Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Grand Design: Is God Unnecessary?

Have scientific discoveries made God unnecessary? That is the claim of the bestselling book The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow published in 2010. The book claims, "Because there is a law such as 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 light the blue touch paper and set the universe going." Readers of this blog have consistently asked me to discuss claims such as these, that there is no need to invoke a transcendent creator to begin the universe, especially when the claims are made by very smart people, like Stephen Hawking.

I read this book when it was first published with the expectation that someone as brilliant as Stephen Hawking would have something new and profound to add to the discussion about the cause of the universe, and the apparent fine-tuning of the universe. In fact, the opening chapter seemed to confirm my optimism because three questions are posed that Hawking claims he will try to answer: (1) Why is there something rather than nothing? (2) Why do we exist? (3) Why this particular set of laws and not some other?

These three questions touch on the very three reasons that I have argued give evidence for God from scientific inquiry. The first has to do with the origin of the universe in the Big Bang, which I claim gives evidence for a transcendent creator. The second question has to do, at least partially, with the quite rare characteristics of the planet earth we inhabit. The third question has to do with the anthropic principle and fine-tuning which seems to indicate the laws and parameters of physics are in a narrow range that allow life to exist.

Much of the book presents a good synopsis of many of the discoveries and theories of modern physics including quantum mechanics, the wave-particle duality, special and general relativity, particle physics, supersymmetry, Big Bang cosmology and string theory. If you are looking for an understandable explanation of these ideas, I highly recommend the book. But if you are looking for good thoughtful answers to the three questions posed above, then the book turns out to be very disappointing and even sophomoric. The answers provided by Hawking and Mlodinow are not new, are not insightful, and are easily dismissed based on known science. Let's look at the answers they pose and discuss why each one fails so miserably.

The origin of the universe is explained by an idea called "the no boundary condition" first proposed in Stephen Hawking's book A Brief History of Time. Using a concept of "imaginary time" Hawking proposes that the universe doesn't have an initial moment of birth at a singularity, but rather a smooth continuous space-time curve that does not require a beginning. If I were to try to draw a representation of a space-time singularity I might draw something like a cone that comes to a point at one end. The no boundary condition would smooth out that point so there is a curved surface at the end of the cone, much like the north pole of the earth is a curved surface. Below is a picture of these two ideas taken from a web site about relativity where the top picture shows a universe with a singularity and the bottom shows a universe with no boundary.

Note that even though the surface is smooth in the bottom picture, there is still a turning point. That point would signal the beginning of our universe, despite the fact that it is not discontinuous. Thus even with no boundary, the universe has a beginning. The no boundary condition has a number of other fatal flaws as well. First, it would require that some kind of physical laws operate before our universe began. Where did they come from? Second, there is no observational evidence of anything like the imaginary time needed for the no boundary condition to operate. An idea with no observational support is hardly a scientific idea. Finally, all the observational evidence and theoretical calculations based on known physics that we do have point to an actual beginning of our universe, including ideas like the BGV theorem. The proposal for the origin of the universe in The Grand Design is not based on scientific observations or calculations, requires the laws of physics to already be in operation, and does not eliminate a real beginning of our universe. It utterly fails to explain the origin of the universe.

To explain our existence on the planet Earth, Hawking and Mlodinow simply claim that there are many planets so one must have the conditions necessary to support higher life forms. This statement is both naive and unscientific for we have enough information about the requirements necessary for a planet to support higher life forms that we are able to do a rough estimate of the probability of finding even a single planet like the earth. Many of the required parameters can be found in the book Rare Earth by Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee. I should write a blog post about this book in the future since I haven't touched on this subject yet in my blog. The astrophysicist Hugh Ross has done a rough estimation of the probability of finding a single earth-like planet by chance based on 322 parameters known to be necessary if a planet is to support higher life forms. He has taken correlations and longevity factors into account as well as the fact that there are at least 1022 planets in the visible universe. His order-of-magnitude calculation comes up with a probability of 10-282 for finding one planet capable of supporting higher life forms in the entire visible universe. Hawking and Mlodinow are wrong. Even with a lot of planets we should not expect to find one suitable for our existence purely by chance.

Finally, in regard to the laws of physics that seem to be finely-tuned to allow life to exist, Hawking and Mlodinow appeal to M-theory, the most recent and encompassing string theory. String theory proposes that the fundamental entities that make up our universe are "vibrating strings of energy." M-theory holds a lot of promise as a scientific theory, including the development of a consistent quantum theory of gravity, which has been an elusive goal for about 100 years. M-theory requires that there are 11 dimensions of space-time. M-theory has about 10500 possible configurations, and allows for the possibility that there are many universes. If ours is just one of many universes (a multiverse), with different laws and parameters of physics in every different universe, then just by chance one of the universes would have the laws and parameter falling in the necessary range to be able to support life. We are here because we happen to be in the right universe. There are many problems with proposing M-theory as the solution to the anthropic principle problem. Of course, the first problem is that, as with the no-boundary condition, there is no scientific evidence that M-theory is true, so a belief in M-theory is not based on science at all. Second, there are few, if any, definitive predictions of M-theory. For instance, we don't know if any of the "other" universes would actually be created or just have the potential of being created. When The Grand Design was published there was overwhelming criticism that M-theory would be invoked as the answer to the anthropic principle problem. For instance, in Scientific American, John Horgan wrote, "M-theory, theorists now realize, comes in an almost infinite number of versions, which "predict" an almost infinite number of possible universes. ... Of course, a theory that predicts everything really doesn't predict anything... Hawking is telling us that unconfirmable M-theory plus the anthropic tautology represents the end of that quest. If we believe him, the joke’s on us."1

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of The Grand Design is that the attempts made to support Hawking's and Mlodinow's case are, in many cases, simply unsophisticated, unsupportable, naive, and even fallacious. I believe that in a college class on logic, philosophy, or religion, this book would receive a failing grade. For example, the question is posed, "Are there any exceptions to the laws of physics?" or "Are miracles possible." The answer given is, "…the modern scientists answer to question two [exceptions to the laws of physics]…is…a scientific law is not a scientific law if it holds only when some supernatural being decides not to intervene." This is a clear example of the logical fallacy of "begging the question." Hawking is dismissing miracles outright because they don't fit his preconceived definition of what science is. If this were your answer to the question of miracles in a logic class I guarantee you would get an F.

