Most arguments for the existence of ‘God’ are appeals to ignorance, or arguments from incredulity; the general gist being…

“science can’t explain X, therefore God exists.”

“X”, here, being a placeholder for all sorts of things for which scientific explanations are not readily, or currently, available. Once upon a time “X” included such things as thunder, lightening, floods, disease, planetary orbits, origin of species, etc. But because inquisitive people decided to investigate these matters rather than to throw their hands up in defeat, eventually we DID find ways to scientifically explain thunder, lightening, floods, disease, planetary orbits, origin of species, etc.

Even the mystery of the origin of life itself is one where science today is making GREAT strides towards unravelling.

Many other mysteries remain unsolved, and even as scientists persist in their quest to understand them better, it is in these current gaps in our knowledge that believers today indignantly stick their various preferred gods – as purported explanations.

One of these current gaps in our knowledge has to do with the origin of the universe.

m31_gendler_Nmosaic1

Using Einstein’s general theory of relativity, we are able to trace the origins of the universe to the moment (Planck Time) immediately following the beginning of the ‘Big Bang’ (expansion of time and space).  Prior to Planck Time, very little is empirically known, and this is where astrophysicists are hard at work trying to construct plausible models of how the matter and energy that expanded into what we today call the universe came to be. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the largest particle accelerator in the world, was recently commissioned to reproduce conditions similar to those produced during the Big Bang in order to study this.

Several logically and mathematically plausible explanations are on offer today from astrophysicists and cosmologists regarding the origins of the universe, such as the universe possibly spontaneously arising as a result of quantum fluctuations, or the universe being cyclical, or this universe being one out of an infinite number of universes. Even as these plausible models await empirical verification, what this tells us is that, in principle, the answer to the question ‘where did ‘everything come from’ does not necessarily have to be anything resembling what people call a ‘God’.

The Grand Design:

The Grand Design

In his latest book titled THE GRAND DESIGN, British theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking seeks to explore some of these models in detail.

According to Amazon.com:

When and how did the universe begin? Why are we here? What is the nature of reality? Is the apparent ‘grand design’ of our universe evidence for a benevolent creator who set things in motion? Or does science offer another explanation? In "The Grand Design", the most recent scientific thinking about the mysteries of the universe is presented, in language marked by both brilliance and simplicity. "The Grand Design" explains the latest thoughts about model-dependent realism (the idea that there is no one version of reality), and about the multiverse concept of reality in which there are many universes. There are new ideas about the top-down theory of cosmology (the idea that there is no one history of the universe, but that every possible history exists). It concludes with a riveting assessment of m-theory, and discusses whether it is the unified theory Einstein spent a lifetime searching for. This is the first major work in nearly a decade by one of the world’s greatest thinkers. A succinct, startling and lavishly illustrated guide to discoveries that are altering our understanding and threatening some of our most cherished belief systems, "The Grand Design" is a book that will inform – and provoke – like no other.

Here is an excerpt from the book:

The emergence of the complex structures capable of supporting intelligent observers seems to be very fragile. The laws of nature form a system that is extremely fine-tuned. What can we make of these coincidences? Luck in the precise form and nature of fundamental physical law is a different kind of luck from the luck we find in environmental factors. It raises the natural question of why it is that way.

Many people would like us to use these coincidences as evidence of the work of God. The idea that the universe was designed to accommodate mankind appears in theologies and mythologies dating from thousands of years ago. In Western culture the Old Testament contains the idea of providential design, but the traditional Christian viewpoint was also greatly influenced by Aristotle, who believed "in an intelligent natural world that functions according to some deliberate design."

That is not the answer of modern science. As recent advances in cosmology suggest, the laws of gravity and quantum theory allow universes to appear spontaneously from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.

(Read more here)

As expected, this book has not been well-received by the religious establishment.

Sean Carroll, a senior research associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology (and theoretical cosmologist specializing in dark energy and general relativity) agrees with Hawking. In this video below, he reiterates Hawking’s contention that modern physics has reached the point where there’s no need to invoke ‘God’ to understand the universe:

Also check out a paper Carroll wrote called “Why (Almost All) Cosmologists are Atheists”. It was published in the journal Faith and Philosophy in 2005.


Related post:

  • The Retreat to Deism (coming soon)