The Evidence of Cosmology

Beginning with a Bang

Set aside the many competing explanations of the Big Bang; something made an entire cosmos out of nothing. It is this realization—-that something transcendent started it all— which has hard-science types... using terms like 'miracle.'

Journalist Gregg Easterbrook 1

Perhaps the best argument ... that the Big Bang supports theism is the obvious unease with which it is greeted by some atheist physicists. At times this has led to scientific ideas ... being advanced with a tenacity which so exceeds their intrinsic worth that one can only suspect the operation of psychological forces lying very much deeper than the usual academic desire of a theorist to support his or her theory.

Astrophysicist C. J. Isham 2

My eyes scanned the magazines at the newsstand near my home. A beautiful woman graced Glamour. Sleek, high-performance cars streaked across the front of Motor Trend. And there on the cover of Discover magazine, sitting by itself, unadorned, floating in a sea of pure white background, was a simple red sphere. It was smaller than a tennis ball, tinier than a Titleist—just three quarters of an inch in diameter, not too much bigget than a marble.

As staggering as it seemed, it represented the actual size of the entire universe when it was just an infinitesimal fraction of one second old. Cried out the headline: Where Did Everything Come From?

Thousands of years ago, the Hebrews believed they had the answer:

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth," opens the Bible. 4 Everything began, they claimed, with the primordial fiat lux —-the voice of God commanding light into existence. 5 But is that a simplistic superstition or a divinely inspired insight? What do the cosmologists—-scientists who devote their lives to studying the origin of the universe—have to say about the issue?

It seemed to me that the beginning of everything was a good place to start my investigation into whether the affirmative evidence of science points toward or away from a Creator. At the time, I wasn't particularly interested in internal Christian debates over whether the world is young or old. The "when" wasn't as important to me as the "how"-—-how do scientific models and theories explain the origin of all? 6

"In the beginning there was an explosion," explained Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg in his book The First Three Minutes. "Not an explosion like those familiar on Earth, starting from a definite center and spreading out to engulf more and more of the circumambient air, but an explosion which occurred simultaneously everywhere, filling all space from the beginning with every particle of matter rushing apart from every other particle." 7

Within the tiniest split second, the temperature hit a hundred thousand million degrees Centigrade. "This is much hotter than in the center of even the hottest star, so hot, in fact, that none of the components of ordinary matter, molecules, or atoms, or even the nuclei of atoms, could have held together," he wrote. 8 The matter rushing apart, he explained, consisted "of such elementary particles as negatively charged electrons, positively charged positrons, and neutrinos, which lack both electrical charge and mass. Interestingly, there were also photons: "The universe," he said, "was filled with light." 9

"In three minutes," wrote Bill Bryson in A Short History of Nearly Everything, "ninety-eight percent of all the matter there is or will ever be has been produced. We have a universe. It is a place of the most wondrous and gratifying possibility, and beautiful, too. And it was all done in about the time it takes to make a sandwich." 10

The most intriguing question is what caused the universe to suddenly spring into existence. For Bryson and many others, its mere presence somehow seems to explain itself. In a chapter called "How to Build a Universe," he vaguely speculates on exotic theories about a "false vacuum," or "scalar field," or "vacuum energy"-—-some sort of "quality or thing" that may have "introduced a measure of instability into the nothingness that was" and thus sparked the Big Bang through which emerged the entire universe.

"It seems impossible that you could, get something from nothing," he said, "but the fact that once there was nothing and now there is a universe is evident proof that you can." 11

Yet could there be another explanation that better accounts for the evidence? Might the mysterious causation be divine? Maybe Edward Milne was right when he capped his mathematical treatise on relativity by saying: "As to the first cause of the Universe ... that is left for the reader to insert, but our picture is incomplete without Him." 12