Consider also the quote from the book mentioned in the first paragraph of this blog, "Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing." It doesn't take a rocket scientist, or someone as smart as Stephen Hawking, to realize how ridiculous this statement is. Gravity works within the space-time dimensions of our universe so it is impossible to invoke gravity as the cause of our universe. The physicist Gerald Schroeder wrote, "Therefore if the laws of nature created the universe, these laws must have existed prior to time; that is the laws of nature would be outside of time. What we have then is totally non-physical laws, outside of time, creating a universe. Now that description might sound somewhat familiar. Very much like the biblical concept of God: not physical, outside of time, able to create a universe."2

Many scientists and scholars who read the book The Grand Design were extremely disappointed that the arguments presented were poor and simplistic. In The New York Times, Dwight Garner wrote, "The real news about The Grand Design is how disappointingly tinny and inelegant it is."3 I'm tempted to quote dozens more of the negative reviews to emphasize my point, but I'll let you look them up if you need more persuasion.

Once again, we see that the conclusions most consistent with the known facts from scientific observations and theoretical calculation are that the universe seems to have a transcendent beginning and seems to be designed with humans in mind, two ideas consistent with the teachings about the God of the Bible. This attempt by Hawking and Mlodinow in The Grand Design to circumvent such straightforward conclusions is entirely inadequate, illogical, and invalid. If you are looking for reasons to make God "unnecessary" you will have to look elsewhere.

P.S. For regular readers of my blog, I would like to write new entries approximately every other week as my schedule allows, but due to personal issues I haven't written anything new in about twice that long. Hopefully, I will be able to get back to a consistent schedule shortly. Stay tuned.

1 John Horgan, "Cosmic Clowning: Stephen Hawking's 'new' theory of everything is the same old CRAP," Scientific American, September 13, 2010.
2Gerald Schroeder, The Big Bang Creation: God or the Laws of Nature, at
3Dwight Garner,"Many Kinds of Universes, and None Require God," New York Times, September 7, 2010.


  1. Thanks Dr. Strauss

    I have a question. Some atheist friend of mine told me that since space is infinite according to evidence, then, there is no room for a creator; probably the universe was always there.

    Is he right? Is there evidence that the space is infinite?

    I think that he must be referring to the flatness of space…but if im right, it is possible to have a space that is flat, boundless and finite if the topology permits it (and there is no evidence against that posibility).

    Am i correct?

    Thanks for your valuable time.

  2. Thanks for your question. We know the universe is nearly "flat" which means that if the space of the universe were 2 dimensional rather than three dimensional, then it would look nearly like a piece of flat paper. That means the universe is probably much larger than we can actually see. But that doesn't necessarily mean it is infinite for a few reasons. First, we don't know the universe is exactly flat. If you look at the earth's surface from your house it looks flat, even though we know it is not. The curvature is just so minimal from your perspective that you don't see it. So our universe may look flat from our local perspective but it is not because the "curvature" is so large. In addition, a flat universe is still not necessarily infinite depending on the topology, which is what you have stated in your comment. Only the simplest topology would be infinite in an exactly flat universe, but we don't know that the universe is exactly flat nor if it has the simplest topology. So you are right that even a flat universe may not be infinite. Then again, there is the question of whether or not actual infinities can really exist in nature. Some would say "no" so that the universe can't be actually infinite in size. And finally, to the core of your question. Even if the universe were infinite, that might solve the problem of why we have a planet like the earth that can support life because there could be an infinite number of planets, but it does not solve the other two major problems discussed in this post. The universe would still have a beginning in the Big Bang so we still have a beginning with an apparent transcendent cause which looks a lot like God, and we still have the problem of the anthropic principle, that the laws and parameters of this universe are precisely tuned to allow life to exist. With only one universe, even if it is infinite, the anthropic principle and the low entropy at the beginning of this universe would point to an intelligent designer who cares about humanity. So even if your friend's proposition were correct, his conclusion would not be correct. Thanks for your insightful question.

  3. Dr. Strauss, you may appreciate this recent video that touches upon the 'Theory of Everything':

    Gödel, Infinity, and Jesus Christ as the Theory of Everything - video

  4. The lack of existence of actual infinities make the universe not only impossible to the eternal but also unable to be infinite.

  5. I am not a scientist so I cannot debate you on the technicalities of your post, Michael, but I can counter your statements with the statements of other scientists. And this is what one must do if one is not an expert in a particular field. We cannot all be experts in all fields of human study. There are not enough years in the average human life span to be an Expert of Everything. So when we want to know the facts about a certain issue of which we personally are not experts, we consult the experts of that field, and if the experts of that field have reached a consensus (a large percentage of the experts in that field have reached a conclusion on an issue), we accept that consensus as fact. If the experts are divided relatively evenly on the issue, most educated people would take a “wait and see” position on that particular issue: “The experts have not reached a consensus. I will hold off taking a position on this issue until they do.”

    So what is the current position of cosmologists and other scientists on the origin of the universe?

    Below is a link to an article that seems to completely contradict your statements about the laws of physics. Here is an excerpt:

    “…At this point, making a universe looks almost easy. Quantum mechanics tells us that "nothing" is inherently unstable, so the initial leap from nothing to something may have been inevitable. Then the resulting tiny bubble of space-time could have burgeoned into a massive, busy universe, thanks to inflation. As [Lawrence] Krauss puts it, "The laws of physics as we understand them make it eminently plausible that our universe arose from nothing - no space, no time, no particles, nothing that we now know of."

