Grand Design or Benevolent Creator?

When did the universe begin? Why is there something rather than nothing? Why are the laws of nature so finely tuned? Is this “Grand Design” evidence of a Benevolent Creator? Or does science offer an alternative explanation?

The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow presents the most current scientific thinking on these questions in an easy to read but difficult to understand 200-page book. After reading and re-reading several portions of the book, some light bulbs went on in my head, and I began to understand something about relativity, quantum physics and cosmology. I will try to condense their 200 pages in the hope that you good readers will understand some of the most important concepts. You may not agree with everything, but hopefully you will gain some understanding of what is being discovered in modern science.

First is the concept of space and time, and how they are impacted by gravity. In relativistic terms, time is merely another dimension, like length, width and height. The presence of matter and energy can warp space and time just as a bowling ball placed on a bed warps the surface of the bed. This effect is called gravity. A very large and heavy ball warps the bed even further and can cause the bed to collapse on itself. This is a crude description of a black hole that so warps space and time that matter and even light cannot escape its boundary from within. From observations of black holes, time seems to slow down and stop at its boundary.

Second is the big bang theory. Many scientists, beginning with Edwin Hubble, have analyzed the light spectrum from far away galaxies and determined that all galaxies are moving away from us, and the farther away they are, the faster they are moving. From the rate of expansion we can extrapolate into the distant past and determine that about 13.7 billion years ago, all the energy and mass of the universe was concentrated in a very tiny region of unimaginable density and temperature (the ultimate black hole).

Time, rather than being constant and linear, bent back on itself in this region and did not exist until the big bang. This is crucial because in the authors’ view, before the big bang, there was no time, no space, nor any Benevolent Creator to set it all in motion.

Third is the concept of multiple universes. This becomes more difficult to comprehend and accept. The physics models and accompanying math calculations that describe the quantum nature and evolution of the universe starting from the big bang lead to the conclusion that multiple universes are constantly being created and are disappearing like bubbles in soda pop. Some of these universes have a greater probability of existing than others and expand in an inflationary manner forming galaxies, stars and in at least one instance a planet like earth with beings like us. Those universes with low probability evaporate. Hawking believes that this spontaneous multiverse creation concept avoids the need to invoke a Benevolent Creator to explain creation.

Finally, the universe can be created out of nothing. Matter is an equivalent form of energy (E=mc2). Because gravity is attractive, gravitational energy is defined as negative. It takes positive energy to separate a gravitationally bound system, like the earth and moon. The total energy of the entire universe is in balance and must always net to zero. Thus the negative energy of gravity balances the positive energy needed to create matter. Gravity is a force that exists, and because there is gravity, a universe can and will create itself from nothing. Something called “M Theory” describes this spontaneous creation process. Hawking believes M Theory is the only candidate for a complete theory of the universe, something which Einstein was searching for, and now Hawking and others are working to complete.

Hawking might paraphrase the first verse of Genesis to something like, “In the beginning, Gravity created heaven and earth.” Whether one accepts this or not, the true miracle is that the mind of man can develop a theory that predicts and describes all the amazing phenomena we observe throughout our vast universe.

Question: Does a plausible scientific explanation of creation affect your religious beliefs?

Question 2: Whose team are you on, Stephen Hawking’s or Tim Tebow’s?

Stephen Hawking on Larry King

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26 thoughts on “Grand Design or Benevolent Creator?

  1. avatarGreg Sweet

    Question 1: A plausible explanation might affect my religious views, but I haven’t heard one yet so I can’t say for sure.

    Question 2: Do I have to pick between Hawking and Tebow? Can I choose Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s team?

  2. avatarthink

    “Time……bent back on itself in this region and did not exist until the big bang. This is crucial because in the authors’ view, before the big bang, there was no time, no space, nor any Benevolent Creator to set it all in motion.”

    If the Benevolent Creator exists outside of time, then none of the above is a limiting factor is it?

    The vastness of the universe ought to humble us into the realization we have no clue how to explain these things. Instead, some men, in arrogance believe they have more intelligence than the God whole lives outside of time and space. It would be like an ant deciding to single handedly set up an ACME. No matter how smart he thinks he is, it’s not going to happen.