I knew this investigation would take me into the slippery world of theoretical physics, where its sometimes difficult to discern between what's profoundly scholarly and what's just plain silly. That was well-illustrated in late 2002 when a debate broke out over a highly speculative theory from two French mathematical physicists (who happened to be twins) about what might have preceded the Big Bang. As amazing—-and amusing—as it seems, the scientific community couldn't figure out whether the brothers "are really geniuses with a new view of the moment before the universe began or simply earnest scientists who are in over their heads and spouting nonsense," said a New York Times article that featured the provocative headline: "Are They a) Geniuses or b) Jokers?" While one professor found their work "intriguing," another dismissed it as "nutty." Yet another protested: "Scientifically, it's clearly more or less complete nonsense, but these days that doesn't much distinguish it from a lot of the rest of the literature." The journal that published a paper by the disputed scientists, who had both received their doctorates with the lowest passing grades, later repudiated it. 13 Obviously, delving into the dawning of the universe—way back to the first 1/10 million trillion trillion trillionths of a second, which is the furthest back scientists believe they can peer—is going to require a certain degree of speculation. Theories abound. Conceded one prominent cosmologist from Stanford University: "These are very close to religious questions. 14

As for myself, I wasn't interested in unsupported conjecture or armchair musings by pipe-puffing theorists. I wanted the hard facts of mathematics, the cold data of cosmology, and only the most reasonable inferences that can be drawn from them. And that's what sent me to Georgia to visit the home of a widely published expert who has studied and debated these issues for decades.

INTERVIEW #3: William Lane Craig, PhD, ThD

As a college student who graduated in 1971, Bill Craig had been taught that various arguments for the existence of God were weak, outdated, and ultimately ineffective. And that's what he believed-—until he happened upon philosopher Stuart C. Hackett's 1957 book, The Resurrection of Theism,15 This dense tome never burned up the best-seller list. In fact, the self-effacing Hackett commented years later that "the book fell stillborn from the press because of its heavy style and technical context." 16 Still, it absolutely stunned Craig.

Hackett is a brilliant thinker who took these theistic arguments seriously, rigorously defending them from every objection he could find or imagine. One argument in the book was that the universe must have had a beginning and, therefore, a Creator. Craig was so intrigued that he decided to use his doctoral studies under British theologian John Hick to come to a resolution in his own mind concerning the soundness of this argument. Would it really withstand scrutiny? Craig ended up writing his dissertation on the topic-—an exercise that launched him into a lifetime of exploring cosmology.

Craig's books include a landmark debate with atheist Quentin Smith called Theism, Atheism and Big Bang Cosmology., published by Oxford University Press; The Kalam Cosmological Argument, The Existence of God and the Beginning of the Universe; The Cosmological Argument from Plato to Leibniz; and Reasonable Faith, as well as contributions on this and related topics to the books Does God Exist?; Faith and Reason; A Companion to Philosophy of Religion; Questions of Time and Tense; Mere Creation; The History of Science and Religion in the Western Tradition; Naturalism: A Critical Appraisal; and God and Time.

His articles on cosmological issues also have appeared in a wide range of scientific and philosophical journals, including Astrophysics and Space Science, Nature, The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, The Journal of Philosophy, and International Studies in the Philosophy of Science. A member of nine professional societies, including the American Philosophical Association, the Science and Religion Forum, the American Scientific Affiliation, and the Philosophy of Time Society, Craig currently is a research professor at the Talbot School of Theology.

I hardly needed directions to Craig's suburban Atlanta home. In previous visits, I had interviewed him for The Case for Christ and The Case for Faith, both times walking away thoroughly impressed by his scholarly depth and disarming sincerity. He has an uncanny ability to communicate complex concepts in accessible and yet technically accurate language-—a rare skill that I would certainly put to the test again with this challenging subject.

Craig answered the front door wearing a short-sleeved shirt, dark blue shorts, and brown moccasins. We descended a short flight of stairs to his office, where a soft, humid breeze wafted through a half-opened window. He sat behind his desk and leaned back in his chair, clasping his hands behind his head. I pulled up a chair and set up my tape recorder.

We were ready to investigate what Craig himself believes to be "one of the most plausible arguments for God's existence" 17-—-an argument based on evidence that the universe is not eternal, but that it had a beginning in the Big Bang.

The Kalam Cosmological Argument

"You're a famous proponent of an argument for God's existence that's formally called the 'kalam cosmological argument,'" I said in opening our conversation. "Before you define what that is, though, give me some background. What does kalam mean?"