    So who is right, Lawrence Krauss of ASU or Michael Strauss of OU? Both are very intelligent physicists. Answer: We need to see if a consensus exists among the experts on this topic (the origin of the universe).

    From the National Academy of Sciences:

    “The study of the origin of life is a very active research area in which important progress is being made, although the consensus among scientists is that none of the current hypotheses has thus far been confirmed.”

    And there you have it: There is currently no consensus on this issue. Therefore I suggest that educated people do what they do for all other issues for which the experts have not reached a conclusion: WAIT AND SEE. I suggest we avoid repeating the age old human reflex-reaction: when we humans do not understand something about nature, we immediately conclude: “A GOD did it!”

    Maybe a god did do it. But history has taught us time after time, that many events in nature for which humans were certain a god was behind it (droughts, floods, lightening, etc.) turn out to have very natural explanations. A god…did NOT do it. So, I suggest we look at the origin of the universe with wonder and awe and continue to research this fascinating area of study. But let’s wait to draw conclusions until the experts have reached a consensus.

    1. Come on Gary. You're a smart guy. Tell me the fatal flaw in Krauss's argument.

    2. Fatal according to whom?

      If you can demonstrate that Krauss's argument has been debunked by the overwhelming majority of scientists (a consensus), I will be happy to abandon any reference to his work.

      I have no intention of debating you on the evidence, Mike. Why? I acknowledge you as the expert on this subject. I am a novice. Therefore, I have a choice: I can accept what one expert (Michael Strauss) says as fact, or, check to see what other experts say on this point, and most importantly, find out if there is a consensus on this issue.

      As I have posted above: There is no consensus. Therefore the experts do not feel YOUR position or LAWRENCE KRAUSS'S position has been confirmed. Therefore, I will continue to "wait and see": wait for a consensus of the experts.

    3. It has been pretty much criticized, though, since we don't know, it can't be completely refuted. Just go read the reviews of his book. But I'm asking you to think. There are multiple flaws with his speculative ideas. Surely you can figure some of them out for yourself.

    4. I did a little research, and found that you are correct regarding Krauss. His work has received a lot of criticism. However---it has not been debunked, and, no consensus yet exists on the origin of the universe.

      Until such a consensus exists, as a non-expert on this subject, I will sit and wait.

      Someone wrote several centuries ago that scientists will never figure out the composition of the stars. Well...they have. So maybe scientists will do the same with the origin of the universe. Let's be patient. Let's not jump to the knee-jerk reaction of...A GOD DID IT...until we have better evidence that confirms that claim.

    5. Well it can't be debunked since it is so speculative with no observational evidence. There may never be a consensus, but there are observation and theoretical calculations. And, literally ALL the ACTUAL evidence points to a real beginning (see post on BGV theorem) of this one universe from a transcendent cause. It wouldn't be possible to write a better script that points to God if you wanted to. The evidence is about as strong as you could ever conceive of. You can continue to deny the most straightforward conclusion from the known facts if you want. That is your choice.

  6. "literally ALL the ACTUAL evidence points to a real beginning (see post on BGV theorem) of this one universe from a transcendent cause."

    It is true that the majority of scientists believe that the universe had a beginning, but can you give me a link to a reputable scientific journal which states that this "beginning" came about due to a "transcendent cause"? In other words, is there a consensus among scientists that the universe began/was created by a supernatural/outside-the-laws-of-nature source?

    If not, we are left simply with this statment: the consensus of scientists, at this time, is that the universe had a beginning. Period. The cause of that beginning is unknown...for the moment.

  7. I think Mike Wall of sums up quite well the current state of affairs on this topic:

    The origin of the laws of physics:

    If we're after the ultimate origin of everything, however, invoking the laws of physics doesn't quite do the trick. It may get us one step closer, but it doesn't take us all the way, Filippenko said.

    "The question, then, is, 'Why are there laws of physics?'" he said. "And you could say, 'Well, that required a divine creator, who created these laws of physics and the spark that led from the laws of physics to these universes, maybe more than one.'"

    But that answer just continues to kick the can down the road, because you still need to explain where the divine creator came from. The process leads to a never-ending chain that always leaves you short of the ultimate answer, Filippenko said.

    The origin of the laws of physics remains a mystery for now, he added, one that we may never be able to solve. "The 'divine spark' was whatever produced the laws of physics," Filippenko said. "And I don't know what produced that divine spark. So let's just leave it at the laws of physics."

    Gary: I agree. Let's leave it at that. Atheist Richard Dawkins should not be making premature pronouncements that the universe had no beginning (to further his anti-religion agenda) and Christians should not be prematurely pronouncing that the universe began due to a "transcendent cause" to further their supernatural agenda. Both sides should simply exercise a little patience, and say: "Let's wait, collect more evidence, and see." No need to rush. Let's do this right.

    1. Gary, have you even read any theists response to these kinds of questions? The question of the origin of the creator is one of the most overused and uninformed questions posed by atheists. It shows a total ignorance about what theists believe and a complete inability to understand simple logic and conclusions. I might as well ask why a square doesn't have three sides.

      Regarding your other comment, you just aren't getting the point. One hundred years ago, all scientists thought the universe was infinite in time and space. The fact that the universe had a transcendent beginning is an UNEXPECTED and PROFOUND finding of science that absolutely points to a cause outside of this universe. The transcendent beginning is not an opinion. It is the conclusion of science based on all observations and theoretical calculations. As I said, it would be impossible to script a better scenario to support theism. You're inability to grasp that says a lot about your obstinate position.

