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Much Ado About “Nothing”: Stephen Hawking and the Self-Creating Universe
First Things ^ | 09/12/2010 | Stephen Barr

Posted on 09/12/2010 7:43:20 AM PDT by SeekAndFind

Has physics done away with God? A newly release book by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow says, “Yes.”

What is a Jewish or Christian believer to make of this? Is the Creator now out of a job? The short answer is (unsurprisingly) no: the ideas propounded in Hawking’s book constitute no threat whatever to the Jewish and Christian doctrine of Creation.

The idea that Hawking is now touting is not new—in fact, within the fast-moving world of modern physics it is fairly old. My first introduction to it was reading a very elegant theoretical paper entitled “Creation of Universes from Nothing,” written in 1982 by the noted cosmologist Alexander Vilenkin, who argued that our universe might have arisen by a “quantum fluctuation.”

This idea is sometimes referred to as the quantum creation of the universe. There are different variants, but the basic idea is well-known among particle physicists and cosmologists.

Right up front, it must be noted that this idea is extremely speculative, has not yet been formulated in a mathematically rigorous way, and is unable at this point to make any testable predictions. Indeed, it is very hard to imagine how it could ever be tested. It would be more accurate to call these “scenarios” than theories. It would be a mistake, however, for religious believers to dismiss these scenarios as mere fanciful conjecture or as motivated merely by atheist ideology. Based on a plausible analogy with the experimentally observed and well-understood phenomenon of the quantum creation of particles, the idea of quantum creation of universes is not without merit.

The salient point has to do with how quantum mechanics works. In quantum mechanics one always considers some physical “system”, which has various possible “quantum states”, and which is governed by certain well-defined “dynamical laws.” These dynamical laws that govern the particular system and the fundamental principles of quantum mechanics allow one to calculate the probability that the system will make a transition from one of its states to another. To take a simple example, the system might be an atom of hydrogen, and its states would be the different “energy levels” of the atom.

The highly speculative idea is that these ways of thinking can be applied to entire universes, which is what Hawking (and many others) have tried to do. For physicists (as opposed to theologians and metaphysicians) the concept of the universe does not refer to “all there is” or the “totality of things.” It refers to a single, self-contained physical structure, comprising a “spacetime manifold” and particles and other things moving around in that spacetime.

If one thinks of a universe as a particular structure, then one can imagine a multiplicity of universes, with universes coming into and going out of existence in various ways. For example, a new universe might split off from an already existing universe in a manner analogous to the way a small balloon can be “pinched off” from a larger balloon. Or one can imagine a universe starting off as a point of zero size (which is, in effect, no universe at all) and then growing continuously to some finite size.

By such processes, the number of universes can change. However, we need to keep in mind the special way in which physicists use the concept of “universe,” for these various universes are really features of a single overarching physical system—call it a “system of universes”. When the number of universes changes, it is because that single overarching system has undergone a transition from one of its “quantum states” to another. Such transitions are precisely governed by dynamical laws (assumed to include the laws of quantum mechanics). These laws would govern not only how many universes there were, but the characteristics of these universes, such as how many dimensions of space they could have and what kinds of matter and forces they could contain.

Some states of the system of universes would correspond to just one universe being in existence; others to two universes, and so on. And there would also be a state with no universe in existence. The dramatic possibility Hawking is considering (and many others before him) is that such a system might make a transition from its “no-universe state” to a state with one or more universes.

Would this be “creation” in the sense that theologians mean it? And in particular, would it be creation ex nihilo, creation from nothing?

The answer is no. First of all, one isn’t starting from “nothing.” The “no-universe state” as meant in these speculative scenarios is not nothing, it is a very definite something: it is one particular quantum state among many of an intricate rule-governed system. This no-universe state has specific properties and potentialities defined by a system of mathematical laws.

An analogy may help here. A checking account is a system that has many possible states: the zero-dollar state, the thousand-dollar state, the negative-thousand-dollar state (if one is overdrawn), the million-dollar state, etc. And this system can make transitions from one state to another. For instance, by a finance charge or by accruing interest. Even if your checking account happens to be in the zero-dollar state one day, the checking account is nevertheless still something definite and real—not “nothing.” It presupposes a bank, a monetary system, a contract between you and that bank—all being governed by various systems of rules.

Imagine the day on which your bank account balance is zero. Then imagine a deposit the next day that raises it to one thousand dollars. A quantum theory of the creation of a universe (in Hawking’s version, or Vilenkin’s, or anyone else’s) is akin to this transition from an empty account to one full of money. Obviously, therefore, the “nothing” that Hawking makes part of his theory of the creation of our universe is not nothing in a metaphysical sense. The “no-universe” of his speculations is like the “no-dollars” in my account. It exists within the framework of a complex overarching system with specific rules. So we can see that, if true, the way of thinking put forward by Hawking does not threaten the classical doctrine of creation out of nothing.

