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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 support.

The speculations as they stood at the end of the 1980s were reviewed by Willem B Drees.[FTEXT] 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 Hoyle’s development of steady-state theory (see is the Big Bang a moment of creation?).[FTEXT]

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 creator?[FTEXT]

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.[FTEXT]

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 - Hawking’s 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 Necessity[FTEXT]has 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.[FTEXT]

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.”’[FTEXT]

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.[FTEXT] 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

Email link | Feedback | Contributed by: Dr. Christopher Southgate
Source: God, Humanity and the Cosmos  (T&T Clark, 1999)

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