27 September 2010

Creating an Eternal Universe.

As you may or may not already know, famed physicist Stephen Hawking has recently weighed in with some thoughts on God's role in the origin of the universe. I think these statements provide a fruitful opportunity to explore statements of Baha'u'llah regarding the unknowability of God and the eternal nature of the universe.

In his latest book, The Grand Design, an extract of which is published in Eureka magazine in The Times, Hawking said: “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.”

He added: “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the Universe going.”

It seems to me Dr. Hawking’s statements tend to confirm Bahá’í teachings and can help purify a Bahá’í understanding of physics from some unwarranted assumptions introduced from the heritage of Christian theology.

One assumption we don't need is that the universe has a definite beginning within time, and that God has, at a certain point, set it in motion. If the big bang was the result of an already existing law of gravity then there doesn't seem to any longer be a historical limit on that's law's age. This fits rather well with words of Baha'u'llah on the topic.
As to thy question concerning the origin of creation. Know assuredly that God’s creation hath existed from eternity, and will continue to exist forever. Its beginning hath had no beginning, and its end knoweth no end. His name, the Creator, presupposeth a creation, even as His title, the Lord of Men, must involve the existence of a servant.
Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, LXXVIII p. 150
Another assumption we can do without is that God is a substance, just as we might say iron is a substance or a toothbrush has substance. I think such an idea goes against Baha'u'llah's statements that God is unknowable. Such a profound concept doesn’t just mean he is way “up there” and we’re “down here.” Perhaps, it means that God is not a being that happens to be distant or unreachable, as if, for example, his substance existed in a closet in my basement but I can’t find the key, but that instead he is heterogeneous to being itself. If God is “unknowable” then it is only logical to expect that he would not show up within the domain of physics. My understanding is that Stephen Hawking is trying to discredit the idea that science can identify a role for God within the realm of what can be known through scientific research. If that’s the case, then I think it makes sense to say Bahá’u’lláh wholeheartedly agrees! In the same passage, Baha'u'llah writes,
[T]he habitation wherein the Divine Being dwelleth is far above the reach and ken of any one besides Him. Whatsoever in the contingent world can either be expressed or apprehended, can never transgress the limits which, by its inherent nature, have been imposed upon it. God, alone, transcendeth such limitations. He, verily, is from everlasting. No peer or partner has been, or can ever be, joined with Him. No name can be compared with His Name. No pen can portray His nature, neither can any tongue depict His glory. He will, for ever, remain immeasurably exalted above any one except Himself.
Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, LXXVIII p. 150-1
It seems to me that anyone hoping for scientists to find God in the order of the Universe are barking up the wrong tree.  He is nearer to us than our life vein. But that doesn't necessarily mean we could ever point to him with a set of scientific theories.


  1. Well said. It's also worth pointing out that Stephen Hawkings is far past his prime, as exemplified by his increasingly eccentric views.

    Earlier this year he suggested that mankind would face extinction within 100 years. He also advocated abandoning Earth as the best solution to save humanity from its problems. It seems clear that we are witnessing Hawkings senility, and should avoid attaching too much weight to his remarks.

  2. Today, we think of the early Greek version of the universe as pretty quaint. Earth at the center, the stars stuck like their plastic glow-in-the-dark counterparts to a hollow sphere. Outside the sphere, in case you were wondering, was the Prime Mover himself. Formula complete.

    It seems that our attempts at "objective" knowledge involve invoking a perspective that is not ours. We try to see the universe from a God's eye view. At best, formulas can express the limits of our imaginations... or crack them open, as happens when I try to imagine an electron being in 1^Nth places at once.

  3. I think Hawking's other remarks cited here say more about his pessimism toward the state of human society than his reasoning ability or his skill as a scientist.

  4. It seems prudent to note the science is constantly changing and that we know very very little absolutely about the origin of the universe. The "Big Bang" theory is predicated on the assumption of an initial singularity. This is a useful theory, and much good work has been done with it, but the singularity is a premise, not a conclusion. There are also other, stranger theories that may well become adopted in the future. To latch on to one theory that is en vogue and use it to stigmatize others as having "mistaken assumptions" seems presumptuous to me. After all, a new theory could prove everyone wrong.

  5. While I appreciate the attempt to allow science to move within the dynamics of its own projects, I feel that the attempt to say that God will not appear to the exact sciences is another way of fixing God's nature in relation to a limited conception of science. For example, if we think that science is deterministic, explaining the cosmos according to necessary theories causally rooted in whatever is ultimately "down there", then it seems inevitable that a living Creator can and would not appear within such theories. A question: does this tell us anything about our universe, or simply the leading hypothesis that are guiding certain strands of scientific theories? Must science be reductionist?

    If, for example, we look to complex systems theory approaches to cosmology, evolutionary biology, economics etc., we find a rigorous mathematical approach that measures recurrent patterns within the self-organization of diverse phenomena. Such a mathematical approach is a-causal, insofar as the systems are far to complex to ever and dynamically interrelated to ever suppose some determinate causal origin. In fact, many scientists now believe that there is no such thing as necessarily and linearly determinate causality, and thus the entire project of searching for such reductionist explanations has simply been a phase of scientific investigation motivated by certain metaphysical assumptions, assumptions which seem to make God disappear from the cosmos.