Perhaps my explanations are not really necessary. Even the most casual readers recognize that the cosmological theories put forward by Hawking do not bear upon larger questions that motivate classical views of creation out of nothing. Non-scientists are quick to ask the obvious questions. Why a system obeying quantum mechanics, M-theory, superstring theory, or whatever laws of physics that make scientific speculations possible in the first place? Why not no system at all, with no laws at all, no anything, just blank non-being?

Physics, by its very nature, cannot answer these questions. And the funny thing is that Hawking himself is perfectly aware of this. Indeed, he said it himself in a previous book! In A Brief History of Time, Hawking observed—quite correctly—that any theory of physics is “just a set of rules and equations.” And he asked, “What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe? The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the question of why there should be a universe for the model to describe.” (Here he was using the word “universe” to mean what I called the “system of universes”: the entirety of physical reality described by the laws of physics.

Physics scenarios and theories are merely mathematical stories. They may be fictional or describe some reality. And just as the words of a book by themselves can’t tell you whether it’s fact or fiction—let alone have the power to make the world they describe real—so with the equations of a physics scenario. As Hawking once understood, equations may turn out to be an accurate description of some reality, but cannot not confer reality on the things they describe.

What Hawking called in his previous book the “usual approach of science” is in fact the only genuinely scientific approach. From the time Hawking wrote that earlier book until now, nothing has changed in this regard: theories of physics are still “just sets of rules and equations.”

There are two answers to the question: “Why does anything exist rather than nothing at all?” The atheist answers, “There is no explanation.” The theist replies, God. An intelligent case can be made for either answer. But to say that the laws of physics alone answer it is the purest nonsense—as Hawking himself once realized.

-- Stephen M. Barr is professor of physics at the University of Delaware and author of Modern Physics and Ancient Faith.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: evolution; god; stephenhawking; universe

1 posted on 09/12/2010 7:43:23 AM PDT by SeekAndFind
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To: SeekAndFind

Of course, God can create circumstances to make things appear in any way; there is no way to refute the existence of God. Therefore, whether God exists or not is simply not a scientific question.


2 posted on 09/12/2010 7:48:40 AM PDT by coloradan (The US has become a banana republic, except without the bananas - or the republic.)
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To: SeekAndFind

Why does Hawking have to think so small and limit his parameters? Such thinking is a sign that man views himself as the only God, as if God is beyond comprehension, then God does not exist! Sorry, but Hawking needs to look at the bigger picture!


3 posted on 09/12/2010 7:49:03 AM PDT by tired&retired
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To: SeekAndFind

Every created thing carries with it some residual of its creator. Since God is an uncaused existence, it is no surprise that His primordial creation should, from certain aspects, appear to be uncaused.


4 posted on 09/12/2010 7:51:29 AM PDT by jjotto ("Ya could look it up!")
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To: SeekAndFind

5 posted on 09/12/2010 7:54:54 AM PDT by WSGilcrest (I'm just sayin'...)
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To: SeekAndFind
“Why does anything exist rather than nothing at all?”

The atheist answers, “There is no explanation.”
The theist replies, God.

An intelligent case can be made for either answer.
But to say that the laws of physics alone answer
it is the purest nonsense

Bingo

Science can describe the Universe, but
It cannot, in principle, explain
Where it came from, or
Why it exists

For this, one requires a MetaPhysic
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metaphysics

6 posted on 09/12/2010 7:55:14 AM PDT by HangnJudge
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To: SeekAndFind
With all his "brilliance", I don't think that Hawkings has accomplished anything useful for the world.

?Not a failure...just doing what he likes to do....guess at how the universe works....

7 posted on 09/12/2010 7:55:32 AM PDT by Sacajaweau (What)
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To: SeekAndFind

he has no idea....

.....he can neither prove or disprove this.

to be fair, neither can believers.


8 posted on 09/12/2010 7:56:21 AM PDT by Vaquero (Don't pick a fight with an old guy. If he is too old to fight, he'll just kill you.)
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To: Sacajaweau

OK so how did nothing get there? Where was nothing before it became something?


9 posted on 09/12/2010 7:58:36 AM PDT by screaminsunshine (counter revolutionary)
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To: WSGilcrest
Heh, that picture is just plain wrong. But it's funny as heck anway. $:-)

One thing I got out of my studies (such as they were) of the Standard Model, is that a true TOE (Theory of Everything) could be ultimately summarized as an equation with all of creation on one side, and a zero on the other. In English: All that exists is merely another expression of nothingness. At a point, though, the math was simply beyond me.

