A Review of Discovery Channel's "Curiosity: Did God Create the Universe?"
Perhaps you saw the advertisements leading up to the commencement of Discovery Channel’s latest television series titled, “Curiosity,” in which things that humans are curious about are featured in each week’s new episode. The first show addressed the question, “Did God Create the Universe?” (“Curiosity…,” 2011). Perhaps you, like me, were hopeful that this often biased media outlet and longtime supporter of the liberal agenda would give the Creation perspective a fair shake. Sadly, hopes were dashed. For one hour, renowned atheist, theoretical physicist, and cosmologist of Cambridge University, Stephen Hawking, was given a platform to spread his atheistic perspective.
Throughout the show, Hawking is the speaker, although the voice switches between his computer-generated voice (Hawking has Lou Gehrig’s disease and cannot speak) and that of a man speaking for him with a British accent. The primary thrust of the show was for Hawking to assert the idea that the reasons many people have had in the past for being theists—namely that there are things we cannot explain in the Universe without a Supernatural cause—are no longer relevant. Though people used to attribute thunder and lightning to gods, we now know, scientifically speaking, what is actually occurring. So, a higher being is not necessary as an explanation, according to Hawking. He believes that everything, including origins, can be explained through science and nature without the need for God. While wrapping up the show, after discussing his theory about the origin of the Universe, he says, “So, what does that mean on our quest to find out if there is a God? It means that…you don’t need a God to create it. The Universe is the ultimate free lunch” (“Curiosity…”). Though he boldly and presumptuously makes that claim, he does not even address many of the arguments theists have used for centuries which still stand as proof positive that God exists (e.g., the Moral Argument, Teleological Argument, Aesthetical Argument, Intuitional Argument, and Ontological Argument). He spends his time addressing only one of the arguments—the Cosmological Argument, along with the law of nature closely connected with it, the Law of Causality. His dealings with that argument illuminate the fact that atheism, even in this enlightened age, is still an inadequate worldview.
Much of the first part of the show tap dances around the common logical fallacies known as an “appeal to consequences” and “straw man” (“Appeal to Consequences,” 2009; “Straw Man Fallacy,” 2009). The viewer is subtly encouraged to be an atheist (1) because of the pagan religious beliefs of the Vikings and other religionists of old who erroneously used various gods as a way to explain common natural phenomena, and (2) because of the inappropriate behavior of certain Catholic authorities in antiquity who viewed belief in the laws of nature as a heretical concept. The impression is left that such examples exemplify the nature of theism.
Such individuals in history, carrying the banner of theism, have been sadly misled, but such examples do not exhibit the nature of true theism. The views and practices of such people should not be a factor in the determination of truth, just as the views of the scientific world in the 1400s that spontaneous generation occurs should not be used as a reason to reject science. Likewise, the behaviors of some atheists throughout history, including Hawking himself, should not be used to dismiss atheism. Truth stands on its own, regardless of those who do or do not espouse it or represent it accurately.
“No Cook Needed” for the Universe Recipe
Halfway through the show, Hawking gets to his defense of his primary assertion—God is not necessary for the creation of the Universe. He boldly states, “Despite the complexity and variety of the Universe, it turns out that to make one, you need just three ingredients” (“Curiosity…”). He explains that those ingredients are matter, energy, and space, and further explains that matter and energy, according to Einstein, are ultimately one and the same. So, Hawking revises his cosmic cookbook and asserts that only two ingredients are really needed to make a Universe—energy and space. These, Hawking states, “were spontaneously generated in an event we now call ‘The Big Bang’” (“Curiosity…”).
How can one get these two ingredients from nothing? Hawking uses an illustration involving a man who builds a hill by digging a hole in the ground, thus perfectly balancing out the “positive” hill with the “negative” hole. He then claims, “This is the principle behind what happened right at the beginning of the Universe. When the Big Bang produced a vast amount of positive energy, it simultaneously produced the same amount of negative energy” (“Curiosity…”). But how could a bang “produce” or create something from nothing? A bang has no creative power. It is merely an explosion that is generated from already existing substances. Expansion will occur in an explosion, sometimes resulting in an enormous blast radius in comparison to its initial state, but there must initially be something to explode and expand from. Using Hawking’s analogy, how could a hole or hill be made without first having dirt—or in the case of the supposed Universe creation, energy? Where did the dirt, or energy, first come from?
