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Critical Discussion of Stephen Hawking's Big Bang Argument Against God

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Free download. This is now the published article. European Journal of Science and Theology, October 2022, vol.18, no.5, pp. 31-46. Six recommendations. Over 265 reads. PRAISE: "The paper is very valuable.... The author clearly sets out the boundaries of his objective and provides a clear line of argument. [S]ince this particular aspect of Hawking’s writing has attracted much attention in popular culture, it is good to have a well reasoned repudiation. Especially since in the paper Hawking’s own writings are used against his no-God argument." --Anonymous reviewer, sentence order transposed. ABSTRACT: This paper is a critique of Stephen Hawking’s very popular Big Bang argument against the existence of God in his book, Brief Answers to the Big Questions (2018). It is a discussion of a single argument in a single text in a single author, in the manner of analytic philosophy. Many writers discuss whether Big Bang theory implies that God could not have created the world, such as William Lane Craig, Quentin Smith, Richard Swinburne, Daniel Linford, and Daniel Saudek; but I mention them only to set them aside. Instead, I shall simply use Hawking to criticize his own argument. I hope to show that in his more considered views in other texts, Hawking implies at least seven criticisms of his own argument. If I am right, then far from objecting to my critique, Hawking himself would seem to agree with it. Most of the paper is on quantum physics and some is on general relativity. The next to last section is on the proper scope of 'ex nihilo nihil fit’.
European Journal of Science and Theology, October 2022, Vol.18, No.5, 31-46
Jan Dejnožka
Union College, Department of Philosophy, Lamont House 106, Schenectady, New York, 12308,
(Received 22 May 2022, revised 26 July 2022)
This paper is a critique of Stephen Hawking’s very popular Big Bang argument against
the existence of God in his book, Brief Answers to the Big Questions (2018). It is a
discussion of a single argument in a single text in a single author, in the manner of
analytic philosophy. Many writers discuss whether Big Bang theory implies that God
could not have created the world, such as William Lane Craig, Quentin Smith, Richard
Swinburne, Daniel Linford, and Daniel Saudek; but I mention them only to set them
aside. Instead, I shall simply use Hawking to criticize his own argument. I hope to show
that in his more considered views in other texts, Hawking implies at least seven
criticisms of his own argument. If I am right, then far from objecting to my critique,
Hawking himself would seem to agree with it. Most of the paper is on quantum physics
and some is on general relativity. The next to last section is on the proper scope of ex
nihilo nihil fit.
Keywords: Stephen Hawking, God, Big Bang theory, Quantum physics, General
relativity theory
1. Hawking’s argument
Hawking states the argument as follows: Since we know the Universe
itself was once very small - perhaps smaller than a proton - this means
something quite remarkable. It means the Universe itself, in all its mind-
boggling vastness and complexity, could simply have popped into existence
without violating the known laws of Nature.... But here’s the crucial bit. The
laws of Nature itself tell us that not only could the Universe have popped into
existence without any assistance, like a proton [in Quantum physics], and have
required nothing in terms of energy [per the zero sum balance theory of positive
and negative energy; see the quote on Guth below], but also that it is possible
that nothing caused the Big Bang. Nothing. The explanation lies back with the
theories of Einstein, and his insights into how space and time in the universe are
fundamentally intertwined. Something very wonderful happened to time at the
instant of the Big Bang. Time itself began.... When people ask me if God created
Dejnožka/European Journal of Science and Theology 18 (2022), 5, 31-46
the universe, I tell them that the question itself makes no sense. Time didn’t exist
before the Big Bang so there is no time for God to make the universe in. It’s like
asking directions to the edge of the Earth - the Earth is a sphere that doesn’t have
an edge, so looking for it is a futile exercise.” ([1], my emphasis)
Hawking’s argument seems to be that the Universe could have simply
popped into existence at the quantum level, and then expanded in the Big Bang.
Therefore the Universe “doesn’t need to be set in motion by some god” ([2], my
emphasis), though of course it still could have been created by God. One would
then presumably use Ockham’s razor to eliminate God as unnecessary.
Hawking’s argument in the second two quoted paragraphs is quite different. It is
that “Time itself began” with the Big Bang, therefore “there is [or was] no time
for God to” create the Universe before the Universe existed. Here the tenor of
the argument is that God could not have created the Universe. I shall call the
conjunction of these two sub-arguments Hawking’s Big Bang argument against
God, or more simply his Big Bang argument.
Einstein famously called quantum entanglements spooky action at a
distance. And not only can quanta pop in and out of existence, but they can
travel faster than the speed of light, go forwards and backwards in time, and
even affect the past [1, p. 154-155; 2, p. 82]. (It is not only quanta that can travel
faster than the speed of light. The rapid expansion of the whole Universe after
the Big Bang was faster than the speed of light too [2, p. 129, 130].) And
whatever they do is not determined, but only probable at best, from among
infinitely many possible quantum histories of the world.
There is determinism in the mathematical language of Quantum physics,
but it is not classical Laplacean determinism. The Mathematics is not used to
describe the real physical world as it might be in itself, but only in terms of our
observations of it [3]. We can no longer describe both the position and the speed
(or momentum) of a particle, since the more accurate we are about the one, the
less accurate we are about the other. Instead, Quantum physics describes waves
which are combinations of positions and speeds, and it is these waves that are
completely determined [3, p. 188-189].
Thus “Quantum physics.... leads us to accept a new form of determinism”
in which it is not events but their probabilities which are determined [2, p. 72].
