The cover story on the front page of The Times (behind a paywall, alas) yesterday was: ‘Hawking: God did not create Universe’.
The story was based on extracts from Professor Stephen Hawking’s new book, The Grand Design, which is due to be published next week, in which Hawking appears to lend his support to theories about a multiverse.
Scientists have long known that our universe is governed by a number of laws and constants that are remarkably fortuitous and had they been even slightly different, it would have – in Hawking’s own words – ‘destroyed the possibility for life as we know it.’ To quote Hawking again:
“Most of the fundamental constants in our theories appear fine-tuned in the sense that if they were altered by only modest amounts, the Universe would be qualitatively different, and in many cases unsuitable for the development of life. For example, if the other nuclear force, the weak force, were much weaker, in the early Universe all the hydrogen in the cosmos would have turned to helium, and hence there would be no normal stars; if it were much stronger, exploding supernovas would not eject their outer envelopes, and hence would fail to seed interstellar space with the heavy elements planets require to foster life.
“If protons were 0.2 per cent heavier, they would decay into neutrons, destabilising atoms. If the sum of the masses of the types of quark that make up a proton were changed by as little as 10 per cent, there would be far fewer of the stable atomic nuclei of which we are made; in fact, the summed quark masses seem roughly optimised for the existence of the largest number of stable nuclei.”
This is the well-known Goldilocks enigma. This universe has laws and constants that seem to be ‘just right’ for the development of life.
This finding of modern cosmology has so disturbed many scientists that the great British astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle once famously remarked that it appeared that the Universe was a ‘put-up job’.
Additionally, the increasing acceptance by the scientific community of the Big Bang theory from the 1960’s onwards and the fact that the Big Bang theory postulated that our universe had a beginning (estimated currently to be around 13.7 billion years ago) posed some very obvious and significant philosophical problems for atheists.
So, how have atheists responded? In recent years, an increasingly popular theory of the multiverse has been propounded. This suggests that our universe is but one of many – Hawking suggests 10 to the power of 500 – universes that exist and that therefore it is mathematically probable that at least some of them will have laws and constants that are conducive to life, so our universe is not as special as we might think. Furthermore, the mathematical laws that govern the multiverse are so compelling that they themselves bring the universes – including our own – into existence. Hawking says that:
“Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing.”
It is an intriguing idea, but many scientists themselves have pointed out that it is also currently untestable and therefore cannot even really be classified as a genuine scientific theory. Additionally, as Professor John Lennox has responded: ‘But how did gravity exist in the first place? Who put it there? And what was the creative force behind its birth?’
Funnily enough, it all seems to boil down to a question of faith. Do you believe in a Creator of the Universe, or that laws can be so beautiful and compelling that they bring into existence multiple universes including our own out of nothing?
Daily Mail: Professor John Lennox responds to Stephen Hawking
Guardian Cif: Professor Eric Priest responds to Hawking