Although such a contention is logically impossible, Hawking asserts that quantum mechanics provides the answer. According to Hawking, at the sub-atomic level, “conjuring something out of nothing is possible, at least for a short while” (“Curiosity…,” emp. added). Particles “can appear at random—stick around for a while and then vanish again to reappear somewhere else” (“Curiosity…,” emp. added). Since this happens, theoretically, in the sub-atomic world, then according to Hawking, the Universe could have popped into existence from nothing as do these particles. How, exactly, it follows from quantum particle generation that spontaneous Universe generation is possible is a mystery, especially without any empirical evidence to support such a contention. Further, how, exactly, would spontaneous energy generation work without violating the First Law of Thermodynamics—i.e., that energy cannot be created or destroyed in nature, but can only change forms (see Miller, 2007)? If the Universe—all nature with all of its space, energy, and matter—came into existence on its own from nothing, the First Law would be violated.
As will be discussed, Hawking firmly believes in the immutability of the laws of nature and their application to the Universe as a whole. So, he would not wish to contradict his firm reliance on the laws of nature by holding to a theory that would violate one of those laws—and yet, his position (i.e., all energy coming from nothing) requires such a violation. Notice, however, that he contradicts himself on this matter. While he wants to believe that everything came from nothing, as his own statements imply, the alleged popping particles are actually already in existence and merely disappear and “reappear,” jumping around to different places. Thus, the ultimate problem with the atheistic position remains. Where did these particles originally come from? And where’s the empirical evidence that these particles that pop in and out of existence could stick around for the alleged billions of years of our existence, instead of the “short while” he asserts is possible? He does not explain. The truth is, there is no empirical evidence to verify the theory that sub-atomic particles could pop into existence and stick around for long periods of time at all, much less develop into a Universe over billions of years. That being the case, how would we expect Hawking to press the matter further? He cannot press what he cannot prove, and therefore, he moves on without further presentation of evidence. He condescendingly alleges, “Unless mathematics is your thing, this is hard to grasp, but it’s true” (“Curiosity…”). So, we are left to just blindly take his word for it and trust that he has the answer—though he will not share it.
Quantum Mechanics and Universe Generation
Stephen Hawking in 1999
Though Hawking does not enter into a discussion of the topic, a review of the scientific literature on the idea of quantum vacuum fluctuations accounting for the creation of the Universe reveals that such a theory does not actually start with nothing and end with something—which is what Hawking needs in order to eliminate the necessity of a higher being. In keeping with the First Law of Thermodynamics, quantum theories start with something and end with something. So, quantum mechanics does not provide an answer as to where the original “something” came from. Prominent humanist mathematician and science writer, Martin Gardner, wrote: “It is fashionable now to conjecture that the big bang was caused by a random quantum fluctuation in a vacuum devoid of space and time. But of course such a vacuum is a far cry from nothing” (2000, p. 303, emp. added). Philip Yam of Scientific American wrote: “Energy in the vacuum, though, is very much real. According to modern physics, a vacuum isn’t a pocket of nothingness. It churns with unseen activity” (1997, p. 82, emp. added). Edward Tryon, professor of physics at Hunter College in Manhattan, proposed the idea that the Universe could be the result of a large-scale vacuum energy fluctuation (1973). Alan Guth, professor of physics at M.I.T., wrote in response: “In this context, a proposal that the universe was created from empty space is no more fundamental than a proposal that the universe was spawned by a piece of rubber. It might be true, but one would still want to ask where the piece of rubber came from” (1997, p. 273). Theoretical physicist Alexander Vilenkin, a professor of physics and director of the Institute of Cosmology at Tufts University, while explaining the problems inherent in Tryon’s work, said:
A more fundamental problem is that Tryon’s scenario does not really explain the origin of the universe. A quantum fluctuation of the vacuum assumes that there was a vacuum of some pre-existing space. And we now know that “vacuum” is very different from “nothing.” Vacuum, or empty space, has energy and tension, it can bend and warp, so it is unquestionably something (2006, p. 185, ital. in orig.).