What makes this a new and different form of determinism is that paradoxically,
“Probabilities in quantum theories... reflect a fundamental randomness in
Nature” [2, p. 74]. In fact, that is precisely why the new laws are probability
laws. That is all they can be, if Nature is really random at bottom. Here too, the
‘why’ question can be raised. It can always be raised about physical laws, since
they can only describe the how, and can only explain the why in the limited
sense of describing the how. Why did the match light? Because it was struck,
and assuming certain background conditions, matches always light when they
are struck. Even if we reject David Hume’s theory of physical law as mere
description and admit real physical causation, we can still ask why there is real
physical causation.
Critical discussion of Stephen Hawking’s Big Bang argument against God
That Quantum physics is a new form of determinism is old news. Werner
Heisenberg called quantum physics ‘deterministic’ long ago and said, “The
probability function [of Quantum physics] obeys an equation [and] is completely
determined by the quantum mechanical equation.... [But] observation breaks the
determined continuity of the probability function by changing our knowledge of
the [physical thing].” [4]
The change to an observed physical thing is due to the fact that in order
for us to visually observe it, photons have to hit it; and the consequences of the
hits “cannot be predicted.... Instead, [Quantum physics] predicts a number of
different possible outcomes and tells us how likely each of these is.” [3, p. 56-
The uncertainty principle is simply that “we only know some combination
of position and speed of a particle” ([1, p. 53], my emphasis). Thus in Quantum
physics, all we have is “a quantum state [or wave function], which [is] a
combination of position and velocity” ([3, p. 57], my emphasis).
Thus Hawking’s argument (really the first sub-argument) might be called
the case for the possible spooky origin of the world. The main choice Hawking
is placing before us in his argument against God, then, is between the divine or
the spooky origin of the world. Of course, there are other options, such as that
the world always was, stretching infinitely back in time [3, p. 8]. Or as
Einstein’s general relativity theory has it, the real physical world and its physical
laws are timeless, since time occurs only in relative frames of observational
reference; and physical laws, such as E = mc2, are invariant across all frames of
reference. The relativity of both space and time to the observer is what
Einstein’s general relativity theory is most famous for [5]. On physical reality as
what is invariant across frames of reference in general relativity theory, see
Margenau [6], Ushenko [7] and Minkowski [8]. If Einstein is right that there is
no such thing as time in physical reality, then not only was there no time before
the Big Bang, but there was no time during or after the Big Bang either. The Big
Bang would be in the past only relative to our framework as observers. And God
could have created the universe at a time before the Universe existed relative to
God’s framework as an observer sub specie temporalis.
2. A counterexample
Einstein is famous for his thought-experiments, and perhaps we might
offer one of our own. Imagine that there are some observers who are shielded
from the Big Bang by special laws that apply only to a transparent sphere
containing the local space-time twenty feet around them. These special laws
allow them to live through the Big Bang in safety and comfort from within their
sphere. They might not be able to observe the Big Bang itself for theoretical
reasons. But relative to their own local space and time in the sphere, they can
look out through their sphere, observing the empty universe before the Big
Bang, and the stars and planets after the Big Bang. We can even imagine that
they have a scientific laboratory with various clocks, telescopes, and search
Dejnožka/European Journal of Science and Theology 18 (2022), 5, 31-46
lights. Perhaps an eon is but a day in the sight’ of these observers. The special
laws let them live long and their equipment function within the sphere. The laws
need not even be special. If the sphere is composed of a new element, then the
laws would be just as universal as the laws that govern any other element. We
may call this new element entropium’. There are plain analogies of entropium
to actual protective coverings, such as sealed jars and Faraday pouches. (If you
wrap up your cell phone in enough aluminium foil, then no one can call you or
find you; and that is a Faraday pouch.) Everything in this example is logically
possible, since all physical laws are logically contingent. And the example is
logically possible only if time existed before the Big Bang - and observer -
measurable time at that. So God would have had plenty of time to create the Big
Bang. In fact, even the observers would have had the time! This refutes the
second sub-argument.
It might be objected that our thought-experiment is wholly imaginary.
One reply would be that the same might be said of Einstein’s thought-
experiments of traveling close to, at, or faster than the speed of light, and of
travelling backwards in time. But the real reply is that the objection misses the
whole point of the counterexample. Thought-experiments may start from
empirical facts, but they are all about logical reasoning. That is why they are
thought-experiments and not empirical experiments. And logical possibility is all
we need to show that the second sub-argument is wrong. That the Universe, or
for that matter, time, is finite but without a beginning, like a sphere without an
edge, has nothing to do with it. That is simply irrelevant. For in the sphere
metaphor, the observers in my counterexample would be on the finite sphere’s
surface, meaning in finite time, and not beyond or outside it.
Actually, the entropium counterexample is far more than just a mere
logical possibility. It is also a real physical possibility, and even very slightly
probable. On the multiverse theory of Quantum physics, the multiverse consists
of indefinitely many universes each of which obeys its own physical laws. And
indefinitely many of these universes would physically contain entropium.
Hawking says, “M-theory predicts that a great many universes were created out
of nothing.... Each universe has many possible histories and many possible states
at later times....” [2, p. 8-9]. Hawking says that on Richard Feynman’s sum over
histories method for calculating quantum probabilities from all possible histories
of quanta, [T]he Universe appeared spontaneously starting off in every possible
way. Most of these correspond to other universes [that lasted at least a moment].