      Vilenkin of the BGV theorem says, ""It is said that an argument is what convinces reasonable men and a proof is what it takes to convince even an unreasonable man. With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past-eternal universe. There is no escape: they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning." So, Gary, even you should be convinced unless you are beyond unreasonable.

    2. "The transcendent beginning is not an opinion. It is the conclusion of science based on all observations and theoretical calculations."

      Says who? You did not give a source for this statement. Is this simply your opinion, the opinion of a minority of scientists, or is this a consensus position? If it is the consensus position of scientists then I WILL accept it as fact.

      So please give me a reputable source which states that a scientific consensus exists which is in agreement with your claim that the beginning of the universe came about due to a "transcendent cause"?

      I accept ALL consensus positions of experts in scientific fields in which I am not an expert.

    3. I already quoted Vilenkin above who is the expert on the BGV theorem and its implication, a well accepted idea in science. It seems you really won't accept the view of experts if it doesn't agree with your preconceived position. Do you know the meaning of the word "transcendent"? If this universe had a beginning of all space, time, matter, and energy, then by necessity, the cause of the beginning was not a part of this universe. That is the definition of transcendent, not a part of this universe. A definition of transcendent from is "transcending the universe, time, etc." So I have already done what you ask for in your comment and either (1) you refuse to accept it, (2) you don't know what transcendent means, (3) you aren't familiar with basic logic and inductive thinking, or (4) you are just being obstinate. Maybe I'm giving you too much credit regarding your ability to follow a discussion to a logical conclusion or your willingness to follow the facts where they lead. It seems you are not really open to either.

    4. Quoting one expert is not the same as quoting a reputable source which states that there is a consensus among scientists that the beginning of the universe was due to a "transcendent" cause.

      That is all I am asking you to provide. If such a consensus exists, it shouldn't be too hard to find a reputable source which states this fact.

  8. Your use of Vilenken to support your pronouncement that "The transcendent [supernatural] beginning is not an opinion; It is the conclusion of science based on all observations and theoretical calculations" appears to be inaccurate.

    Read below:

    “What the BGV Theorem is saying is not "the universe had a beginning", but that inflationary models cannot go infinitely into the past, and require physics other than inflationary models to describe the boundary condition. This paper is a direct response to physicists who attempt to use inflationary models to describe an eternal universe. In case that's not completely clear, the authors elaborate in the paper itself:

    'What can lie beyond this boundary? Several possibilities have been discussed, one being that the boundary of the inflating region corresponds to the beginning of the Universe in a quantum nucleation event [12]. The boundary is then a closed spacelike hypersurface which can be determined from the appropriate instanton. Whatever the possibilities for the boundary, it is clear that unless the averaged expansion condition can somehow be avoided for all past-directed geodesics, inflation alone is not sufficient to provide a complete description of the Universe, and some new physics is necessary in order to determine the correct conditions at the boundary [20]. This is the chief result of our paper.'

    How has [William Lane] Craig [and other theists] made the leap from "inflation alone is not sufficient to provide a complete description of the universe" to suggesting that the BGV Theorem has proved "the universe began to exist"? Even Borde, Guth and Vilenkin clearly suggest that a "beginning" is merely one possibility that might correspond to the boundary condition.”


    Gary: So it appears that Vilenken and his colleagues are NOT inferring that their theorem proves that the universe had a “transcendent” (supernatural) beginning after all.

    Let's wait for more evidence, folks, before we jump to conclusions.

    1. Actually this source you are quoting is wrong. The BGV theorem is not about inflationary models but about any universe that, on average, expands. The source you are quoting is extremely biased, and wrong. I'm sorry Gary, but you are just not correct in your assertions about this. The authors of the BGV theorem, and the scientific consensus, is that this universe had a beginning. Can you read Vilenkin's quote? "You HAVE to face the the problem of a cosmic beginning." You're grasping for straws and my statement above about the 4 possibilities that must be true about your conclusions continue to stand. I can't tell if which one of the four you are categorized by. Did you even read what the word transcendent means? Did you even read the ramifications of the BGV theorem?

      Those who oppose the BGV theorem want to point to some unknown physics that might make it invalid. But the BGV theorem is based on KNOWN physics. So those who oppose it are basing their belief truly on some "blind faith" with absolutely no supporting evidence. Consequently, again, my statement is totally valid when I say, "The transcendent beginning is not an opinion. It is the conclusion of science based on all observations and theoretical calculations." The opinions you are quoting and pulling from biased sources on the internet are purely based on wishful thinking. I'm sorry, but wishful thinking is NOT SCIENCE and none of those alternative opinions have anything to do with known science, but the BGV theorem is based on known science.

    2. Two questions for you, Mike:

      1. Can you provide a link to a reputable scientific journal which states that there is a consensus among scientists that the beginning of the universe was due to a "transcendent" cause?

      2. Can you provide a link to a reputable scientific journal which states that the BGV theorem is accepted as correct by a consensus of scientists?

  9. As I suspected, you cannot provide a reputable scientific journal which states that there is a consensus scientific position on a "transcendent cause" of the universe or that the BGV theorem is accepted as scientific fact.

    You are presenting your opinion as if it is established fact. You have attempted to bully me to accept your position simply because you are a scientist and I am not, inferring that I am being stubborn. But I have not made the claim that your position is false, simply that it is not the consensus. I have suggested that those of us who are not scientists wait for a consensus before taking a position on this issue. But this upsets you. Why? I believe the answer is that you have an agenda. Good scientists seek the truth, no matter what that truth is, based on EVIDENCE. They do not seek to confirm their agenda, forcing any and all evidence to conform to that agenda.

    You have accused me of being biased. I seek the truth, whatever that may be, even if that truth involves a god. I accept the scientific consensus that it is POSSIBE that the universe was created by Intelligent Design. Can you admit that it is POSSIBLE that it was not? I doubt it.

    It is you who has an agenda, Mike, not me.

