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God and Time

In his book "A Brief History of Time" physicist Stephen Hawking made the claim that if his "no-boundary cosmology" was correct then there would be no need for a creator. His cosmological model proposes that there was no precise moment when the universe "began", because there was no precise moment when time began. Because of that Hawking, claimed, there would be no role for a creator. In Hawking’s model, the quality called time emerged out of a kind of quantum fuzz in which there was, at least at the initial moment of the big bang, an "imaginary" component of time. This term, does not mean a kind of Alice-in-Wonderland time, it has a precise mathematical meaning - relating to what are called complex numbers. The details of imaginary time are not important, what matters rather is Hawking’s notion that time as we know it did not begin at a specific point, but gradually emerged from something more complex. According to Hawking, the universe did not begin "in" time, rather time itself came into being with the universe.

But if Hawking sees this as an argument against a creator, physicist and theologian Robert Russell begs to differ. Russell points out that Hawking’s idea is very similar to the idea proposed over 1500 years ago by the great early Christian theologian, Saint Augustine. Augustine too declared that the universe was not created in time, but rather with time. As Russell notes, here is a beautiful instance where classic theology and contemporary science are very much in sync with one another. “You have an interesting picture of two very different cultures,” he says, “but a similar intellectual question being asked in both cases.” And, moreover, similar answers being given. What this shows us, Russell says, is that “Hawking is actually our ally, theologically, because he tells us that the notion of a finite universe as the creation of God can be sustained, whether or not it has a beginning point.”

Email link | Feedback | Contributed by: Margaret Wertheim

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