While some of these universes are very similar to ours, most are very different.
They aren’t just different in details,... but rather they differ even in their apparent
laws of nature. In fact, many universes exist with different sets of physical laws.
Some people make a great mystery of this idea, sometimes called the multiverse
concept, but these [universes] are just different expressions of the Feynman sum
over histories.” ([2, p. 136], my emphasis)
Thus on Feynman’s sum over histories method, on which quanta travel in
all possible directions and form all kinds of different universes with all kinds of
different physical laws, it is not only physically possible, but even very slightly
Critical discussion of Stephen Hawking’s Big Bang argument against God
probable that entropium exists in our Universe, because it does exist in
indefinitely many universes within the multiverse. Of course, the probability is
extremely slight. Hawking says, “Feynman’s approach to understanding how
things work is to assign to each possible history [or possible universe] a
particular probability, and then use this idea to make predictions. It works
spectacularly well to predict the future. So we presume it works to retrodict the
past too” [1, p. 54]. And retrodiction is needed if things (quarks and even rocket
ships) travel backwards in time in some histories.
In fact, An important implication of the top-down approach [of figuring
out the Universe’s origin from how it is now] is that the apparent laws of Nature
depend on the history of the Universe.... [T]op-down cosmology dictates that the
apparent laws of Nature are different for different histories.” ([2, p. 140], my
Thus top-down cosmology dictates that entropium exists in some
universes within the multiverse.
Hawking says, In some histories space-time will be so warped that
objects like rockets will be able to travel into their pasts. But each history is
complete and self-contained, describing not only the curved space-time but also
the objects in it. So a rocket cannot transfer to another alternative history when it
comes round again. It is still in the same history which has to be consistent.[1,
p. 140]
Thus the science fiction stories are wrong. There is no such thing as
interacting universes within the multiverse. To interact is to be in the same
universe. People in different histories, or in different universes, cannot see each
other or talk with each other, much less visit or interact with each other. Thus, at
most, people can only have different de dicto counterpart versions of
themselves in some of the other universes, or alternatively, different de re
objectual ways they might have been. But the de dicto-de re issue takes us out of
science and into the philosophical interpretation of possible worlds logic; see
Saul A. Kripke [9] for a classic discussion.
Even on the alternative-histories theory, as opposed to the consistent-
histories theory, to visit another history is to start a new history [1, p. 139-140].
Thus even on that theory, there is no contact or interaction with other histories,
and thus no contact or interaction with other universes, since they all have their
own sets of histories. See the rocket quote just above.
This is a bit like Leibniz’s logically possible worlds. Everything is
interdefined in each possible world. Thus by definition, to visit or
communicate with a different possible world is to change that world into
another possible world. But the multiverse is empirical physics, while logically
possible worlds are philosophy.
Hawking says the multiverse idea... is a consequence of the no-boundary
condition as well as many other theories of modern cosmology[2, p. 164]. The
no-boundary condition is briefly explained in a text quoted below.
Dejnožka/European Journal of Science and Theology 18 (2022), 5, 31-46
3. Hawking’s seven implicit criticisms of his own Big Bang argument
It puzzles me why Hawking does not present his Big Bang argument as
carefully as he discusses the Big Bang itself. I am not sure it is because his book
is aimed at a popular audience. It is all the more puzzling because Hawking
presupposes in his Big Bang argument that causes occur earlier than their
effects, and he is well aware that this has been outdated physics for almost a
In fact, Hawking expresses more considered views in other texts. And I
find that at least seven implicit criticisms of his Big Bang argument emerge from
those texts.
First, Hawking says: [E]ven if there were events before the Big Bang,
one could not use them to determine what would happen afterward, because
predictability would break down at the Big Bang. Correspondingly, if, as is the
case, we know only what has happened since the Big Bang, we could not
determine what has happened beforehand. [Thus a]s far as we are concerned,
events before the Big Bang can have no [predictable] consequences, so they
should not form part of a scientific model of the Universe. We should therefore
cut them out of the model and say that time had a beginning at the Big Bang.”
([3, p. 49], my emphasis)
In other words, Hawking openly admits there could have been physical
events before the Big Bang, and the only problem is that we cannot know or
predict (or retrodict) anything about them, at least not in the present state of
scientific understanding. And as we all know, the verificationist or operational
theory of meaning is self-defeating: it cannot even observationally confirm or
disconfirm itself as meaningful. As they say, “it takes but one sordid fact
[disconfirming observation, counterexample, thought-experiment] to slay a
beautiful theory. And here the theory itself does the job for us.
Hawking can still use Ockham’s razor to shave God. As we saw, Hawking
says “the Universe... could simply have popped into existence [1]. But
Hawking doubtless agrees with Einstein’s view that simplicity must be weighed
against adequate explanation [10]. And Einstein finds that that “Science without
religion is lame” [11] (see also [12, 13]). Einstein finds that we cannot fully
explain the harmony of nature without admitting at least an impersonal God [11,
14, 15]. Hence Einstein would not use the razor to shave God, since he finds that
without God, we do not have an adequate explanation of nature. But here
Hawking is not using Ockham’s razor to shave any events before the Big Bang.
