Theological Responses to Quantum Cosmology
The Hawking-Hartle Proposal for the early universe is the most
ingenious of the quantum-cosmological speculations which aim to overcome the
problem of the singularity.
It is important to emphasise that these fascinating ideas are still
speculations, and that they may never be amenable to receiving any experimental
The speculations as they stood at the end of the 1980s were reviewed by
Willem B Drees. He points out that at this early stage in the
development of these theories a physicist might be influenced as to which
one to pursue by a sense of their theological connotations (as we saw
with Fred Hoyles development of steady-state theory (see is the Big Bang a
moment of creation?).
Stephen Hawking posed the question:
So long as the universe had a
beginning, we could suppose that it had a creator. But if the universe is
really completely self-contained, having no boundary or edge, it would have
neither beginning nor end: it would simply be. What place, then, for a
The militantly atheistic Oxford chemist P.W.Atkins has written that:
The only way of explaining the
creation is to show that the creator had absolutely no job at all to do, and so
might as well not have existed.
Atkins drew comfort from the notion that quantum cosmology has shifted away
from the blue-touch paper model, in which everything arose from a single
inexplicable moment, towards various types of proposal in which space-time
arises by chance out of a simpler state - Hawkings boundariless space, or a
quantum vacuum, or some such.
These quotations show that such cosmologies can be taken to show
consonance not so much with theistic creation as in Genesis as with the view
that the universe arose by some transition which had no purpose or meaning.
Keith Ward in his God, Chance and Necessityhas rightly
taken issue with the suggestion that quantum cosmology implies that the reason
for the universe is pure chance. He writes:
On the quantum fluctuation
hypothesis, the universe will only come into being if there exists an exactly
balanced array of fundamental forces, an exactly specified probability of
particular fluctuations occurring in this array, and existent space-time in
which fluctuations can occur. This is a very complex and finely tuned
nothing... So this universe looks highly contingent after all, and a creator
God might well choose to create a partly probabilistic universe by choosing
just such an origin for it.
Drees points out that in fact the Hawking-Hartle proposal accords well with
a theology which emphasises that every space is equally created by God,
sustaining the world in all its times.
R.J.Russell has shown, moreover, that at the core of the doctrine of creatio
ex nihilo is the principle of ontological dependence - that all matter, all energy, and the laws that govern the universe all depend for their existence on a God whose existence is not dependent on anything. The discovery
of an actual temporal beginning to this material universe would not
prove this doctrine (since the doctrine rests on metaphysical convictions about
God and existence) but only provide an additional gloss to it
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Contributed by: Dr. Christopher Southgate
Source: God, Humanity and the
Cosmos (T&T Clark, 1999)