Hawking Says God Not Needed to Kick-Start Big Bang; World Freaks Out

By Andrew Moseman | September 3, 2010 12:20 pm

grand designPhysicist Sean Carroll, one of the people behind Cosmic Variance here at DISCOVER blogs, tweeted yesterday: “I think Stephen Hawking could say ‘ice cream is delicious’ and get massive media coverage.” He’s probably right.

Last month the renowned physicists made the news by warning of the great threat of human extinction over the next couple centuries, but kindly softened the blow by saying that we’ll be fine if we can get through our growing pains and get off this planet. Back in April, the wave of attention came from his warning that it might not be such a great idea to attempt to contact aliens, should they be more advanced than us and try to wipe us out.

Now, he’s taking on the almighty. Hawking’s new book, The Grand Design, co-authored by Leonard Mlodinow, snagged media attention this week because of an excerpt that appeared in the U.K.’s The Times (which we can’t link to, because it’s behind an online pay wall).

“Spontaneous creation is the reason why there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist,” he wrote. “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper [fuse] and set the universe going.” [CNN]

Or, to put it another way, here’s a bit from the book’s final chapter about the nature of the universe:

“Some would claim the answer to these questions is that there is a God who chose to create the universe that way. It is reasonable to ask who or what created the universe, but if the answer is God, then the question has merely been deflected to that of who created God. In this view it is accepted that some entity exists that needs no creator, and that entity is called God. This is known as the first-cause argument for the existence of God. We claim, however, that it is possible to answer these questions purely within the realm of science, and without invoking any divine beings.

As Carroll video blogged yesterday evening, these aren’t exactly revolutionary statements. For that matter, neither was his note that humans face the risk of extinction by our own hand. These statements ignited a public furor because the man saying them is the world’s most identifiable living scientist.

To the book itself: Beyond the notes on God, which inspired predictable backlash from religious authorities, Hawking goes on in the book to outline M-theory and his ideas about the multiverse. He says it’s all in an attempt to figure out “Life, the Universe, and Everything,” as Douglas Adams put it. (We miss you, Doug.)

The conclusions that follow are groundbreaking. Of all the possible universes, some must have laws that allow the appearance of life. The fact that we are here already tells us that we are in that corner of the multiverse. In this way, all origin questions are answered by pointing to the huge number of possible universes and saying that some of them have the properties that allow the existence of life, just by chance. [Washington Post]

The Grand Design comes out on Tuesday, September 7. If you need your fill of offbeat Hawking quotes, though, TIME and The Guardian have graciously compiled them for you.

Related Content:
Cosmic Variance: Stephen Hawking Settles the God Question Once and For All
80beats: Hawking: If Humans Survive a Couple Centuries, We’ll Get Off This Rock
80beats: Stephen Hawking, For One, Does Not Welcome Our New Alien Overlords
DISCOVER: Stephen Hawking Is Making His Comeback
DISCOVER: Inside the World of Stephen Hawking

Image: Bantam

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Physics & Math, Space
  • Anadactyl

    Nice article. I loved that quote by Sean Carroll.

    FYI, there is a typo in the 3rd paragraph, “…snagged media attention this week because of an except…”

    I believe you meant “except” to be “excerpt.”

  • http://discovermagazine.com Andrew Moseman

    Thanks for the heads-up. Fixed.

  • Julius Mazzarella

    It’s not a new idea that the universe started from nothing. The word nothing has double meaning. If the universe came from nothing ( which is probably true ) then nothing has a very big punch. What is it. ? Now some people use nothing in the sense of ” not something and not nothing that something came from.” A very different meaning. So now we are right back where we started. We need an explanation of why the physical laws of nature are constructed in such a way as to cause something to come from nothing. In summary with or without God the physical laws of nature still have to be explained in terms of why they are the way they are, even if they picked the characteristics themselves.

  • Zachary

    @Mazzarella. Well put. To was philosophic, its is akin to Kant’s nuemenol vs phenomilogical world. There may be a “really real” world, however we only have access to the world of phenomenon.