The razor counsels us not to admit any entities that are not necessary for an
adequate scientific or other sort of explanation. But Hawking is saying that it is
not even possible for any events before the Big Bang to have knowable or
predictable consequences, at least not in our present state of scientific
Critical discussion of Stephen Hawking’s Big Bang argument against God
Second, as we saw earlier, Hawking admits that causes do not always
occur earlier than their effects. He says that on Richard Feynman’s sum over
histories theory [2, p. 75-80]. That is why quanta go forward and backward in
time [1, p. 154-155].
Hawking does not say so, but I think the implication is clear: if we
consider every possible path of every quantum, then every quantum goes
backwards in time before the Big Bang. And in some histories, there were
indefinitely many quantum events before the Big Bang. (This also concerns what
I call the primordial quantum soup, discussed below.) And if any humble little
quantum can go back and affect the past, including the Big Bang itself, then why
cannot the almighty God?
Third, even we ordinary humans causally change the past simply by
observing events in the present. Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow say that in
Quantum physics, “The fact that the past takes no definite form means that
observations you make on a system in the present affect its past” [2, p. 82].
Hawking and Mlodinow say that the Feynman sum over histories “leads to a
radically different view of cosmology, and the relation between cause and effect.
The histories that contribute to the Feynman sum don’t have an independent
existence, but depend on what is being measured. We create history by our
observation, rather than history creating us. The idea that the Universe does not
have a unique observer-independent history might.... sound like science fiction,
but it isn’t.” ([2, p. 139-140], my emphasis)
And if we mere humans can change the past, then why cannot God -
simply by a mighty act of observation in the present, or even in the future?
Fourth, Hawking admits that even if the Universe just popped into
existence as a merely probably (or improbable) quantum event, it still emerged
from a sort of primordial bubbling soup (my term) of quanta, a sort of quantum
plenum of all possible quantum events. Now, how could the Universe emerge
from a primordial quantum soup, unless the soup existed before the Universe
did? And if the quantum soup existed before the universe did, then why could
not God?
Hawking says that on Feynman’s sum over histories method, Our
picture of the spontaneous quantum creation of the Universe is then a bit like
the formation of bubbles of steam in boiling water. Many tiny [soup] bubbles
appear, then disappear again. These represent mini-universes that expand but
collapse again while still of microscopic size. They represent possible
alternative universes, but they... do not last long enough to develop galaxies and
stars, let alone intelligent life. A few of the little bubbles, however, will grow
large enough so that they will be safe from collapse. They will continue to
expand at an ever-increasing rate and will form the bubbles of steam we are able
to see. These correspond to universes that start off expanding at an ever-
increasing rate - in other words, universes in a state of inflation.” [2, p. 136-137]
Again, if a primordial quantum soup existed before the Universe did, then
why could not God? And it is very hard for me to see how the Universe could
emerge from the soup unless the soup existed first.
Dejnožka/European Journal of Science and Theology 18 (2022), 5, 31-46
Even empty space is always bubbling over with zero-sum quantum events
[1, p. 135; 2, p. 113, 137].
Fifth, Hawking says that the Big Bang was not even the origin of the
Universe: [I]t is wrong to take the Big Bang literally, that is, to think of
Einstein’s theory as providing a true picture of the origin of the Universe. That
is because general relativity predicts there to be a point in time at which the
temperature, density, and curvature of the Universe are all infinite, a situation
mathematicians call a singularity. To a physicist this means that Einstein’s
theory breaks down at that point and therefore cannot be used to predict how the
universe began.... So... it is not correct to carry the Big Bang picture all the way
back to the beginning.([2, p. 128-129], Hawking’s emphasis)
In fact, on the no-boundary condition proposal, offered as part of the
quantum theory of gravity, “[t]here would be no singularities at which the laws
of science broke down” [3, p. 141]. Hawking still accepts that there was a Big
Bang and that it was “very small - perhaps smaller than a proton” [1]. He is only
denying that the Big Bang was an infinitesimal singularity as predicted by
general relativity. For general relativity breaks down in the Big Bang, and
Quantum physics applies. And that is only to be expected, since general
relativity is for big regions of space-time, and Quantum physics is for events that
are “perhaps smaller than a proton” [1, p. 34; 3, p. 63]. In fact, “we do know that
the origin of the Universe was a quantum event” [2, p. 131].
Of course, this fifth implicit correction to his Big Bang argument (the first
sub-argument) is irrelevant to the success of the argument. Regardless of
whether the origin of the Universe was an infinitesimal singularity or a finite-
sized quantum event, Hawking can still argue that the origin of the Universe can
be explained by physical laws alone. Nonetheless, this is still a correction to his
presentation of the argument. And ironically, waiving the quantum soup, this is
the very same sort of creation out of nothing, falsifying the old precept ex nihilo
nihil fit (out of nothing, nothing comes) that people criticize so much if God is
thought to do it. But if the physical universe can create itself out of nothing, then
why cannot God create the Universe out of nothing?
Hawking’s sixth implicit correction to his Big Bang argument is very
simple. Namely, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle ultimately applies to
everything in science. Hawking says, “In effect, we have redefined the task of
science to be the discovery of laws that will enable us to predict events up to the
limits set by the uncertainty principle” [3, p. 189]. Thus the uncertainty principle
applies to Science’s ruling out God as well. That is, the uncertainty principle
itself makes it uncertain whether God could have created the world, no matter
what science has to say about the Big Bang or even the primordial quantum
soup. Why was there a quantum soup at all? Hawking says, The answer is that,
in quantum theory, particles can be created out of energy in the form of
particle/antiparticle pairs. [Thus] the total energy of the Universe is exactly zero
[since the positive energy of the particles and the negative energy of the
Critical discussion of Stephen Hawking’s Big Bang argument against God
antiparticles cancel each other out].... As [Alan] Guth has remarked, [T]he
Universe is the ultimate free lunch’.” [3, p. 133-134]
Hawking grants that God might have been behind all this: These laws
may have been originally been decreed by God, but it appears that he has since
left the Universe to evolve according to them and does not now intervene in it
[3, p. 126].
