The Cosmos is all that is… a finite universe that creates itself eliminate the need for a Creator God? Stephen Hawking answers with a yes. He pulls no punches again Christian creation theology in spelling out the implications he sees in his scientific work. A universe that started with a boundless sphere from which time emerged would need no extra Creator. The sphere sufficiently plays that role.

Hawking was always bothered by the popular picture of the Big Bang in which there is absolutely nothing and suddenly a brilliant explosion of matter and energy followed by rapid expansion. It seemed to be a scientific end-game because it had unscientific implications in his eyes. A singularity and Big Bang that appeared from nowhere begged scientists to accept the theological idea of creation ex nihilo. Astronomer Robert Jastrow’s frequently quoted conclusion to God and the Astronomers drives Hawking’s fear home:

Now we would like to pursue that inquiry farther back in time, but the barrier to further progress seems insurmountable. It is not a matter of another year, another decade of work, another measurement, or another theory; at this moment it seems as though science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation. For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; and as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries (107).

Hawking’s no boundary proposal covered last week is his explicit attempt to overturn Jastrow’s sort of thinking and keep scientific theories about creation alive. He has calculated the math required for a curved four-dimensional space-time that is finite with time contained within it, but boundless like a sphere. If this theory holds (likely in some modified version since Hawking’s theory is highly speculative), Hawking thinks that he will have achieved his goal of avoiding a singularity in which the laws of physics do not apply and before which scientists have nothing to say. This means that philosophers, theologians, and scientists would no longer “have to appeal to God or some new law to set the boundary conditions for space-time” (Hawking, A Brief History of Time, 136). In short, arguing from the presence of a temporal beginning of the universe to the existence of God is specious because “the concept of time has no meaning before the beginning of the universe” (A Brief History of Time, 8).

The reason this cosmological picture looks bad for theologians is that a boundless sphere can persist “forever” before expanding via the Big Bang because it persisted when time did not exist. However, lest I be accused of making astronomers into angry mean-spirited people who like to eliminate meaning in the universe, it is worth mentioning just how captivating and beautiful this Godless picture can be. I can think of nobody better to give that sense of beauty than one of the world’s greatest public scientists for whom Hawking has taken over in the realm of astronomy after his death, Carl Sagan. I’ll let him speak for himself, as he is far more poetic than I am:

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About Benjamin Chicka

Benjamin J. Chicka is a Ph.D. student in philosophy of religion and theology at Claremont Graduate University. His doctoral research focuses on relating the religion and science and religious pluralism conversations through the methodology of the American pragmatists he calls Pragmatic Constructive Realism (PCR). Someone following PCR is neither a naive metaphysician nor a bore without hope. Benjamin has published in astronomy, neuroscience, as well as theology.