    1. This is both a rude and false comment. I have been too busy to answer you back. Why would you be so rude and accusatory?

    2. Gary,
      Your request for a "consensus" shows that you clearly do not understand the process of scientific investigation and publication. The BGV paper that discusses the necessity of a beginning for any universe expanding on average was published in what is probably the most prestigious physics journal in the world, Physical Review Letters (Phys.Rev.Lett. 90 (2003) 151301). To be published in that journal, it is peer reviewed by competent referees. This means the conclusions have been checked by unbiased expert scientists. Once such a paper is published, there isn't a "vote" and a "consensus" on whether it is valid or not. The peer review publication means that it has been validated. Scientists may publish rebuttals, but the very act of publishing in a prestigious peer reviewed journal means it is "correct." Your request for a "consensus" isn't how scientific publication works, and shows a naivety about its publication in PRL which means the theory is correct and has been validated. Sorry, but you can't say it isn't correct or you don't believe it until there is a consensus. A paper published in PRL is better than any consensus vote.

      Next, since we do KNOW this universe has a beginning, then the cause must be outside this universe which is the very definition of transcendent. To deny the transcendent cause once the beginning has been established, which the BGV theorem does, is like asking to show a paper saying that there is a consensus that a rectangle has four sides. Well, duh, that's the definition of a rectangle so a paper won't make a point of saying, "we now have a consensus that all rectangles have four sides." Well, duh, a transcendent cause, i.e. a cause outside of the universe, is necessary for any universe that has a beginning, because, by definition, the cause is outside the universe, transcendent. So I can't find a paper saying the consensus is that a rectangle has four sides so that must not be true. Of course it is true. It's the definition of a rectangle. By definition, a universe that has a beginning has a transcendent cause. You won't find any paper or consensus that confirms the obvious definition. Denying that means you really don't understand what transcendent t means. I've stated that before but you don't seem to get it. What is so hard about understanding that?

    3. One more thing. There is no "bullying". There is a frustration that you don't understand what is clear to anyone who has read the literature and you don't seem to care about the truth, including, how scientific ideas are disseminated and accepted. You keep denying the conclusions of the BGV theorem despite the fact that it IS accepted science, not because I say so but because of how scientific ideas are peer-reviewed and published. Scientist don't write papers saying, "Oh we took a vote and we now accept the results of a peer-reviewed scientific paper so there is a consensus."

    4. And you (and William Lane Craig) are blatantly misinterpreting Vilenken's theorem to propagate your agenda:

      "the author of the Arizona Atheist blog asked Vilenkin if his theorem with Guth and Borde proves that the universe had a beginning, and Vilenkin responded:

      ---[I]f someone asks me whether or not the theorem I proved with Borde and Guth implies that the universe had a beginning, I would say that the short answer is “yes”. If you are willing to get into subtleties, then the answer is “No, but…” So, there are ways to get around having a beginning, but then you are forced to have something nearly as special as a beginning.---

      However, Craig’s main problem is that a beginning of the universe can still be described in scientific terms. Nothing in the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin paper suggests a beginning from “absolute nothingness” (as Craig often claims). In fact, the opposite is true. The authors write,

      ---What can lie beyond the boundary? Several possibilities have been discussed, one being that the boundary of the inflating region corresponds to the beginning of the Universe in a quantum nucleation event.---

    5. Source for above statement:

    6. And here is a statement by scientist/cosmologist, Sean Carroll, on this subject:

      "[William Lane] Craig quotes (misleadingly) a recent paper by Audrey Mithani and Alex Vilenkin, which concludes by saying “Did the universe have a beginning? At this point, it seems that the answer to this question is probably yes.”

      Mithani and Vilenkin are also scientists, and are correspondingly willing to be honest about our state of ignorance: thus, “probably” yes. I personally think the answer is “probably no,” but none of us actually knows. The distinction is that the scientists are willing to admit that they don’t really know."

      Read that again, Mike: "Our state of ignorance [on this topic]. NONE OF US ACTUALLY KNOWS."

      Good scientists will admit that they may have an opinion on this issue, but add that NO ONE actually knows. Therefore for you to condescend to me as if it is I who is being unreasonable and unscientific in my position is outrageous. I am advocating a "wait and see" attitude. You are preaching your opinion as fact. That is BAD science, Mike.

    7. Gary, I know all these web sites you keep referring to. I have read all their rebuttals and I understand the implications. Vilenkin's short answer is there is a beginning. The long answer is there might be something that would preclude the beginning which would be unknown physics. So please read my statement carefully. What I have said is that based on all KNOWN science there was a beginning. Speculative science can give anything you want but the BGV theorem "short answer" is the known science. You are grasping for straws as are the web sites you are quoting. The atheist is resorting to "atheism of the gaps" and trying to invoke unknown science that would preclude the conclusions of known science because all the KNOWN science supports theism and not atheism.

      I think we are done talking about this. As long as you appeal to the unknown there can be no discussion. I'm talking about known observations and theoretical work based on known physics. If you want to hide behind the unknown that is fine, but it isn't science and it can't be defended as being even logical. It's a last grasp effort to hold on to atheism despite the known facts. And, it may even be wrong. All the previously unknown science that is now known like the Big Bang, the Anthropic Principle, the BGV theorem is giving stronger and stronger evidence for God.

    8. Nonsense. I hope your Christian readers will investigate this issue themselves, reading both sides, and see that there is NO CONSENSUS on this issue. You are pushing an AGENDA. Good scientists do NOT do that. If I wanted to push a similarly biased agenda, I would be campaigning as an atheist; that science proves there is no God. I am not an atheist. I am an agnostic, which means I allow for the possibility of the existence of a God, but I am waiting for better evidence to confirm or reject this claim.

      You are the one pushing an agenda, Mike. It really is sad to see a professional scientist be so biased.