Vilenkin went on to propose that quantum tunneling could be the answer to the creation of the Universe out of nothing. However, quantum tunneling starts with something and ends with something as well. Particles that can jump or tunnel through barriers still must initially exist to do so. So, the problem remains. There must be an ultimate Cause of the Universe. According to Hawking, in order to create a Universe, “you need” energy and space (“Curiosity…”). Though he boldly claims his theory provides these entities, his claims fall quite short of the truth. His needs simply remain unmet—without a Creator.
“There is No Time For God”
Towards the end of the episode, again without having addressed the multitude of arguments that theists have made over the centuries, Hawking asserts that “[t]he role played by time at the beginning of the Universe is, I believe, the final key to removing the need for a Grand Designer and revealing how the Universe created itself” (“Curiosity…”). According to Hawking, inside a “black hole itself, time doesn’t exist, and that’s exactly what happened at the start of the Universe” (“Curiosity…”). He then claims that since time does not exist in a black hole and the initial moments of the Big Bang were supposedly something of a black hole, there was no time before the Big Bang. He asserts:
You can’t get to a time before the Big Bang, because there was no before the Big Bang. We have finally found something that doesn’t have a cause, because there was no time for a cause to exist in. For me, this means that there is no possibility for a Creator, because there is no time for a Creator to have existed…. Time didn’t exist before the Big Bang. So, there is no time for God to make the Universe in (“Curiosity…”).
Setting aside the unsubstantiated assertion that Hawking can know with complete certainty anything about the true nature of a black hole (and whether they even exist; cf. Muir, 2002 and “New Theories Dispute the Existence of Black Holes,” 2002), and therefore, whether or not he can know the theoretical idea that time does not exist within one, there are still problems with Hawking’s claims. First of all, it is true that Einstein showed that there appears to be a correlation between gravity and time. Perfectly synchronized atomic clocks placed at different elevations on the Earth—and thus, with differing local gravitational accelerations—do not “tick” the same. The higher the gravitational force, the slower time appears to move. So, theoretically, on an entity of infinite mass and infinitesimal volume, and therefore, infinite gravitational acceleration, time would stop. Hawking implies that the initial “cosmic egg”—the “ylem,” as it has been called—was just such an entity. As Robert Jastrow of NASA stated, originally “all matter in the Universe was compressed into an infinitely dense and hot mass” that exploded in the Big Bang (1977, pp. 2-3, emp. added). The problem is that the hypothesis that such an entity was ever in existence is not in keeping with the contentions of Big Bang cosmologists themselves, much less scientific evidence.
First of all, Jastrow’s statements, “all matter” and “infinitely dense,” are contradictory. “All matter” implies that there is a quantifiable amount of matter in the Universe, while “infinitely dense” implies that the amount of matter cannot be enumerated. If matter is quantifiable, then the spatial volume that contains that matter must also be quantifiable, and therefore, its density has a finite value. So, as one should expect, cosmologists do not technically define the ylem as infinite in density, but rather, just really, really dense. The initial cosmic singularity is thought to have been 1014 times the density of water, yet smaller in volume than a single proton. Rick Gore, writing in National Geographic, said, “Astonishingly, scientists now calculate that everything in this vast universe grew out of a region many billions of times smaller than a single proton, one of the atom’s basic particles” (Gore, 1983, 163:705). Karen Fox, physics and astrophysics science writer, said the ylem was a “mind-bogglingly dense atom containing the entire Universe” (Fox, p. 69). So, the singularity is thought to be of a specific size and density—not infinitesimal or infinite, respectively. So, the “cosmic egg” is really not thought to be infinitely dense. Big Bang cosmologists loosely use the term “infinitely” as an approximation for “really, really dense.” Now, don’t miss the ultimate point. In theory, in order for time to completely stop, infinite gravitational acceleration would be necessary, but the hypothetical ylem does not provide that. Thus, time would tick on, albeit, theoretically very slowly. Bottom line: Stephen Hawking’s contention that time did not exist before the Big Bang is without merit—even if the Big Bang were true or even possible, which it is not.