  3. avatarDave Atwood

    I heard physicist Bjorn Gruenwald make a much more intelligent argument than these two authors. Gruenwald said that no true scientist can be an atheist from a scientific standpoint, it is not possible. They might be one from a personal viewpoint but not from a professional one. His reasoning: the whole work of a scientist is to discover whether that which has not been proven absolutely false is true; that is the whole basis of discovery. A scientist must always approach each subject with the mindset that everything is possible that has not been proven impossible. He stated that to believe that another life form may exist in the universe who has greater powers than man but that this life form can not be God, is scientifically dishonest and proves personal bias rather than professional integrity. Thus, if it has not been proven beyond any doubt that God does not exist then an honest scientific mind must assume that it is possible that one does.

  4. avatarPhil Stagg

    I own dozens of CNC and conventional screw machines. These have been designed by brilliant minds (although sometimes we do wonder), and yet none of these machines come anywhere close to the intricacies we find in nature. Look at a human. A mobile, energy storing, surroundings aware, communicative, self replicating, intelligent device. It contains a variety of systems – mechanical, chemical, electrical. It progresses from a very dependent single cell to a sophisticated entity.

    Our machines need constant attention. Bearings wear out. Electrical boards stop working. Crashes happen and require realignment of slides and spindles. Inserts wear and need to be replaced. The natural effect of entropy “creates” chaos, not order. It’s only through the application of intelligence or designed systems that we ever find an increase in order. In other words, it’s natural to destroy and unnatural to create.

    So how does science affect my “religion”? My faith in my God is greater than my faith in science. I fear that “science” doesn’t always have an uninterested view of God. There are those with an agenda to disprove God’s existence.

    Where then will I pledge my allegiance? I will trust God over man any day.

  5. avatarJim Wright

    So, if I understand Hawking’s view correctly, this is how scientists say the Universe was created: “Once there was nothing, and then nothing happened. For no reason, everything and everywhere came to be.” In an earlier book, Hawking stated that the Big-Bang/Big Collapse could have been going on forever. That’s like the woman who insisted that the Earth rode around the Sun on the back of a giant turtle. When asked what was holding the turtle up, she said, “It’s turtles all the way down!”

    I look at the Universe like a fishbowl. As owner of the fishbowl, I can stick my finger in (and scare the fish), but I exist outside the fishbowl. If I owned a larger fishbowl, I could immerse myself in it. The fish, however, are permanently confined to the fish bowl. They cannot exist outside of it. The Creator of the Universe would likewise have to exist outside of the Universe before time began.

  6. avatarJACK FROST

    All of the previous comments I would have expected. People who make things have a high regard for human intelligence and the gift from the Creator who inspires it. The scientific community is often like an industrial union, any threat to its organization is chaotic. Darwin’s theory must be supported regardless of evidence that modifies or questions it. You, have it right. Render unto Caesar, the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.

  7. avatarBen Guthrie

    Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Our very faith is actual Substance and actual Evidence – did you catch that?

  8. avatarBuelldog

    I find it interesting that when scientists are explaining their theories of how the universe was created, they describe how the existing ‘energy and mass of the universe’ changes to form something new. Well that is nice, interesting, and impressive, but where did the energy and mass come from to begin with?
    It reminds me of an amusing flow chart I saw once. This complex flow chart showed many complicated steps of a process. It was impressive until I read the box that stated “and then a miracle happens”.

  9. avatarMike13

    Great responses. I would add that mans arrogance is the only limitless thing we posess.
    If one wanted to be intelectually honest then one must include examination of the abundant scientific evidence against spontaneous existence.
    Science vs Faith..? Wrong question. Just listen to the lengths at which people will go to come up with conjecture to defend their faith in the absence of God. The real question is, “Where do you put your faith?, God or man?”
    I’ll go with the ‘Creator & Sustainer of all things’, that being the God of the Bible and the salvation of Jesus Christ.

  10. avatarDale Miller

    Here is a more plauible theory:

    Stephen Hawking dies and stands before God. Seeing that he was wrong he asks God why he had to spend his life with this disease. God asks him, “Why is it that when I gave you exceptional intelligence, and caused your life span to far exceed that of anyone else with this sickness, you chose to use it staring out into space rather than finding a cure?” What legacy is he really leaving behind?

