Stephen Hawking has achieved the status of 'celebrity scientist'. He writes books that sell well and has both presented and performed in television series.
His latest book, The Grand Design, co-authored with Leonard Mlodinow, has been reviewed widely by both popular press and scientific journals. According to Michael Turner, who wrote the Nature review, these authors:
"offer a brief but thrilling account of some of the boldest ideas in physics - including M-theory and the multiverse - and what these have to say about our existence and the nature of the Universe."
The media appeared to be stimulated primarily by the claim that physics has made God redundant. "God is unnecessary, science can explain the universe without the need for a creator" (BBC News), "Why God Did Not Create the Universe. There is a sound scientific explanation for the making of our world - no gods required." (Wall Street Journal). The Guardian responded by conducting a poll among its readers, asking the question:
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"Is physicist Stephen Hawking right that physics, not God, created the universe?" This theme is also picked out in the Nature review: "No miracle in the Multiverse". Some might find the argument to be artificially polarised - for did not the pioneers of science link the existence of laws of nature with the reality of a supreme Lawgiver? More recent research has unearthed evidence for the "fine-tuning" of the Cosmos, so the evidences of design have become more prominent with time. Hawking and Mlodinow recognise this when they write:
"Newton believed that our strangely habitable solar system did not "arise out of chaos by the mere laws of nature." Instead, he maintained that the order in the universe was "created by God at first and conserved by him to this Day in the same state and condition." The discovery recently of the extreme fine-tuning of so many laws of nature could lead some back to the idea that this grand design is the work of some grand Designer."
This brings us to the heart of the argument presented by Hawking and Mlodinow: they are endorsing M-theory and the Multiverse cosmological model. This is how Turner puts it:
"In searching for the holy grail, Hawking and others pinned their hopes first on super-gravity and then on string theory. Both are now seen as different regimes of a grander mathematical framework called M-theory, where M is yet to be determined - is it master, miracle or mirage? M-theory unifies gravity with the other fundamental forces (weak and strong nuclear and electromagnetism), predicts seven additional dimensions of space and suggests that space and time might be emergent phenomena rather than fundamental. It is exciting and important, but much of it remains to be explored."