Did God Create the Universe?

Sunday night the Discovery Channel and The Learning Channel simulcast a CuriosityTV special on Stephen Hawking’s opinion of whether God created the universe, based on his book The Grand Design. The “eye of Hawking” seemed to pierce the depths of the universe as he pondered the meaning of existence.
Hawking concludes that God was not needed to create the universe. His reasoning is not hard to follow. First, he says that we know from quantum physics that something can be created from nothing, as long as anti-something is created with it so that the total is still nothing. Hence, our universe adds up to nothing when summed up with an anti-universe somewhere and therefore needs no creator. Secondly, he says time ceases to exist at the big bang and since there is no time, there is no room for God. Nothing can exist when time ceases to exist. Thirdly, he says we see a continuous chain of causal effects, leaving no causal gap for God to fill.
By his definition of God, he may have a point. But is that the God we Christians worship? In the followup Creation conversation, aired immediately following the CuriosityTV program, Christians such as John Haught and Jennifer Wiseman point out that the Christian view of God is quite different. God is the source of all laws of nature, not a solution to a gap in those laws. He is beyond time and not constrained by time. A universe where matter and anti-matter can appear is one that is created and sustained by God.
Sean Carroll asks John Haught at one point: “What would the universe look like if God didn’t exist?” Haught: “Then the universe would not exist!” Carroll: “So God necessarily exists?” Haught: “Yes!”
That pretty well sums it up.

17 comments to Did God Create the Universe?

  • Mark Pittman

    George, re your September 6 comment:

    So Hawking’s physics is OK but the religion he attacks is a straw man – or a bit more generously, the theology of Sunday School kids.  That’s typical of many of the current crop of atheists.  Their contempt for religion is so great that they don’t bother to learn anything about how intelligent adult believers understand their faith – i.e., theology.

    In this era of science I feel discussions of existence and cosmology are so dominated by mathematics that we are developing a new “sacred language” known only by a few “Scientist/Priests.”   As a Pastor/Teacher in a multi-generational congregation I am searching for ways to allow the “theology of Sunday School kids” to be the building blocks upon which “intelligent adults” can base their faith.  There is a real problem, like the belief in Santa Claus, when young disciples of Jesus suddenly encounter these mind blowing realities and are told, “Well, this what we think really happened.”   Is this God thing just like Santa Claus?

    I am trying to present simple realities from biblical truths which encourage our kids to pursue the scientific paths without so much conflict.  When faced with the choices they are given today most, I think I can say that, conservative Christians fear that abandoning the “simple truths” they learned from Biblical stories will mean abandoning their faith.  So many of the perfectly intelligent adult believers I encounter actually still hold to the theology of Sunday School kids.  When they do try to explore the realities and/or theories put forth in the language of mathmatics  many simply give up.   As I was recently told by an intelligent adult, “That’s all nonsense and scientific jargon by people who only talk to themselves.”

    Who talks to followers of Jesus about cosmology in terms that can be reasonably understood?   It seems the only ones trying to do this are the materialists.

  • George Murphy

    Mark – There are several issues here.  Before getting into them I should perhaps note that I am also a pastor (now retired as far as the Board of Pensions is concerned but still pretty active) as well as a physicist.  Adult education in the church has been an important part of my ministry, especially with regard to faith-science issues.  This also includes education of clergy.
    Remember that what I was criticizing Hawking for was not his physics but his theology, or rather, lack of theological knowledge.  & Christians are likely to be susceptible to the arguments he & other atheists present if their theological knowledge is no better.  Understanding the faith at the level of children is OK for children but not for adults.  It’s a foundation but that needs to be built on.  Just to mention concepts relevant to cosmology, adult Christians need to know that the doctrine of creation does not require accepting a 6 day creation a few thousand years ago.  If the “simple truths” that they learned in Sunday School include that then they need to learn that that isn’t an accurate account of the real universe’s formation.  & that means that even Sunday School kids ought to be prepared for more accurate views in sensitive & age-appropriate ways/
    The doctrine of creation means that all things depend for their existence upon God alone.  In particular, the idea of creatio ex nihilo means creation out of absolutely nothing.  It really does not require great sophistication to see the incoherence of the claims of Hawking, Stenger &c that they can explain creation out of nothing – as I explained in my previous post.
    It’s crucial to convey to people that creation theology is not something that we get entirely from Genesis 1 & 2.  Jesus Christ is the agent of creation & the one for whom the universe was created – Colossians 1:15-20.  That is basic, & if people can begin to see that then a lot of the concern about the literal understanding of Genesis will fade in significance.
    But theology today, & especially creation theology, has to be engaged with science.  We’re talking about the creation of the real world, not some archaic picture of it.  & that means that people need to know the basics of the relevant sciences – cosmology, evolution &c. 
    You ask at the end of your post about resources on cosmology for Christians.  One place you could look is here on the ASA site.  Click on “Resources” on the home page, then “Bible and Science”, then “Astronomy and Cosmology.”  There are a lot of other things available.  E.g., my book  _Toward a Christian View of a Scientific World_  (CSS, 2001).  This is intended for an adult course in congregations. (It doesn’t just deal with cosmology.)
    I would also mention that some of the resources by the materialists you mention are also valuable.  Some are listed at the ASA site I mentioned.  But of course one shouldn’t be gullible in reading them.
    Finally I have to say something about the comment you report, “That’s all nonsense and scientific jargon by people who only talk to themselves.”  The person who said this may have been intelligent and I don’t know what he/she was referring to specifically.  But I find it hard to be patient with that kind of talk which reveals either a poor education or intellectual laziness – or both.  Certainly not everyone can understand the math of string theory or general relativity but that’s no excuse for failing to appreciate the tremendous progress in understanding the world that math has made possible.    & we’re not talking about doing active research in physics but simply understanding results, & a lot of that can be grasped with relatively elementary math, high school level stuff.
    When I taught astronomy in college & talked about black holes, students might ask why some of the strange results, like time seeming to stop at the event horizon, came about.  Well, you can’t really do that without a little math.  But when I once wrote down a simple algebraic equation a student cried out “Why do you have to make it so complicated?”  “Complain to God, not me,” I said.  I didn’t make the universe this way.”
    Which raises another issue, the general scientific (& mathematical) illiteracy of Americans.  I think that that should be a concern of the church because it makes people easy prey for atheists & cults – among other things.  But I’ve gone on long enough here.

