Has physics done away with God? A newly release book by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow says, “Yes.”Read the entire post. In an 2006 interview with Mark Brumley for Ignatius Insight, Dr. Barr said:
What is a Jewish or Christian believer to make of this? Is the Creator now out of a job? The short answer is (unsurprisingly) no: the ideas propounded in Hawking’s book constitute no threat whatever to the Jewish and Christian doctrine of Creation.
The idea that Hawking is now touting is not new—in fact, within the fast-moving world of modern physics it is fairly old. My first introduction to it was reading a very elegant theoretical paper entitled “Creation of Universes from Nothing,” written in 1982 by the noted cosmologist Alexander Vilenkin, who argued that our universe might have arisen by a “quantum fluctuation.”
This idea is sometimes referred to as the quantum creation of the universe. There are different variants, but the basic idea is well-known among particle physicists and cosmologists.
Right up front, it must be noted that this idea is extremely speculative, has not yet been formulated in a mathematically rigorous way, and is unable at this point to make any testable predictions. Indeed, it is very hard to imagine how it could ever be tested. It would be more accurate to call these “scenarios” than theories. It would be a mistake, however, for religious believers to dismiss these scenarios as mere fanciful conjecture or as motivated merely by atheist ideology. Based on a plausible analogy with the experimentally observed and well-understood phenomenon of the quantum creation of particles, the idea of quantum creation of universes is not without merit.
The salient point has to do with how quantum mechanics works. In quantum mechanics one always considers some physical “system”, which has various possible “quantum states”, and which is governed by certain well-defined “dynamical laws.” These dynamical laws that govern the particular system and the fundamental principles of quantum mechanics allow one to calculate the probability that the system will make a transition from one of its states to another. To take a simple example, the system might be an atom of hydrogen, and its states would be the different “energy levels” of the atom.
IgnatiusInsight.com: The science/religion debate/discussion operates on a number of levels. One is on the cosmic level -- the existence of the universe. What can science tell us of the universe's origins? Are there limits to what science can say? What role do philosophy and theology play in considering the question of the universe's origin?Read the entire interview, "The Mythological Conflict Between Christianity and Science" (Sept. 25, 2006).
Dr. Barr: One has to distinguish the question of the universe's beginning moments from the question of why there is a universe at all. In my view, science will never provide an answer to the latter question. As Stephen Hawking famously noted, all theoretical physics can do is give one a set of rules and equations that correctly describe the universe, but it cannot tell you why there is any universe for those equations to describe. He asked, "What breathes fire into the equations so that there is a universe for them describe?"
As far as the beginning moments of the universe go, science may eventually be able to describe what happened then. That is, when we know the fundamental laws of physics in their entirety -- as I hope someday we will -- it may well turn out that the opening events of the universe happened in accordance with those laws. In that sense, "the beginning" could have been "natural". However, that would not explain the "origin" of the universe in the deeper sense meant by "Creation".
Let me use an analogy. The first words of a play -- say Hamlet -- may obey the laws of English grammar. They may also fit into the rest of the plot in a natural way. In that sense, one might be able to give an "internal explanation" of those beginning words. However, that would not explain why there is a play. There is a play because there is a playwright. When we ask about the "origin" of the play, we are not asking about its first words, we are asking who wrote it and why. The origin of the universe is God Almighty. ...
IgnatiusInsight.com: Stephen Hawking, in A Brief History of Time, talks about God and the mind of God. Yet he also seems to question whether there really is the need for a Creator in order to explain the existence of the cosmos. How do you see the matter? Is God a "necessary hypothesis"? Does science have anything to say about the question?
Dr. Barr: Hawking asked the right question when he wondered why there is a universe at all, but somehow he cannot accept the answer. The old question is, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" Science cannot answer that question, as Hawking (at least sometimes) realizes. I think his problem is that he doesn't see how the existence of God answers that question either. Part of the reason that many scientists are atheists is that they don't really understand what is meant by "God".
Anything whose existence is contingent (i.e. which could exist or not exist) cannot be the explanation of its own existence. It cannot, as it were, pull itself into being by its own bootstraps. As St. Augustine says in his Confessions, all created things cry out to us, "We did not make ourselves." Only God is uncreated, because God is a necessary being: He cannot not exist. It is of His very nature to exist. He said to Moses, "I AM WHO AM. ... Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel: 'I AM hath sent me unto you.'"
I think scientists like Hawking would be helped if they could imagine God as an infinite Mind that understands and knows all things and Who, indeed, "thought the world up". If all of reality is "intelligible" (an idea that would appeal to scientists), then it follows really that there is some Intellect capable of understanding it fully. If no such Intellect exists or could exist, in what sense is reality fully intelligible? We need to recover the idea of God as the Logos, i.e. God as Reason itself. I note that Pope Benedict has stressed this in his recent addresses about science and in his speech at Regensburg. It is an idea of God that people who devote their lives to rational inquiry can appreciate.