A-1 - Encouraged by What You Read?

Did the universe begin to exist or not? The final paper from Stephen Hawking indicates that the universe did have a beginning. Here are the details.

This question has rattled around in the psyche of the scientific community for more than a century now, ever since Einstein developed his general theory of relativity. The dominant view during most of that time held that the universe had existed forever (i.e., it had no beginning). Even though general relativity hinted that the universe might have a beginning, scientists proposed many models that circumvented this conclusion.

In 1964, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson discovered the cosmic microwave background radiation—a discovery that established the validity of big bang models. A few years later, Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose developed some powerful theorems that affirmed the conclusion that big bang models included the notion that the universe began to exist. Examining the theorems more closely reveals that the evidence for the beginning ultimately derives from the fact that the space-time trajectories of all matter in the universe cross, leading to a singularity (a region of infinite density) where the laws of physics break down.

However, physicists largely agree that infinities arising in a model indicate that the model is an inadequate description of reality. Consequently, Hawking developed other models without singularities over the last 40–50 years, specifically, his “no-boundary” proposal. In 2010, Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow published a book titled The Grand Design, where Hawking states, “Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.” Hawking basically says that the universe exists, not because a God created it with a beginning. Rather, the laws of physics pop the universe into existence.

It’s this context that makes Hawking’s final publication (with Thomas Hertog) particularly interesting. In the paper, Hertog and Hawking seek to develop a model of inflation that is consistent with quantum mechanics rather than relying on a background universe evolving according to general relativity. After developing such a model, Hertog and Hawking make two interesting claims.

First, rather than producing a large (likely infinite) multiverse containing regions with great variability, inflation generates a comparatively small, rather smooth multiverse. Second, and more interesting to me, is their description of the past history of the universe.

Rather than affirm the conclusion of the previous “no-boundary” proposal, the new theory arrives at a different conclusion. According to Hertog, “now we’re saying that there is a boundary in our past.” Hertog also states, “when we trace the evolution of our universe backwards in time, at some point we arrive at the threshold of eternal inflation, where our familiar notion of time ceases to have any meaning.”

I am not claiming that Hawking believed the universe began to exist, or that the debate about the beginning in the scientific community is settled. What I find remarkable is that one of the most well-known cosmologists of our time supports a model of the universe that looks a lot like the one described in Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth.”

Resources

If you would like to learn more about the scientific case for a beginning, check out this post where I describe my DVD titled How Do We Know the Universe Had a Beginning?

Check out more from Dr. Jeff Zweerink @Reasons.org

About The Author

Jeff Zweerink

Since my earliest memories, science and the Christian faith have featured prominently in my life - but I struggled when my scientific studies seemed to collide with my early biblical training. My first contact with RTB came when I heard Hugh Ross speak at Iowa State University. It was the first time I realized it was possible to do professional work incorporating both my love of science and my desire to serve God. I knew RTB's ministry was something I was called to be a part of. While many Christians and non-Christians see the two as in perpetual conflict, I find they integrate well. They operate by the same principles and are committed to discovering foundational truths. My passion at RTB is helping Christians see how powerful a tool science is to declare God's glory and helping scientists understand how the established scientific discoveries demonstrate the legitimacy and rationality of the Christian faith. While many Christians and non-Christians see the two as in perpetual conflict, I find they integrate well. • Biography • Resources • Upcoming Events • Promotional Items Jeff Zweerink thought he would follow in his father's footsteps as a chemistry professor until a high school teacher piqued his interest in physics. Jeff pursued a BS in physics and a PhD in astrophysics at Iowa State University (ISU), where he focused his study on gamma rays - messengers from distant black holes and neutron stars. Upon completing his education, Jeff taught at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa. Postdoctoral research took him to the West Coast, to the University of California, Riverside, and eventually to a research faculty position at UCLA. He has conducted research using STACEE and VERITAS gamma-ray telescopes, and currently works on GAPS, a balloon experiment seeking to detect dark matter. A Christian from childhood, Jeff desired to understand how the worlds of science and Scripture integrate. He struggled when his scientific studies seemed to collide with his early biblical training. While an undergrad at ISU, Jeff heard Hugh Ross speak and learned of Reasons to Believe (RTB) and its ministry of reconciliation - tearing down the presumed barriers between science and faith and introducing people to their personal Creator. Jeff knew this was something he was called to be a part of. Today, as a research scholar at RTB, Jeff speaks at churches, youth groups, universities, and professional groups around the country, encouraging people to consider the truth of Scripture and how it connects with the evidence of science. His involvement with RTB grows from an enthusiasm for helping others bridge the perceived science-faith gap. He seeks to assist others in avoiding the difficulties he experienced. Jeff is author of Who's Afraid of the Multiverse? and coauthor of more than 30 journal articles, as well as numerous conference proceedings. He still serves part-time on the physics and astronomy research faculty at UCLA. He directs RTB's online learning programs, Reasons Institute and Reasons Academy, and also contributes to the ministry's podcasts and daily blog, Today's New Reason to Believe. When he isn’t participating in science-faith apologetics Jeff enjoys fishing, camping, and working on home improvement projects. An enthusiastic sports fan, he coaches his children's teams and challenges his RTB colleagues in fantasy football. He roots for the Kansas City Chiefs and for NASCAR's Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon. Jeff and his wife, Lisa, live in Southern California with their five children.

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