There is no place for God in theories on the creation of the Universe, Professor Stephen Hawking has said. He had previously argued belief in a creator was not incompatible with science but in a new book, he concludes the Big Bang was an inevitable consequence of the laws of physics. The Grand Design, part serialized in the London Times, says there is no need to invoke God to set the Universe going. Alex Gallafent has more. Download MP3
Read the Transcript
This text below is a phonetic transcript of a radio story broadcast by PRI’s THE WORLD. It has been created on deadline by a contractor for PRI. The transcript is included here to facilitate internet searches for audio content. Please report any transcribing errors to firstname.lastname@example.org. This transcript may not be in its final form, and it may be updated. Please be aware that the authoritative record of material distributed by PRI’s THE WORLD is the program audio.
MARCO WERMAN: British physicist Stephen Hawking was the subject of some interesting news headlines today. As in, “Hawking says God not necessary for creation.” The headlines were generated by just-published excerpts from a new book. It’s called The Grand Design and was co-authored by Hawking and Caltech scientist Leonard Mlodinow. This “no God necessary” idea is likely to sell a bunch of books. But the theory is much more interesting than that, reports The World’s Alex Gallafent.
ALEX GALLAFENT: Stephen Hawking has always believed that we live in a universe governed by rational laws. Discovering and understanding those laws, he’s long argued, would give us the tools to confront questions such as, how did the universe begin? Where is it going? And how, or will, it end?
STEPHEN HAWKING: If we find the answers to these questions we really shall know the mind of God.
GALLAFENT: That’s Hawking’s poetic side. Knowing “The Mind of God” was a construction he used at the very end of his 1988 bestseller, A Brief History of Time. The ambiguity of the phrase made room for God in science. But God’s always been there, says Christopher Potter.
CHRISTOPHER POTTER: God is always popping back into the question because that’s what you’re trying to come up with. A description ultimately that doesn’t include God.
GALLAFENT: Potter is the author of You Are Here: A Portable History of the Universe. For him, Stephen Hawking’s new book isn’t so much about getting rid of God as it is about asserting a wholly scientific explanation for the universe. The new theory involves a redefinition of time. We already have a working model for the beginning of the universe, the big bang.
HAWKING: The initial size may have been a millimeter divided by ten billion billion billion, or even smaller.
POTTER: And that takes the universe back to a sort of quantum-sized object, 13.7 billion years ago, to something that was actually pure energy.
GALLAFENT: And so the story of our universe is that incredibly small quantum-sized bit of pure energy evolving into particles and fields and elements and life.
POTTER: But then we have the question of well where did the quantum energy come from? And so we keep trying to tell the story in time.
GALLAFENT: In other words, what came before the big bang? Stephen Hawking now says that we’re making a mistake by trying to explain things in terms of time because in that earliest quantum state there was no time. Instead, he writes, a process of spontaneous creation derived from the laws of physics is responsible. There is precedent for that kind of idea. Quantum physics describes indeterminate elementary particles that pop in and out of existence at random.
HAWKING: Einstein was very unhappy about this apparent randomness in nature. His views were summed up in his famous phrase “God Does Not Play Dice.” Not only does God definitely play dice but he sometimes confuses us by throwing them where they can’t be seen.
GALLAFENT: That was Hawking a few years ago. Now he says that idea of spontaneous creation can describe the emergence of the entire universe.
RODNEY HOLDER: To say that the universe spontaneously created itself out of nothing? This seems self contradictory.
GALLAFENT: Rodney Holder is at the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at Cambridge University.
HOLDER: When physicists talk in this way they generally mean not nothing but a something, something like a spacetime with quantum fields acting on it, something like that.
GALLAFENT: In his new book Hawking does refer to a something. That’s string theory. Cosmologists’ best attempt so far to unify the elegant spacetime theories of Einstein with the chaotic descriptions of quantum theory. Author Christopher Potter says Hawking uses string theory to reconsider the shape of the big bang, when the universe was that tiny quantum-sized bit of pure energy.
POTTER: In a way what he’s saying is that when the universe is that dense and that much of a quantum object, time has actually become a dimension of space.
GALLAFENT: So to recap, according to Hawking, the universe doesn’t “begin” as we understand things to “begin.” And there is no time until after the universe has come into being.
POTTER: I mean it’s a sort of mindblowing idea.
GALLAFENT: So if we can imagine the universe beginning outside of time, then the idea of a first cause becomes meaningless. But that doesn’t necessarily do away with God, says Richard Holder in Cambridge. He’s an astrophysicist and an ordained Anglican minister.
RICHARD HOLDER: Theologians don’t really have any particular vested interest in a single moment equals nought when God set it going and then just sat back. No, in Christian theology God is continuously creating at every moment.
GALLAFENT: Indeed, on that account the universe is dependent on the continuing creative action of God moment by moment. And Christian theology has long thought of God as existing outside of human time. But Richard Holder’s broader concern is that Stephen Hawking doesn’t address questions about a meaningful universe.
HOLDER: Why there is something rather than nothing? Why there is a universe at all?
GALLAFENT: Some have suggested that Hawking’s new book forces people to choose between reason and religion. That might be good for book sales in a polarized culture such as ours. But don’t worry. A complete understanding of the universe remains as elusive as ever. Elementary particles come in many flavors. So can reasoned beliefs. For The World, I’m Alex Gallafent.
Copyright ©2009 PRI’s THE WORLD. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to PRI’s THE WORLD. This transcript may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, without prior written permission. For further information, please email The World’s Permissions Coordinator at email@example.com.