Could a universe create itself?

by Edgar Andrews

I drafted the following piece at the request of the Christian Apologetics Alliance which is in the process of compiling a series of articles answering common objections to theism. Although there is overlap here with my review of Stephen Hawking’s co-authored book “The Grand Design” the present article is more suitable as a succinct and specific answer for any who argue against divine creation.

Objection: “It has now been shown that the universe caused itself rather than having been brought into being by something else.”

Reference key at end of article.

The objection is necessarily false since the most that science could ever say about the matter is that “the universe might have caused itself …”. Whether or not it did actually do so is not open to scientific enquiry. However, even this ‘might have’ claim remains wholly unsubstantiated and is logically incoherent, as I will try to demonstrate below. But first let us be clear about the facts.

Until the early 20th century most scientists believed that the universe had always existed. But this view was shattered by two discoveries, one theoretical and one experimental. The theoretical development was Einstein’s general theory of relativity which implied that only an expanding (or shrinking) universe could be stable. Einstein, in fact, inserted an arbitrary ‘fudge factor’ into his equations to allow for a static universe but later retracted it [WMG p.100]. The experimental discovery was that the universe was indeed expanding, evidenced by the red-shift in the spectra of distant galaxies [WMG pp. 101-102]. This in turn implied that the universe did have a beginning which can be represented as a singularity (a situation in which certain physical quantities become infinite — in this case temperature and density). This implied singularity became known as the “hot Big Bang” origin of the universe and is now generally accepted by cosmologists. More recent observations of the all-pervasive “cosmic microwave background radiation” provided confirmatory evidence of this model of cosmic origins (or cosmogenesis) [WMG pp. 102-103].

Since that time, certain scientists have advanced ingenious theories (strictly, hypotheses) in an attempt to avoid the theological implications of a big bang creation — most recently Victor Stenger in USA and Stephen Hawking in UK. Basically, they claim that scientific/mathematical  ‘models’ can explain how the universe might have arisen spontaneously out of nothing (ex nihilo) by the operation of natural laws without the intervention of a supernatural creator [Stenger, Hawking]. However, their reasoning is seriously flawed in the following ways.

1. It is important to understand that science can explain nothing except in terms of the laws of nature. Science works by first discovering (by observation) laws that describe the workings of nature and then using this knowledge to seek out further explanations — beginning with hypotheses and then confirming these hypotheses by various tests, the chief of which must always be repeatable experimental verification. To offer a scientific explanation of anything one must always appeal to existing laws (or at very least plausible hypotheses). No laws, no science; it’s as simple as that…

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