In his 1988 book, A Brief History of Time, Professor Stephen Hawking famously asked: “What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe? … Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing?”
Then, the professor speculated that a Creator God might provide the answer. Last week, in a new book serialised in The Times, Hawking declared God to be redundant because “the Universe can and will create itself from nothing”.
As a physicist and a Christian, I applaud Hawking’s change of position. Invoking God as the one who breathes fire into the Universe is to take the dangerous path of placing faith in the “God of the Gaps.” Faced with a link in a causal chain which we do not understand, we are tempted to declare “God did it!” and solve the problem… at least until science comes up with a better answer, and kicks away one apparent foundation of faith.
The beginning of the Universe represents a deeper problem than the usual “God of the Gaps” scenario, though. It represents the quest for the termination of a chain of explanations which would otherwise stretch on for infinity. Imagine a small child exploring the world and asking “… and why did that happen?” in response to every previous answer. What kind of reply would silence the child and provide an answer so satisfactory that no further why is possible, or necessary? Mediaeval philosophers declared the First Cause or Unmoved Mover to be “that which people call God”.
Hawking, together with many contemporary scientists, argues that the Universe itself is the kind of thing that needs no prior explanation – the ultimate free lunch. The explanation goes like this: Imagine you have no money – you can’t carry out any transactions. But suppose the bank gives you an interest free loan of £1,000,000. Your net worth is still zero – but there’s a lot of interesting things you can do with that million pounds. Further, the bank doesn’t need to have money in its coffers to give you the loan; it creates the capital by ‘quantitative easing’, so the bank’s net worth is also zero! In the same way, quantum physics says that nothing is identical to “something plus a debt”. Therefore from nothing (no universe), energy can be loaned to create a universe – and here we are! Perhaps the universe we are in is the only permissible debt under the rules; or perhaps it represents one of many debts which exist. No Creator is needed – for the same laws of mathematics create both the bank and the loan.
But… I am a Roman Catholic, and each Sunday at Mass I recite the words, “I believe in One God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth.” How can I declare that with integrity?
My faith is in Jesus Christ, who came to show the world, in the fullest way possible, the God he called Father. After decades of reflection, a disciple of Jesus wrote the opening verses of the Gospel according to John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” Therefore, I believe that in these words Jesus is saying, through his disciple, “My Father and I were intimately involved in the beginning of all things.” I don’t need to know the details of how God did it, and I am not invoking God as a necessary explanation of why the universe exists. I am simply trusting in the Bible’s statement that God was involved.
Further, Jesus also said “I am the Truth.” In some profound way, the God revealed by Jesus is all truth, all love and all beauty. If the mathematical laws which govern the universe are intrinsically true, and are themselves sufficient to summon a universe into being, the fire is already present in the equations. God does not need to breathe on the equations. Rather, the fiery equations themselves are one small manifestation of that ultimate Truth, which people of faith call God.
This blog article was written by Revd Gareth Leyshon, who is a Roman Catholic priest, an Associate Chaplain to the University of Glamorgan, and who holds a Ph.D. in astrophysics for studies on dust in distant galaxies.