God, the lurker, is watching us from nearby

Paul Arveson (arveson@oasys.dt.navy.mil)
Thu, 2 Jul 1998 18:46:24 -0400

Thank you, Keenan Dungey, <Keenan.Dungey@furman.edu>, for your fine
review of the Hawking video. You could easily be a science reporter.

I find the interaction between the work of cosmologists and theologians to
be a fascinating subject. It is not well known that Lemaitre, a priest and
mathematician, first proposed the Big Bang. Of course most of the great
scientists of this century from Einstein to Steven Weinberg to E.O. Wilson
(see 'Consilience') have had a lot to say about God.

Hawking devotes some of his book, 'A Brief History of Time' to his
presentations before the Vatican Academy. He portrays himself
impishly, when he slipped in his no-boundary proposal which takes away the
singularity of the Big Bang, and hence (he assumes) takes away the
need for a creator. It's the ultimate closure of the 'god of the gaps'
proposals of Newton.

How ironic. Sir Isaac, whose chair Hawking now occupies, began this
approach in the 17th century to prove God by demonstrating that without
miraculous interventions occasionally, the world would fall into the sun.
Hence, since we're here, God exists.

Then, in the 18th century of cosmologists, Pierre Simon de Laplace
found no need for the hypothesis of a gap, because there is no friction
in space to make the earth slow down. But the Laplacians could still
believe in a fully deterministic universe, which could have been
started by a Prime Mover at the beginning.

The deterministic character of celestial mechanics was undermined by
the discovery of chaos -- not a recent discovery, but one made by
the 19th century by Henri Poincare', in his 'Celestial Mechanics'.

Now, at the end of the 20th century, not only gravitation but all the
other forces are found to exhibit uncertainty and unpredictability.
In this context, the whole notion of a 'gap' becomes meaningless.

Finally we reached the end of gaps, when Hawking proposed a spacetime
that is seamless even through the singularity at the beginning. God
is now totally sealed out of the universe.

Or is He? I think to escape this conclusion, Christians need to
remember that it was Newton, Boyle and other well-meaning but human
scientists who proposed the god of the gaps at the outset. But this
god bears little resemblance to the immanent God of providence that
is taught in the Bible. The lesson to be learned in this 300-year
episode is that Christians should be careful whom they take as allies.

God is not just 'watching us from a distance', i.e. at the beginning or the
end of the cosmos. God is watching us from very nearby, and always has
been, despite whatever the topology of spacetime may be.

Paul Arveson, Code 724, Research Physicist, Signatures Directorate
Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division
9500 MacArthur Blvd., West Bethesda, MD 20817-5700
arveson@oasys.dt.navy.mil bridges@his.com
(301) 227-3831