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The Origins of the Universe: Has Hawking Eliminated God

The Origins of the Universe: Has Hawking Eliminated God

Time : 01:39:41

The Origins of the Universe: Has Hawking Eliminated God

William Lane Craig responds in a public lecture to the claims in Stephen Hawking's recent book The Grand Design. Speaking to a capacity audience at St Andrew the Great Church, Cambridge, Dr. Craig outlined the weaknesses of the central arguments of the book. Rev. Dr. Rodney Holder, an astrophysicist, responded to Dr. Craig.

This lecture was a part of The Reasonable Faith Tour 2011 sponsored by UCCF, Damaris & Premier Christian Radio.


CHAIRPERSON: Good evening and thank you for coming to St. Andrew the Great this evening! If you are just coming in, do feel free to take a seat in the gallery. We are here with a packed house tonight. It is wonderful to see everybody here for what promises to be a really stimulating event. The title of tonight’s event is “The Origins of the Universe: Has Hawking Eliminated God?” Our thanks to St. Andrew the Great for hosting the event tonight. My name is Justin Brierley. I am the chairperson for the event tonight. I run a faith discussion program on Premier Christian Radio who, along with Damaris and UCCF, are sponsoring the Reasonable Faith Tour.

I don’t know if anyone read The Times headline about a year ago – it was actually published on September the 2nd. It is probably a bit small for most of you to see here but this is The Times headline that read on its front page: “Hawking – God did not create Universe.” [1] That was a story that went around the world at the time. It was published on the eve of the publication of Stephen Hawking’s best selling book, his most recent book, The Grand Design[2] It is essentially suggested that contemporary physics has eliminated God as a cause of the universe. Well, is that the case? Tonight we will hear why one, even two, people think that it ain’t necessarily so. Later in the evening, we are going to be joined in conversation by a Cambridge physicist by background but he has been ordained for a long time as well, Reverend Dr. Rodney Holder. But our main speaker this evening is a philosopher by background. He currently holds the position of Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology in California. He is the author of over 30 books and over 150 peer-reviewed academic articles. He regularly engages in high profile debates with leading atheists around the world and he is speaking tonight, as I said earlier, on the origins of the universe – has Hawking eliminated God? Please welcome Professor William Lane Craig.

DR. CRAIG: Thank you very much. Thank you. It is a delight to be here with you this evening. Cambridge is a sort of scholar’s heaven on earth, I think. Whenever we have had the opportunity to spend time here in Cambridge on research leave or even simply visiting, my wife, Jan, and I have so enjoyed being in this city and at this university in Cambridge. It is a delight to be back with you again this evening and then tomorrow for the debate at the Cambridge Union.

Quantum physics – the very term is enough to send a chill up your spine and to send the theologians ducking into foxholes. Stephen Hawking is the quantum king of popular culture. His A Brief History of Time [3] has sold nine million copies. The New York Times has called Hawking the most revered scientist since Einstein. So, when Stephen Hawking says in his most recent book, The Grand Design, that quantum physics has made the need for a creator and designer superfluous, the temptation is to hoist the white flag of surrender. When Hawking goes even further and says on the recent television program, Curiosity, that modern cosmology furnishes a proof of atheism then the average believer may feel deeply shaken in his faith. But do these bold assertions bear scrutiny? Sir Martin Rees of the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge and the Astronomer Royal is not impressed. [4] In an interview in The Independent of September of last year he said candidly,

Stephen Hawking is a remarkable person whom I've known for 40 years and for that reason any oracular statement he makes gets exaggerated publicity. I know Stephen Hawking well enough to know that he has read very little philosophy and even less theology, so I don’t think we should attach any weight to his views on this topic. [5]

This very morning I had the extraordinary opportunity of meeting Professor Rees on the train from London to Cambridge and we spoke briefly about the conference this evening and he underscored what he had said a year ago and his skepticism about Hawking’s claims. Well, tonight, I propose that we take a closer look at what Hawking has to say about God’s role in the creation of the universe and see if his claims bear scrutiny.

Hawking and Mlodinow open their book, The Grand Design, with a series of profound questions: What is the nature of reality? Where did this all come from? Did the universe need a creator? Then they say,

Traditionally these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge. [6]

Now, as a professional philosopher, I could only roll my eyes at the audacity of such a statement. Two scientists, who have to all appearances little acquaintance with philosophy, are prepared to pronounce an entire discipline dead and to insult their faculty colleagues in philosophy at Cal Tech and Cambridge University – many of whom, like Michael Redhead and D.H. Mellor, are eminent philosophers of science – for supposedly failing to keep up.

Their pronouncement is not merely amazingly condescending but also outrageously naïve. The man who claims to have no need of philosophy is the man most apt to be deceived by it. You might therefore anticipate that Hawking and Mlodinow’s subsequent exposition of their favored theories would be underpinned by a host of unexamined philosophical presuppositions. That expectation is, in fact, borne out. Their claims about laws of nature, the possibility of miracles, scientific determinism, and the illusion of free will are all asserted with only the thinnest of justification. Now, I don’t have time to talk about these issues this evening but, should you be interested, I have commented on them in some detail at my website – just look at Question of the Week #181 for a discussion. [7] Clearly Mlodinow and Hawking are up to their necks in philosophical questions.

What you might not expect, however, is that, after pronouncing the death of philosophy, Hawking and Mlodinow should themselves then plunge immediately into a philosophical discussion of scientific realism vs. antirealism. I thought philosophy was supposed to be dead? But the first third of their book is not about current scientific theories at all but is a disquisition on the history and philosophy of science. I found this section to be the most interesting and mind-boggling of the entire book. Let me explain.