But Hawking says that there is no need to postulate God: [T]he quantum
theory of gravity has opened up a new possibility, in which there would be no
boundary to space-time and so there would be no need to specify the behaviour
at the boundary. There would be no singularities at which the laws of science
broke down, and no edge of space-time at which one would have to appeal to
God or some new law to set the boundary conditions for space-time. One could
say: The boundary condition of the universe is that it has no boundary. The
Universe would be completely self-contained and not affected by anything
outside itself. It would be neither created nor destroyed. It would just BE. ([3,
p. 141], my emphasis)
As we saw in his Big Bang second sub-argument at the beginning of this
paper, Hawking compares such a world to the surface of a finite sphere [1; 3, p.
140-141]. But Hawking cautions us that “I’d like to emphasize that this idea that
time and space should be finite ‘without boundary’ is just a proposal: it cannot
be deduced from some other principle” ([3, p. 141], Hawking’s emphasis). Thus
the question of God remains open, and Hawking’s Big Bang argument is nothing
like the knockout punch it seems to be in its second sub-argument.
The seventh and last implicit criticism concerns the direction of time
itself. Even if we suppose that all causes are earlier than their effects (which is
not at all true in Quantum physics), the direction of time itself would be reversed
if the second law of Thermodynamics were reversed, which it is in many
universes with different laws within the multiverse, and also in the many
contracting universes within the multiverse. The direction of time will be
reversed even in our own Universe, if the present stage of expansion is followed
by a period of contraction. And either of those options (Universe with reversed
second law of Thermodynamics, Universe in contraction) would make all causes
that are or that would otherwise be earlier than their effects into causes that are
later than their effects, in virtue of reversing the direction of time itself. In fact,
within a later period of contraction, where everything is running backwards,
even the ‘earlier’ period of expansion would be in the past. It is only within a
present period of expansion that a later period of contraction would be later.
The laws of Physics are indifferent to the direction of time. In general
relativity theory, the laws must be invariant across all spatio-temporal
frameworks, including any frameworks where events seem to be going
backwards. In fact, a multiple-variable law like E = mc2 makes no reference to
time in the first place. If we replace either variable, i.e. E or m (of course, c is a
constant, the speed of light) with a constant, then the value of the other variable
can be calculated, and it will not matter what the time is. The only exceptions
are that general relativity breaks down for any singularities (infinitesimal points
Dejnožka/European Journal of Science and Theology 18 (2022), 5, 31-46
with infinite density; again, on the no-boundary theory, there are no
singularities), any quantum-size Big Bangs or other events of sufficiently huge
density (notably, black holes), and any rapid expansions, since they are faster
than the speed of light. (I use the plurals ‘Big Bangs’ and ‘rapid expansions’ so
as to include Penrose’s and any other cyclic theories of repeated Big Bangs.)
But the main thing is that “The laws of Science do not distinguish between the
past and future” [3, p. 148]. And importantly for us, “the laws of Science do not
distinguish between the forward and backward directions of time” [3, p. 156].
But we do distinguish these directions in real life, and we do know when films
are running things backwards [3, p. 148]. Hawking asks, Where does this
difference between the past and future come from? Why do we remember the
past but not the future?” [3, p. 148]. I assume he does not simply define memory
as always being of the past, precisely because what is the past depends on the
direction of time. But I suggest that past, future, and direction of time are
Hawking then distinguishes three arrows of time, where “an arrow of time
[is] something that distinguishes the past from the future, giving a direction to
time” [3, p. 149]. I would call them observable measures of time. These are: the
increase of entropy, called the thermodynamic arrow; our psychological or inner
sense of time, including memory, called the psychological arrow; and the
expansion of the Universe (at least during the present expansion phase of the
Universe), called the cosmological arrow [3, p. 149]. In our present Universe,
“all three arrows point in the same direction” [3, p. 149]. I will skip the details
here [3, p. 147-157]. Importantly for us, Hawking says: [I]f God had decided
that.... disorder would decrease with time[, y]ou would see broken cups
gathering themselves together and jumping back onto the table. I shall argue that
[any observers in such a universe] would have a psychological arrow of time that
was backward. That is, they would remember events in the future, and not
remember events in their past. [3, p. 150]
I will skip explaining his argument [3, p. 151-152]. The main thing for us
is that if time itself is reversed, or more precisely, if the thermodynamic and
psychological arrows are reversed - or even better, if all three arrows are
reversed - then the temporal order of cause and effect is reversed as well, since
everything is going backwards. Of course, a contraction phase need not
necessarily be an exact mirror reversal of the previous (‘previous’) expansion
phase [3, p. 154-155]. Things might contract differently from how they
expanded. But that is irrelevant to my point that the temporal order of cause and
effect would be reversed. I imagine this also means that any quantum causes that
had been later than their effects in the expansion phase would become earlier
than their effects in the contraction phase, since their direction would be
reversed relative to, or looking back at them from, the contraction phase. But I
think that is for quantum physicists to say, not philosophers like me. But logic
does seem to dictate that any simultaneous causes and effects must remain
simultaneous, with the caveat that events that appear simultaneous to one
Critical discussion of Stephen Hawking’s Big Bang argument against God
observer in one frame of reference will not appear simultaneous to other
observers in other frames of reference in General relativity theory.