  • William Powers

    There are a few comments I would add to George’s excellent post.
    1) One difficulty for many, and one that I have and still do face, is that in re-interpreting the Biblical account of creation is that it is not so easily confined to the first three, or eleven chapters of Genesis.  I use the term re-interpreting cautiously.  It seems to me that a “natural” reading of say the first 11 chapters of Genesis would lead us to take it as an historical account.  This may be less true of the first three chapters, but still it is a natural reading.  It is helpful in this regard to review interpretations of these chapters through history.  I am by no means an expert in this regard and I know there are excellent books that cover this history, but one thing is clear the so-called literal interpretation is by no means uncommon, but contrary opinions likewise did exist.  The same can be said of a creation ex nihilo.  What this means is that the view of say the first eleven chapters of Genesis expressed by George and many in the ASA would not be so popular were it not for scientific advances.  What might be said is something like this: we imagine a Two Book understanding of the world.  Despite that there are Two Books, there is but one Author.  In that there is one Author we expect there to be a coherent story.  For this reason our understanding of either Book can be influenced by the other.  Note that I, unlike many, suggest at least the possibility of a symmetric relationship.  Indeed, all Christians would agree that we learn about God’s creation from Scripture and not from science (although philosophy might offer cosmological arguments for God’s existence — still this is beyond science).  If we as Christians are committed by the Word to a creation ex nihilo, does that entail that we would be committed to non-eternal universe.  So if there were no evidence for a Big Bang (something only recent), would we nonetheless seek such evidence and allow it to direct our scientific discovery?  What is additionally required, however, is to be able to describe some method whereby the one does not devour the other.  IOW, why stop with the eleventh chapter of Genesis?  Why not discuss, for example, our interpretation of the Resurrection?  This ought not be viewed as outlandish since, as you well know, many modern theologians suggest that we must in the light of modern understandings and sensibilities reinterpret the likes of the Resurrection.  I suggest, in summary, that any “educational” program, as well as any coherent understanding of the relationship between science and Scripture (the Two Books) requires a methodology for understanding that interaction and hermeneutic such that both retain their integrity.  I, for one, do not and cannot believe in an ahistorical Christianity.  If Scripture speaks nothing of history, we have no Christianity, nor its distinctiveness from all other world religions.  The danger of a too aggressive science is to leave Scripture devoid of history, and, I would argue, devoid of reality.
    2) That mathematics is employed heavily and necessarily in the hard sciences has long been the distinguishing aspect of modern science from all “sciences” or aborted sciences of the ancient world.  That we would expect the world to be mapped to a rational, logical, and deterministic formulation requires a significant metaphysics.  It presumes that there is a uni-verse, and why would there be such a radical coherence of all the world.  It appears to reject any polytheistic notions of the world and at the very least adopts a monotheistic view, something that is not evident in our experience of the world with its many conflicting and opposing processes.  Surely more it is presumed that this world is governed by a kind of Logos, even a rational God, one that must be like us in some way, for how else could we expect to be able to grasp it with our mathematics and minds.  That the world might be “captured” in mathematics ought to be viewed as nothing short of miraculous.  What is more, that it is “captured” in detail and in precise ways.  Nonetheless, the lesson that all metaphysicians of science both in the past and today must learn, and often the hard way, is that reality is always and ultimately incomprehensible.  This fact is reflected in modern sciences obedience to what is called empirical evidence (despite that logic and concepts  and theory have led to some fantastic confirmations).  This is to say that the world to all our perceptions and understandings appears radically contingent.  We cannot and ought not try to deductively create the world.  No where is this more clear than in quantum indeterminancy.  Man will not cease to believe that he can probe the depths of the world, even to devising a Theory of Everything, a unified theory.  What he shall have were this accomplished is not clear.  But one thing is clear, he will not have reality.  No where can he say why this is real and this is not.  He cannot explain or account for the particularity of reality (the thisness and thatness of what is).  These are simply brute givens.  It is not merely, as Hawking has asked, what puts the fire in the equations, but why this fire and not some other fire.  I would suggest that this can ultimately only be accounted for by a personal god.  What must be resisted today, it seems to me, is a kind of Neo-Platonism that replaces not only a substantial god, but perhaps even the need for the a created, physical world.

