Bad News for God

On September 9, 2010

According to Google News, 2,000-plus reactions have appeared since last week when the new book Stephen Hawking co-authored was previewed. I’ve at least glanced at quite a few of them now and the large majority amount to calling Hawking, in not so many words, an idiot.

Such sentiment is probably to be expected given the thousands of years that have gone into propping up the God complex, but even the more secular articles of the lot are, ahem, holey. Here’s a comment I left in response to the most common attack I came across — this particular blow struck by Robert Barron, a theology professor (lest you think I’m picking on theologians, mathematician John Lennox makes the same case).

“Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.”

Well, first of all, which is it: nothing or the law of gravity?

Isolating a one-sentence excerpt from a 200-page book is rather unfair. I imagine Hawking and Mlodinow saw fit to amplify this seemingly important point and I’m looking forward to reading their full explanation.

In the meantime, let me offer a counterargument.

To be sure, this sort of claim has a long pedigree, stretching back at least to the pre-Socratics, but it remains highly problematic. The question “why is there something rather than nothing?” is not searching after a thing within the universe, but rather the being of the universe. It is wondering why (to use the technical term) contingent things exist, that is to say, things that do not contain within themselves the reason for their own being.

The contingency argument itself has a contingency: time. The requirement that a thing has a moment of creation disappears when there’s no timeline. If time is a chance quirk of our universe — in A Brief History of Time, Hawking hypothesizes time is a measure of the universe’s entropy — while gravity is a fundamental law of a greater multiverse wherein time doesn’t exist, then nothing need have preceded gravity: gravity will have always been and will always be.

Hence, universes could spontaneously spring into existence as an expression of gravity — including the random one we happen to find ourselves in.

P.S. Assuming the authors are correct, you could still speak of God — only now, you’d be talking about gravity and the other fundamental laws.

P.P.S. This whole business about many universes is a theory. We have no evidence of a multiverse (nor are we likely to get any in the very near future).

Letters to the Editor

Sarah said...

Hi Brian! Loved reading this.

Brian Kennish said...

Oh, thanks. The universe is probably much stranger than we can imagine. Here’s some recommended further “reading”:

• John Wheeler
• Bill Hicks