All this is very odd to our ordinary understanding of time, which is still
Newtonian. That is, we still think of time as an observation-independent entity
with a single, eternal, and essential direction. But Cosmology is beyond that
now. Whether the fact that the Riemannian space of Einstein and the Euclidean
space of Newton each can be modelled in terms of the other relieves the tension
or only compounds it is beyond the scope of this paper. Of course, Newton
deems time to be unobservable in itself, while Einstein requires it to be
measurable and in that sense observable. Again, the verificationist/operational
theory of meaning condemns itself as meaningless, since no observation can
confirm or disconfirm it.
4. Hawking’s more considered conclusion about God
Hawking’s Big Bang argument in the text I quoted at the beginning of this
paper is far from being his only text on point. In fact, he and Leonard Mlodinow
wrote a whole book about whether God created the Universe, called The Grand
Design [2]. And at the end of his first book, A Brief History of Time [3], he
sounds for all the world like he is raising the basic ‘why’ question of classical
theism about his own account. He says, What is there that breathes fire into the
equations and makes a universe for them to describe? The usual approach of
science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the questions of
why there should be a universe for the model to describe. Why does the
Universe go to all the bother of existing? Is the unified theory so compelling that
it brings about its own existence?.... Up to now, most scientists have been too
occupied with the development of new theories that describe what the Universe
is to ask the question why. On the other hand, the people whose business it is to
ask why, the philosophers, have not been able to keep up with the advance of
scientific theories.” ([3, p. 190], Hawking’s emphasis)
Hawking is surely right to say that the classical theist question of why the
Universe exists at all, even as modern Cosmology describes its origin, still can
and ought to be raised. Even if the universe is physically self-generating, why is
that the case? Why was there a quantum soup for it to bubble up from even by
chance? Why are the laws of Physics the way they are?
Hawking and Mlodinow seem to go to the opposite extreme near the end
of The Grand Design. They say, Because there is a law like 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... set the universe going.” [2, p. 180]
I have two comments. First, the Brief History of Time conclusion trumps
this Grand Design conclusion. For this only postpones the question of why to
the level of asking why the law of gravity is the way it is, not to mention asking
why there is physical spontaneous creation. Second, spontaneous physical
creation is neither logically necessary nor even physically necessary. The
Dejnožka/European Journal of Science and Theology 18 (2022), 5, 31-46
statement ‘The universe exists’ is logically contingent on its face. And unlike the
case of God, there is no ontological argument that the Universe must exist due to
any logico-metaphysical necessity. Thus the Universe can only be physically
necessary at best. But it cannot even be that. For the uncertainty principle of
Quantum physics applies to everything that is physical. As we saw, Hawking
says physical laws operate only “within the limits set by the uncertainty
principle” [3, p. 126]. The most that can be said is that the spontaneous creation
of the universe is very highly probable - perhaps as probable as that the Sun will
rise tomorrow, but still only probable. Of course, if we say that over a period of
time, the primordial quantum soup was bound to create a Big Bang sooner or
later, then we have just admitted there was a period of time before the Big Bang
- a period of time during which a whole plenum of bubbling events was going
on. Does the uncertainty principle apply to itself? That is, is the uncertainty
principle itself uncertain because it applies to itself? It is supposed to be as
certain as anything can be in Physics. But how certain is that? Hawking says
“Quantum physics agrees with observation. It has never failed a test, and it has
been tested more than any other theory in Science.” [2, p. 74] But on the deeper
level of the nature of scientific theory, Hawking follows Karl Popper’s
‘falsifiability’ Philosophy of science, on which a scientific theory can never be
conclusively confirmed by observation, but can be falsified by a single
observation [3, p. 10]. Thus though the uncertainty principle has never been
falsified and might never be falsified, it is still in principle always falsifiable by
a recalcitrant observation in the future. And that is not the same as the
uncertainty principle’s making itself uncertain. But this does not answer the
question. The uncertainty principle does not apply to itself because it is not self-
referential. Nor does it apply to everything there is, including itself. It simply
states that we cannot be sure of both the position and the speed of a particle, and
the more certain we are of one, the less certain we can be of the other. The
uncertainty principle is not about itself. It is about particles, positions, and
speeds, and the principle is not a particle, a position, or a speed.
In seemingly implicit reply to my two comments, Hawking and Mlodinow
say, “Why are the fundamental laws as we have described them?.... We’ve seen
that there must be a law like gravity,... and we saw... that... the theory [of
gravity] must have what is called supersymmetry [at least if the Universe is to
include human beings the way it does now] .... ([2, p. 180-181], my emphasis)
I have two comments here too. First, once again this only postpones the
‘why’ question. Why must the fundamental laws of Physics be the way they are?
Second, Hawking and Mlodinow are evidently appealing to the anthropic
principles to answer that question. And unfortunately, the anthropic principles
will not help at all. All the anthropic principles say is that if (or given that) we
exist the way we are now, then the Universe must have started in such and such
a way [1, p. 56-57, 70, 84; 2, p. 153-155, 164-165; 3, p. 128-131, 137, 142, 155,
180, 182, 200, 209]. They do not even try to tell us why we exist the way we are
now, nor, therefore, why the Universe must have started in such and such a way.