Having set aside a Monday afternoon to read Hawking and Mlodinow’s book, I had spent that morning working through an article from Blackwell’s Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics on a philosophical viewpoint known as ontological pluralism. What is that? Ontological pluralism is a view in an area of philosophy whose name sounds like stuttering: meta-metaphysics, or, as it is sometimes called, meta-ontology. [8] This is philosophy at its most ethereal. Ontology is the study of being, or of what exists – the nature of reality. Meta-ontology is one step higher: It inquires whether ontological disputes are meaningful and how best to resolve them.

Ontological pluralism holds that there really is no right answer to many ontological questions, such as: Do composite objects exist? According to the ontological pluralist, these are just different ways of describing reality, and none of these is more correct or accurate than another. There literally is no fact of the matter to answer these questions. So if you were to ask, for example, “Is there such a thing as the Moon?” the ontological pluralist would say that the question has no objective answer. It is not true that the Moon exists, and it is not true that the Moon does not exist. There just is no fact of the matter about whether there is such a thing as the Moon. Ontological pluralism is thus a radical view which is defended by only a handful of contemporary philosophers.

Imagine my astonishment, therefore, to find Hawking and Mlodinow espousing ontological pluralism (without, of course, being aware of the name) as their answer to the question “What is the nature of reality?” They call their view “model-dependent realism.” They explain that models are just different ways of interpreting our sense perceptions. On their view there is no objective reality out there to which our models of the world more or less accurately correspond. [9]

Mlodinow and Hawking are thus, in fact, extreme antirealists. For example, contrasting Young Earth Creationism and the Big Bang Theory, Hawking and Mlodinow claim that, while the Big Bang Theory is “more useful,” nevertheless, “neither model can be said to be more real than the other.” [10]

Now think of it! This great champion of modern cosmology thinks that the Big Bang model is no more real or accurate than the creation of the world six thousand years ago!

Now, you can’t help wonder what sort of argument would justify adopting so radical a view. All that Mlodinow and Hawking have to offer is the fact that if we were, say, inhabitants of a virtual reality controlled by alien beings, then there would be no way for us to tell that we were in the simulated world and so we would have no reason to doubt its reality. [11] The trouble with this sort of argument is that it does not exclude that there are, in this case, two competing models of the world — one the aliens’ model and the other our model, and one of the models is real and the other one is illusory, even if we cannot tell which is which.

Moreover, the fact our observations are model-dependent does not imply that we cannot have knowledge of the way the world is (much less that there is no way the world is). For example, a layperson entering a scientific laboratory might see that there is a piece of machinery on the lab table, but he would not see that there is an interferometer on the lab table, since he lacks the theoretical knowledge to recognize it as such. A caveman entering the laboratory would not even see that there is a piece of machinery on the table, since he lacks the concept of a machine. But that does nothing to undermine the objective truth of the lab technician’s observation that there is an interferometer on the table.

Mlodinow and Hawking, not content with ontological pluralism, really go off the deep end when they assert, “There is no model-independent test of reality. It follows that a well-constructed model creates a reality of its own.” [12] This is an assertion of ontological relativity, the view that reality itself is different for persons having different models. [13]

If you are Fred Hoyle, then the universe really has existed eternally in a steady state; but if you are Roger Penrose, the universe really did began with a big bang. If you are the ancient physician Galen, blood really does not circulate through the human body; but if you are William Harvey, who discovered circulation, it really does. Such a view seems crazy and is made only more so by Hawking and Mlodinow’s claim that the model itself somehow creates its respective reality. It hardly needs to be said that no such conclusion follows from there being no model-independent test of the way the world is.

All of this is, in any case, somewhat beside my main point. The main point is that despite their claim to speak as scientific torchbearers of knowledge, what Hawking and Mlodinow are engaged in is philosophy. The most important conclusions drawn in their book are philosophical, not scientific. Why, then, do they pronounce philosophy dead and claim as scientists to be bearing the torch of discovery? Simply because that enables them to cloak their amateurish philosophizing with the mantle of scientific authority and so avoid the hard work of actually arguing for their positions, rather than merely asserting their philosophical viewpoints.

For that reason, I am frankly not terribly impressed when scientists begin to pronounce on questions of philosophy and theology. For when they do so, they are speaking outside of their area of specialization and their opinions have no more value than the opinions of an untutored layman. Indeed, they are untutored laymen when it comes to these questions, for scientists typically lack any training in philosophy and theology.

With that in mind, let’s look now more closely at Hawking and Mlodinow’s answer to the profound questions they initially posed:

1. Where did the universe come from?

2. Did the universe need a creator?

3. Why does something exist rather than nothing?

Their answer to these questions involves an appeal to the “no boundary” model of the origin of the universe, which was popularized by Hawking in his best-selling book, A Brief History of Time. Our authors in The Grand Design simply expound the model without adducing any evidence for it or mentioning any of the many alternative models to it. Nor do they respond to the criticism that the so-called “imaginary time” featured in the model is physically unintelligible and therefore merely a mathematical “trick” useful for avoiding the cosmological singularity which appears in classical theories of the beginning of the universe.