A second problem with Hawking’s statement is that he strongly acknowledges the immutability of the laws of nature, as will be discussed further. These laws, according to Hawking, cannot be violated. They are fixed. The Law of Cause and Effect is no exception. And yet, Hawking contradicts himself by claiming that it was, in fact, violated at the beginning. He has no empirical evidence to substantiate such a claim. Instead, we are to take him at his word, although he claims that science, which is based on empirical evidence, can explain everything. If he, being a scientist intent on finding all of the origin answers without the need of the supernatural, is intent on basing his decisions on only the scientific evidence, then he must find empirical evidence that proves that the Law of Cause and Effect—a law of nature, which he says is immutable and fixed—has ever been violated. Until such evidence can be found, he is unjustified in theorizing such a violation. There is no such evidence—only his conjecture. According to the Law of Rationality, Hawking is guilty of being irrational since he has drawn conclusions that are not warranted by the evidence. To hold to that view is, therefore, illogical and unscientific. By definition, he has abandoned his premise. Science and its natural laws cannot explain the Universe without a Supernatural Creator, because the laws of nature are not in harmony with any theories that require a purely naturalistic origin.
Third, Hawking believes that the Creator would have to exist prior to the Big Bang, assumedly because of his interpretation of the Law of Cause and Effect. He believes that if the Big Bang is true, then time would not have existed before the Big Bang because of Einstein’s findings, and therefore, there could be no prior existence of a Creator and, therefore, no cause. We have already examined the false idea that time would have ceased to exist in the hypothetical “ylem.” However, even granting him his assertion that time could not have existed before the Big Bang, he is incorrect in claiming that the Law of Cause and Effect would prohibit the existence of a Creator. Such a contention illustrates Hawking’s ignorance concerning the true nature of the Law of Causality.
Even if the Big Bang were true (which it is not), the work of a Creator would not be in violation of the Law. First of all, the Law of Causality as a law of natural science only applies to that which can be empirically observed—namely, the natural Universe, not supernatural entities. So, it does not even apply to God. Second, even if it did apply to the Creator, Hawking’s belief that there’s no room for the Creator since the Law of Causality requires a previous cause—which could not be if time did not exist before the Big Bang—is erroneous. The Law of Cause and Effect (or Law of Causality) states that every material effect must have an adequate antecedent or simultaneous cause (see Miller, 2011a). When one sits in a seat, his legs form a lap. The cause of the lap is sitting, which occurs simultaneously with the creation of the lap. So, causes can take place simultaneously with their effects. A proper understanding of the Law of Causality reveals that the Law does not rule out the existence of a Creator even if the Big Bang were true, since the effect of the Universe could occur simultaneous with its causal activity. Again, though Hawking is inaccurate in his use of the Law of Causality, it is ultimately irrelevant since the Big Bang is unscientific and logically impossible.
A fourth problem with his statement is that a black hole is still something—not nothing. In order for time to theoretically not exist in a black hole, there has to be a black hole to start with. The question remains: where did the black hole come from? The Law of Cause and Effect cannot be dodged. A cause is always necessary in nature.
A fifth problem is that Hawking incorrectly assumes that spiritual entities are even bound by time as we know it. The nature of the Creator is such that He is omnipresent (cf. Exodus 3:14; John 8:58; Psalm 90:2,4; Psalm 139:7-8; 2 Peter 3:8; Hebrews 13:8). He is simultaneously everywhere and everywhen. Time is irrelevant to God. The temporal existence we reside in—one in which black holes may exist—came into being a few thousand years ago when God created it. However, He existed long before time came into being. Stephen Hawking betrays his ignorance of true theism by such assertions. Truly, the episode makes it clear that Hawking’s entire perspective on theism has been formed by various false religions—not by true Bible theism.
