A Scientist's Challenge: When did God create the Universe?
Renowned theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking wrote in his book, The Great Design: “When people ask me if a god created the universe, I tell them that the question itself makes no sense. Time didn’t exist before the big bang, so there is no time for god to make the universe in."
Setting Up the Challenge
In my book Gliese 581, I sought to challenge Hawking's position. What follows here is an excerpt that leads to an explanation of why God could have created the universe, even if there was no time before the beginning of time.
The excerpt below presents a conversation between R.G., the scientist from the first book [The Walk] who went back in time to meet Jesus, and atheist evolutionary biologist Richard Chrisman. The team they are working with has been developing an array to answer the message from space, "Tell us about Creation." The group is talking about how to answer the question, even as they develop the array using a Quantum Computer. Chrisman asks R.G. out to lunch.
Excerpt from Gleise 581
He invited me to lunch one afternoon at a little Italian place not too far from the lab. He said that he wanted to trade some ideas on Question One, away from the sterile atmosphere of the office. Neither one of us wanted to deal with our “Watchers,” so we carefully dodged their posts, slipping past and out the side door. They seemed to be getting a bit complacent again.
We started our discussion after ordering. I thought he would go on a tirade about the scientific proof. Not surprisingly, he started down his usual path addressing evolution as a provable fact.
“Look, I accept evolution,” I said. “Whether it’s a complete theory or not, there’s a clear record of the changes over time in fossils. If comparable checks of the DNA error rates and divergence of species are made, they also agree with those fossil histories. That argument of no evolution outside of species seems to ignore a lot of facts. When we look at the human lineage from the Australopithecus Lucy to our Genus Homo having members like Habilis, Erectus, Naledi, Neanderthal, and the many others—there is clear species evolution through time that can’t be ignored.”
“You’re right," he injected, “Even tracking the flu every year, it’s hard to miss. But you and I know there are still a lot of people that reject the idea. Some things are straight forward and some are just not so clear.”
Revisiting the Chicken and the Egg
I chuckled, then offered, “There’s a pet idea of mine, which I tease my friends with. Take the old Chicken and Egg question. Everyone says it's so hard to figure, and of course there is no answer. But no, the answer is really quite simple.” I shook my index finger at his quizzical expression. “If you accept evolution, then clearly the first thing that is truly chicken, with all its feathers and the beak and DNA, is in the egg. Every creature seen before is less than chicken. Evolution means the egg came before the chicken.” He nodded and returned my smile.“Take Creation,“ I went on. “I can’t imagine God forming eggs without some mother hen around to watch out for her young. That’s how it’s done today. So clearly if you believe in Creation, then the chicken is first. It’s pretty simple. But with all the evidence we have of many different creatures other than chicken, I find that evolution is the cleaner explanation.”
“Now see,” Chrisman responded, “That makes perfect sense and for a scientist like yourself, that’s exactly the type of logic I would expect. But, with all the evidence out there pointing to clearly definable explanations for how this universe and things in it work, how can you still rationalize belief in a God created Universe?”
“You mean other than my personal experience?” I asked, referring to a journey I had taken a while back.
“Well okay, but can you rationalize the explanation for me?” He changed his expression and leaned closer in. “Listen,” he said in a slightly hushed tone. “Let me admit something. I get the Hawking’s argument about a time cone extending back to the beginning of the universe. It’s like the North Pole analogy. It doesn’t make sense to ask what is further back in time than the beginning of the universe, just as it doesn’t make sense to ask what is further north than the North Pole. Time exists from the beginning of the Universe, so there is no 'time before' from which to make any measurement.” I nodded that was my understanding of Hawking’s position as well. “But,” he went on, still leaning in, “Gary’s explanation of the Hawking’s Fallacy as he called it—and I know that was your idea—frankly, I just don’t get.” He looked expectantly over to me.
I rubbed my hands over my head and down the back of my neck, contemplating how to explain. The idea started to gel, but I needed to set the groundwork both to further shape the idea in my own head and for him to understand. “Have you ever met a true genius?” I asked. He looked somewhat bemused. “Well, I have. I met two in my life. True genius is different from smart,” I said. “I heard a definition once that describes it well. Genius is knowledge without study. Genius is putting diverse pieces together to form a new and unique conclusion, and genius is without logical error.”
"Makes sense," Chrisman agreed.
“But what you must understand, is that even if there is no error in the logic, it is still possible to reach a wrong conclusion based on right facts.” He smiled, knowing this is where we would start to diverge on our opinions, but he let me go on anyway. “So if I summarize the No God position, there are three logical points. First, there was a beginning of time. Second, everything needed for the universe to work is included within the universe. And third, through discovery we can understand the workings of the universe and actually show there is no need for a God to create it. Hawking has already reached this conclusion. First he says that there was no way a God could exist because the universe has everything it needs to exist already in it. Second, he says that with everything already in it, he can show there was a beginning of everything. Third, we are well on our way to understanding how it works.”
Chrisman cocked his head, nodded and asked. “So you say there is no error in the facts, but a flaw in the conclusion?”
The Beginning of the Universe
“Sure,” I responded, “but you need to understand a little more before you can see the faults. First, let’s look at the beginning of the Universe. The major religions all say there is a beginning. So does physics. Even the innate feeling most people will admit to, is that there had to be a beginning. But why? If we can conceive of an infinite existing God, then why don’t we conceive of an infinite existing universe?” He shrugged his shoulders, indicating he either didn’t know, or didn’t want to speculate.
“So let’s go back to the first of my points: How do we know that there was a Big Bang and time goes forward from that instant?” I paused for him to take this in, then went on to answer my own question. “The way we got there was that through observation we see what is believed to be an expanding universe. We look to the stars and see they are moving away by the red shift of their color. It’s like the pitch change example of a passing train whistle or car horn. We also see that the further away the stars are, the faster they are receding. The explanation for that is an expanding universe.