Still, their exposition is not without interest with regard to the beginning of the universe. For example, they write:

The realization that time can behave like another direction of space means one can get rid of the problem of time having a beginning, in a similar way in which we got rid of the edge of the world. Suppose the beginning of the universe was like the South Pole of the earth, with degrees of latitude playing the role of time. As one moves north, the circles of constant latitude, representing the size of the universe, would expand. The universe would start as a point at the South Pole, but the South Pole is much like any other point. To ask what happened before the beginning of the universe would become a meaningless question, because there is nothing south of the South Pole. In this picture space-time has no boundary — the same laws of nature hold at the South Pole as in other places. [14]

This passage is fascinating because it represents a rather different interpretation of the model than we had in A Brief History of Time[15] Let me explain. In his model, Hawking employs imaginary numbers, like the square root of -1, for the time variable in his equations in order to get rid of the initial cosmological singularity which is the boundary of space-time in the standard Big Bang model. The initial segment of space-time, instead of terminating in a point like a cone, is rounded off rather like a badminton shuttlecock. The “South Pole” of this rounded off surface is like any other point on that surface; hence, the idea that there is no boundary. Since imaginary time behaves like a dimension of space, Hawking interpreted his no boundary universe to “just be.” But in The Grand Design, the “South Pole” is interpreted to represent the beginning point to both time and the universe. Despite the fact that imaginary time behaves like another spatial dimension, Hawking allows the circles of latitude to play the role of time, which has a beginning point at the “South Pole.” When Hawking speaks of “the problem of time having a beginning,” what he means is “the age-old objection to the universe having a beginning,” [16] an objection which his model removes. What is that age-old objection? That objection, he says, is the question, “What happened before the beginning of the universe?” Hawking is right that this question is meaningless on his model. But what he fails to mention is that the question is equally meaningless on the standard Big Bang model, since there is nothing prior to the initial cosmological singularity. On either model the universe has an absolute temporal beginning.

So the question isn’t, “What was there before the beginning of the universe?” Rather, the real question is, “Why did the universe begin to exist?” Why is there something rather than nothing? Hawking and Mlodinow advocate what they call a “top-down” approach to this question. The idea here is to begin with our presently observed universe, characterized by the standard model of particle physics, and then calculate, given the no boundary condition, the probability of the various histories allowed by quantum physics to reach our present state. The most probable history represents the history of our observable universe. Hawking and Mlodinow claim that, “In this view, the universe appeared spontaneously from nothing.” [17] By “spontaneously” they appear to mean, without a cause.

But how does that follow from the model? The top-down approach calculates the probability of our observable universe given the no boundary condition. The top-down approach does not calculate the probability that the no boundary condition should exist in the first place but just takes it for granted. Such a condition is not metaphysically or physically necessary. If the universe came into being uncaused from nothing, it could have had any sort of conceivable spatiotemporal configuration. For nothingness, or nonbeing, has no properties and no constraints and is governed by no physical laws. Physics only begins at the “South Pole” in the no boundary model. There is not anything in the model that implies that that point came to be without a cause. Indeed, the idea that being could arise without a cause from nonbeing seems to be metaphysically absurd. [08]

In his recent interview on the television program, Curiosity, Hawking goes yet a step further to argue that atheism is true because there is no time at which God could have created the universe since time began at the Big Bang. This is a terrible argument, however, since it just assumes without justification that causes must precede their effects in time. But philosophers frequently discuss cases in which cause and effect are simultaneous; that is to say, they occur at the same time. So, why couldn’t God’s creating the universe be simultaneous with the universe’s coming into being? Indeed, what could be more obvious? Of course the universe’s coming into being is simultaneous with God’s creating it and bringing it into being. Now, if Hawking insists that the initial singularity in the standard model is not technically speaking a point in space-time but is a boundary point of space-time, then fine! We can still say that God’s creating the universe was co-incident with the universe’s coming into being. That is to say, they occur together on the boundary of space-time. Besides, his model is supposed to have eliminated the boundary point of space-time in favor of an ordinary beginning point like the “South Pole.” So, what’s the problem? Hawking’s attempt to invalidate theism is, I’m afraid, singularly unimpressive.

Hawking and Mlodinow seem to realize they have not yet answered the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” For they return to this question in their concluding chapter and give a quite different answer. There they explain that there is a constant vacuum energy contained in empty space, and if the universe’s positive energy associated with matter is evenly balanced by the negative energy associated with gravitation, then the universe can spontaneously come into being as a fluctuation of the energy in the vacuum (which, by a clever sleight of hand, they say “we may as well call . . . zero”).

This seems to be a very different account of the universe’s origin, for it presupposes the reality of space and the energy in it. So it is puzzling when Mlodinow and Hawking conclude, “Because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing in the manner described in Chapter 6.” [19] Here it is said that the nothingness spoken of in Chapter 6 is not really nothingness after all but is space filled with vacuum energy. But space filled with vacuum energy is hardly nothing and certainly doesn’t exist prior to the “South Pole” in the model. All this goes to reinforce the conviction that the no boundary approach only describes the evolution of our universe from its origin at the “South Pole” to its present state but is silent as to why the universe came to exist in the first place.

What this implies is that Hawking hasn’t even begun to address the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” For “nothing” in his vocabulary does not have the traditional meaning of “nonbeing” but rather means “the quantum vacuum.”

Hawking and Mlodinow’s equivocal use of terms is painfully evident in their interview with the American television host Larry King on his program. Here is how it went [20]:

Hawking: “Gravity and quantum theory cause universes to be created spontaneously out of nothing.”

Larry King: “Who created the nothing? Where did the nothing come from?”

Mlodinow: “According to quantum theory, there is no such thing as nothingness.”

Now, in this ridiculous exchange, Hawking is using “nothing” to refer to the quantum vacuum, while Mlodinow is using it to mean nonbeing. [21] They avoid the tough question, “Why is there something rather than nothing” only by equivocating on the use of their terminology.