Critical discussion of Stephen Hawking’s Big Bang argument against God
Such reasoning backwards from effect (us) to cause (origin of the Universe) can
only tell us the how, not the why. Thus any arguments based on the anthropic
principles are deeply unlike Kant’s transcendental arguments asking, How is it
possible for things to be thus and such? For Kant’s arguments, if sound, do
explain the why. For they aim to ground metaphysically why things are thus and
such. And just as Hawking says, that is a basic difference between Philosophy
(the why) and Science (the how). Granted, even Kant’s arguments are liable to
the criticism that they are based on the world as we happen to find it. But that is
not a problem for Kant. If the possibility of my having free will is grounded in
my transcendental being as a noumenal self, the why is explained, even if it is
only a logically contingent fact that I happen to have free will. That actually is
Kant’s view on free will, but I offer it only as a hypothetical illustration of what
transcendental arguments try to do.
Indeed, why are the anthropic principles the way they are? For their
degree of applicability would differ in different universes with different kinds
and degrees of physical laws, all the way to being totally inapplicable in totally
random universes which happen to have human beings. And on the Feynman
sum over histories method, there will be indefinitely many universes with few or
no physical laws.
And what about the sum over histories method? Why does that work?
Like the anthropic principles, and indeed the whole of physics, it is logically
contingent, and depends on some modicum of physical law. Are there not
indefinitely many universes in which the method will not work? Nor can the
anthropic principles or the sum over histories method help explain why each
other work, but at most how, since the same ‘why’ question applies to both, and
to the whole of Physics, as Hawking is well aware.
Whether Hawking intended his Big Bang argument, in the text I quoted at
the beginning of my paper, as merely a brief overview, in contrast to his more
considered views elsewhere, I must leave his readers to judge. But a more
considered view on our part would be that he is rethinking the material every
time he writes, a little differently each time, and this is not one of his better
times, perhaps because it is simply too brief and quick at that point in that book.
In any case, I have just argued that his view at the end of Brief History of Time
is his best and most considered view.
5. The limited scope of ex nihilo nihil fit
I close with a brief discussion of the principle ex nihilo nihil fit (out of
nothing, nothing comes). It is a synthetic (if not analytic) a priori truth on its
face. Hence it belongs to Metaphysics, not to Natural science. It can play a role
in Natural science only in the way that logic and Mathematics play a role in
Natural science. And Natural science cannot disprove it, for the very reason that
it is logically necessary in the wide sense of a priori truth. But the statement ‘At
first there was nothing, and then there was something’ is logically contingent on
its face. And if God creates something where before there was nothing, the
Dejnožka/European Journal of Science and Theology 18 (2022), 5, 31-46
something is not coming out of nothing, but out of a world with nothing but
God, that is, a world with God and nothing else. And since ex nihilo nihil fit is
logically necessary, the something that God creates in a world with nothing but
God can only come out of God, since there is nothing else there for it to come
out of. It is not as if God is fashioning the world out of nothing, as if nothing
were some kind of raw material. And the statement that ‘In a world where there
is nothing but God, something that God creates is something that comes out of
God, is a synthetic (if not analytic) a priori truth on its face. And two truths, a
priori or not, cannot contradict each other. Thus the principle ex nihilo nihil fit,
though necessarily true, is irrelevant. Thus when we say ‘God created the world
out of nothing that cannot contradict that principle, and can only mean that
before God created the world, there was nothing but God. Thus God’s creation
of the world would be beyond the scope of application of ex nihilo nihil fit.
Likewise for the creation of the world by the quantum soup. The world would
not be coming out of nothing, but out of a world with nothing but quantum
soup. It is not as if the quantum soup was fashioning the world out of nothing,
as if nothing were some kind of raw material. And while the total energy of the
soup was nothing, the soup itself, that is, the particles and antiparticles whose
energy cancelled out to zero, was not nothing. In fact, the total energy of the
world as it is now, full of stars and planets, cancels out to nothing too! For “the
total energy of the Universe is zero” [3, p. 133]. Yet the stars and planets are not
6. Suggestions from an anonymous reviewer
I thank a very kind anonymous reviewer for two suggestions, which I will
state in my own way.
First, quantum soup may be more precisely called continuum of
potential mass-energy’. That is a real potential in Aristotle’s sense, as opposed to
a mere logical possibility. For any real mass-energy that emerges has at least a
slight physical probability. Thus the potential exists in the sense of belonging to
the physically real order. In contrast, there is no such thing as a merely possible
unicorn. A merely possible unicorn is at most an object of thought, and in the
case of dreams or hallucinations, an object of perception. But the quantum soup
is no mere object of perception or thought. It is out there, even if we cannot
describe it independently of our observations. In fact, it is a purely physical
matter that photons strike an object when we shine a light on it, and that we
cannot measure place independently of motion. Thus our observations in Physics
are part of the real order too, in a way that dreamed or hallucinated observations
are not. And even dreams and hallucinations are presumably part of the neural
order in some sense.
