When addressing whether God is needed to create the universe, Dr. Mir Faizal made this comment in the British news site Express, “If by God you mean a supernatural super man who breaks his own laws then yes he’s done for, you just don’t need him.”1Faizal’s comment reflects the common thought of many scientists—but can it also reveal how science supports God? Let’s look at his claim in more detail.
Faizal published a paper detailing a particular approach to quantum gravity that includes a minimum observable length. This approach leads to potential consequences in the cosmic microwave background radiation since inflation is particularly sensitive to physics relevant to the shortest length scales.2 Though nothing definitive arises from this approach yet, the scenario prompted Faizal (and others) to propose that the beginning of the universe does not require anything particularly special to explain it. Here is the basic line of reasoning.
Quantum mechanics and general relativity provide a remarkably accurate description of the universe today. As we run the clock backwards, quantum mechanics still works properly, but in the earliest moments of the universe, general relativity says that the laws of physics break down. Typically, this breakdown is reflected as some infinity that arises and is called a singularity. Faizal’s research combines quantum processes with gravity (described by general relativity) and argues that there is a minimum length scale that prevents these infinities from ever occurring. Since the laws of physics never break down, there is no place left for a divine intervention.
Even though the universe begins to exist, there is no need to invoke divine causation because quantum processes will bring our universe into existence. We know that quantum processes bring virtual particles into and out of existence all the time with the constraint that the more energy contained in the particles, the shorter the time they exist. This process may not seem relevant to the beginning of the universe, but research indicates that the total energy content of the universe is zero! The large, positive energy associated with the mass of a particle combines with the negative energy associated with the gravitational potential of the mass, leaving a net energy of zero.3 Although it sounds bizarre, the idea dates back to the early 1970s. If the universe has a net energy of zero, then the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle places no limits on how long it could exist—assuming that the universe really is just a quantum fluctuation. So, a quantum fluctuation provided the inflationary seed leading to our net-zero-energy universe.
Three Points to Discuss
1. The validity of this argument against God’s involvement relies on a particular theory of quantum gravity. Yet, scientists still have no good way to test which (if any) current quantum theory of gravity is correct.
2. Let’s assume that the scenario above is correct; then the explanation for the universe ultimately resides in the “quantum vacuum” (or we could call it the “law of gravity” as Stephen Hawking does). In order for the quantum vacuum to cause the universe, it must exist eternally or else the real question becomes what caused the quantum vacuum. Similarly, the quantum vacuum must have the power to create the universe; it cannot simply be a description of how things work. In other words, the laws of physics must be prescriptive, not just descriptive. So the cause of the universe is self-existent and causative. And if Thomas Nagel is correct in his view that consciousness is a universal feature of all things, then the cause of the universe must be self-existent, causative, and conscious. We may call it a quantum vacuum, but it sounds a lot like God.
3. Faizal’s quote at the beginning of this article paints an accurate picture of the view of many scientists that God is only at work in things unexplainable by the laws of physics. However, such a view grossly misrepresents how the Bible describes God’s activity. While God can and does work beyond the laws of physics, he often accomplishes his purposes by working within the confines of the universe he designed and sustains. This biblical view anticipates that the bulk of what happens in the universe will find a suitable explanation within the laws of physics. Faizal acknowledges this in a subtle way with the rest of his quote. After denying the existence of a super tinkerer, he comments, “But if you mean God as a great mathematician, then yes!”4
Certainly God is a great mathematician—but he is not just a mathematician. He also creates and sustains this marvelous creation so that we can understand its workings and appreciate his majesty.