In conclusion, despite Hawking and Mlodinow’s constant sniping at religious belief throughout their book, I think there is actually genuine profit in it for religious believers, especially for those interested in natural theology. For the authors affirm and argue for an absolute beginning of time and the universe which points ineluctably to a transcendent cause beyond the universe. Given the desperation and/or irrelevancy of their proffered answers to the profound questions that motivated their inquiry, their book thus turns out to be quite supportive of the existence of a Creator of the cosmos. [22]

CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much, Bill. Having heard what Bill has had to say on Hawking’s arguments against God as a cause of the universe; we thought it would be interested to hear from a Cambridge-based physicist by background – that is, of course, the Reverend Dr. Rodney Holder who is Course Directory at the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion which is based at St. Edmund’s College here in Cambridge. He is also ordained and he is going to come and give some thoughts on the back of Bill’s presentation tonight. Thank you, Rodney.

DR. HOLDER: Thank you very much, Justin. It is a great pleasure to be able to respond to Bill. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to do so. This isn’t, however, too much of a critique because I am very much in sympathy with what Professor Lane Craig has said.

It seems to me there are two fundamental questions which modern cosmology poses which take us beyond the science itself into the realm of metaphysics, philosophy, or even theology. And they are, first of all, the indication that the universe had a beginning in time some 13.7 billion years ago which Bill has been talking about. Secondly, the fact that the constants which go into the laws of physics and the initial conditions of the universe at the Big Bang need to take the values that they do to high degrees of accuracy in order for the universe to give rise to life and, indeed, to anything interesting at all.

It seems that the idea of the universe having a beginning has presented a serious challenge to cosmologists in the modern world, especially cosmologists of an atheist persuasion. Einstein, who was more of a pantheist than an atheist, hated the idea and chose a particular value for the cosmological constant in order to make the universe static. Eddington, who was a Quaker, called the idea repugnant. But the most serious opposition came from a group of Cambridge cosmologists – Fred Hoyle, Hermann Bondi, and Thomas Gold – who proposed the alternative of a steady state universe. It was in fact Fred Hoyle who coined the phrase “Big Bang” in the first place as a term of abuse for the theory because he believed that if the universe had a beginning in time then it would need God to create it and of course, as an atheist, Hoyle hated the very idea of that. It seems that Hawking similarly today prefers an approach which attempts to do away with that first moment.

Now, I agree with Professor Lane Craig that Hawking and other cosmologists have failed to come up with any convincing way of getting rid of the beginning but the point I would like to make is that even if they had they would not have answered the fundamental question addressed by the Christian doctrine of creation. This is indeed the question “Why there is something rather than nothing?” But that is to say that the Christian doctrine of creation is much more about the ontological origin of the universe than its temporal origin. As St. Thomas Aquinas recognized, even if there is a chain of cause and effect which goes back into the infinite past, that infinite chain still needs a first cause outside the chain all together. So the question is – why does the chain of cause and effect exist at all? It is because of this kind of argument that St. Thomas said that we can know God exists from reason alone. [23] However, he said that we cannot know from reason alone whether the universe had a beginning in time although he believed that it did on the basis of his interpretation of Scripture.

The basic point of the argument is that the universe is contingent. It may or may not have existed in the first place and, given that it exists, it could have been different from what it is. Its existence can be explained if there is a necessary being who creates it. That is at least part of what we mean by God. To say that God is necessary means that he cannot not exist. He must exist and is eternally existent. God, so understood, explains the existence of everything else. This point was in fact recognized by none other than Stephen Hawking himself back in A Brief History of Time when he asked the question “What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?” Precisely! Martin Rees and Dennis Sciama, the supervisor of Hawking and of Martin Rees, all recognize this very point even though none of those cosmologists was a religious believer.

A further important point from the Christian doctrine is that there is no particular vested interest in the first moment. Rather, God is involved in every moment. God sustains the universe in being moment by moment and, as St. Augustine said, the universe would collapse into nothing if God ceased to will the universe’s existence. So the upshot of all this is that the Christian doctrine of creation is completely untouched even if Hawking or others manage to explain away the beginning which, as Professor Lane Craig says, they are very far from doing.

The other big issue, though, is the fine-tuning of the universe. I think that this is perhaps even more hard to explain if you are an atheist than the universe’s beginning. The universe seems in numerous ways to be designed so that life could develop in it at some stage of its evolution. The constants of the laws of physics and the initial conditions at the Big Bang need to be what they are in order to give rise to life. The very interesting thing about this is that it was discovered by cosmologists with no religious acts to grind; for example, Brandon Carter who coined the phrase Anthropic Principle to describe it. Martin Rees was another pioneer of discovering the fine-tuning.