    9. "I think we are done talking about this."

      Does that mean you are cutting me off? Nice. You should at least post my quote from Vilenkin which directly contradicts your interpretation of his theorem, then you can cut me off.

    10. I am asking you to think and to read a dictionary. If you are unable to do that, why continue this conversation. Transcendent and supernatural are two different things. I tried to give you the dictionary definition of transcendent but you, evidently, don't believe in the dictionary either.

    11. Quoting the results of a scientific paper is not being biased. I have previously read all of the interviews with Vilenkin that you are quoting. I hope that all readers do investigate those for themselves. They'll see that Vilenkin does believe in a transcendent beginning. He's just not willing to say that the cause would be God. I have said that all the known physics points to a transcendent cause. That is a true, unbiased statement. Whether or not that cause is God is another, different question. I think it is but I don't know it is. One of the reasons I think it is God is because a transcendent cause lines up exactly with what theists and the Bible predicted long before the 20th century. An idea that makes predictions that turn out to be true is often true itself. You can call that biased if you want. It is actually, good science.

      Gary, you seem to think I haven't investigated carefully both sides of this discussion because you keep bringing up things you seem to think will be new to me, like those who had a belief in God but now don't, or the Vilenkin interviews. Has it occurred to you that there are people who have carefully and deeply actually investigated the case for and against the Christian God from science, history, philosophy, etc. and have come to informed conclusion that the God hypothesis actually explains the data best. It seems that some of these counter-ideas changed your mind, but I have investigated them thoroughly and find them quite lacking and unpersuasive compared to the idea of the Christian God. Call that biased if you want, but if someone has carefully investigated a question from all sides and can even explain the other sides' arguments and has come to a conviction based on the evidence, I would hardly call that biased. I think one of the reasons that you tend to think its biased because you have been confusing transcendent with supernatural, or God.

    12. "Mithani and Vilenkin are also scientists, and are correspondingly willing to be honest about our state of ignorance: thus, “probably” yes. I personally think the answer is “probably no,” but none of us actually knows. "

      Carroll, and you too, are ignoring the crucial question: Where to the evidence point?

      Which evidence support Carroll's "probably no" statement? There isn't any.

      And you should not ignore the deductions against an actual infinity in the past:

      "The arguments against an infinite past time are strong – it’s simply not constructible in terms of events or instants of time, besides being conceptually indefinite."

      Ellis G. F. R. & Kirchner U. & Stoeger W. R.,(2003). Multiverses and physical cosmology. (p.15)

    13. That's silly. There is evidence for both theories, but most scientists believe there is better evidence for the universe having had a beginning.

    14. Hi Gary, I know this was old, but read it all with interest. I'm a Christian, and like you am not a Scientist, but the people you cite like Guth and Carroll are not philosophers, certainly are not logicians, but seem to think they are.
      You stated "I hope your Christian readers will investigate this issue themselves, reading both sides..." Well, I'm one.
      I feel you are logically incoherent (as every atheist I read). Dr Strauss brought this up, and don't think he fully used it to its full benefit, the notion of actual infinities. We know that the universe had a beginning, right, you admit that? But the answer is, what is the cause? Clearly it cannot be the universe. You cannot state "X did not exist until X caused it", this would be logically incoherent. You cannot state "Matter did not exist until matter caused it", as this would be logically incoherent.
      However, to rebut this, a simpleton atheist argument only need be "matter exists infinitely". This is the rebuttal that every 3rd grader gives when they can no longer make fun of the other kid at a faster rate, they just reply "infinity".
      Clearly, there is no observational evidence of actual infinities, as demonstrated by great mathematicians (see Hilbert), and even NOTIONS of actual infinite sets must be based on simpler sets.
      An appeal to "infinity" is logically incoherent, whereas an appeal to an all powerful mind that is transcendent to the universe is not logically incoherent. Clearly minds exist, so that is not a logical problem. A greater mind than we are is not a logical problem. Being much more powerful than we are is not logical a problem. However, within a NATURAL universe, that is only governed by "laws" that we know as human reasoning, infinity is logically incoherent. Why must it be incoherent? What is infinity + 1? infinity. What is infinity - 1? infinity. What is infinity divided by 2? infinity. When has "infinity" ever been pointed to as the solution to any scientific inquiry or the cause of any observed and understood phenomenon? Never. It has no use whatsoever in reality. There is absolutely nothing to suggest that it exists, and it is logically incoherent.
      An appeal to "infinity" (actual infinity), is by far inferior than an appeal to God. Infinity is logically incoherent under natural-law. The belief in God states that there is something outside of natural-law, therefore does not contradict itself. So in short: 1) Infinity is incoherent if natural law, and human reasoning is all that exists. 2) God is not at all logically incoherent, especially if natural law and human reasoning is not all that exists.

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  11. Now, let's hear from Alex Vilenkin himself addressing this issue in an interview:

    Question: Some people claim your work proves the existence of God, or at least of a divine moment of creation. What do you think?

    Vilenkin: I don’t think it proves anything one way or another.

    I went to a meeting of some theologians and cosmologists. Basically, I realized these theologians have the same problem with God. What was He doing before He created the universe? Why did He suddenly decide to create the universe?

    For many physicists, the beginning of the universe is uncomfortable, because it suggests that something must have caused the beginning, that there should be some cause outside the universe. In fact, we now have models where that’s not necessary—the universe spontaneously appears, quantum mechanically.

    In quantum physics, events do not necessarily have a cause, just some probability.

    As such, there is some probability for the universe to pop out of “nothing.” You can find the relative probability for it to be this size or that size and have various properties, but there will not be a particular cause for any of it, just probabilities.

    I say “nothing” in quotations because the nothing that we were referring to here is the absence of matter, space and time. That is as close to nothing as you can get, but what is still required here is the laws of physics. So the laws of physics should still be there, and they are definitely not nothing.

