NASA StarChild image of Stephen Hawking.

Image via Wikipedia

Suppose you’re walking in a park one day when you are startled by a man standing right in front of you. After jumping higher than you ever have in your life, you force out the words, “Where did you come from?” The man answers, “I just created myself.”

Would you believe him? I wouldn’t. For a man to create himself before he exists is impossible, for if he doesn’t exist, he wouldn’t be there to create himself in the first place! Yet it is this rabbit out of the hat trick that Stephen Hawking uses to explain how God is not necessary for the creation of the universe.

Stephen Hawking is a brilliant man–I give him credit for doing wonderful work in physics and astronomy, especially in the area of black holes. I also admire his brave fight against ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), from which he has suffered for over forty years, making him by far the longest-lived survivor of that debilitating disease. Despite his handcap, he has continued to write and lecture, and he is a fine popularizer of complex ideas in physics for people without training in the field.

However, in  accepting the view that there is no God because the universe created itself from nothing, he is contradicting himself. If he said that the universe is everlasting, that it has always existed, then he would at least be holding a coherent position. But in saying that the universe “spontaneously created itself from nothing,” he falls into incoherence. If the universe created itself from nothing, then it would already have to exist to do so.  Nothing can be prior to itself. Nothing can exist before it exists. If this what Hawking actually believes, his belief is just as much false as believing in a square circle. If Hawking replies that a quantum vacuum, even a “true vacuum,” produces particles and antiparticles all the time that then annihilate one another, then what he calls a “true vacuum” isn’t. His quantum vacuum is NOT nothing. Even a sea of quantum events is something. Pure nothingness is just what the word implies–no particles, antiparticles, no annihilation of particles and antiparticles, no space, no time–sheer, absolute nothingness. If Hawking’s concept of “nothing” includes more, then he is manipulating words to mean what he wants them to mean. Since his notion of “nothing” isn’t really no-thing, he does not believe that the universe created itself; in a sense, some kind of energy has always existed. I have always been suspicious of arguments such as Hawking’s, whether they posit true and false vacuums, zero-point fields, or some other pseudo-nothingness to argue that the universe arose from nothing. It may be that true and false vacuums exist, and there is good evidence for the existence of a zero-point field, but all of these items exist in some sense. The universe could not have arisen from literal non-being–and this is what Hawking would have to say to justify his claim of a spontaneous universe arising from nothing.

Does Hawking’s view explain the existence of a quatum foam of particles and antiparticles in a “vacuum”? Does it explain why enough energy arose for the universe to have arisen? Or does he say explanation stops at that point–if so, why? If he is saying that the universe is some kind of necessary being, this seems inconsistent with stellar life cycles–eventually the formation of new stars will stop, and the universe will consist of white and black dwarfs, neutron stars, and black holes–and even these will evaporate. All these items are contingent–they do not have to be. Thus a necessary being is required to explain the existence of contingent things, whether those things be the universe, a zero-point field, or a “true vacuum” that really isn’t a true vacuum. Once atheists get to the point of saying that the universe created itself, they are holding a view so irrational that it would be best to halt discussion, go to a bar, have some drinks, and talk about the upcoming NFL season.