"Let me describe the origins of the argument," he said. "In ancient Greece, Aristotle believed that God isn't the Creator of the universe but that he simply imbues order into it. In his view, both God and the universe are eternal. Of course, that contradicted the Hebrew notion that God created the world out of nothing. So Christians later sought to refute Aristotle. One prominent Christian philosopher on the topic was John Philoponus of Alexandria, Egypt, who lived in the fourth century. He argued that the universe had a beginning. When Islam took over North Africa, Muslim theologians picked up these arguments, because they also believed in creation. So while this tradition was lost to the Christian West, it began to be highly developed within Islamic medieval theology. One of the most famous Muslim proponents was al-Ghazali, who lived from 1058 to 1111. These arguments eventually got passed back into Latin-speaking Christendom through the mediation of Jewish thinkers, who lived side-by-side with Muslim theologians, particularly in Spain, which at that time had been conquered by the Muslims. They became hotly debated. Bonaventure, the Italian philosopher, supported the arguments in the thirteenth century; John Locke, the British philosopher, used them in the seventeenth century, though I don't know if he knew of their Islamic origins; and eventually they found their way to Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher, in the eighteenth century.

"Now, back to your question about the word kalam—it reflects the arguments Islamic origin. It's an Arabic word that means 'speech' or 'doctrine,' but it came to characterize the whole medieval movement of Islamic theology. That was called kalam-—-this highly academic theology of the Middle Ages, which later evaporated."

I spoke up. "Obviously, none of these early philosophers knew about any of the scientific evidence for the origin of the universe," I said. "How did they argue that the universe had a beginning?"

"They relied on philosophical and mathematical reasoning," he said. "However, when scientists in the last century began to discover hard data about the Big Bang, this provided a more empirical foundation."

"How do you frame the kalam argument?"

"As formulated by al-Ghazali, the argument has three simple steps:

'"Whatever begins to exist has a cause. The universe began to exist. Therefore, the universe has a cause. Then you can do a conceptual analysis of what it means to be a cause of the universe, and a striking number of divine attributes can be identified."

I decided to work my way through all three steps of al-Ghazali's nearly millennium-old argument, starting with a point that-—surprisingly— has become more and more disputed in recent years.

STEP #1: Whatever Begins to Exist Has a Cause

"When I first began to defend the kalam argument," Craig said, "I anticipated that its first premise-—-that whatever begins to exist has a cause—would be accepted by virtually everyone, I thought the second premise-—-that the universe began to exist—would be much more controversial. But the scientific evidence has accumulated to the extent that atheists are finding it difficult to deny that the universe had a beginning. So they've been forced to attack the first premise instead."

Craig shook his head. "To me, this is absolutely bewildering!" he declared, his voice rising in dismay. "It seems metaphysically necessary that anything which begins to exist has to have a cause that brings it into being. Things don't just pop into existence, uncaused, out of nothing. Yet the atheist Quentin Smith concluded our book on the topic by claiming that 'the most reasonable belief is that we came from nothing, by nothing, and for nothing.' 18 That sounds like a good conclusion to the Gettysburg Address of Atheism! It simply amazes me that anyone can think this is the most rational view. Generally, people who take this position don't try to prove the premise is false, because they can't do that. Instead, they fold their arms and play the skeptic by saying, 'You can't prove that's true.' They dial their degree of skepticism so high that nothing could possibly convince them."

"On the other hand," I interjected, "they have every right to play the skeptic. After all, the burden of proof should be on you to present affirmative evidence to establish this first premise."

Craig conceded my point with a nod. "Yes, but you shouldn't demand unreasonable standards of proof," he cautioned.

I asked, "What positive proof can you offer?"

"In the first place," he replied, "this first premise is intuitively obvious once you clearly grasp the concept of absolute nothingness. You see, the idea that things can come into being uncaused out of nothing is worse than magic. At least when a magician pulls a rabbit out of a hat, there's the magician and the hat!

"But in atheism, the universe just pops into being out of nothing, with absolutely no explanation at all. I think once people understand the concept of absolute nothingness, its simply obvious to them that if something has a beginning, that it could not have popped into being out of nothing but must have a cause that brings it into existence."

Admittedly, that was difficult to dispute, but I needed something more substantial. "Can you offer anything harder than just intuition? "What scientific evidence is there?"

"Well, we certainly have empirical evidence for the truth of this premise. This is a principle that is constantly confirmed and never falsified. We never see things coming into being uncaused out of nothing. Nobody worries that while he's away at work, say, a horse might pop into being, uncaused, out of nothing, in his living room, and be there defiling the carpet. We don't worry about those kinds of things, because they never happen. So this is a principle that is constantly verified by science. At least, Lee, you have to admit that we have better reason to think it's true than it's false. If you're presented with the principle and its denial, which way does the evidence point? Obviously, the premise is more plausible than its denial."