    Question: So how do you think the universe began?

    Vilenkin: I cannot really claim that I understand the beginning of the universe. We have a picture which kind of makes sense, which I think is an achievement. Because, if you think about it, you say, “OK, what happened before the Big Bang, before inflation?” It seems you can keep asking these questions and the answer is impossible.

    But this quantum creation from “nothing” seems to avoid these questions. It has a nice mathematical description, not just words. There’s an interesting thing, though; the description of the creation of the universe from nothing is given in terms of the laws of physics. That makes you wonder, where are these laws? If the laws describe the creation of the universe, that suggests they existed prior to the universe. The question that nobody has any idea how to address is where these laws come from and why these laws in particular? So there are a lot of mysteries to keep us working.

    Gary: How can he be any more clear??? Vilenkin himself does not believe that his theorem infers a "transcendent" [supernatural] cause to the universe. You are misrepresenting his theorem, Mike.

    1. You are confusing transcendent with supernatural. I tried to give you the definition of transcendent but you seem unwilling to think beyond your preconceived notion. I have never claimed the beginning must be supernatural, just transcendent based on the meaning of the word. Vilenkin does believe in a transcendent beginning because the space, time,matter, and energy of this universe came from something beyond this universe. WHY CAN'T YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT THE WORD TRANSCENDENT MEANS? IT DOES NOT NECESSARILY MEAN SUPERNATURAL and I never used the word supernatural. I said that the BGV theorem requires a transcendent cause and that God would be a transcendent cause.

    2. “Some people claim your work proves the existence of God, or at least of a divine moment of creation.”

      Obviously the work of Vilenkin does not prove that. Nevertheles, it does proves that the premise “the physical reality has a beginning” is probably true in light of the evidence (although the deductions against an actual infinity in the past are powerful proofs of that premise. The scientific evidence are just the cherry on the cake)

      And if we combine that premise with:

      “Whatever begins to exist has a cause” and “if the physical reality has a beginning, therefore, the physical reality has a trascendent cause”, then, the conclusion follows:

      The physical reality has a trascendent cause.

      The conclusion proves that God exist? No. But in bayesian terminology, it raises the initial probability in favor of the proposition "The Christian deity exist". And that maybe is not a proof, but it is evidence in favor of God existence.

      “Gary: How can he be any more clear??? Vilenkin himself does not believe that his theorem infers a "transcendent" [supernatural] cause to the universe. You are misrepresenting his theorem, Mike.”

      Come on, connect the dots!

      “I say “nothing” in quotations because the nothing that we were referring to here is the absence of matter, space and time. That is as close to nothing as you can get, but what is still required here is the laws of physics.”

      So, the cause would be a set of rational entitys (the laws of physics) that transcend space, time, matter and energy. That’s really close to a descriptive definition of God.

      No doubt thats why Vilenkin ask himself:

      “The tunneling process is governed by the same fundamental laws that describe the subsequent evolution of the universe. It follows that the laws should be “there” even prior to the universe itself. Does this mean that the laws are not mere descriptions of reality and can have and independent existence of their own? In the absence of space, time, and matter, what tablets could they be written upon? The laws are expressed in the form of mathematical equations. If the medium of mathematics is the mind, does this mean that mind should predate the universe?”

      Vilenkin A., (2006). Many worlds in one: The search of other universes. New York: Hill and Wang. (P. 204-205)

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  13. Question: Some people claim your work proves the existence of God, or at least of a divine moment of creation. What do you think?

    Vilenkin: I don’t think it proves anything one way or another.

    Gary: I suggest we leave it at that.

    1. AAARGGHH! Here we go again. Please read my comment on God vs transcendence. We can "leave it at that" if you want, but I don't understand why you won't read a dictionary and see what transcendence means. Hint: it may or may not mean God. Consequently, Vilenkin's statement is agreeing and compatible with all of my statements. I know what Vilenkin has said in interviews.

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  15. Neal said: "And I've been reading you and Gary's exchanges every week. Seems like he's just out to be a thorn in your side because he's trying to convince you that the God of the bible was invented by superstitious uneducated people thousands of years ago. He won't understand the relationship you have with God in your heart."

    Gary: I believe that Neal has hit the proverbial nail right on the head. As a former evangelical Christian myself, I feel very confident in making this statement: The overwhelming majority of very devout conservative Christians base their belief in the validity of the truth claims of Christianity primarily on their FEELINGS AND INTERNAL PERCEPTIONS, not on hard evidence. This is why William Lane Craig can say, "The simplest [uneducated] of Christians can know the Resurrection is historical fact by the testimony of the Holy Spirit in his heart."

    The problem is: How does a Christian differentiate between a god speaking to him/giving daily guidance internally [in his head] in an inaudible voice and himself...speaking to...HIMSELF???

    Humans are well known for incredible self-deception. Feelings and perceptions do not seem like a very reliable means of validating or rejecting truth claims, especially truth claims that involve the supernatural.

    1. Gary, Bill Craig is not saying that there is no evidence for the resurrection. As someone who believes in a spiritual realm, he is saying there is evidence beyond simply the physical for the resurrection. If Christ really did rise from the dead then he is alive today and you can have a personal relationship with him. An actual relationship is objective evidence for the truth of something.

    2. The issue is: Do you really have a personal relationship with an invisible being who resides within your body or are you operating under self delusion; the person you are communicating with is simply...YOURSELF.

      Unless you can provide evidence which proves that someone other than yourself lives inside your body, this "evidence" is purely subjective. It is NOT objective.