  • Yousuf

    I think the point is that if people who believe in God believe that God was there all along, and nothing was needed to create God, then isn’t it just as equally possible to believe that the Universe was there all along and nothing was needed to create the Universe? Therefore God is the Universe itself.

  • Jockaira


    All you’ve done is rename the universe…that “Therefore” in your last sentence means absolutely nothing.

    As for your statement “…the Universe was there all along and nothing was needed to create the Universe”, then why is there a need for God?

    As you say “…God was there all along, and nothing was needed to create God…”, you can also say the same thing about the universe.

    I had this same discussion with a true believing contemporary when I was ten years old. It didn’t make sense then, it doesn’t make sense now.

    Why don’t you just accept the universe as is without complicating it with mythical imaginary creation beings who are so far above our level of understanding that they would take no notice of us in 10^100 years, no matter how much you or anyone else prays.

    If you really want to find God, go to the nearest Department of Human Resource Development. He’ll be about midway in the longest line waiting for his unemployment check.

  • Mike

    I like idea of God because it is stimulating us both scientifically to prove or disprove and religiously to pray.

  • Lisa

    Mr. Hawking is regarded as one of the brightest thinkers of our day. He is ranked alongside history’s best for deciphering the complexities of planetary interactions. However in my humble opinion, I found his new theories to be uncompelling. They just don’t go far enough to explain why the law of gravity allows for spontaneous creation as the reason for our existence. What is it dear scientist that you have discovered, witnessed, created in your 31 years of study as a Cambridge scholar that gives evidence that solar interactions of gas, ice and rock has directly lead to the manifestation of soft tissue, bone and blood that exist on this planet as the human condition? To give argument as to the creation of the universe is to give argument to the creation of mankind. I do not question your motivations to understand, as that is the consequence of being human. None-the-less, the excerpts from this new book does not motivate me to want to read it.

  • Gene

    haha, really have to be ignorant to beleive this crap… Guess His Uncle is a damn monkey too..haha. The big bang theory has been even questioned it’s possibility by those that want to beleive it. You wanna beleive NOTHING blew up but refuse to believe in the possibility of intelligent design. We just happen to be the right distance from the sun so not to burn up or freeze, we just Happen to have an atmosphere that is capable of protceting us we just happen to have some many many many things it take to support life that no othe plant has come even close to. to many “Just Happens” to be a coincence I would say, even you evolutionist would have to admit the odds that we have the perfect environment to support life are just to atronomical to have even a fraction of a percent to be plausible…. hahaha, go swing from your trees…lol

  • Christos

    Science should try to answer the “how” of nature, religion the “why.” Two distinct platforms of thought. One tangible, the other metaphysical. The mind of God can not be understood in the physical. To know the position and momentum of every single subatomic particle, to every super cluster and everything in between, both past, present and future simultaneously; is just a tiny fraction of the mind of God. Infinite wisdom/knowledge is everything we know and everything we do not know. I think there is more that we do not know, than we do know. I would leave God out of science. Unless you can ultimately prove or disprove something, it is only a belief.

  • Ashwini Kumar Lal

    Though personally, I have very high regard for Stephen Hawking as a scientist, I nonetheless beg to differ with him about his announcement that God did not have a hand in cration of the universe. My disagreement with the learned scientist’s contention is substantiated by the fact that given any number of combinations of the basic building blocks of life viz., amino acids, nucleotides, sugar,and phosphate,etc., life has never been created in any of the laboratories the worldover. Science just remains clueless about how life first developed on our mother planet and elsewhere in the universe. Life has never resulted from non-life. This is suggestive of the evolution of life having bearing on the existence of some supernatural force, whom we rever as ‘Almighty’ or as ‘God’.

    Moreover, Hawking wrongly refers to the ‘Big Bang Model’ as the viable explanation for origin of the universe.The said model is highly controversial with number of inconsistencies (the redshift controversy being the most hotly debated controversy) brought to the notice of the scientific community by the leading researchers in the field from time to
    time.It is ironic that the mainstream cosmologists have remained indifferent to accept the cosmological realities despite several loopholes with the said model.I have detailed the prominent shortcomings with the Big Bang model in my recent article titled “Big Bang Model? A Critical Review” posted on the internet for the international viewership at the website:
    http://vixra.org/pdf/1005.0051v8.pdf .