Still, my research had yielded at least one substantive objection to kalam's first premise. It emanates from the wacky world of quantum physics, where all kinds of strange, unexpected things happen at the subatomic level-—-a level, by the way, at which the entire universe existed in its very earliest stages, when electrons, protons, and neutrinos were bursting forth in the Big Bang. Maybe our commonplace understanding of cause-and-effect doesn't apply in this circus-mirror environment of "quantum weirdness," a place where, as science writer Timothy Ferris writes, "the logical foundations of classical science are violated." 19

Is the Universe a Free Lunch?

I pulled out the copy of the Discover magazine that I had been prompted to purchase after I had seen the marble-sized universe on its cover. I flipped it open and read the following to Craig:

Quantum theory ... holds that a vacuum ... is subject to quantum uncertainties. This means that things can materialize out of the vacuum, although they tend to vanish back into it quickly.... Theoretically, anything-—-a dog, a house, a planet—can pop into existence by means of this quantum quirk, which physicists call a vacuum fluctuation. Probability, however, dictates that pairs of subatomic particles ... are by far the most likely creations and that they will last extremely briefly.... The spontaneous, persistent creation of something even as large as a molecule is profoundly unlikely. Nevertheless, in 1973 an assistant professor at Columbia University named Edward Tryon suggested that the entire universe might have come into existence this way.... The whole universe may be, to use [MIT physicist Alan] Guth's phrase, "a free lunch." 20

I closed the magazine and tossed it on Craig's desk. "Maybe Tryon was right when he said, 'I offer the modest proposal that our universe is simply one of those things which happen from time to time.' " 21

Craig was listening intently. "Okay, that's a good question," he replied. "These subatomic particles the article talks about are called 'virtual particles.' They are theoretical entities, and it's not even clear that they actually exist as opposed to being merely theoretical constructs. However, there's a much more important point to be made about this. You see, these particles, if they are real, do not come out of nothing. The quantum vacuum is not what most people envision when they think of a vacuum-—-that is, absolutely nothing. On the contrary, it's a sea of fluctuating energy, an arena of violent activity that has a rich physical structure and can be described by physical laws. These particles are thought to originate by fluctuations of the energy in the vacuum. So it's not an example of something coming into being out of nothing, or something coming into being without a cause. The quantum vacuum and the energy locked up in the vacuum are the cause of these particles. And then we have to ask, well, what is the origin of the whole quantum vacuum itself? Where does it come from?"

He let that question linger before continuing. "You've simply pushed back the issue of creation. Now you've got to account for how this very active ocean of fluctuating energy came into being. Do you see what I'm saying? If quantum physical laws operate within the domain described by quantum physics, you can't legitimately use quantum physics to explain the origin of that domain itself. You need something transcendent that's beyond that domain in order to explain how the entire domain came into being. Suddenly, we're back to the origins question."

Craig's answer satisfied me. In fact, there didn't seem to be any rational objection that could seriously jeopardize the initial assertion of the kalam argument. And it has been that way since the early philosophers began to use it centuries ago.

"Even the famous skeptic David Hume didn't deny the first premise," Craig noted. "Hume wrote in 1754, 'I never asserted so absurd a proposition as that anything might arise without a cause.' 22 It wasn't until the discovery of scientific confirmation for the beginning of the universe in the twentieth century that people began to say, well, maybe the universe just came from nothing. Nobody has defended such an absurd position historically," said Craig, "which, again, makes me inclined to think this is just a corner they're being backed into by the evidence for the beginning of the universe."

STEP #2: The Universe Had a Beginning

Turning to the second premise of the kalam argument, I said to Craig, "If we were sitting here a hundred years ago, the idea that the universe began to exist at a specific point in the past would have been very controversial, wouldn't it?"

"No question about it," replied Craig. "The assumption ever since the ancient Greeks has been that the material world is eternal. Christians have denied this on the basis of biblical revelation, but secular science always assumed the universes eternality. Christians just had to say, well, even though the universe appears static, nevertheless it did have a beginning when God created it. So the discovery in the twentieth century that the universe is not an unchanging, eternal entity was a complete shock to secular minds. It was utterly unanticipated."