For an atheist, it seems to me there are two main options to solve this problem. The first is to say that cosmologists, like Carter, are wrong and you cannot vary the constants of physics. Maybe there is only one self-consistent set of laws and constants. It has been the aim of some physicists to produce a Theory of Everything which calculates all the constants and which also says that it doesn’t matter how the universe started it would end up the same with galaxies, stars, and life. It seems that M-Theory, which Hawking talks a lot about, which is a generalization of string theory, was originally designed with that in mind. But, in fact, that particular program seems highly implausible given the different kinds of universes we can actually imagine. In general, as we obtained better theories in physics, we do not eliminate free parameters. Indeed, M-Theory has made no predications which can be observed and the turn in cosmology, including from Hawking, is toward a multiverse version of string theory/M-Theory. So it seems to me that this multiverse idea is one you are virtually driven to if you are an atheist. Hawking certainly goes for it. But the idea is fraught with problems. First, the physics of multiverses is highly speculative. You wouldn’t gain the impression from the Hawking and Mlodinow book that M-Theory had indeed made no predications and there was no observational or experimental support for it. It is highly speculative and indeed other universes than our own are unobservable in principle. Usually the idea is that there are infinitely many universes. Well, that very idea has certain problems associated with it. [24] You cannot complete an infinity – you can always add to an infinity. So there can be no guarantee that all possibilities are covered even if you have an infinite number of universes. There are paradoxes to do with human identity – this very room will be mimicked in many, many other universes, possibly infinitely many universes once you get into this realm of a multiverse. So it seems to me that you are ending up with a hypothesis which is perhaps giving rise to paradox, it is not a simple hypothesis and scientists usually choose the simplest of competing hypotheses to explain any phenomenon. According to the principle of Ockham’s Razor, one should not multiply entities unnecessarily and the multiverse idea does that to the most extravagant degree.

There is always the question, too, why this multiverse? In fact, what you have done is simply pushed the question back from why this universe is so special as to why the multiverse is so special. There is a potential lack of predictability if we are in a multiverse because there are far more disordered universes than ordered ones. So why doesn’t everything collapse into chaos within the next second or two. Perhaps the closest a multiverse explanation gets is to explaining why the cosmological constant is so small because only if it is so small, within quite a narrow range, could galaxies and stars form. Even though the theoretical value of that constant is 10120 times bigger than that which is compatible with observation. But on the other hand some kind of fine-tuning seems necessary in order to get an infinite universe in the first place because mostly we are thinking about a multiverse being a gigantic overarching space-time in which the universes aren’t really separate universes but they are disconnected parts of this overarching space-time. And you need the actual density of this whole vast overarching space-time to be lower than a certain critical value.

Well, there is a big problem about the way the universe started – how highly ordered it was back at the beginning. There is a very strong argument of Roger Penrose to do with that. And yet what we would expect if we were in a multiverse would be not to be in a universe which is as ordered and structured to this day out as far as we can see to the furthest galaxy, but merely to exist in a solar system which is just about ordered enough for us to exist but that surrounded by chaos. That seems a certain incompatibility with the idea of multiverses – the idea that we are in a highly ordered universe.

So there are multiple problems with that idea. Again, you wouldn’t get that impression from the Hawking and Mlodinow book. Not only does the universe create itself but, through M-Theory and gravity, a great many universes are created out of nothing. As Professor Lane Craig has very well explained, this isn’t really creation out of what a philosopher would call nothing.

So it seems to me that it is far simpler, far more rational, to believe that the universe was created and designed by God than it is to invoke the enormously extravagant and speculative hypothesis of the multiverse. Thank you. [25]

CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much, Rodney. Well, as we’ve got just a moment’s time, I thought it might be interesting, Bill, just for a couple of minutes response to Rodney, if that’s possible. Just a comment on Rodney’s presentation. Then we will begin to take some questions.

DR. CRAIG: Well, I appreciated very much the devastating critique of the use of the multiverse hypothesis to explain away fine-tuning. I counted no less than six objections that Rodney shared and some of these are indeed I think very powerful. My only caveat, I think, Rodney, would be with to respect to the doctrine of creation. It is certainly true that Christian theology distinguishes between, in Latin, creatio originans and creatio continuans. That is to say, originating creation and continuing creation. I think that it is important that we not give up or compromise the emphasis on creatio originans – originating creation. There is simply no need to back away from that to simply affirming that God conserves the universe in being moment by moment. We can affirm that, and should, but it is an inherent part of the Christian doctrine of creation that the universe, the created world, had a beginning – that there is a state of affairs of the actual world which consists of God existing alone and the universe comes into being at the first moment of creation. So that would be my only reservation – as important as the contingency of the universe is and the contingency argument for God’s existence – I wouldn’t want us to back way from or soft-pettle the idea of originating creation. I think this is not only part of Christian theology but it is also inherent to the biblical concept of creation as is evident from the very simple fact that creation in the Bible is always in past tense verbs. It is always God “created.” God “did” this. This is a temporal act, not simply a continuing act. So that would be my only comment that I would want to make. [26]

CHAIRPERSON: Thank you gentlemen. It is worth noting at this point that Stephen Hawking has been sent a copy of Bill’s speech that he gave and was invited to comment but up until now hasn’t chosen to do so. But he does have that if he chooses to read it and to respond to it at some point in the future.

If you would like to come to the podium, Bill, and the first person would like to come forward with their question, do feel free.

QUESTION: Thank you very much for your talk. This is a very simple question. If God created everything, if God created the space-time continuum, what created God?

DR. CRAIG: Christians do not believe that God created everything. He created everything other than himself. He didn’t create himself. So God is an uncreated being. As Rodney indicated so nicely in his speech, the concept of God that is traditional in Christian theology is that God is a necessary being, not a contingent being. That is to say, God exists in all possible worlds. It is metaphysically impossible that he fail to exist. So, God is the uncaused, first cause of everything other than himself.

FOLLOWUP: That is not much of a definition for God.

