Quantum leaps of faith

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Or: Why I should first read Stephen Hawking's The Grand Design

Guest blog by Vatican astronomer Father Christopher Corbally, S.J.

The media has been highlighting some pretty provocative quotes from Stephen Hawking's new book. One such runs: “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.”

I'm a Catholic so I might react to this by thinking, "Who does Hawking think he is, God?" But I'm also a Jesuit astronomer with a deep respect for Hawking's cosmology. If Hawking is talking from the "mechanical metaphor", interpreting reality solely from physics and mathematics, then quantum gravity can give rise to spontaneous creation and be the physical reason there is something rather than nothing.

Notice the word "solely". It leaves out the "metaphor" of philosophy, one that would speak of quantum gravity itself being contingent, since this law could "not be" at all. Quantum gravity does not have in itself the reason for its existence.

Philosophy can't completely answer whether that reason is needed or the law of gravity "just happens." But theology does answer this, an answer that invokes a Creator who creates out of infinite love and on whom the existence of all depends continually. That answer resonates with those who have the experience of that Creator, their God, in faith.

So, I need to read Hawking's book to see whether he is mixing his metaphors or whether he essentially, if provocatively, is sticking to the physics in which lies his extreme competence. Meanwhile the media will rage that Hawking says that God did not create the Universe. To which might come the response: "Hawking did not create the Universe," says God!

Guest blogger Father Christopher Corbally, S.J. is the vice director of the Vatican Observatory Research Group at the Mount Graham International Observatory in Arizona

Guest blog posts express the views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. Catholic, its editors, or the Claretians.