"So let’s run everything in reverse. Take that expanding universe and run it backward. Eventually everything comes together with all mass and all energy and all space shrunk down into a single point, about 13.82 billion years ago. Hawking says that, using Einstein’s general theory of relativity, if the entire mass of the universe is concentrated in a single point, then time stops. If time is stopped, then there is no time before.
Something from Nothing?
“But where did that infinite mass at time zero come from? As you know, Hawking gave us some elucidating theories about black holes." Chrisman nodded. "He envisioned it was just like what he showed happens at the edge of the event horizon. Virtual particle pairs, one positive and one negative, pop into existence from nothingness through quantum effects. We know they exist because they and their effects can be seen in Hydrogen gas particle detectors. At the black hole event horizon, gravity pulls one in while the other speeds out. The result is that the black hole will radiate energy and eventually even evaporate. If the particles come from nothing, then on a larger scale, might it happen to the whole universe?” I saw Chrisman was listening, but fidgeting. So I said, “This in a nutshell describes why Hawking thinks there was a beginning of time with nothing before, and why he says that something can actually come from nothing. If both of those are true, then he imagines there is no need for a God to create the universe, and there was no time in which he could have created it.”
“That sounds logical to me,” Chrisman said. “So what do you think is wrong with the conclusion?”
“There’s a lot to question,” I replied. “Many who believe in God get it wrong because they don’t consider the possibility that Hawking’s facts are right. They can’t imagine that this brilliant physicist could learn so much and understand so much, and come to a conclusion that there can’t be a God.”
Chrisman interjected, “I always ask my opponents in the debate to prove me wrong, so I would guess Hawking as a theoretical physicist would do the same. So tell me, what facts lead to the evidence for existence of a God?”
“Well, let’s start with the infinite mass that comes from nothing,” I said. “If the infinite mass and gravity came from nothing, then everything that exists after the initial start of time appears as that mass or mass converted to energy. If that’s the case, then where is the negative half of the equation? We live in what we might call the positive side, so where is the side that would annihilate to nothing?”
I paused as Chrisman considered this. He nodded for me to go on. “Some Physicists say that the initial infinite gravity must have converted into matter, energy, and a force that just balances. That would work, if eventually the universe was to fall back together or even simply remain stable. But we have found that the expansion of the universe is accelerating, not slowing. Things don’t balance. This means that there could be something other than our universe’s existence to cause the acceleration. It could be that there is some negative universe to balance out the equation; or, there is some instability in the nature of the universe that eventually should reach a limit; or, as some have hypothesized, there is a much different multiverse our universe is a part of.”
Chrisman had a contemplative expression as he asked, “So if your understanding of the theory is right, the logical conclusion is to show there is something more that we can’t see?”
“Exactly,” I answered. "Either that, or God made it.“ Chrisman open his mouth as if to ask a question, but nothing came out. “There is more,” I continued. “Consider the time before time question again. It’s not that there was a time before time, but there was an influence or initial conditions at time zero. Of course, you can probably guess where I am going with this.” Chrisman nodded yes, but seemed interested in my thought.
The Illumination of Black Holes
“Let’s go back to a Hawking thing again, black holes. Imagine there are two black holes somewhere in space. These black holes have huge mass, enough to prevent any light from escaping. At the very center of these holes, in a single point, the math says mass and gravity become infinite. Infinite gravity at the singularity of the center, makes local time stop. So each black hole has a point of no time movement. It’s similar to the beginning of time idea and likely where the idea came from.
“Consider that these black holes attract each other through gravity, eventually moving together to collide. The point where the local time was stopped in each now is affected by an event outside of its local time. Some influence outside the black hole even when time was stopped, affects what is going on. This raises the same question about the beginning of the Universe. Was there something else involved at the beginning that just can’t be seen?
“And there is more. If the Big Bang is true, then the infinite mass can’t be infinite. If it was, then it would still be infinite and still be there. So by definition, with a Big Bang the Universe must be finite!” Chrisman’s eyes went up and to the left, considering the last statement. I let him take in the thoughts for a second, then continued.“The thing with this is that we might someday know. That is one of the most interesting observations. As complex as the workings of the Universe are, as much change as has occurred throughout its history, as large as it has to be, there always, in every aspect seems to be a way to find the answer. Why is that? We will never see the time zero with our telescopes because near the very beginning, everything was too bright to see past. But that gravity effect, referred to as a gravity wave, someday we may be able to look directly at time zero and know.”
“Ok,” Chrisman said. “You may have given some pause for creative thought about the 'no time before time' question, but it still doesn’t prove God.”
“You are right, Richard," I responded. "This doesn’t prove God. Just like the fossil records, converging anthropological DNA science, and dating through radioactive isotopes don’t prove dinosaurs lived 65 million years ago. You can’t prove birds are modern day survivors of those dinosaurs either, but at some level the evidence becomes so overwhelming, that it can’t be denied.
“And Richard, there is one other issue that we must acknowledge. Just like there is junk science today confusing our understanding of science facts, there is also junk religion. We must look at both what is real and what is junk in both fields. We know that there are well-meaning believers in both science and religion that just make errors. But we know as well that there are those who are self-serving. It doesn’t mean that science is right and religion wrong. Nor does it mean that religion is right and science is wrong. There is a central common truth, and maybe we don’t have all the facts on either side yet.”
“I’m not sure I get all of that, but there’s a lot to think about,” Chrisman offered. “So how do we present a balanced story about all the Creation beliefs in our response?”
“That’s simple,” I answered. “We don’t need to resolve anything. We just need to write it and tell it like it is.”