In the Beginning there was… Gravity?

Stephen Hawking is in the news today, apparently after claiming in a new book that spontaneous creation is possible within the existing laws of physics, and hence there is no need for God. He writes:

“…the coincidences of our planetary conditions — the single Sun, the lucky combination of Earth-Sun distance and solar mass — [are] far less remarkable, and far less compelling evidence that the Earth was carefully designed just to please us human beings.

“Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.

“Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.

“It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”

[Reuters and BBC News]

Now, I need to tread a little carefully here, as I cannot pretend to be a brain anywhere near as great as Dr Hawking. It is a good twelve years since I last studied physics, and I am keenly aware that a few sparse quotes on the newswire do not an argument make. But I have to say that I really don’t see the logic in this statement.

Isn’t Gravity a feature of the universe? It is a force, it is a law. It pervades the system and governs the bounds of how the system functions. But it’s a feature of the system, isn’t it? i.e. no universe, no gravity – just as there is no protons, neutrons, quarks etc.

My understanding of cosmological theories was that it was effectively impossible to know the state of the universe prior to the Big Bang. We can model all the way back to microseconds after – but other than suggesting it was in “a hot dense state” (as the song goes), there’s no real way of knowing what was there. So, is Hawking now suggesting that before the Big Bang there was gravity? That gravity is pre-existent?

I don’t understand how this answers the First Cause argument. Gravity, matter, energy etc are now pre-existent? Self-existent? Even if we could say that we knew enough about the nature of creation (for want of a better word) before the Big Bang brought our universe into existence, to say that gravity existed in creation then, and acted within it enough to bring about the Big Bang… Where’s the First Cause? What existed before the “hot, dense state”? Isn’t the question of where the something of creation came from still relevant?

There is a cyclical theory of cosmology that suggests that gravity will act on our expanding universe and (eventually) cause it to contract back to a singular point. From which it will in turn rapidly expand into a new universe in a second Big Bang. That theory argues that our current universe could be one of an infinite series of expansions and contractions, a cycle that runs on forever. Without being able to read the source of the above quotes, it seems like this is what Hawking is advocating, but it still leaves a problem: what is on the outside of that cyclical system? How did the cycle begin initially? And where does the necessary material, the fuel for the Bang(s) come from?

There may be millions of other Earth-like planets in the universe. We may be in no way unique. But I still don’t see why that means, definitively,  there is no need for a First Cause. On this evidence, I don’t think that Hawking has (yet) killed God.

One thought on “In the Beginning there was… Gravity?

  1. Julia says:

    i love Hawking. always will. right up there with Kurzweil, et al. anyway. what he’s said recently though pissed me off.

    it’s been proven that gravity needs other laws to exist. sure, the universe may be “dependant” upon itself if you truly want to take God out of the picture at this point in history, but that doesn’t mean it created itself. gravity is not a First Mover. impossible.

    this has made me question if Hawking has lost his mind. i’m disappointed. he is indeed a brain, but really?? all that said, i still am reading “Black Holes & Baby Universes”. again.

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