There’s been a lot more brouhaha than I expected about Stephen Hawking’s declaration this week that the universe had a perfectly naturalistic, non-Goddy origin. I suppose it’s because of Hawking’s big name, which gives his pronouncements the gravitas of a latter-day Einstein. So now that the idea of “multiverses”—multiple universes—is becoming more mainstream, and the origins of our own universe are swimming into scientific ken, what’s a believer to do? Over at the Guardian, physicist and Templeton Prize winner Paul Davies is on the case, doing the religious two-step:
1. Nothing new here! Just trot out our favorite Accommodater, the ever-prescient St. Augustine:
. . . there was no time “before” the big bang. The idea is by no means new. In the fifth century, St Augustine of Hippo wrote that “the universe was created with time and not in time”.
Religious people often feel tricked by this logic. They envisage a miracle-working God dwelling within the stream of time for all eternity and then, for some inscrutable reason, making a universe (perhaps in a spectacular explosion) at a specific moment in history.
That was not Augustine’s God, who transcended both space and time. Nor is it the God favoured by many contemporary theologians.
2. There’s still room for God! He’s in the laws of physics!
According to folklore the French physicist Pierre Laplace, when asked by Napoleon where God fitted into his mathematical account of the universe, replied: “I had no need of that hypothesis.” Although cosmology has advanced enormously since the time of Laplace, the situation remains the same: there is no compelling need for a supernatural being or prime mover to start the universe off. But when it comes to the laws that explain the big bang, we are in murkier waters.
And when those murkier waters clear, revealing no god in the depths, Davies will find Him somewhere else.