DR. CRAIG: Well, I wasn’t offering a definition of God. I was just offering one of the many attributes of God. I would also say things like God is omnipotent, omniscient, exists self-existently, is eternal, is morally perfect, and so forth. There are many, many attributes that will round out and give you a very theologically rich concept of God. But it is important to see that, in Christian thinking, traditionally God isn’t a contingent being; that is to say, a being that just happens to exist. God just doesn’t happen to exist. He is metaphysically necessary – he is a self-existent being. His non-existence is impossible. So that would answer the question, then, well, what is God’s cause or where did God come from? Christians don’t believe that everything that exists has a cause because we think that God is uncaused and metaphysically necessary. In my arguments for the existence of God, I word the causal premise this way: Everything that begins to exist has a cause. Anything that comes into being needs to have a cause. But an eternal, metaphysically necessary being is just uncaused.

FOLLOWUP: Very briefly, why do we care so much about God if there is such sentient suffering in the world?

DR. CRAIG: Well, that is the $64,000 question isn’t it - the problem of evil and suffering in the world? What I could say now would be unfortunately very sound-bitish and inadequate. But basically what I would say is this. While that is a tremendous emotional obstacle to believing in God (perhaps the most important emotional obstacle) when I think about it hard philosophically, it is very, very difficult to mount an argument against God’s existence based on the suffering in the world. [27] The atheist has to show that it is either impossible or highly improbable that God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting the suffering in the world. And we are simply not in a position to make those kinds of judgments with any sort of confidence. God’s morally sufficient reasons for permitting some incident of suffering in your life might not emerge until centuries later, maybe in another country. So you would have no hope of being able to see what his morally sufficient reason is for permitting this to enter your life. So, it is simply impossible for us to make, with any kind of confidence, these sorts of probability judgments when some incident of suffering occurs – that God probably lacks a morally sufficient reason for allowing that. That is sheer speculation. If I might just say, philosophers who are non-believers recognize this in other contexts. For example, one ethical theory that you often here is called utilitarianism – one version of which says that we should take those actions that will bring about the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. Weigh your courses of action and take that action that will bring about the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. One of the most common and devastating critiques of utilitarian ethics is that we are simply not in a position to make that kind of calculation. What looks like a short-term boon could turn out to be disastrous in the long run. And what looks like, in the short-term, a horrible thing could turn out to redound to the great flourishing of mankind. So one of the most common critiques, I think devastating critiques, of utilitarian ethics is that we can’t make that kind of judgment. And it is very similar with regard to evil and suffering. We are just not in a position to say it is improbable or impossible that God has morally sufficient reasons for allowing certain things to occur.

QUESTION: Thank you for what you have spoken about tonight. I am not sure if I really understand it but one of the authors had, I guess, a meta-ontological concern that reality even exists. Is that kind of summarizing it?

DR. CRAIG: Sort of. At first they take the view that there really is no objective reality out there. It is kind of like saying it is all in your mind. But then they even go deeper and they say each person has his own reality – you create reality yourself. Yes, that is the view they actually espouse in the book.

FOLLOWUP: I was just wondering, wouldn’t it be simple enough just to drop a brick on their foot to demonstrate the reality?

DR. CRAIG: I think that would probably do it for any common sensed individual but as I say for persons who are unaware of their own philosophical presuppositions and assumptions they haven’t thought these things through. In fact they call their view a type of realism when in fact it is a radical antirealism. But, yes, I appreciate your common sensical point.

QUESTION: Hello. This is a very easy question. Is there any empirical evidence for the existence of God?

DR. CRAIG: I will let Rodney say something about this as well. But this is the way I would put it. I would say there can be empirical evidence for a premise in an argument leading to a conclusion that has theological significance. Let me repeat that: there can be empirical evidence for a premise in a philosophical argument leading to a conclusion that has theological significance. So one isn’t postulating some sort of God-of-the-gaps to fill up scientific gaps in our knowledge. Rather, we are saying that there can be scientific empirical evidence for a premise in an argument that might lead to the conclusion that God exists. Let me give you an example. Take this argument:

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

2. The universe began to exist.

3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

Now, the second premise – the universe began to exist – is, as I’ve argued tonight, a premise for which there is good scientific evidence. This is a statement that is religiously neutral and can be found in any textbook on astronomy and astrophysics. It is a premise to which scientific or empirical evidence is relevant. And yet, in this philosophical argument, I think it does lead to a conclusion that has great theological significance. [28]

FOLLOWUP: It sounds to me a bit like you are just giving an argument not really evidence. I mean, when I mean evidence, I mean any facts, any physical – anything we can notice. The only thing that I can say is you have got a belief that you can argue that God exists. You haven’t got really . . . is there not also a belief that God might not exist but you cannot prove either side.

DR. CRAIG: Well, I would invite you to think about the argument that I just gave. Whatever begins to exist has a cause, the universe began to exist – that leads to the existence of a being beyond the universe. Then we can deduce some of the theologically significant properties of this being. You may think I am being overly subtle but what I am trying to do is avoid this common accusation of God-of-the-gaps reasoning. I think that the way I have articulated it is right. There are good arguments for God’s existence.

FOLLOWUP: But no evidence. There is no evidence.

DR. CRAIG: Yes. The evidence is for the premises in the argument that leads logically to a conclusion that God exists. Let me give you another example.

1. The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either: physical necessity, chance, or design.

2. The fine-tuning is not due to either physical necessity or chance. That is what Rodney argued tonight.

3. From which it follows logically and inescapably, therefore, it is due to design. That is to say, there is a cosmic designer of the universe.

FOLLOWUP: But still no evidence. There is no evidence for fine-tuning anyway.

DR. CRAIG: Well, Rodney would like to address that question. He says there is no evidence for fine-tuning.