    Ashwini Kumar Lal
    New Delhi, India

  • John

    A journalistic tsk tsk: the second half of the headline, “world freaks out” is a bit of hyperbole implying that this juicy bit of “freak out” will be the second half of the article. The world may or may not freak out, but it wasn’t at all reported on herein.

  • Alan M WOLK

    While I may pray to a Creator and perhaps the Protector of all souls of existence, who may have existed even before the Universe, the actual existence of God can never be proven.

    Therefore, as for the beginning of the Universe or Universes, I rely entirely upon the analysis of astro- physicists, mathimaticians, and other scientists to gather FACTS. Humanity learns step by step postulating theories and discarding those that lack sufficient support. That is called LOGIC!

  • Richard D. Stacy

    This is a discussion that will go on until our sun grows into a red giant and consumes the solar system. Thankfully, there will always be unanswerable questions to keep our minds busy.

  • scubadiverdown

    Very much enjoyed reading everything. I love science and the study of the universe; it’s all open ended – it’s all theory/belief until proven otherwise is it not? The farther out we go, the more I see the design of a creator. It is impossible to view the life around us and not see the complexities that exist…these did NOT just arrive! What it all comes down to is this: We will all be given a choice to accept Jesus Christ as God and Creator of everything; or we will deny Him. What will you do with Jesus?

    The God of the universe cares for you. He died for you. Until you earnestly seek Him with all your heart, soul and mind, you won’t be able to find Him or see Him.

  • Evan

    Not only is it not a new idea, its not even a fresh idea. Richard Dawkins has been making this exact argument since the “atheism” craze (!) of 2007-2008 featuring heavy hitters Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and others. Calling on God to answer the question of the creation of the universe is ridiculous; until you can prove God, you can’t use him to answer a different question! Hawking is right, but there is no reason anyone should be shocked by these statements. Its 2010 for Christs sake.

  • phil

    Well done Hawking; applying a simple rationalle and reaching a logical, yet well known, science-based conclusion. I take my hat off to him and Dawkins. The human race should now be well ahead of superstition to support its existence and future well being.

    We of course will need to venture into space, and collonise at least Mars intitially, if we are to survive in the long run…that’s a no brainer. The question is when should we start? I say no time like now; not only to mitigate the self-destruction risk identified by Hawking, but equally the threat of extinction by impact.

    Indeed, many years ago at the age of 13, I likened the lack of interest by some to space collonisation to that of a chick inside an egg too reluctant to crack the shell and venture outside. Sometime, something will invariably step on that fragile shell and all will be lost.

    So, I look forward to a time (probably long after I’ve gone) when the human race will take for granted its longer term destiny; shed its belief in fairies, and leave that shell behind in the nest. We will then finally be able to recognise ourselves as grown up; with our destiny under out control, and for ever maturing to eternity!

  • Chris the Canadian

    “I think the point is that if people who believe in God believe that God was there all along, and nothing was needed to create God…”

    Ever think that man created God to try to explain things he could not comprehend??? Why is there the need to BELIEVE in a God? Fear. Fear of the unknown and unexplainable. In Ancient times religion was used to both scare and soothe the masses by those in power. “If you don’t listen to us, you will be eaten by a giant crocodile/hippo demon for eternity after death, but if you DO listen to us and do exactly as we say, your afterlife will be bountiful and wonderful!!!”

    “Science should try to answer the “how” of nature, religion the “why.” Two distinct platforms of thought. One tangible, the other metaphysical. The mind of God can not be understood in the physical. To know the position and momentum of every single subatomic particle, to every super cluster and everything in between, both past, present and future simultaneously; is just a tiny fraction of the mind of God. Infinite wisdom/knowledge is everything we know and everything we do not know”…

    Notice a theme? Modern day science is trying to answer questions about the Universe and about our existence and there are still a vast number of people that believe in a Creator. How are we, as a species, supposed to move forward when the majority of us still believe in superstition? Science MUST try to answer the questions of WHY, not JUST the how!!! For the advancement of humanity the WHY is as important as the HOW.