Second, before and after at the quantum level might be better called
causally prior and ‘causally posterior’, or even physically antecedent and
physically consequent’, so as not to confuse these relations with before and
after in the ordinary macro-object sense. And that would include the quantum
Critical discussion of Stephen Hawking’s Big Bang argument against God
soup’s existing before the Big Bang. This suggestion can be based on an
analogy to talk of logical priority and of ontological priority, neither of which is
temporal. Now, we have repeatedly seen that Hawking himself does not hesitate
to use ordinary temporal terms for the quantum level, and seems to mean that
quanta go back in time and affect the past quite literally. But we can certainly
play safe in our terminology if we wish. And just as the reviewer says, it will not
affect the argument in the slightest. Even if nothing caused the Big Bang, the
quantum soup was still physically antecedent. For without it, the Big Bang could
not have probabilistically happened to pop out of it and into (actual as opposed
to potential) existence. Note that quantum probabilities are epistemic
probabilities only because they are more deeply physical probabilities. And the
distinction between potential and actual existence is basically just the distinction
between unstable flux and an emergent, more stable and predicable world. It is a
bit like Aristotle’s distinction between matter and form, and even a bit like
Plato’s world of flux and forms.
In conclusion of this paper, if I am right, then far from objecting to my
critique, Hawking himself would seem to agree with it.
[1] S. Hawking, Brief Answers to the Big Questions, Bantam Books, New York, 2018,
[2] S. Hawking and L. Mlodinow, The Grand Design, Bantam Books, New York,
2012, 135.
[3] S. Hawking, A Brief History of Time, Bantam Books, New York, 2017, 58-59.
[4] W. Heisenberg. Physics and Philosophy: The Modern Revolution in Science, 2nd
edn., Harper Collins, New York, 2007, 1958, 23-24.
[5] A. Einstein, Relativity: The Special and the General Theory, 15th edn., Methuen,
London, 1977, 9-29.
[6] H. Margenau, Einstein’s Conception of Reality, in Albert Einstein: Philosopher-
Scientist, P. Schilpp (ed.), 3rd edn., Open Court, Illinois, 1997, 252-254.
[7] A. Ushenko, Einstein’s Influence on Philosophy, in Albert Einstein: Philosopher-
Scientist, P. Schilpp (ed.), 3rd edn., Open Court, Illinois, 1997, 637.
[8] H. Minkowski, Space and Time, in Problems of Space and Time, J.J.C. Smart
(ed.), Macmillan, New York, 1979, 297.
[9] S. Kripke, Naming and Necessity, Harvard University Press, Massachusetts, 1980.
[10] A. Einstein, Autobiographical Notes, in Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist, P.
Schilpp (ed.), 3rd edn., Open Court, Illinois, 1997, 21-29.
[11] W. Isaacson, Einstein: His Life and Universe, Simon and Schuster, New York,
2007, 388-390.
[12] A. Einstein, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, A. Calaprice (ed.), Princeton
University Press, New Jersey, 2011, 335.
[13] A. Einstein, Ideas and Opinions, S. Bargmann (ed.), 3rd edn., Crown Press, New
York, 1982, 46.
[14] A. Einstein, Out of My Later Years: The Scientist, Philosopher, and Man
Portrayed Through His Own Words, Philosophical Library, New York, 2015, 20-
Dejnožka/European Journal of Science and Theology 18 (2022), 5, 31-46
[15] A. Einstein, Albert Einstein: The Human Side: New Glimpses from His Archives,
H. Dukas & B. Hoffmann (eds.), 3rd edn., Princeton University Press, New Jersey,
1981, 32-33, 38-39, 43-44, 66.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Full-text available
Free download. PRAISE: "Dejnožka's paper on Seungbae Park is amazing. I was totally impressed. Dejnožka understands Einstein's theory so deeply." —Iulian Rusu, Editor-in-Chief, European Journal of Science and Theology. ABSTRACT: This paper explores the interconnections between science and theology in general relativity theory and quantum physics. In a paper published in this journal, Seungbae Park raises two problems which he says are as important as the problem of evil: (1) "it is not clear where God existed before He created the Universe", and (2) "it is not clear how old God was when He created the Universe". I argue that Park's ontological claim that 'to exist is to exist in a certain place' makes no scientific sense even for a rock or a tree, since there is no such thing as a place in physical reality, either in general relativity theory or in quantum physics. Thus in physics today, the 'scientific magnitude' of these problems is zilch. I also show that Park is confused on the relation of science to philosophy and the nature of abstract entities. Park also overlooks that Einstein and the great quantum physicists are far more open-minded about God than Park is, because of their better understanding of the relationship between science and religion. In fact, some of them believe in God, and find that perfectly complementary (Heisenberg and Bohr's term, and the main topic of section 9) with science. To sum up, Einstein and the great quantum physicists would reject Park's ontological claim, and Park's two problems are literally nonsensical even for a rock or a tree, much less for God. This article and its preprint appear on ResearchGate by kind permission of the journal editor. A long research draft, "Seungbae Park’s Scientific Conception of God: A Critique Based on Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr, Planck, Pauli, Spinoza, and Aquinas," is a free download on ResearchGate as well.
I hope that some people see some connection between the two topics in the title. If not, anyway, such connections will be developed in the course of these talks. Furthermore, because of the use of tools involving reference and necessity in analytic philosophy today, our views on these topics really have wide-ranging implications for other problems in philosophy that traditionally might be thought far-removed, like arguments over the mind-body problem or the so-called ‘identity thesis’. Materialism, in this form, often now gets involved in very intricate ways in questions about what is necessary or contingent in identity of properties — questions like that. So, it is really very important to philosophers who may want to work in many domains to get clear about these concepts. Maybe I will say something about the mind-body problem in the course of these talks. I want to talk also at some point (I don’t know if I can get it in) about substances and natural kinds.