Editors Note: This article is reprinted by
permission from the November 2010 issue of The Christian Chronicle. We
feel it is good common-sense answer to the publicity being given
Hawking’s book and will be useful to many of our readers.
A generation or so ago, our universe was
thought by many scientists to be a closed system that had neither
beginning nor end. The existence of the cosmos was regarded as a “brute
fact” and needed nothing to produce it.
The modern theory of the “big bang”
changed all that.
Big bang cosmology posits a formative
event some 15 billion years ago. From an extremely hot and dense state,
our ever-enlarging universe has since cooled and expanded so as to form
at least one habitable outpost — Planet Earth.
the universe did have a beginning, though, it becomes not only
reasonable but also unavoidable that we would ask how that beginning
was generated. In asking the question, we have left physics (i.e., how
nature works) for metaphysics (i.e., why nature exists at all).
This is the point at which a theist might
call attention to a traditional and powerful cosmological argument for
God’s existence. If the material universe has not existed forever, the
possibilities are limited. Either it somehow called itself into being
or was brought into being by an eternal, creative God. From Plato to
Aquinas to Darwin to Davies, this very reasonable argument — if not
intuitive insight — has been offered.
In his book The Grand Design, released in
September 2010, Stephen Hawking gives an alternate answer: “As recent
advances in cosmology suggest, the laws of gravity and quantum theory
allow universes to appear spontaneously from nothing. Spontaneous
creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the
universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to
light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”
Hawking insists the “laws of gravity” and
“quantum theory” explain how something comes from nothing. But gravity
cannot be defined without mass, and quantum theory accounts for certain
interactions between energy and matter. Both have demonstrated value
for understanding how existing things function; neither has obvious
value to account for the origin of those things.
Hawking and his co-author, Leonard
Mlodinow, posit a “multiverse theory” that our known universe is only
one among uncounted billions of universes. Given countless universes
where all possibilities are ultimately realized, the fine-tuning that
allows life just as we experience it on Planet Earth is bound to occur.
They would not call it “pure chance” but the sort of inevitable good fortune
that most likely has occurred in other possible universes outside our
Any physicist or philosopher will tell you
there is nothing ground-breaking here. The multiverse theory
(basically, countless universes where all possibilities are ultimately
realized) is hardly new at all. Neither is it especially convincing.
The theory of multiple universes with different laws of nature and life
forms (“alien creatures” of science fiction) is altogether speculative
and un-evidenced. If they do exist, we are still left with the question
of the origin of “deeper laws of physics” that would allow separable
universes to operate under non-uniform principles.
From this highly questionable assumption,
Hawking and Mlodinow proceed to give their answer to the inter-related
issues of (a) why there is something instead of nothing, (b) why human
life in particular exists, and (c) why the particular set of laws we
seek to understand through science governs our universe.
On their view, infinite possible universes
make it inevitable that some universes would have the fine-tuned
constants, improbable anthropic properties, and chance events that
would allow the existence and evolution of self-reflective human life.
Groundbreaking? Hardly. Plausible? You be
notion of “spontaneous creation” that Hawking invokes has been
discussed for centuries. Before Lister and Pasteur, it was a theory
believed widely in both biology and physics. After their work, it was
abandoned as unscientific and unworthy of being taken
seriously — except as necessary to solve the problem of the ultimate
origin of life without God.
No one should think that ultimate
questions such as Hawking raises are too profound for “ordinary souls”
to contemplate; they are central to defining oneself and deciding on
the value and meaning of one’s life. Neither should we pretend that a
claim such as “something can come from nothing” or “life arose
spontaneously and inevitably produced intelligent human life” is
somehow plausible because spoken by a brilliant physicist; both are
undemonstrated theories that deny the more obvious and direct
conclusion of a Grand Designer.
If there had ever been a time when
absolutely nothing existed, nothing could exist now. Since something
clearly has existed forever, you make the more intuitive, reasonable,
and consistent-with-experience choice: Personality or matter?
Intelligence or gravity? Creative God or quantum mechanics?
To say the least, the following statement
remains both reasonable and defensible: “In the beginning, God created
the heavens and the earth.”
RUBEL SHELLY, a longtime minister and author, is president of Rochester College in Rochester Hills, Michigan. He earned a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.