    Humanity has advanced to where we are now IN SPITE of religion. Religion has tried to supress knowledge for centuries, deny TRUTHS of nature that go against dogma, and persecuted and even executed some of the most intelligent and forward thinking people in history. Why? To protect their status and power. Yes, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism have provided humanity with beautiful moral plays and rules for existing socially together, but these religions have also blinded masses of people to the realities of nature, history, astronomy, physics, and all natural sciences.

  • JD

    Does not a theory of near-infinite other universes, each operating by different sets of laws reintroduce a “space” for what many have called “God”? If any of those other universes had the right combination of conditions to allow for the emergence of intelligent beings capable of generating universes and manipulating their conditions, than simply by the law of large numbers God(s) MUST have emerged in SOME universe at some point. These beings would, for all human intents and purposes, be immortal, all-powerful, all-knowing, inscrutable, etc. dwelling “outside” the laws of space and time which govern our own universe. “Wholly other,” transcendent, _beyond_ the scope of human investigation–including Hawking’s science–such beings are not unlike the deities imagined by some Judeo-Christian theologies.

  • Mike Redman

    The existence of the universe is proof that God does not exist if He is all knowing,
    which He must be to be God. By analogy if you know what a triangle is, would you
    need to create a physical model to confirm your knowledge? To god, the creation
    of the universe would be a colossal waist of time.

  • Dianna

    I think his thoughts sound very reasonable. I have never understood the tremendous need many people have to use the idea of God to elevate themselves above other creatures. It’s a ridiculous idea, a way to shift blame. Lets just sit back and pray (or rather do absolutely nothing) when something bad happens in the world. I have no use for religion and NO ONE will ever prove that there is or isn’t a God so why can’t we just get over it and do right by each other?

  • sati

    Stephan hawking is a nut in a shell

  • Ashwini Kumar Lal

    Readers may like to refer to my review article “Origin of Life” published in the European journal, ‘Astrophysics & Space Science’ (2008, Volume 317, Issue 3-4, pp. 267-278), and since archived at arXiv as http://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/0907/0907.3552.pdf (freely available on internet) for the current status of scientific research in the
    inter-disciplinary field of ‘origin of life’.

    Ashwini Kumar Lal

  • http://www.cosmology-particles.pl Sylwester Kornowski

    Properties of the Einstein spacetime (it is a gas composed of the non-rotating binary systems of neutrinos) lead to the mental world outside brains. But it is true that this mental world was not needed to start the big bang.

  • alan

    “Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing”

    This doesn’t quite jibe with “scientific determinism” which he also expounded in his book. Or how can it be be both spontaneous and determined.

    Sorry Steve.

  • Ashwini Kumar Lal

    The current controversy regarding Hawking’s latest book, ‘The Grand Design’ results from the celebrated scientist’s limited vision about ‘origins’ (of life and universe). Hawking is under wrong impression that current knowledge of quantum physics and general theory of relativity alone is sufficient to unearth mystery surrounding ‘origin of life’, whereas fact of the matter is that ‘origin of life’ involves deep understanding of diverse sujects such as genetics, astrobiology, and molecular biology besides astrophysics. Ironically, despite considerable advancement in the above cited fields in recent years, science just remains clueless about origin of life.

  • Ashwini Kumar Lal

    Readers may like to browse the following write-up on ‘redshift controversy’ that forms one of the major inconsistencies with the ‘Big Bang Model’.

    A large number of redshift observations remain inexplicable by the Doppler effect till date. Turning blind eyes to the revelations made in this connection in Halton Arp’s 1987 book ‘Quasars, Redshifts, and Controversies’ as also in J.V. Narlikar’s detailed 1989 review of ‘Non-cosmological Redshifts’ is nothing but sheer indifference on the part of the mainstream cosmologists to accept the cosmological realities. The Doppler shift is a phenomenon in which the frequency and wavelength of a wave change for an observer moving relative to the source of wave. If a source of light is moving away from an observer, a ‘redshift’ is observed. Conversely, if a source of light is moving toward an observer, a ‘blueshift’ is observed. If the source moves away from the observer with velocity, v (v < c is possible since the space which separates the objects (e.g. a quasar from the Earth) can expand faster than the speed of light.