  11. avatarJim

    Great responses. I would add that mans arrogance is the only limitless thing we posess.
    If one wanted to be intelectually honest then one must include examination of the abundant scientific evidence against spontaneous existence.
    Science vs Faith..? Wrong question. Just listen to the lengths at which people will go to come up with conjecture to defend their faith in the absence of God. The real question is, “Where do you put your faith?, God or man?”
    I’ll go with the ‘Creator & Sustainer of all things’, that being the God of the Bible and the salvation of Jesus Christ.

  12. avatarJohn

    Hawking and the rest are wrong. There was no big bang, there is no black holes or dark matter. Hubble discovered the redshift of light from stars but warned against its use to measure recessional velocity. Gravity can not do what the scientists say it does. It is the weakest force, 39 orders of magnitude weaker than the electric force, which is the real architect of the universe. PLEASE Google- ELECTRIC UNIVERSE for a paradigm shift

  13. avatarMike

    Somehow I think people are missing the point. I believe in God because it helps give me a meaning and purpose to my life. Science is the means to explain why things are the way they are. We used to credit God with all kinds of things until science discovered things like bacteria, viruses, genes, electricity, the solar system. All Stephen Hawking has done is take science another step further in explaining why things are the way they are. The most dangerous thing one can do is confuse God and science.

  14. avatarTim Thomasma

    Question: Does a plausible scientific explanation of creation affect your religious beliefs?

    Not sure Hawking’s account is all that plausible. What is the scientific explanation for the existence of the laws of physics, and why it is that advanced mathematics describes them so well, and how it is that we have the ability to understand the laws and the mathematics as well as we do? There’s no plausible scientific explanation for the origin of the marvels of nanotechnology that operate in every living cell. Will science eventually give us these explanations, or give us world peace, end of disease, eternal life? Maybe. Maybe not. I like my chances with Jesus.

    Question 2: Whose team are you on, Stephen Hawking’s or Tim Tebow’s?
    I hear Tim Tebow is with Jesus, so I’d say I’m on Tebow’s team. Stephen Hawking is welcome to join us–he’ll find himself in good company.

  15. avatarLloyd Graff

    My compliments to the responders to this book review by Jerry Levine. When I started Screw Machine World eleven years ago many people told me that my audience was a bunch of “gearheads” and I should write down to them. I told them that my audience was the smartest folks that I know. You are proving me right all the time.

  16. avatarKevlar

    As an engineering manager for a Fortune 200 company I can say I am in complete agreement with most of the responses here. I have also studied the topic of origins for over 30 years, doing my best to keep up on new findings in genetics and bio-chemistry and astronomy. I find it very refreshing to find engineers and people involved in “Making things” and who are “creative in the real world” as those that posted here – also tend to be more often creationists rather than atheists. It is only in the protected ivy towers that atheism flourishes. I know that in a previous book Hawking allowed for the existence of God, very clearly saying we could not rule HIM out based on what we know in science. Apparently, some of the atheistic elite (like Dawkins) got to Hawking – making him now rule out the existence of GOD, but he has given a nonsensical reason: That “God did not have enough time” after the big bang but before everything in the universe came into being (by big bang theory this supposedly occurred in a ‘gazillionith’ of a second) to have been able to create everything. But this pre-supposes that God did not exist before the big bang either or outside of what we call time. God clearly says He was there before the ‘beginning’ and is eternal – from “everlasting to everlasting”. No, these are just minor musings by people who don’t want to believe in God. The Big bang theory itself is extremely full of holes, such there is a cosmology web site arguing against it and signed by PhD’s in Physics and astro-physics from all over the world.
    Now to say that only gravity accounts for creation? Any 1st year physics student knows that makes no sense. No matter = no gravity. What was the source of the gravity before any material existed? Atheists actually have their own statements of Faith: By Faith they believe nothing exploded in something which by faith accounts for everything. By faith they believe that inorganic matter formed into organic material which folded into extremely complex proteins all by themselves… and that more and new information was added to the blueprints of life – DNA to make more complex systems – all by itself. By faith, they believe that we suddenly were able to reason and use logic – all based on cosmic chaos – pure chance. How anti –science and anti-logic can you get?
    And actually the evidence that gravity affects time and space and the speed of light as we measure it on earth is true – but actually helps explain why can see immensely distant star-light on earth in a Universe that may only be 6,000 earth-years old. Relativity does not help those that calculate the age of the universe at 13.7 billion years old, because those calculations assume a constant for the speed of light in deep space – and Relativity actually helps the creation point of view…
    As far as the questions? Yes science (real experimental science not conjecture) affects my religious belief because it confirms that the Bible is true and trustworthy.
    And I am on Tim Tebow’s side – not on Hawking’s latest ranting.

