The scriptural teaching on the origin of the universe is found in Genesis 1:1, which states that in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Steven Hawking attempts to circumvent this truth (or, at the very least, render a Creator logically superfluous to the issue of the beginning of the universe). However, his ideas are not new, but are rather the latest versions of some classic attempts to explain getting something (i.e., the universe) out of nothing.
Hawking’s support for his work comes from the existence of the law of gravity. It is known to physicists that the energy associated with the gravitational force is negative, while the energy associated with most ordinary objects (baseballs, cars, etc.) is positive. It is possible for these positive and negative energies to cancel, resulting in zero net energy. Two situations with the same energy (or zero energy difference) are, in a physical sense, equally preferable. An example would be a soccer ball on the kitchen floor; the ball could sit by the refrigerator or the stove or the table without wanting to roll anywhere else. This is because each position on the kitchen floor which the soccer ball could occupy would have the same energy, so none of the positions is energetically preferable to the others.
Hawking envisions the origin of the universe in a similar way. Since it is possible to think of the creation of the universe as a “zero net energy process,” Hawking suggests that there is no need to explain how it could have been created. But this inference is based not on the physics, but on Hawking’s own philosophical presuppositions. In the example of a soccer ball on the kitchen floor, it is conceivable to imagine the soccer ball sitting anywhere on the floor without needing an explanation; however, it is quite another thing to say that the soccer ball and the kitchen floor came from nothing.
Hawking’s attempts to address this problem are not in any way new to philosophers; it is one of the oldest issues in Epicurean philosophy: “ex nihilo nihil fit” (literally, “nothing comes out of nothing”). Hawking’s ideas may establish that two physical situations (the universe existing versus not existing) are energetically equivalent, but it does nothing to address the issue of cause and effect. No explanation is needed as to why the soccer ball is sitting by the stove rather than by the refrigerator, but an explanation is needed if the ball moves from the stove to the refrigerator. In physics, a change never occurs without an explanation; in philosophical language, an effect never occurs without a cause.
Hawking’s ideas do nothing to address this; the issue of the universe’s origin is the same as it was before. It is not possible to get something from nothing. Only the idea of a Creator can adequately explain where the universe could have come from. Moreover, Hawking’s statement that science will always prevail over religion “because it works” reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the philosophy of science. Truth is not determined by “what works,” but by whether it conforms to the reality around us. When we say that a particular statement is “true,” we are saying that the content of that statement actually describes the way things are. This connection between a statement and the reality it describes is independent of a person and his mind. A statement may be true or false, irrespective of whether or not it appears to a particular person to describe the correct state of affairs. This is what we mean when we say that truth is objective; a statement’s “truth value” is a quality which it possesses independently of a person’s knowledge thereof.
However, once we begin to try to decide whether a particular statement is true or false (as happens in both science and religion), the only way we know how to proceed is to try to test the statement to “see if it works.” As an example, suppose we want to decide whether the statement, “All cats are brown” is true. We can begin our investigation by gathering cats together and inspecting each of them to see if any do not conform to the statement in question, thereby rendering it false. We only need to find one gray cat to know that the original statement is false: not all cats are brown.
But what if every cat we were able to find was, in fact, brown? Clearly, the world does contain felines of many other varieties and colours. In this case, even though the statement “works” (from our investigation, all cats do appear to be brown), it is clearly false. Thus, the issue of whether science or religion “works” is completely irrelevant to the issue of truth in each of these disciplines. While truth can be discovered by noting what works, simply because a statement appears to work does not in fact imply that it is true.
To summarize, Hawking’s reasoning fails on philosophical grounds. Hawking attempts to substitute God with a particular physical law (gravity). However, Hawking fails to address the key issue at hand – that is, the origin of physical law in the first place. Where did the law of gravity come from and how does nothing produce something? A physical law is not nothing. Moreover, Hawking’s conception of a plethora of ensemble universes to escape the conclusion of fine-tuning is philosophically unsound, metaphysically motivated, and less parsimonious than the theistic interpretation.
Why does humanity seek to eliminate God from having had any role in the creation of the Universe? It’s very simple. Humanity hates God and does not want to be subject to God’s law, or held accountable for our actions. As Paul writes in Romans 1, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.”