I've been thinking on the hubbub surrounding Stephen Hawking's comments that God was not necessary for the creation of the universe. Frankly, I just can't excited about it. Who cares?
I don't mean that as an attack on Hawking. He's one of the great scientific minds of our times. And while other religious people have been making arguments like the rules of gravity had to come from somewhere (wink wink, nudge nudge), I agree with him. The more data we gather regarding the creation of the universe, the less that God seems a necessity for the equation. Not because that data is skewed by atheist secularists who hate God, but because it shows more and more how every little piece and step of creation naturally fits together.
And while today we say, but where did the laws come from, I suspect at some point down the road, we're going to have an answer for that, too. So, God as necessity? I think not.
But whether there was a God involved in some way in creation -- that's a whole different question. And it's not one that Hawking is equipped to answer any better than any of the rest of us. When it comes to deities and transcendent reality, we're all just interpreters, taking in the data we've got in front of us, and making the best sense of it we can. It's all highly limited (and probably to God's mind also highly entertaining).
When I worked at America I had the great opportunity to interview Fr. George Coyne, SJ, former director of the Vatican Observatory. He had a great take on God and the dynamism of creation. Here's some of what he had to say:
God did not create a ready-made universe, he did not create a universe like a Lego kit, putting all the pieces out and having somebody out there, over time, assemble them. He created a universe that has a dynamism, a creativity of its own. He shared his own creativity with the universe that he made.
You know, theologians have for centuries had this notion of continuous creation, creation as not a single event in the past, 14 billion years ago, but ongoing. It really helps me in my religious belief, in my prayer for instance, to think of a god who is constantly nurturing the universe; he gave the universe its own creativity, its own dynamism, and he’s working with the universe rather than dominating the universe.
This requires reinterpreting what we mean by omnipotence and omniscience. Did life come to be in such a necessary way that in the very beginning of the expansion, God could have predicted that life would come to be? It is an open question, but I lean toward no, he couldn’t, because it’s not certain that it would come to be. There were some chance processes involved. It wasn’t just chance, but there were chance events involved in the evolution of life....
How did life come to be? Did it come by chance or by necessity? Speaking scientifically now, there’s a third element involved, it’s what I call the fertility of the universe. There are 10 to the 22nd power stars in the universe—that’s 10 with 22 zeros behind it. Each of those stars is born and is going to die, and as it dies it spews out all this chemistry into the universe—carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, etc. Another generation of stars is formed from some of that material—the sun is a third-generation star—and that process is extremely important. If it were not happening, we would not be here. The hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, carbon emitted—these are the building blocks of all the sugars, amino acids, and then up to DNA, etc. In fact, in order to have the chemical abundance necessary to form even primitive life, we had to have three generations of stars. That is, we needed three generations of stars to get enough carbon to make toenails and hair (for those who have it), earlobes and all that.
The universe has been doing this for 14 billion years. That’s what I mean by fertility, all these stars pouring out all this chemistry over a long period of time. Now that sounds very materialistic, and it is. But does that deny that God is working with this process to make a human being? To me, a universe that has such a dynamism to it doesn’t deny God, it glorifies God. God did not take a rib from the side of Adam. He did not preconstruct life. Rather, life came to be because God made a universe in which he hoped and thought life would come to be in his image and likeness.