    Under the cosmological redshift interpretation, galaxies are not receding simply by a physical velocity in the direction away from the observer; instead, the intervening space is expanding, which accounts for large-scale isotropy of the effect demanded by the cosmological principle (Harrison 1981). In the current cosmological model (Gray and Davies 2008), cosmological redshift is described as the observable time-dependent cosmic scale factor (a), governed by the expression,
    1+z(cos) = a(now)/a(then). Bondi (1947) defined cosmological redshift as the summation of the Doppler shift due to an object’s motion through space, and the global gravitational shift (Einstein effect) due to the difference between the potential energy per unit mass at the source and the observer. Mathematically, cosmological redshift is expressed as
    z(cos) = z(dop)+ z(grav),where 1+ zcos = [(1+v/c)/(1-v/c)]1/2 (1+∆Ф/c2), and ∆Ф is the difference in gravitational potential between the points of emission and reception of a photon, which hints at the Doppler shift not being the correct measure of distance between the source and the observer. For cosmological redshifts of z < 0.1, the effects of spacetime expansion are minimal, and the observed redshifts are determined by peculiar motion of galaxies relative to one another that causes Doppler redshifts and blueshifts (Gray and Davies 2008).

    Some astrophysical observations (Burbidge 1973; Field 1974) have also raised doubts whether the large redshifts (Hubble redshift) related to the distant galaxies are due entirely to cosmological expansion. The strongest argument (Field et al. 1973) in favour of cosmological expansion is that there is no known hypothesis consistent with laws of physics (other than Doppler shift hypothesis) that can explain the observed redshifts. Crawford (1979) provides alternate explanation to the problem – the interaction of photon with curved space-time causes it to lose energy in the form of very low energy secondary photons, giving rise to the phenomenon of redshift. Marmet (1990) too was of the opinion that the cosmic redshifts could be explained without
    invoking the Doppler interpretation. According to him, photon, in its passage from a distant galaxy to the observer on the earth, loses some of its energy to the intergalactic medium. As such, the greater the depth of the intergalactic medium between a galaxy and the observer, the more its light gets shifted toward the low-energy (red) end of the spectrum (Marmet and Reber 1989). Interactions of photons with atoms in the intergalactic medium always result in the production of secondary photon (bremsstrahlung photon) at longer wavelength (Jauch and Rohrlich 1980).Julia (2009) has attributed cosmological redshift of distant galaxies to the loss of energy of the photon with time through transfer of its energy (heat) to the intergalactic space whereby redshift is shown to increase exponentially with the distance, z = e(H/c)d . These ideas suggest that the distant quasars might be much closer than their redshift would indicate if they have an ‘intrinsic redshift’ due to their being surrounded by a ‘fuzzy’ atmosphere containing free electrons and other material. This concentration of electrons produces the unusual redshift as the light travels through it, and loses energy to these electrons by the Compton effect (Grey and Davies 2008).

  • Ashwini Kumar Lal

    Awarding the ‘2006 Physics Nobel’ to the advocates of the ‘Big Bang Theory’ appears to have been one of the biggest blunders committed by the Nobel Committee in the light of the prevailing inconsistencies like the unrersolved redshift controversy that has direct bearing on the expanse and the age of the universe, presence of fully developed mature galaxies with higher metallicity in the very early epoch of the universe, and the presence of superclusters of galaxies interspersed with supervoids in the cosmos, that remain inexplicable by the ‘Big Bang Model’. Ironically, Hawking’s immense popularity as a popular science writer hinges on success of his widely popular book, ‘A Brief History of Time’ that is all about the origin of the universe. Authencity of the information contained in the said book depends on the validity of the ‘Big Bang Model’.When the said model itself in mired in deep controversy, what Hawking has been preaching to the world is a mere gossip without element of authemticity.