    In Mr. Dunbar's new book, "The Forces of Our Times," he briefly touches upon the Bahá'í teaching that matter is crystallized spirit, and that the entire cosmos vibrates with the influence of God's Revelation, that there are spiritual forces coursing through our cosmological history and that these forces are in fact the essence of reality. Turning to Teilhard de Chardin to gain insight into this idea, we see how he describes cosmological spiritual forces as the concentric forces of emergent evolution, the drive towards unification that unfolds latent potentialities within cosmic energy by creating more complex, and more conscious unities (i.e. think of the cosmological movement from atoms, to complex molecules, to cellular life, to larger organism, to the emergence of sense perception, to human reflective intelligence - this is the history of cosmic matter). On his view, which I find deeply resonant with the Bahá'í view, as science dissolves its reductionist prejudices and develops the eyes to see, it will find God at the pulsating and ever-advancing heart of reality, and we will begin to map his will in mathematically precise, a-causal patterns of spiritual growth.

    Just some thoughts...cool blog, just discovered it.

    Sorry for the length, but it is not the simplest subject to explore.

    All the best,
    Ben Schewel


    A.Circular Reasoning

    In his article ‘The other side of time’ (2000) scientist Victor J. Stenger has written that as per the theory of quantum electrodynamics electron-positron (anti-electron) pairs can appear spontaneously for brief periods of time practically out of nothing, which clearly shows that anything that has a beginning need not have to have a cause of that beginning.
    From here he has concluded that our universe may also come literally out of nothing due to quantum fluctuation in the void, and therefore we need not have to imagine that God has done this job.
    But is it true that electron-positron (anti-electron) pairs are appearing literally out of "nothing"? Are scientists absolutely certain that the so-called void is a true void indeed? Because here there is a counter-claim also: God is there, and that God is everywhere. So actually nothing is coming out of "nothing", only something is coming out of something. Here they will perhaps say: as there is no proof for God’s existence so far, so why should one have to believe that the void here is not a true void? But even if there is no proof for God’s existence, still then it can be shown that scientists’ claim that the universe has literally come out of nothing is a pure case of circular reasoning. If believers say that the void is not a true void at all, and if scientists still then hold that it is nothing but a void, then this is only because they are absolutely certain that God does not exist, and also because they think that God’s non-existence is so well-established a fact that it needs no further proof for substantiation. But if they are absolutely certain that God does not exist, then they are also absolutely certain that God is not the architect, designer, creator of our universe, because it is quite obvious that a non-existent God cannot be the architect, designer, etc. So their starting premise is this: God does not exist, and therefore our universe is definitely not the creation of a God. But if they start from the above premise, then will it be very difficult to reach to the same conclusion?
    But their approach here could have been somehow different. They could have said: well, regarding void, it is found that there is some controversy. Therefore we will not assume that it is a void, rather we will prove that it is such. Then they could have proceeded to give an alternate explanation for the origin of the universe, in which there will be neither any quantum fluctuation in the void, nor any hand of God to be seen anywhere. And their success here could have settled the matter for all time to come.
    By simply ignoring a rumour one cannot kill it, rather it will remain as it is. But if one takes some more trouble on him and exposes that it is nothing but a rumour, then it will die a natural death with no further chance of revival. Let us say that the saying that there is a God and that He is everywhere is nothing but a rumour persisting for thousands of years among mankind. What scientists have done here is this: they have simply ignored the rumour and thus kept it alive. But it would have been far better for them if they could have killed it, as suggested by me.


    B. “Circular Reasoning” Case Reexamined

    There can be basically two types of universe: (1) universe created by God, supposing that there is a God; (2) universe not created by God, supposing that there is no God. Again universe created by God can also be of three types:
    (1a) Universe in which God need not have to intervene at all after its creation. This is the best type of universe that can be created by God.
    (1b) Universe in which God has actually intervened from time to time, but his intervention is a bare minimum.
    (1c) Universe that cannot function at all without God’s very frequent intervention. This is the worst type of universe that can be created by God.
    Therefore we see that there can be four distinct types of universes, and our universe may be any one of the above four types: (1a), (1b), (1c), (2). In case of (1a), scientists will be able to give natural explanation for each and every physical event that has happened in the universe after its origin, because after its creation there is no intervention by God at any moment of its functioning. Only giving natural explanation for its coming into existence will be problematic. In case of (1b) also, most of the events will be easily explained away, without imagining that there is any hand of God behind these events. But for those events where God had actually intervened, scientists will never be able to give any natural explanation. Also explaining origin of the universe will be equally problematic. But in case of (1c), most of the events will remain unexplained, as in this case God had to intervene very frequently. This type of universe will be just like the one as envisaged by Newton: "Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who set the planets in motion. God governs all things and knows all that is or can be done." So we can with confidence say that our universe is not of this type, otherwise scientists could not have found natural explanation for most of the physical events. In case of type (2) universe, here also there will be natural explanation for each and every physical event, and there will be natural explanation for the origin of the universe also. So from the mere fact that scientists have so far been able to give natural explanation for each and every physical event, it cannot be concluded that our universe is a type (2) universe, because this can be a type (1a) universe as well. The only difference between type (1a) and type (2) universe is this: whereas in case of (1a) no natural explanation will ever be possible for the origin of the universe, it will not be so in case of (2). Therefore until and unless scientists can give a natural explanation for the origin of the universe, they cannot claim that it is a type (2) universe. And so, until and unless scientists can give this explanation, they can neither claim that the so-called void is a true void. So scientists cannot proceed to give a natural explanation for the origin of the universe with an a priori assumption that the void is a real void, because their failure or success in giving this explanation will only determine as to whether this is a real void or not.