The Immutable Laws of Nature
Throughout the episode, Hawking ironically comes out strongly in support of the immutability of the laws of nature. He says,
[T]he Universe is a machine governed by principles or laws—laws that can be understood by the human mind. I believe that the discovery of these laws has been humankind’s greatest achievement…. But what’s really important is that these physical laws, as well as being unchangeable, are universal. They apply not just to the flight of the ball, but to the motion of a planet and everything else in the Universe. Unlike laws made by humans, the laws of nature cannot ever be broken. That’s why they are so powerful (“Curiosity…,” emp. added).
The implications of the immutable laws of nature have long been a strong contention of creation scientists in support of theism. Sadly, though Hawking acknowledges the immutability of the laws of nature, he does not allow his brilliant mind to follow the implications of such strong statements in support of the laws of nature. The laws of nature—specifically the Laws of Thermodynamics (see Miller, 2007), Law of Biogenesis (see Thompson, 2002), Law of Causality (see Miller, 2011a), Laws of Probability (see Miller, 2011b), and Laws of Genetics (see Thompson, 2002)—point unequivocally to the existence of a Supreme Being. With the exception of the Law of Causality, Hawking leaves these laws untouched in his lecture. How presumptuous to assert that science has answered all of life’s questions without the need of God, while not even addressing many of the arguments that theists have used through the millennia to highlight the need of a Supreme Being in the origins equation.
Hawking goes on to say, “If you accept, as I do, that the laws of nature are fixed, then it doesn’t take long to ask what role is there for God” (“Curiosity…,” emp. added). Quite a presumptuous statement to make, to be sure. There are hundreds of creation scientists, myself included, who have come to the exact opposite conclusion. The laws of nature attest to the existence of God. A list of just 186 of those credentialed scientists has been posted on-line by Creation Ministries International (cf. “Creation Scientists…,” 2010; Miller, 2010).
Ironically, though Hawking claims that science can explain our existence without the need of a Creator, in the show he actually acknowledged a significant problem with that claim which is inherent in the laws of nature for which science still cannot even attempt an answer. He said, “Did God create the quantum laws that allowed the Big Bang to occur? In a nutshell, did we need a god to set it all up so that the Big Bang could bang?” (“Curiosity…”). He, of course, made it clear that he did not believe that to be the case. However, he did not even attempt to offer an alternative option, much less any proof for his assertion. He moved on to discuss other matters, never to return to that question. Though he believes science has eliminated the need for a Creator, he simply did not address one of the most powerful proofs that attest to the need of a Supreme Being to explain what we see in nature.
How can there be law without a lawgiver? The eminent atheistic, theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and astrobiologist of Arizona State University, Paul Davies, noted that very thing in the “round table discussion” on the Discovery Channel following “Curiosity,” titled, “The Creation Question: a Curiosity Conversation.” Concerning Hawking, Davies said, “In the show, Stephen Hawking gets very, very close to saying, ‘Well, where did the laws of physics come from? That’s where we might find some sort of God.’ And then he backs away and doesn’t return to the subject” (2011). In response, concerning the laws of science, Davies further said, “You need to know where those laws come from. That’s where the mystery lies—the laws…. I think the key point here is that these very laws that we’re talking about…are simply, for most scientists, unexplained. So, either you have an unexplained God or you have unexplained laws” (“The Creation Question…”). Davies, at least, is partially correct. The laws of nature are unexplained without God. The question is, who among the atheists are willing to drop all preconceived notions and bias and accept where the scientific evidence points? The answer to that question highlights the fact that most atheists, as well as most people on the entire planet, simply are not interested in the truth—no matter how much they claim that they are. Could it be that most people want to do what they want to do, without having to have a guilty conscience due to disobeying authority—especially the Ultimate Authority?
