Starting with a Bang
- Wednesday, August 04, 2010
His implied (but unavoidable) conclusion is that when ‘nothing' became ‘something', God — who until then had striven manfully to maintain ‘the state of nothingness' — somehow ceased to exist, having become surplus to requirements. Like the ill-fated baker in Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark, Victor Stenger's God ‘softly and suddenly vanished away' at the very moment of triumphant creation.
In the midst of the word he was trying to say,
In the midst of his laughter and glee,
He had softly and suddenly vanished away —
For the Snark was a Boojum, you see.
(Sidney Williams and Falconer Madan: Handbook of the Literature of the Rev. C. L. Dodgson, as quoted in Martin Gardiner: The Annotated Snark (Penguin Books, 1974).
There Was a Beginning
Chapter 6 of this book (Who Made God?) demonstrated that the biblical hypothesis of God predicts that the universe did indeed have a beginning, by which I mean: (1) that it is not eternally old; and (2) that before its beginning nothing of a material nature existed — neither matter nor energy, neither space nor time. To put it another way, we are talking about ex nihilo creation — creation out of nothing — a real beginning rather than something happening in or to some prior physical order.
Over the last 100 years, cosmologists have reluctantly come to terms with the fact that this prediction is strikingly borne out by their observations and cosmological models. For some, like Arno Penzias cited at the head of this chapter, this came as no surprise. But for many others it has become a source of huge discomfort.
The reason is not hard to find. Stephen Hawking puts it thus: ‘So long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator. But if the universe is really completely self-contained, having no boundary or edge, it would have neither beginning nor end; it would simply be. What place then for a creator?'(Stephen W. Hawking, A Brief History of Time, (Bantam Press, 1988, pp. 140-41). This quote, triumphantly reproduced in a variety of atheistic writings, comes at the end of chapter 8 of A Brief History of Time and suggests superficially that Hawking has finally locked God out of the universe. But not so fast! Let's remember that the concluding chapter of Hawking's book ends rather differently with the following paragraph:
‘However, if we do discover a complete theory, it should in
time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just
a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists and
just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the
question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find
the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human
reason — for then we would know the mind of God.'
I remember hearing astrophysicist Fred Hoyle speak at a debate on creation at University College, London, when I was a student there in 1952. At that time he and others (specifically, Hermann Bondi and Thomas Gold) were exciting much interest in cosmological circles by proposing a ‘steady state' theory of the universe involving ‘continuous creation'. This theory — which suggested that the universe remains the same for all time — was an extension of the accepted ‘cosmological principle', namely, that the universe looks roughly the same from every point within it. To explain how this could happen in an expanding universe, Bondi, Gold and Hoyle suggested in 1946 that matter was being created continually, so that its average density throughout the universe remained the same in spite of the expansion. (Hoyle's paper was published in the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1948. His Nature of the Universe (Blackwell, 1950) introduced the theory to a wider audience.) To achieve the required balance, matter would have to be created at the rate of about one atom of hydrogen for every litre of space every billion years — not something the casual observer is likely to notice.
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