Friday, September 10, 2010

Stephen Hawking & The Fertility of the Universe

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. 


Michelle said...

As a scientist, I have to say I'm with you. Science is certainly a big part of how I encounter God -- but it's not a requisite path to God.

It's like love - you can measure many proxies to try to get at how much I love my kids or my spouse (number of eye rolls, hugs, dinners cooked, late night drives) but ultimately there is no single measure, no direct experiment that proves I love them, or provides a firm measure to compare it to my love of say, the cat, or my students. You can follow the signs, but they point to a complex reality that is always unfolding.

kmbrco said...

I've always thought that we are here to learn to appreciate the good things, ponder the bad things, and that we will be here until we work it all out, to the point where we can live together, no matter race, creed, color, sex, or being. To love all in some way.

The world is infinite. We just live in it.

Anonymous said...

Since God is far superior to humans, he is in no way threatened by our sincere questions. Regardless of how deep or profound our questions may seem to us, our deepest questions must seem like simple 2+2=4 arithmetic to God. There are many who deny his existence, but God is in no way threatened by their lack of faith in him. A century ago, most people would have said that man could never fly, travel to the moon, nor perform a heart transplant. Though they were sincere in their beliefs, they were sincerely wrong. Many who deny the existence of God are sincere. God still loves and reaches out to them. However, to paraphrase the song from the 70s, they have been "Looking for God in all the wrong places." God exists and seeks to have a relationship with all people. He has no need to prove his existence. That proof exists in the lives of hundreds of millions of people whose lives he has changed. However, to find God, one must be open to finding him and exercise the God-given faith he grants to all who honestly seek him. A darkened room may be filled with unseen treasure. Though obscured by darkness, the treasure is real and exists within that room. God is a reality, unfortunately, some have simply not discovered him. Rev.Billy Graham once said that people were created with a God-Shaped Void in their Hearts. No person or any material thing can fill this void except God Himself. Sadly, many have tried to fill that void with everything except a relationship with God. in the Heaven page. Only uninformed or unintelligent reasoning says there is no God. As born-again Christians, we can enjoy a personal and meaningful relationship with him.

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