sophisticated concept of what is called “God.”
There were six episodes in the series shown in three evenings, two every evening. By the last evening I was bored. The admittedly ingenious scientific challenges Hawking set up for volunteers continued to engage their scientific minds.
But I'm no good at and not interested in solving math and science problems. I want to ponder the implications of scientific findings, the large questions of meaning. Hawking promised to address them, but I kept seeing promises broken.
He asked good questions: “Why are we here? Is free will an illusion? Can we take credit for our actions? How did the universe begin? How did life begin? Can we go backward in time?
To every question his answer was to show volunteers grappling with physical, scientific puzzles but never tackling the deeper issues. We saw evolution in process, how electrons befuddle experimenters, how old life is, where we fit in the universe, how unfathomably large it is, and more. We did not, however, see answers to ultimate questions posed in the experiments.
We did not see the origin of the universe demonstrated as Hawking had promised. One evening focused on life’s beginnings, purporting to show how we came to be. We saw amino acids + salt (sea water saw the first life forms) + glyceral + energy leading to life forms.
In all steps demonstrated that evening, the key ingredient was ENERGY—not a physical thing. Energy is non-material, therefore spiritual. Energy could be one synonym for “God,” but Hawking’s mind could not go there.
In another episode, blindfolded volunteers showed that the position of particles on the quantum level is unknowable. Hawking mentioned Werner Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, but he did not mention the most enigmatic part of it—that the outcome of every quantum experiment depends on the experimenter, on the decision of a human mind. The word “consciousness” came up but not its significance, the point where science meets spiritual reality.
The task Hawking seemed to set for himself in planning this series was to prove that God does not exist. To accomplish this, he tried to take the mystery out of physical phenomena, but he did not succeed. Instead Hawking revealed that his god is science, and physical science delineates the boundaries of his genius.