DR. HOLDER: Well, there is a great deal. There are very many parameters that are fine-tuned. The classic example comes from Fred Hoyle who was an atheist and yet discovered that in order for carbon and oxygen to be made inside stars you need a certain balance of forces, you need a resonance in the carbon atom, and so on. And this atheist was moved to talk about a super-intellect behind physics – behind the universe essentially. There are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. There are multiple, multiple examples of that kind. What I would say – and I would agree with Professor Lane Craig – I think you are construing a very narrow meaning for evidence. The kind of evidence you find in the lab. Well, what we are talking about is a comparison, not of different scientific hypotheses here, but different metaphysical hypotheses. So we are asking a meta-question here. We are not asking, “What are the laws of nature and what do they describe and what predictions can be make of them?” We are asking, “Why are the laws of nature the way they are?” That goes into a metaphysical argument, the kind that Professor Lane Craig was describing. But there are plenty of other kinds of evidence for the belief that we have as Christians. There is the evidence from religious experience, there is the evidence that we are in a universe that has moral values.

FOLLOWUP: What is religious experience?

DR. HOLDER: Well, it is very widely and commonly shared that people experience a numinous presence. Of course, all of these things need to be unpacked and you need to go into the alternatives – is it psychological?

FOLLOWUP: Isn’t that supernatural evidence?

DR. HOLDER: Yeah. Most of the kinds of experiences in terms of religious experience that people have. You can’t demolish them anymore than you can demolish the idea that I am speaking to you now.

CHAIRPERSON: We are going to have to move on but thank you very much.

DR. HOLDER: But then you come to the empirical evidence to do with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus which is historical evidence. So there are other kinds of evidence.

FOLLOWUP: I would like to be proven that by the way.

CHAIRPERSON: Well, come along on Monday evening in Southampton and you will get more about that! OK, would we have the next question? Thank you.

QUESTION: Hello. Spencer coined the famous phrase “survival of the fitness.” Now, I was pondering about this one day and I thought if you expand it you get survive – well, correct me if I got this wrong, that’s what I’m here for – I thought survival of the fittest to survive or I thought you can expand it those that survive are the fittest to survive. Now, it is self-evident that you got a self-defining statement, circular logic, a truism. [29] Now I understand there is a basic law in science philosophy which states that for a theory to be valid it must be inherently disprovable. Well, it seems to me that Spencer’s phrase is just a piece of circular logic so it breaks that maxim, correct or not?

DR. CRAIG: Well, you are speaking of an area here where frankly it is not an area that I deal in. You are talking about biological evolutionary theory and this is not a subject in which I am competent to speak. I know that many people have criticized the notion of survival of the fittest for being tautological or circular in the way that you just described. On the other hand, I have seen statements by a number of evolutionary biologists who will dispense with that slogan and simply say that what the theory requires is that species which produce the maximum number of offspring are those that are most apt to survive. So they can get along without this sort of circularity. But this isn’t an area that I have more than a layman’s interest in. Rodney is this something that you would like to speak to?

DR. HOLDER: Briefly. Darwin of course spoke about natural selection. What we do have is the mechanism now for that. We have the combination of mutations of genes and so on and selection by the environment. That gives rise to better survival so as to reproduce. And it is reproductive success that is the key to evolution.

FOLLOWUP: Could I just add one little thing though. You talk about survival of the fittest. Darwin’s tree of life, as far as I am aware, only shows divergent evolution.

DR. HOLDER: I think you can forget the phrase. It was Herbert Spencer’s phrase, not Darwin’s, although I think he incorporated it in later editions of The Origin but it was not his phrase originally. Neither in fact – he only used the word “evolved” once in the book and it was the last word in the book. I mean, you can get into a lot of misunderstanding about evolution by picking up these phrases I think.

CHAIRPERSON: We will move on to the next question but thank you very much. We’ll have the next person at the microphone now.

QUESTION: I think a lot of your argument for the existence of God is based to some extent on what you perceive is inconsistencies and problems with Hawking’s view of the universe. It stems back to what is called “the Big Bang.” But I think what Hawking has possibly overlooked is there could have been more than one Big Bang. In fact there could have been an indefinite sequence of Big Bangs. We would not be able to trace the existence of any of them except the last one in the past of the universe we live in. That is not really a question; it is more of a statement.

DR. CRAIG: Yes, well, that’s fine. I think you have misunderstood my intention this evening. First, I wasn’t arguing for the existence of God tonight. I wasn’t giving an argument for God’s existence. I was merely addressing the question “Has Hawking eliminated the need for a Creator?” Has he eliminated God’s existence? And my critique of Hawking was not at all based on inconsistencies in his model. Rather, what I looked at was the philosophical presuppositions and implications of the theory, but I am assuming for the sake of argument that his theory is correct. I am granting that what his model says is correct – that time and the universe began at the “South Pole” and then asking the question, does that explain why the universe exists, why there is something rather than nothing, does it explain why the universe came into being? And my answer to those questions is no, the model doesn’t even address those questions. So I am not at all criticizing Stephen Hawking’s model. My bone to pick with him is the philosophical implications and assumptions that he makes whereby he tries to use the model to eliminate theism. I think that if this model is true, it fairly cries out for theism because it does posit an absolute beginning of the universe; not an infinite cycle of universes prior to this but an absolute beginning of time and the universe. So whether the model is correct is for the physicists to decide but I am assuming for the sake of argument tonight that it is correct and simply arguing that, far from eliminating the need for a creator, it fairly impels us to it.