All known symmetries do not add up to 1; they balance out to zero. All except gravity, the odd man out, and that may change the whole picture. But a TOE that incorporates gravity is still a dream.

10 posted on 09/12/2010 8:13:23 AM PDT by Joe Brower (Sheep have three speeds: "graze", "stampede" and "cower".)
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To: SeekAndFind
The atheist answers, “There is no explanation.”
The theist replies, God.

Throughout the history of scientific inquiry, people have used "God" as shorthand for "There is no explanation (yet)."

11 posted on 09/12/2010 8:16:46 AM PDT by snarkpup (We need to replace our politicians before they replace us.)
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To: coloradan

1. There is only one universe.
2. The concept of alternate universes is stupid. The universe, by definition, is all there is, was, and will be (Carl Sagan).
3. It is even more stupid to say that a universe can exist one moment, then not exist the next moment, then come back into existence a little later.
4. I’m still laughing over the idea that a universe can exist in the “no-universe state.”
5. My sides still hurt from laughing over the idea that a universe can pop into existence spontaneously.


12 posted on 09/12/2010 8:20:51 AM PDT by Leftism is Mentally Deranged (Annoying liberals is my goal. I will not be silenced.)
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To: screaminsunshine
OK so how did nothing get there?
Where was nothing before it became something?

I've yet to see an improvement on this
The Laws of Physics show the path to the Creation
Hawking cannot define the creation without following the Law
Where did the Law Come From?


13 posted on 09/12/2010 8:23:23 AM PDT by HangnJudge
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To: SeekAndFind
Stephen Hawking and the Self-Creating Universe
First Things ^ | 09/12/2010 | Stephen Barr

Hawking is a Lilliputian in the field of Isaac Newton.

14 posted on 09/12/2010 8:30:38 AM PDT by Uri’el-2012 (Psalm 119:174 I long for Your salvation, YHvH, Your law is my delight.)
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To: SeekAndFind

Thoughts are only evident when reality appears in front of the originator, know God? Then we can see what is creating by His spoken word..


15 posted on 09/12/2010 8:49:51 AM PDT by aeonspromise
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To: UriÂ’el-2012
"I think he's a nut!

Don Knotts

16 posted on 09/12/2010 8:49:53 AM PDT by yesca ("..don't touch that)
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To: Leftism is Mentally Deranged

And The Universe is more interesting than poor Stephen can imagine ... see fifth chapter of Daniel, Old Testament, for an ‘other dimensional being’ visiting Belshazzar’s palace party central, invisible except for a forearm/hand.


17 posted on 09/12/2010 9:05:23 AM PDT by MHGinTN (Mormons, believing they cannot be deceived; nye impossible to convince them when they're deceived.)
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To: SeekAndFind

Hawking figures since he’s mess up, there can’t be a higher power.


18 posted on 09/12/2010 9:12:32 AM PDT by wolfcreek (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lsd7DGqVSIc)
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To: Sacajaweau

“With all his “brilliance”, I don’t think that Hawkings has accomplished anything useful for the world.” Such a foolish statement! Stephen has been a teacher all of his adult life! And his work on black holes has advanced the understandings in Physics. Stephen Hawking has been a tremendous addition to the human species ... because God made him and had a plan for Stephen’s life. Thanks be to God that our species has such men as Stephen Hawking or Christopher Hitchens. These men make some of us THINK!


19 posted on 09/12/2010 9:14:00 AM PDT by MHGinTN (Mormons, believing they cannot be deceived; nye impossible to convince them when they're deceived.)
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To: HangnJudge

Purrhaps quantum fluctuations?

http://www.braungardt.com/Physics/Vacuum%20Fluctuation.htm


20 posted on 09/12/2010 9:19:43 AM PDT by PeteCat
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To: SeekAndFind

I can’t abide “theoretical” “scientists”. Paid so much for doing nothing but sitting around imagining a “Star Trek” future.

Ridiculous.


21 posted on 09/12/2010 9:41:53 AM PDT by 13Sisters76 ("It is amazing how many people mistake a certain hip snideness for sophistication. " Thos. Sowell)
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To: UriÂ’el-2012

I dunno - I think he is comparable - they both held the same position.

http://www.lucasianchair.org/


22 posted on 09/12/2010 9:49:45 AM PDT by PeteCat
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To: MHGinTN
Such a foolish statement!

Oh, I quite agree
But Hawking makes a Fatal Error

He Honored Law (Physics)
Giving his Life to it's Understanding, but
Forgot that the Laws had to come from Somewhere

He Honors the Gift, but
Dishonors the Giver of the Gift

Sad really

Better...