  17. avatarSeriously?

    You people all have no brains, or, at the very least, can’t see past what’s been pounded into your head since you were a child, forced to go to church every Sunday. God created man? Right… if it weren’t for an asteroid straying our way 65 million years ago, humans wouldn’t be currently “ruling” this planet. With the preponderance of evidence behind evolution, we still have people trying to espouse “intelligent” design. Let me guess, there’s no global warming either and the earth is flat, right? I mean, afterall, that’s what the “church” preached so it must be correct, right? We were all just plunked down here 5000 years ago. It’s so ridiculous it makes my head hurt just thinking about it. Believe what you want, just stop forcing it down my throat.

  18. avatarDave Atwood

    Lloyd, you’re an amazingly creative guy yourself. You somehow forced “Seriously?” to read all these comments.

  19. avatarJerry Levine

    I loved all the thoughtful, and generally scientifically sound responses to my review. It’s clear from many of them that the responders have followed Hawking’s earlier writings, and understand whatever we novices can understand of all of this. It’s important to note that whereas Hawking is an atheist, and has been all of his adult life, he allows for a God, but doesn’t see an absolute need for God in Creation. He says it most clearly early on in the Larry King interview. He says, ” God may exist, but science can explain the universe without the need for a Creator.” Fine, that’s his position.
    On the other hand, an infinite God, by definition, certainly exists outside time and space, and obviously would have had “a big hand” in Creation.

  20. avatarJim Buchanan

    “In the beginning, Gravity created heaven and earth.” Where did gravity come from?

    It’s hard for a simple mind like mine to believe that a mind like Stephen Hawkings believes that the universe “self created”.

  21. avatarGreg Sweet

    To “Seriously” or whatever your name is: Who’s forcing anything down your throat? Sounds nasty!

  22. avatarDan

    As some have said already, a “plausable” explanation does not yet exist. To say that science can answer the questions of creation implies a breadth of understanding that does not exist on this planet and will never exist. Anyone who says that God does not exist makes the grievious error of believing that they themselves understand all there is to know about all things. While someone like Mr. Hawkings has a tremendous understanding of mathamatics and physics I’m sure he has little or no knowledge of manufacturing. I understand manufacturing, at least as it pertains to the type of work that I do, but I confess that I am ignorant of phsyics. While we both have intimate knowledge of those areas in which we are involved it is safe to say that Mr Hawkins does not know more than I and I do not know more then him. We simply know different things. That being said, even if Mr. Hawkings and I were to combine our understanding of the world, we would still not know everything. Add to our knowledge the combined experience and understanding of the world and we can still safely say we do not have full understanding. Nobody does. So how then can anyone say with certainty that God does not exist? What we can say however is this, that all evidence points to a profound level of organization and exactness that defies any explanation that relies on randomness and chance.

    Another recent news article also speaks to the limited ability of science, at least in its present state. NASA recently announced the discovery of a “water world” planet type many, many light years away. They can’t see this planet, it is infered by mathamatical calculations. The speculation is that it is a water planet. Now, how would they know that? NASA hasn’t even proven the existence of water on Mars yet and it is a relatively short jont around the corner in comparison. Not only can we truly see Mars, probes have visited and we still can’t tell. The problem lies with those who proclaim supposed scientific truth only because they hope it to be so. They hope it to be so, so that they may live as they want to live without feeling guilty that their conduct might be offensive to a great and mighty God.

    Just one last point, C.S. Lewis made the point that while God can be seen in creation, He has rather chosen to reveal himself in His word. Science will never point someone to Christ but science can definately strengthen ones faith by showing the greatness of God through the complexity of His creation.

  23. avatarPeter Frow

    Dan’s comment puts one in mind of the quote by Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias in which he refers to “…those who having laid hold of the finger of their own discipline think to have grasped the fist of reality.”


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