Saturday, September 4, 2010

Stephen Hawking and God

Perhaps you’ve read that Stephen Hawking claims in a new book that God is not needed to explain the existence of the universe. If you haven’t, here’s a link to an article on the subject. (It’s curious that the story is in the entertainment section of ABC’s website...)

From the article, it’s unclear what Hawking’s real view is. He says in his book, “Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing.” I’m no physicist, but the notion of a universe literally creating itself out of nothing—with or without the help of gravity—seems absurd. Gravity can act on stuff that is already there, but is Hawking claiming that gravity can create stuff ex nihilo, initiate a Big Bang, and generate a universe? I find that hard to believe—not just that it’s true, but that Hawking thinks it is.

Maybe when Hawking says that God isn’t needed to explain the existence of the universe, he means that gravity will inevitably take “stuff” (whatever there is in the chaos prior to the Big Bang) and create a universe with it. But if that’s right, we still need to explain the existence of the stuff that gravity acts on (to say nothing for the existence of gravity itself). A sensible explanation is that God created the stuff, and is in that sense needed to explain the universe—even if gravity, rather than God, set off the Big Bang.

What is Hawking’s real view on this? Perhaps his book will clear it up. Suffice it to say that to the classic question in metaphysics—Why is there something rather than nothing?—I think God provides a better answer than gravity.
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