FOLLOWUP: Well, it seems that the possibility of multiple Big Bangs is easier to believe in than multiverses. [30]

DR. CRAIG: The question of believability – we have to be very careful here. If you look at the article that I wrote with physicist James Sinclair in the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology on the Cosmological Argument for God’s existence [31] , my colleague James Sinclair does a very nice survey of contemporary cosmology and all the competing alternatives to the Hartle-Hawking model that is mentioned in this book. And what he shows is that these cyclical models face all kinds of difficulties that make them impossible to extrapolate to past infinity, even giving these sort of cyclical models. They can’t be extrapolated to an eternal past and, in fact, one of the problems with them is precisely the fine-tuning. In order to go through an infinite series of cycles to arrive at today would require infinitely precise fine-tuning of the universe to exhibit that kind of a behavior. So it would fairly throw you into the fine-tuning argument of Rodney Holder. Did you want to comment on that any more?

DR. HOLDER: Yes, that is a problem. The initial entropy of the universe is a problem because this universe started off highly ordered. If you have a Big Crunch there is an asymmetry because you go to a highly disordered universe so your next bounce is highly disordered even if you have a finite universe which is expanding and contracting anyway rather than an infinite one. There are all kinds of problems associated with the cyclic universe model in that form at any rate.

CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much for the question – very interesting. Our next questioner, please, thank you.

QUESTION: As you said earlier, if God is benevolent and omnipotent then why, in your utilitarian model, must a few suffer? Why are we in that position to begin with? My understanding of utilitarianism is – say there are two tracks and we must diverge the train on the track where the fewest must suffer then why are we on this position in the first place? Why must a few suffer in the long scheme if he is truly omnipotent?

DR. CRAIG: In the Christian view, God has chosen to create a world with free agents who can freely choose either to obey or to disobey him and evil ultimately enters into the universe that God has made through the free choices of creatures. And free will is a good thing – that is a good thing to have. But it involves the inherent possibility that these creatures may not do good; they may not act in conformity with God’s will but may freely turn away from it and that brings evil into the world.

FOLLOWUP: Surely, that is contrary to the fact that he is benevolent if he is knowingly letting us suffer?

DR. CRAIG: I don’t think it is contrary to the fact of being benevolent because he wants to have free creatures who are genuine moral agents rather than robots and puppets. It would be an exercise in futility for God to make a puppet world where there is no freedom and then to say to these creatures, “Do you love me?” and then pull the strings and they say “Yes, God we love you.” Such a world would be meaningless. So it seems to me that the gift of free will is a tremendous act of benevolence on God’s part and it is our fault that we misuse it. It is not his fault. Fortunately, in the Christian view, God has done something about this; namely, he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to die for the sin of mankind so that we can experience God’s forgiveness and moral cleansing and eternal life. So God is in the business of reclaiming lost sinners and setting things right again and ultimately he will.

FOLLOWUP: But, as you said, it almost sounds like we are here for his entertainment. He let’s us suffer to make it more interesting?

DR. CRAIG: God, being supremely perfect and self-existent, has no needs. We should not think of God, as one British journalist said, as a sort of chap. God is not a chap! He has no needs and in particularly no need of us in order to be happy. What that means is that the only possible motivation for creation could be for the benefit of the creatures themselves. [32] Namely, God has created us so we can have the awesome joy of being related and knowing him as the source of supreme infinite goodness and love and to enjoy him for eternity. So the act of creation is itself a tremendous act of grace and benevolence because it is all for us. It is for our sake and not for his own. So if you are still thinking in terms of God creating us for his entertainment, your God is too small. That is so far from the Christian concept of God as to be a travesty.

CHAIRPERSON: We are going to have to move on but thank you – another very interesting set of questions there.

QUESTION: Thank you very much for your presentation, your lecture this evening. I appreciate that. I think the concept of multiverse may be seen as an escape route for some atheists from their philosophical quandary if I get you right?

DR. CRAIG: I don’t want to psychoanalyze physicists and talk about their motivations. I don’t think that is wise or necessary. I think these theories can be weighed by the evidence and judged accordingly and we can prescind from psychoanalyzing the motivations that might lie behind their formulators. I don’t make a judgment like that.

FOLLOWUP: Point taken. Could I then dare to suggest that maybe we are in danger, through the attempt to prove them wrong in this concept, of limiting our view of God’s infinite creativity? Because I think they are trying to think outside the box. They’ve got themselves boxed in and they are trying to think outside the box. I would like to posit the existence of other universes beyond our relatively small and relatively short lived universe.

DR. CRAIG: All right. I’ll let Rodney say something about that in a second. I think that theism is really the only hope for the multiverse hypothesis. I really do. Look at Rodney’s criticisms of the multiverse hypothesis. For example, these problems of predictability that Roger Penrose talks about. Or why this multiverse – there needs to be fine-tuning of the multiverse producing mechanism. Things of this sort, I think, can only be solved by positing theism; namely, that there is a God who has created a multiverse.

FOLLOWUP: And I am right there with you in that. I am just suggesting that our creator God probably did other things before our universe existed and is probably in the rest of eternity going to do some other creative things which we cannot in our tiny minds imagine as yet.

DR. CRAIG: Well, see, that word “probably” . . . I think he could have but I am reluctant to use the word “probably” because I don’t think we have any evidence to allow us to use the word “probably” that he did these things. But I do want to affirm what you are saying. On naturalism, I think it is highly probable there is no multiverse. But if theism is true then I think you’ve got to be open to the multiverse hypothesis in a new way. I would like to hear what Rodney has to say about that.

DR. HOLDER: Well, yes, I broadly agree with that. There are a number of theologians and, indeed, Christian cosmologists who are in favor of a multiverse. One would be Don Page, an evangelical Christian, colleague of Stephen Hawking and written papers with him; he i