Still, I needed evidence. "How do we really know that the universe started at some point in the past?" I asked. "What proof is there?"

"Essentially," said Craig, "there are two pathways toward establishing it. One could be called either mathematical or philosophical, while the other is scientific. Lets begin with the mathematical argument, which, incidentally, picks up on the thinking of Philoponus and the medieval Islamic theologians I mentioned earlier."

The Pathway of Mathematics

"The early Christian and Muslim scholars," Craig explained, "used mathematical reasoning to demonstrate that it was impossible to have an infinite past. Their conclusion, therefore, was that the universe's age must be finite-—-that is, it must have had a beginning. They pointed out that absurdities would result if you were to have an actually infinite number of things," he said. "Since an infinite past would involve an actually infinite number of events, then the past simply can't be infinite."

It took a moment for that statement to sink in. I have always been a reluctant student of mathematics, especially such esoteric permutations as transfinke arithmetic. Before we could venture into any mathematical complexities, I reached over and pushed the "pause" button on my tape recorder.

"Hold on a minute, Bill," I said. "If I'm going to track with you on this, you're going to have to give me some illustrations to clarify things."

Craig already had some in mind. "Okay, no problem," he replied. "When I turned the recorder back on, he continued.

"Let's use an example involving marbles," he said. "Imagine I had an infinite number of marbles in my possession, and that I wanted to give you some. In fact, suppose I wanted to give you an infinite number of marbles. One way I could do that would be to give you the entire pile of marbles. In that case I would have zero marbles left for myself. However, another way to do it would be to give you all of the odd numbered marbles. Then I would still have an infinity left over for myself, and you would have an infinity too. You'd have just as many as I would—and, in fact, each of us would have just as many as I originally had before we divided into odd and even! Or another approach would be for me to give you all of the marbles numbered four and higher. That way, you would have an infinity of marbles, but I would have only three marbles left.

What these illustrations demonstrate is that the notion of an actual infinite number of things leads to contradictory results. In the first case in which I gave you all the marbles, infinity minus infinity is zero; in the second case in which I gave you all the odd-numbered marbles, infinity minus infinity is infinity; and in the third case in which I gave you all the marbles numbered four and greater, infinity minus infinity is three. In each case, we have subtracted the identical number from the identical number, but we have come up with nonidentical results. For that reason, mathematicians are forbidden from doing subtraction and division in transfinite arithmetic, because this would lead to contradictions. You see, the idea of an actual infinity is just conceptual; it exists only in our minds. Working within certain rules, mathematicians can deal with infinite quantities and infinite numbers in the conceptual realm. However—-and here's the point—it's not descriptive of what can happen in the real world."

I was following Craig so far. "You're saying, then, that you couldn't have an infinite number of events in the past."

"Exactly, because you would run into similar paradoxes," he said. "Substitute past events for 'marbles,' and you can see the absurdities that would result. So the universe can't have an infinite number of events in its past; it must have had a beginning. In fact, we can go further. Even if you could have an actual infinite number of things, you couldn't form such a collection by adding one member after another. That's because no matter how many you add, you can always add one more before you get to infinity. This is sometimes called the Impossibility of Traversing the Infinite. But if the past really were infinite, then that would mean we have managed to traverse an infinite past to arrive at today. It would be as if

someone had managed to count down all of the negative numbers and to arrive at zero at the present moment. Such a task is intuitively nonsense. For that reason as well, we can conclude there must have been a beginning to the universe."

Still, I spotted an inconsistency that threatened to unravel Craig's argument. "If the idea of the universe being infinitely old leads to absurd conclusions, then what about the idea of God being infinitely old?" I asked. "Doesn't your reasoning also automatically rule out the idea of an eternal deity?"

"That depends," he said. "It rules out the concept of a God who has endured through an infinite past time. But that's not the classic idea of God. Time and space are creations of God that began at the Big Bang. If you go back beyond the beginning of time itself, there is simply eternity. By that, I mean eternity in the sense of timelessness. God, the eternal, is timeless in his being. God did not endure through an infinite amount of time up to the moment of creation; that would be absurd. God transcends time. He's beyond time. Once God creates the universe, he could enter time, but that's a different topic altogether."

I quickly reviewed in my mind what Craig had said so far, concluding that it was logically coherent. "How convincing do you think the mathematical pathway is?" I asked.

