“We need to get to a time when people are embarrassed to pretend to know things they don’t know.” – Sam Harris, atheist author

Harris is referring, of course, to religious people who make claims about God. However, a similar thought crossed my mind while reading Stephen Hawking’s The Grand Design. After asserting that gravity made it possible for the universe to create itself “from nothing” – a claim which is logically absurd – Hawking goes on to explain away the fine-tuning of the universe by appealing to the multiverse, a hypothetical scenario that posits the existence of a potentially infinite number of universes. His argument suggests that the multiverse makes anything possible. In fact, it actually makes fine-tuned universes highly probable because – on the multiverse model – there are so many opportunities for them to exist. Thus from Hawking’s perspective, we shouldn’t be at all surprised to find that we live in a fine-tuned universe, and we certainly don’t need to invoke God to explain it.

The trouble here is that Hawking is not treating this theory as a hypothetical scenario. Instead, he’s presenting it as a well-established fact that forcefully and conclusively removes the need for God. Theoretical physicist John Polkinghorne doesn’t hesitate to call Hawking out on it: “Let us recognize these speculations for what they are,” Polkinghorne writes. “They are not physics, but in the strictest sense, metaphysics. There is no purely scientific reason to believe in an ensemble of universes.”

Moreover, Hawking is guilty of providing us with false alternatives. Why must we choose between God and the multiverse, as though they’re somehow mutually exclusive? Even if the multiverse theory were true, who’s to say that God didn’t create the multiverse? There is no logical or scientific reason to think of God and the multiverse as being inherently incompatible.

I agree with Sam Harris that we need to get to a time when people are embarrassed to pretend to know things they don’t know. I just have a different group of people in mind. Scientists, in particular, should be embarrassed to present imaginative scenarios as necessary or firmly established truths. They aren’t dismantling faith in God when they pretend to know things they don’t; rather, they’re discrediting science.