Stephen Hawking’s new book, The Grand Design, makes God irrelevant to creation. “It is not necessary to invoke God to … get the universe going.” All you need, he says, is gravity. He is not the first to do this, and like the others he has unleashed a torrent of protesters.
What Dr. Hawking and his opponents have in common is the notion that God, whatever God may be, is something outside the process of creation. Hawking is saying there is no need for anything outside the process, and hence there is no need for God. His opponents say there is such a need, and therefore a need for God.
My problem with both arguments is the very definition of God as someone or something outside the system. For me God is the system.
But is this merely a matter of semantics? Am I really an atheist with a linguistic tic that has me say “God” over and over again?
Well, I am an atheist if by “theist” you mean someone who believes God is a person outside creation who made and manages the world. I just cannot believe such a being exists. And, like Spinoza, I could use alternative words for God, though I prefer Reality to his Natura (Nature). God is reality, the source and substance of all that was, is, and will be.
When Hawking says that the universe creates itself out of nothing he is using everyday language in a unique way. “Nothing” for him is intrinsically creative. It is, grammar aside, not a noun but a verb. This is how I understand God as well. And what the Hebrew Bible seems to hint at when it reveals God’s name as YHVH, a variant of the Hebrew verb “to be,” rather than its English rendering: the noun, “Lord.”
People want to know how creation got started. I suggest that it never stopped. The universe is a dance of on and off; the multiverse that Hawking posits all the more so. God is not just on or off, but both on and off and the flow from one to the other over and over again.
Of course you can’t pray to my God, and my God doesn’t back sports teams, politicians, specific legislation, or religions, so my God may be of no use to you. I understand that. My God is of no use to anyone. A god you can use is an idol.