Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Professor Stephen Hawking and Rambam - two men of faith.

Although Godol has questioned the proof from contingency for the existence of God, http://godolhador.blogspot.com/2006/06/proving-gods-existence.html I think his arguments are quite weak. He is confusing the existence of an Entity and what that Entity’s attributes are. There has to be a non-contingent Entity, what triggered that entity to bring about the subsequent contingent entities is still a question that needs an answer. That is what I will attempt to discuss in my upcoming posts and present one of Judaism’s understandings on that issue. (The reason I refer us to GH, is because he is struggling honestly with the existential issues and is able to so clearly and succinctly present the problems many of us confront when we start reflecting.)

There is a fascinating lecture by Professor Stephen Hawking that I highly recommend for every person that wants to be up to date on the latest theories in Physics and Cosmogony. You can find it here: http://www.hawking.org.uk/text/public/bot.html . Professor Hawking (SH) introduces the lecture as follows:

All the evidence seems to indicate, that the universe has not existed forever, but that it had a beginning, about 15 billion years ago. This is probably the most remarkable discovery of modern cosmology. Yet it is now taken for granted. We are not yet certain whether the universe will have an end.”

He then goes on to discuss what started the ball rolling. The Big Bang happened at some point and scientists are trying to explain what caused the event to occur and the universe was created. There are two possibilities:

1) An outside Entity triggered willfully the start of the event of Creation. (Outside Entity (OE) for short)
2) There is a natural explanation of how this started on its own. (Spontaneous Generation (SG) for short)

For a scientist option SG is preferable because once you introduce an outside Entity, it presents a problem to scientific research. A proof is no longer a total certainty once outside will is introduced into the equation. It is a legitimate concern that will be dealt with in later posts. However the problem that confronts us is that according to the Big Bang theory, before the event, the laws of Physics as we know them did not exist. As Professor Hawking explains:

At this time, the Big Bang, all the matter in the universe, would have been on top of itself. The density would have been infinite. It would have been what is called, a singularity. At a singularity, all the laws of physics would have broken down. This means that the state of the universe, after the Big Bang, will not depend on anything that may have happened before, because the deterministic laws that govern the universe will break down in the Big Bang. The universe will evolve from the Big Bang, completely independently of what it was like before. Even the amount of matter in the universe, can be different to what it was before the Big Bang, as the Law of Conservation of Matter, will break down at the Big Bang.”

To explain Creation without resorting to outside will, SH proposes to recruit Quantum physics and comes up with a theory he calls “no boundary condition”. I have not completely grasped it but it suggests that by introducing "Imaginary Time" into the equation, a quantum physics concept, what we consider a singularity without laws of Physics, would from another perspective follow the laws of Physics. This would allow for spontaneous Creation without outside influence. Be it as it may it still is an unproven theory as SH says:

The no boundary condition, is the statement that the laws of physics hold everywhere. Clearly, this is something that one would like to believe, but it is a hypothesis. One has to test it, by comparing the state of the universe that it would predict, with observations of what the universe is actually like. If the observations disagreed with the predictions of the no boundary hypothesis, we would have to conclude the hypothesis was false. There would have to be something outside the universe, to wind up the clockwork, and set the universe going. Of course, even if the observations do agree with the predictions, that does not prove that the no boundary proposal is correct. But one's confidence in it would be increased, particularly because there doesn't seem to be any other natural proposal, for the quantum state of the universe.”

In other words so far there is no hard proof for an explanation of how spontaneous generation of the Universe could have occurred. As SH summarizes the lecture:

The conclusion of this lecture is that the universe has not existed forever. Rather, the universe, and time itself, had a beginning in the Big Bang, about 15 billion years ago. The beginning of real time, would have been a singularity, at which the laws of physics would have broken down. Nevertheless, the laws of physics would have determined the way the universe began, if the universe satisfied the no boundary condition. This says that in the imaginary time direction, space-time is finite in extent, but does not have any boundary or edge. The predictions of the no boundary proposal seem to agree with observation. The no boundary hypothesis also predicts that the universe will eventually collapse again. However, the contracting phase, will not have the opposite arrow of time, to the expanding phase. So we will keep on getting older, and we won't return to our youth. Because time is not going to go backwards, I think I better stop now.”