Unintentional Concessions in Favor of Theism
Though he certainly would not embrace several implications that follow from his statements, in this episode Hawking ultimately concedes the main thrust of at least three of the classical arguments for the existence of God. First of all, he acknowledges the “complexity and variety of the Universe” (“Curiosity…”), which creationists have long contended is evidence of a Designer. An explosion is not capable of the complexity and variety in the Universe. Intelligent design is necessary. Further, he makes the statement,
I believe that the discovery of these laws has been human kind’s greatest achievement. For it’s these laws of nature, as we now call them, that will tell us whether we need a god to explain the Universe at all…. Did God create the quantum laws that allowed the Big Bang to occur? In a nutshell, did we need a god to set it all up so that the Big Bang could bang (“Curiosity…”)?
So, he concedes the need for a law writer, but offers no explanation—other than “a god.” Therefore, by his lack of an alternate explanation, he concedes that there is no other. So, he tacitly concedes the validity of the Teleological Argument for the existence of God. There is evidence of design in the Universe, especially in the design of the laws of nature. Therefore, there must be a Designer—a law Writer.
Early on in the episode, Hawking states, “For centuries it was believed that disabled people, like me, were living under a curse inflicted by God” (“Curiosity…”). He is correct that many people throughout time have incorrectly believed that suffering and misfortune are necessarily a result of displeasing God or a god (consider Job’s friends, who were ultimately proven wrong in their contention). However, by this statement, Hawking acknowledges that the world, “for centuries,” has largely embraced some form of theism—believing in a god of some sort. This admission is the thrust of the Intuitional Argument for the existence of God. Humans have a religious inclination—a tendency to be religious and worship something. We may suppress it or ignore it, but it is there and has historically been so. People have always worshipped something. In fact, though he used the past tense “believed,” as though it is not the case anymore, human inclination to believe in Something and be religious is clearly still in our nature. In fact, according to Adherents.com, 92% of the world believein some form of theism (“Major Religions of the World…,” 2005). Our intuition tells us to be religious, and neither evolution nor a random explosion can account for that religious inclination. After this statement, Hawking went on to say, “I prefer to think that everything can be explained another way: by the laws of nature” (“Curiosity…”). As you will recall, he then attempted to prove that statement, and his explanation was shown above to be inadequate, logically and scientifically, in accounting for the existence of the Universe. So, we are left with his stated alternative. Belief in God is the logical choice. Human intuition to be religious still stands as the sensible viewpoint. No adequate explanation exists for our religious tendency without the existence of a Creator.
Recall also that Hawking stated the following:
So where did all this energy and space come from? How does an entire Universe full of energy—the awesome vastness of space and everything in it—simply appear out of nothing? For some, this is where God comes back into the picture. It was God that created the energy and space. The Big Bang was the moment of creation (“Curiosity…”).
This is the thrust of the Cosmological Argument for the existence of God. The Universe (i.e., the cosmos) is here and a Cause is needed. Hawking tacitly acknowledges that a Creator is needed in the equation if there is not an adequate explanation for the Universe without Him. He believes that science and nature provide that explanation, but again, that explanation has been shown to be scientifically unfeasable. So, again, the alternative that he raises—the existence of God—is still the best option for explaining the existence of the Universe. The Cosmological Argument stands unscathed as a testament to the existence of the Creator. The cosmos is here. Who made it?
In the end, Hawking’s assertions are just that—assertions. Before his claim that the power of science can eliminate the need for a Creator has validity, Hawking has a lot of answering to do. The truth is, science cannot explain our existence without a Creator. Quite the opposite is true. Science proclaims the Creator. “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1, emp. added). “For since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse…. Professing to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:20,22, emp. added). “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Timothy 4:3-4, emp. added). Stephen Hawking would do well to realize thatthere is a God in heaven, and according to Him, it is the fool that “has said in his heart, ‘There is no God,’” (Psalm 14:1), not the man who believes himself to be more enlightened because of his atheistic mindset. Sadly, “not many wise according to the flesh…are called” (1 Corinthians 1:26).
We close with another quote from Paul Davies concerning Hawking and his wild assertions in “Curiosity”: “I think science can get a bad press by scientists appearing to be too arrogant and taking on more than perhaps they should. So, it’s as well to lace definitive statements with a certain amount of humility, I think” (“The Creation Question…”). Someone had to say it. Perhaps Hawking will hear it since it came from a fellow atheistic cosmologist.
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