Some of you may have seen a news article circulating every major news outlet.  With provocative titles such as “God did not create the universe, says Hawking,” and “Why God Did Not Create the Universe,” one would expect to find some new scientific discovery/argument proving that the universe is capable of creating itself – no God needed.  After reading the articles, however, that expectation will quickly turn into disappointment.

Stephen Hawking is probably the most famous physicist alive.  While he is clearly a brilliant man, his case for the sufficiency of natural processes to account for the origin of the universe is truly embarrassing.  Consider the following claim: “Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself 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.”

Where to begin!  First, while Hawking is attempting to explain how something could come from nothing, he only explains how something (the universe) comes from something else (physical laws, namely gravity).  True nothingness is the absence of any and all existents, including physical laws.  So from whence come the physical laws?

Secondly, it is impossible to get something from nothing.  While existing things have potential to become something else, “nothing” has no potential to become anything because nothing is literally no-thing.  Potentiality is a thing, and thus nothing must preclude potentiality.  Potentiality only inheres within existents.  So if absolute nothingness ever obtained, there would be nothing still.  Something can only come from something else.  Out of nothing, nothing comes.  See my blog series titled “Thinking about a Whole Lotta Nothing (parts 1, 2, 3, 4).

Thirdly, it is incoherent to claim the universe can create itself.  For the universe to create itself it would literally have to exist before it existed.  But if it existed before it existed, it would have no need of creating itself because it would already exist.  Self-causation is incoherent.

Fourthly, physical laws cannot be the cause of the universe/multiverse because physical laws are part of the effect in need of explanation.  Physical laws came into being when the physical universe came into being.  They are dependent on the physical universe.  As James Anderson wrote, “The laws of nature presuppose the existence of nature, just as the laws of Scotland presuppose the existence of Scotland.”[1] To think physical laws can explain the origin of the universe is like thinking one can explain the existence of one’s father by his son.  The effect cannot be the cause.

Fifthly, as noted in my previous post, physical laws have no ontological status.  They are not “things” that exist “out there” in the real world causing other things to happen.  They are just inductive generalizations we make about how matter behaves based on repeated observation.  But observing that matter always behaves like X does not explain what is causing X to behave in such a manner.  Hawking appears to have confused law with agency.  Agents cause things to happen.  Laws only describe observed patterns of behavior.

Not only does Hawking believe God is not necessary to explain the origin of the universe, but he also believes God is not necessary to explain the origin of intelligent life.  Why?  The discovery of planets outside our solar system (exoplanets).  Hawking says the discovery of exoplanets

makes the coincidences of our planetary conditions – the single Sun, the lucky combination of Earth-Sun distance and solar mass – far less remarkable, and far less compelling as evidence that the Earth was carefully designed just to please us human beings.

I don’t see how it follows that if the universe contains planets outside our solar system, God is no longer needed to explain the many finely-tuned constants necessary for advanced life.  Perhaps if one could show the existence of many planets like our own, there would no longer be reason to think Earth was unique, but it would not undermine the inference that our planet was designed.  Design is inferred from the purposeful arrangement and specification of parts.  If each Earth-like planet exhibited the same arrangement and specification of parts as our planet, the proper conclusion should be that all of them were designed, not that none of them were designed!

It should be pointed out that among the 490 exoplanets we have discovered and studied to-date, none have the properties we know to be necessary to support advanced life.  They are gas giants like Jupiter, rocky planets without water, not in the habitable zone of their galaxy, etc.  In other words, none of them resemble our own planet.  So the fact that there are planets outside our solar system no more undermines the design inference than the observation that there are other planets in our own solar system.  Both are interesting observations, but hardly relevant to the God/design question.

Finally, Hawking appeals to the possibility of a multiverse to explain away the fine-tuning of the physical constants.  He writes:

Our universe seems to be one of many, each with different laws. … Each universe has many possible histories and many possible states. Only a very few would allow creatures like us to exist. Although we are puny and insignificant on the scale of the cosmos, this makes us in a sense the lords of creation.[2]

Rather than rehashing all of the problems associated with the multiverse hypothesis here, see my treatment here.

[1]James Anderson, “Stephen Hawking versus God”; available from; Internet; accessed 07 September 2010.
Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, “Why God Did Not Create the Universe”; available from; Internet; accessed 04 September 2010.