What is so fascinating is that this discussion so eerily resembles Rambam’s discussion with Aristotles in Moreh chapters 2:13 through 25. Aristotles argued that although there has to be a non-contingent Entity, it had no choice in Creation. The laws of physics have never changed and they are the trigger for contingent entities coming into existence. Aristotle believed that the Universe is eternal, and was not created in time, while the current Big Bang theory does believe in a beginning in time. He therefore did not need to accept the possibility that the laws of physics were ever non-existent. Rambam however believed the universe was created in time. Aristotle’s arguments were that the laws of physics do not allow for non-existence. Rambam argued, that is correct once Creation was in place, but if one believes in Creation in time, before Creation different or no laws would have existed. Rambam accepted the two possibilities we proposed earlier for what triggered Creation; Outside Entity or Spontaneous Generation. He also admitted the remote possibility that the SG theory could be proven and we would then have to deal with it from a religious point of view (Moreh 2:25 although if read carefully could be understood a little differently). He however considered that possibility highly unlikely near impossible.

In Moreh 2:17 Rambam lays out the two positions:

The Aristotelians oppose us, and base their objections on the properties which the things in the Universe possess when in actual existence and fully developed. We admit the existence of these properties, but hold that they are by no means the same as those which the things possessed in the moment of their production; and we hold that these properties themselves have come into existence from absolute non-existence. Their arguments are therefore no objection whatever to our theory: they have demonstrative force only against those who hold that the nature of things as at present in existence proves the Creation. But this is not my opinion.”

And now Rambam states what I think is one of the most important statements that are the foundation of his theology:

Aristotle, or rather his followers, may perhaps ask us how we know that the Universe has been created: and that other forces than those it has at present were acting in its Creation, since we hold that the properties of the Universe, as it exists at present, prove nothing as regards its creation ? We reply, there is no necessity for this according to our plan; for we do not desire to prove the Creation, but only its possibility: and this possibility is not refuted by arguments based on the nature of the present Universe, which we do not dispute. When we have established the admissibility of our theory, we shall then show its superiority.”

In other words, we are dealing with the unknown, which probably will remain unknown to man forever. Man can only deal with the physical and the ultimate question of what triggered physicality to come into existence can have only two answers: OE or SG. As long as neither contradicts facts, both are valid. Which is more likely now becomes a matter of deciding which is superior, fitting in with other issues and facts better than the other argument. I will tackle that in upcoming posts.

As an aside, it is interesting to note the underlying tone of SH and Rambam. SH is confident that science will find a way to explain what I call the pre-Breishis with a scientific theory, while Rambam, the religious thinker, is confident that no such answer will ever come about. Both are men of faith! (A concession to GH ? :-) )

Thank you all for the good wishes for my son Aryeh's wedding. I decided to come back with a Big Bang!


  1. Welcome back! You were missed. And mazel tov on the wedding.

    As for this post...I agree we know nothing about what came before Creation. Could be anything. Personally, I prefer to have a positive outlook and believe that Creation was the purposeful act of a supremely good being, but if you accused me of wishful (hopeful) thinking I guess I would have to say guilty as charged.

  2. Hawking, in his famous book, wrote that "Many people do not like the idea that time has a beginning, probably because it smacks of divine intervention."

    Hawking, of course, was attempting to explain the beginning without resorting to divine intervention. But it's clear from this comment and others that the charge of "wishful thinking" can go both ways. While many people seek solace in religion, it seems that a lot of scientists today (as the above quote implicitly acknowledges) find the notion of a Creator disturbing. I would definitely describe Hawking's "no boundary" proposal to be a form of wishful thinking at this point.

  3. Kylopod, I agree and that was the point of my post. I also found the paralells between Rambam's arguments and Hawking's thinking very interesting.

  4. David, how would Hawking's no-boundary proposal impact the First Cause argument? He maintains that the "First Cause" is the laws of physics themselves. What is your response?

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  6. Hi All,

    I have read Hawking's article “Stephen Hawking Says Universe Created From Nothing” (2007) http://richarddawkins.net/articles/806 and find it indistinguishable from a fairy story.

    Perhaps I misunderstand what he is saying. Any clarification appreciated.

    Please leave comments at:

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