  16. Thanks for your blog topics, Mike. I really appreciate and enjoy the content. Here's a bit I put together, relying on Dr. Norm Geisler's "Christian Apologetics." Perhaps Gary might find some of this worth chewing on:

    The universe exists, but all known science indicates that it also had the possibility of nonexistence. That is, we have no scientific evidence that shows that the existence of the universe was necessary; its existence was potential. The existence of the universe was a potentiality that was brought into actuality (caused to exist) by something beyond itself, something that transcends the time and material that comprise the universe itself and the laws that govern it. The very existence of this potentially existent universe is either 1) self-caused, 2) uncaused, or 3) caused by another; there are no other possibilities.

    1. Self-caused: It is impossible for anything to be self-caused since it would have to exist prior to its existence in order to be the cause of its own existence – which is an absurdity. But nothing (literally, no-thing) can produce something, and an effect cannot be ontologically prior to its cause.
    2. Uncaused: Equally absurd is the notion that the universe is uncaused (that is, it is eternal). If the universe space/time were eternal, then maximum entropy (2nd law of thermodynamics) would have occurred by now and the universe would be dead. Since max entropy hasn’t occurred yet, and moments keep on coming, there can’t be an infinite number of moments prior to this moment – since there is no such thing as an infinite number of moments plus more moments. And since there isn’t an infinite number of moments prior to this moment, there must be a finite number of prior moments, which indicates there was a first moment - when the universe was actualized in existence.
    3. Caused by Another. The only remaining possible cause, and the only one, in my opinion, that has any hope of rational defense, is that the universe had a transcendent cause – a cause beyond itself which possesses the minimal causal capacity for actualizing the effect that is the universe. A cause is that which effects a transition from potentiality to actuality, such as causing a potential universe to become an actual existing universe.

    The tools of the physical sciences simply cannot reach beyond the boundary of their domain, which is the physical universe itself - at least not with any certainty. This limitation renders any notions of their applicability beyond this universe speculative at best, untestable and unfalsifiable. It seems to me that Christian Theism alone provides the only rational answer, which also enjoys the support of several additional evidences.

    1. Thanks for sharing this logical progression of ideas that point to a transcendent cause of our universe.

    2. Hello Mr. Strauss,

      Thank you for your interesting website.

      As I read through your conversation with Gary, I was struck by a few things that I thought might be worthwhile to comment on. One thing that Gary mentioned early on which I also struggle with, is the question of how a lay person (non-professional physicist) can evaluate the opinions of experts. I think his insistence that you demonstrate consensus is really rooted in that particular insecurity which most lay people feel, even if they can't quite identify it. In order to live and function in life, most people need to find an intellectual "resting position" where they are certain enough of their "big question" issues that they can comfortably move on with living. I think Gary, like many people including myself, wants to abdicate responsibility for determining the truth by deferring to those with greater expertise, preferably a community of those people! If we admit it to ourselves, it doesn't sound very noble, but it may be rational given that we don't all have the skills or opportunities to become excellent cosmologists or theoretical physicists. When there is disagreement among the community of experts upon which we are depending to interpret truth for us, that is an uncomfortable position for us to be in.

      What I would have pointed out to Gary (and I know you tried, in your own way), is that consensus is really a faithless mistress in the quest for truth. As you well know, science has typically lurched forwards in unlikely directions born of the intuitions of the minority and unexpected findings, not necessarily a logical, stepwise progression of methodical experimentation.

      There are a number of critical assumptions a layperson makes when they defer to an expert authority, or to a consensus. Is the group of experts truly qualified to speak to the questions at hand? When I read their conclusions, do I have adequate expertise to interpret their conclusions? When we are talking about a small number of experts in a very specialized field, are there ways that they may be biased in their conclusions? I found that to be very relevant to your discussion of Vilenkin. . . on the one hand, Gary is engaging you because you are an expert and he presumably wants your opinion, on the other hand he (as a non expert) is attempting to evaluate the validity of your (expert) opinion. I think if one is committed to agnosticism, then one has to recognize that this is a no-win situation. . .

    3. . . . Part 2 (I'm long winded)

      What happens then is we try to find a subgroup of experts which is more trustworthy. . . but we often fail to recognize that the same conundrum is at work. How can we (non-experts) evaluate the integrity and trustworthiness of one group of experts versus another? If we polled nuclear physicists in the USSR in 1985 about the likelihood of Chernobyl melting down, they certainly would have had the most relevant opinion. . . and most would likely have had the wrong conclusion. Our criteria for trustworthiness starts to become an exercise in confirmation bias.

      Maybe a good demonstration of the lack of consensus in cosmology could have been provided to Gary, in order to question the validity of his appeal to consensus. Perhaps the inflation debate between Steinhardt and colleagues versus Hawkins, Carroll and the rest in Scientific American (I'd love your opinion!). That might exemplify the significant lack of consensus between larely non-theistic cosmologists.

      The other thing that I would question is the validity of his appeal to a "wait-and-see" approach. It sort of implies that we have all of the time in the world in order to make up our minds about what we believe is true, when I find that real life makes that demand immediate at every moment.

      How would you address the issue of the conundrum of the non-expert. It is a ongoing issue for me. At many times the question of Gods existence seems to come down to "who have I decided to trust". . . in some ways we all seem to want to defer to the "experts". . .

      Thanks for your time.

    4. Great questions. Maybe it is worth devoting a blog post to this question. I don't think there is an easy or definitive answer, but it is sure worth trying to articulate my thoughts on this.

  17. Ah! I apologize for not correctly referring to you as Dr. Strauss! Thank you for wading through my long reply.

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  19. Dr. Michael G Strauss I so much appreciate your patience with us, But may I have a little question?, If the universe had a beginning then the law of causality states that it had a cause, But we say the laws of physics began with the big bang so could there be a possibility that the law of causality doesn't work and the universe didn't need a cause?

    1. I don't believe the law of causality is limited to our universe. It is not basically a law of physics but a law of logic. As such we observe that it operates in our universe, but it would also operate in other universes.

  20. Thank you for taking the time to write this insightful review of Hawking's book.