"Mathematics is the language with which God has written the Universe."
-- Galileo Galilei

23 posted on 09/12/2010 9:49:55 AM PDT by HangnJudge
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To: MHGinTN

Hawkings reversed himself on black holes....30 years later...and it’s still up in the air. Nothing against “thinking”.


24 posted on 09/12/2010 9:57:00 AM PDT by Sacajaweau (What)
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To: Sacajaweau

I wouldn’t say he reversed himself, he just came to realize that the things do evaporate, leaking radiation. Physics is all about refining the theories don’tchaknow.


25 posted on 09/12/2010 10:03:14 AM PDT by MHGinTN (Mormons, believing they cannot be deceived; nye impossible to convince them when they're deceived.)
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To: MHGinTN

P.S. Hawkings doesn’t believe in God.....


26 posted on 09/12/2010 10:03:59 AM PDT by Sacajaweau (What)
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To: HangnJudge

Indeed! So sad that Paul wrote about Stephen Hawking in the letter to the Romans.


27 posted on 09/12/2010 10:04:21 AM PDT by MHGinTN (Mormons, believing they cannot be deceived; nye impossible to convince them when they're deceived.)
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To: PeteCat
I dunno - I think he is comparable - they both held the same position.

LOL ! Isaac Newton spent more than half his life studying the scriptures of the ONE TRUE Elohim.

All of his scientific works were merely done in his spare time.


28 posted on 09/12/2010 10:14:55 AM PDT by Uri’el-2012 (Psalm 119:174 I long for Your salvation, YHvH, Your law is my delight.)
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To: MHGinTN

New experiments done in 2009 disagree with Hawkings.


29 posted on 09/12/2010 10:21:45 AM PDT by Sacajaweau (What)
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To: Sacajaweau

The last name is spelled H A W K I N G ... there is no “S” on the end.


30 posted on 09/12/2010 10:44:15 AM PDT by MHGinTN (Mormons, believing they cannot be deceived; nye impossible to convince them when they're deceived.)
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To: HangnJudge

One massive missing piece in Hawkings’ theory is that whole issue of heat decay. In the process of any energy exchange, there is energy lost through heat. Matter is ultimately degraded into heat via energy exchange. Indeed, there is less matter now than there was but a second ago in the universe.

Thus, at some point in time, this universe had to have an origin. Matter had to be created out of nothing, as any collection of matter if left undisturbed would all decay to heat energy. As matter exists today, it came from something that defies scientific law.

A believer simply sees that as further evidence of the footprints of a Creator which is nice but really is but a footprint as opposed to the very real life of Christ, his Resurrection, and the impact that had upon history, the world, and the individual. For someone who is less sure, it is the first step towards allowing the acceptance of theological belief.

Hawking is a man with talent. It’s a shame he never learned to allow the love of Christ into his soul to drive that talent. He’d be a lot more at peace with life instead of battling endlessly against other with faith. Now he’s stuck in an endless cycle of self-justificaiton and (whether he chooses to admit it or not) guilt.


31 posted on 09/12/2010 1:49:31 PM PDT by CaspersGh0sts
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To: HangnJudge

I agree with you. I firmly believe that there is not, nor can there ever be, a contradiction between science and religion. The same God that wrote the 10 Commandments is the same God that created the DNA molecule. Whatever looks to be a contradiction between the two is only because of gaps in our knowledge and understanding.

All stems from God.


32 posted on 09/12/2010 2:43:52 PM PDT by ops33 (Senior Master Sergeant, USAF (Retired))
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To: ops33; CaspersGh0sts; MHGinTN
And from the Hindi Texts...

Into blinding darkness enter those who worship ignorance
and into greater darkness those who worship knowledge alone.

Isa Upanishad

Hawking would do well to study outside of his sphere...

33 posted on 09/12/2010 3:27:18 PM PDT by HangnJudge
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To: CaspersGh0sts
One massive missing piece in Hawking's’ theory
is that whole issue of heat decay.

An allied problem is the Origin of Order - Entropy
A prime principle of Thermodynamics is that
Unless energy is added into a system,
the system always trends toward a greater degree of disorder
Information is being lost continually.

Where did the information come from?
From whence did the “Order”, that is becoming disordered, originate.
Not only does Matter and Energy have to come “From Thin Air”,
but also all the Order and Information,
that is being continually lost over time
(whatever time is)

If the Universe is a closed system,
then energy is conserved,
Entropy changes dominate

34 posted on 09/12/2010 3:40:36 PM PDT by HangnJudge
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