    Readers may like to browse posting no. 435 on page 44 of the thread :’Stephen Hawking: God was not needed to create the Universe’ at the website :
    http://www.politics.ie/education-science/137173-stephen-hawking-god-not-needed-create-universe-44.html .

  • Ashwini Kumar Lal

    Readers may like to watch the video feature titled
    “Big Bang Theory-The ‘biggest’ lie of all? ‘Science’, with NO [Zero, none] ‘scientific evidence’?” on
    ‘You Tube’ at the website:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J2K-YVmuOCY .

  • Mandar Govekar

    Concept of “BIG BANG ” is directly related to the TIME. To understand Big Bang, we should understand the time first. Time is constant, only the changes is the parameter to measure time. Time dont have starting point or origin nor the ending point. Big bang is just one phenomena among numbers of big bang in universe occured at different time on time scale. There is no such thing called “BIRTH OF UNIVERSE”. Mass leading to to occcurence of big bang is eternal as time. Substancial amount of mass retract and collapse every where in space. The properties of mass changes as per the conditions in space, but fundamental properties of mass remain constant. Space has no end, its eternal through out any dimention. Big bang is like firework happening across the space happenig at differrent time intervals at differnt places of space. Dont count on Billion years to decide the big bang instead count number of big bangs occured in billion years. Thus proposing a ” Theory of Multiple Big Bang in Space & time”.

  • Ashwini Kumar Lal

    The concept of “conformal cyclic cosmology” (CCC) floated by the Oxford physicist, Sir Roger Penrose refutes the widely accepted inflationary Big Bang model for the origin of the universe. Recent observation of the circular patterns seen in the WMAP mission data on the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) that hints at the space and time not originating at the Big Bang supports Penrose’s concept of CCC. Our universe continually cycles through a series of ‘aeons’, with each ‘ big bang’ marking the start of a new ‘aeon’ in the history of the universe. In the light of revelation made in Penrose’s recent paper titled ‘ Concentric circles in WMAP data may provide evidence of violent pre-Big-Bang activity’ (http://arxiv.org/abs/1011.3706), the age of the universe calibrated as 13.75 billion years according to NASA’s latest interpretation of the WMAP data hardly holds any relevance.This has serious repercussion on the validity of the inflationary Big Bang model for the origin of the universe.

  • Ashwini Kumar Lal

    Realization of the supernatural force commanding this universe is very much evident from the knowledge of quantum physics itself. The incidence of electron not collapsing into the nucleus despite the electron gradually losing its energy during its orbit around the nucleus on account of emission of radiation resulting from its motion in the magnetic field, is a glaring example of the presence of the supernatural force at micro level. There is always a minimum energy level for the electron in its orbit around the nucleus beyond which trespassing is not permissible. And then, quantum tunnelling and quantum fluctuations are the other bizarre natural phenomena that appear to be regulated at Almighty’s behest alone.

  • Ashwini Kumar Lal

    In the context of the ongoing debate on Stephen Hawking’s observations in his latest book, ‘The Grand Design’, I must mention Einstein’s famous words :
    ” Science without religion is lame, and religion without science is blind “.

  • Ashwini Kumar Lal

    I have gone through three books titled,’ A Brief History of Time’,’The Theory of Everything’, and ‘The Grand Design’ – all authored by the celebrated scientist, Stephen Hawking. I find content of all his books to be more or less the same with minor variation here and there. I fail to comprehend why Hawking has been repeating the same thing again and again. Repeated mention of the Big Bang Model as viable explanation for the origin of the universe does not convince intelligent readers about its validity in the light of several unattended inconsistencies with the said model.

  • Al Costanzo

    As a person that has seen a Miricle first-hand, I can confindindely say he 100 percent wrong. God does exist. The good professor just does not know it. As a Christian, I will be praying for this guy. So smart? I Think he needs to ponder his thoughts.

    Jesus does not want anyone to be lost in the Bible says in the last days mens will knowledge increase, ha ha, GODS’ ways are much higher than mans. Who can comprehend the Lord? Was there when God created it?

    Pray for him, I am.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.

See More

Collapse bottom bar