dark matter

Multi-Universes and God

Stephen Hawking is one of the pre-eminent physicists in modern science. Perhaps due to his prominence he is also no stranger to controversy. In fact, not only does he not shy away from it, he seems to enjoy fomenting a little. This is not a negative assessment. The greatest thinkers in history have always created intellectual turmoil in the advance of new ideas. Over time, that has led to the development and acceptance of new and sometimes vastly different views of what we thought we knew of the world, of ourselves and even our understandings of God.

In the case of science and religion, such controversy has generated a concept that science and religion are at odds with each other and cannot coexist. It is an idea shared equally by some scientists and some religionists. Precisely because theology is not an empirical science, it is easy for some to accept a dichotomy that exists more in the imagination than it does in reality.

Putting aside the visions and apparitions claimed by people who are already pre-disposed to believe in God, the fact remains that we cannot see God, nor can we prove that God exists. The frequently used example of the artist remains apropos today. While one can recognize Rembrandt in one of his paintings, it is not the same as seeing Rembrandt himself. For people of faith, it is easy to see God's hand at work in creation, but that is not the same as seeing God. Another analogy that has been popular among preachers, and is perhaps more accessible, is wind. We can see and feel the effects of wind, but cannot see the wind itself. Yet we know that it is there. Of course, all analogies limp. Knowing the wind is there from observation is clearly not the same as believing that God exists by observation. There simply is no proof that God exists. This need not bother a believer, for it is in the definition of faith, itself. If God's existence could be proved, there could be no faith.

There is a similar principle at work in the world of science. For example, scientists have theorized for years about the existence of dark matter. Alternatives to dark matter notwithstanding, (specifically Milgrom's Modification of Newton's Dynamics {MOND}), the vast majority of scientists have continued to believe in the existence of dark matter, even though it cannot be seen. The presumed existence of dark matter helps to explain some of the observations in the rotation of galaxies and galaxy clusters.

The same principle is at work in the existence of our universe and the existence of parallel or multi-universes. Stephen Hawking's new book, "The Grand Design" argues "Spontaneous creation is the reason why there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist." Using the existence of gravity, he argues "the universe can and will create itself from nothing." Hawking suggests there is no need for God and he seeks to support this from a couple of observable facts. First, there are innumerable planets in our universe, thereby raising the probability that intelligent life exists elsewhere. Where that life exists, it will always find itself living in a suitable place with no need for a God to explain its existence.

The second observable fact has long been the staple of science fiction, but today clearly resides in the mainstream of modern science. This is the concept of parallel or multi-universes. Without going into the details, cosmological observations give rise to four levels of multi-universes, successively more complex. We see the first two of these at work in popular science fiction: Level I multiverse is what is presented in a number of episodes of the various "Star Trek" series. The film "Men In Black II" ends with a nod to the Level II multiverse. Beyond these are two additional levels of multiverse. According to Hawking, among the parallel universes, a universe like ours will also have the same laws of physics. For him, that universe begins exactly as our did and must arise from nothing.

Scientifically, there is nothing problematic in Hawking's argument. However, it does not negate the existence of God, and his contention that it negates the need for God is grossly over-stated. Substantially different religious traditions have different concepts of God. Perhaps Hawking's argument negates the need for some of the them. Yet he seems not to understand the God of the Bible, for nothing in his presentation negates the existence of this God.

Hawking appears to make the same mistake that many fundamentalists do, namely, failing to distinguish the difference between fact/fiction and truth/falsehood. The result is the mistaken notion that the Bible is either science or history--it is neither--and this leads to the false conflict between science and religion. Truth and fiction are not opposites of each other. The opposite of truth is falsehood, the opposite of fact is fiction. Great works of fiction can speak profound truths about life, but they are not factual. The same can be said of the Bible.

In both of the creation narratives in the Book of Genesis, God is presented as the creator of the world (universe). But these creation stories seek to tell truth through the poetry of myth (fiction). The works of Stephen Hawking and other scientists seek to explain the facts of the universe. Both of these endeavors can and do speak to truth.

As one of my professors, a Scripture scholar, was fond of saying: "The Bible tells us that God created the world. Science tells us how God created the world." The spontaneous creation that Hawking refers to is for the believer, an act of God. This may not convince scientists that God actually exists or that he created the universe. That remains an article of faith. But it should free them from the obligation to attempt to prove that either God does not exist or did not create the universe. In today's world we need to find ways for science and religion to work together. To arrive at the deepest truths we need them both.