  • George Murphy

    On the “2 books” question I can’t do a lot better than suggest my short article “Reading God’s Two Books” that was in PSCF a few years ago.  Briefly, it’s important which book we read first for what purpose.  If we’re interested in primarily theological questions we need to start with God’s historical revelation to which scripture is witness.  Then we know what God we’re talking about when we search the book of nature for further understanding of God’s activity.  & that further understanding may then require us to go back & reread & re-interpret scripture.  OTOH if we’re interested only in understanding the physical world we don’t have to read the Bible at all.

    It’s true that “history begins with Abraham” in the sense that with Gen.12 we start getting something like an historical account.  But it isn’t just straight “history as it really happened” from that point on by any means.  & we encounter statements that conflict with modern science in later parts of scripture, Paul’s belief that physical death began with the first human sin being the most obvious example. 

    But the fear that if we start recognizing some biblical statements as being based on outdated knowledge of the world (e.g., the dome of the heavens) then everything will be up for grabs & we’ll have to doubt the resurrection is not well founded.  Where people get in trouble theologically here is in starting with the some view of the inerrancy of scripture as fundamental, so that belief in what are really the fundamentals of the Christian faith depends on inerrancy.  In reality we should start with the fundamental belief that the crucified Jesus has been shown to be the promised Messiah and Son of God by his resurrection from the dead.  Our understandings of how scripture is the God-inspired witness to Christ are then secondary constructs – which doesn’t mean they’re unimportant.

    In addition, science cannot prove that a putative contingent historical event like the resurrection could not have happened (Hume notwithstanding) in the same way that it can show that there is not & never was a solid dome of the sky with a cosmic ocean above it.

  • John Burgeson

    Seems funny that after all these years the same old ground needs to be plowed!

  • Mervin Bitikofer

    Young students  emerge from their first exposures in Sunday schools (packed dirt?) just as naive as we were in our own turn; but hopefully (if Sunday school did its job) with the right Cornerstone for their foundation.
    –Merv Bitikofer

  • Paul Seely

    ASome comments on the idea that having God as the author of both the Bible and of nature means that the story being told in each will cohere with each other. This is fundamentally true with regard to theology.  A good article on the Two Books in addition to the one by George is by Mary VandenBerg, “What General Revelation Does (and Does Not) Tell Us,” PSCF 61 no. 1, pp 16-24  2010     http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/2010/PSCF3-10VandenBerg.pdf
    The problem is that many expect the science in the Bible to agree with modern science. This rationalistic assumption has led to endless distortions of Scripture in order to make it agree with modern science. I believe John Walton is correct in saying that the science in the Bible is the science of its own time. Accordingly, it is unlikely to  agree with modern science—it is 2 to 4 thousand years old! God did not correct the outdated science partly because that is not the purpose of Scripture, and partly because it would make the communication of the theological revelation more difficult.
    A natural reading of Gen 1–11 is to take it as history; and that is the way the original readers or hearers probably did take it. A close informed look, however, indicates that it is based on ancient Near Eastern, mainly Mesopotamian traditions and motifs—which do not stand up to being tested by the historical sciences, that is, geology, anthropology, and archaeology. And contrary to rationalistic views of God and Scripture, Scripture enjoins that all claims to divine revelation regarding the empirical world be tested by empirical evidence (taught in principle in Deut 18:20, 21; and commanded in 1 Thess 5:20, 21). Since so much of these chapters fail that divinely ordained test, we must read them as if they were parables. As George said, History begins with Abraham.
    The resurrection stands because it is based on the eye-witness testimony of honest men, and there is no empirical evidence which falsifies it (a naturalistic philosophy is not evidence). A fairly recent scholarly book on Gospel history is Jesus and the Eyewitnesses by Richard Bauckham—500 pages leaving no stone unturned. A more popular book is Ben Witherington, What Have They Done with Jesus? (HarperCollins, 2007).

August 2011
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