"Well, I'm convinced of it!" he replied with a chuckle. "In fact, this is such a good argument that even if I were living in the nineteenth century, when there was little scientific evidence for the beginning of the universe, I would still believe that the universe is finite in the past on the basis of these arguments. For me, the scientific evidence is merely confirmation of a conclusion already arrived at on the basis of philosophical reasoning."

The Pathway of Science

At this point, we turned the corner to begin discussing the scientific evidence for the universe being created in the Big Bang billions of years ago. "What discoveries began pointing scientists toward this model?" I asked.

"When Albert Einstein developed his general theory of relativity in 1915 and started applying it to the universe as a whole, he was shocked to discover it didn't allow for a static universe. According to his equations, the universe should either be exploding or imploding. In order to make the universe static, he had to fudge his equations by putting in a factor that would hold the universe steady. In the 1920s, the Russian mathematician Alexander Friedman and the Belgium astronomer George Lemaitre were able to develop models based on Einstein's theory. They predicted the universe was expanding. Of course, this meant that if you went backward in time, the universe would go back to a single origin before which it didn't exist. Astronomer Fred Hoyle derisively called this the Big Bang-—and the name stuck! Starting in the 1920s, scientists began to find empirical evidence that supported these purely mathematical models. For instance, in 1929, the American astronomer Edwin Hubble discovered that the light coming to us from distant galaxies appears to be redder than it should be, and that this is a universal feature of galaxies in all parts of the sky. Hubble explained this red shift as being due to the fact that the galaxies are moving away from us. He concluded that the universe is literally flying apart at enormous velocities. Hubbies astronomical observations were the first empirical confirmation of the predictions by Friedman and Lemaitre. Then in the 1940s, George Gamow predicted that if the Big Bang really happened, then the background temperature of the universe should be just a few degrees above absolute zero. He said this would be a relic from a very early stage of the universe. Sure enough, in 1965, two scientists accidentally discovered the universes background radiation —-and it was only about 3.7 degrees above absolute zero. There's no explanation for this apart from the fact that it is a vestige of a very early and a very dense state of the universe, which was predicted by the Big Bang model.

"The third main piece of evidence for the Big Bang is the origin of light elements. Heavy elements, like carbon and iron, are synthesized in the interior of stars and then exploded through supernovae into space. But the very, very light elements, like deuterium and helium, cannot have been synthesized in the interior of stars, because you would need an even more powerful furnace to create them. These elements must have been forged in the furnace of the Big Bang itself at temperatures that were billions of degrees. There's no other explanation. So predictions about the Big Bang have been consistently verified by scientific data. Moreover, they have been corroborated by the failure of every attempt to falsify them by alternative models. Unquestionably, the Big Bang model has impressive scientific credentials."

"And that," I observed, "has surprised a lot of people."

"It was an absolute shock!" he declared. "Up to this time, it was taken for granted that the universe as a whole was a static, eternally existing object."

I knew, however, that there have been more recent refinements of the standard Big Bang model. "Most scientists would add inflation theory to the description of how the universe got started," I said. "How has that changed the way we look at the Big Bang?"

"Yes, inflation is a wrinkle that most theorists would add," he acknowledged. He paused for a moment, then added: "Personally, though, I think the reasons for it are a bit suspect."

That took me aback. "Why is that?"

"You see, the Big Bang was not a chaotic, disorderly event. Instead, it appears to have been fine-tuned for the existence of intelligent life with a complexity and precision that literally defies human comprehension. In other words, the universe we see today— and our very existence —-depends upon a set of highly special initial conditions. This phenomenon is strong evidence that the Big Bang was not an accident, but that it was designed. Theorists who are uncomfortable about this want to avoid the problem by trying to explain how you can get a universe like ours without these special initial conditions. Inflation is one attempt to do this."

I had read about inflation theory in several books and articles, but I asked Craig to describe it so that we were working from a common definition.

"Inflation says that in the very, very early history of the universe, the universe underwent a period of super-rapid, or 'inflationary,' expansion. Then it settled down to the more leisurely expansion we observe today. This inflationary expansion supposedly avoids the problem of the initial conditions of the universe by blowing them out beyond the range of what we can observe. So in a sense, inflation isn't something that is motivated by the scientific evidence; it's motivated by a desire to avoid these special initial conditions that are present in the standard model. And inflation itself has been plagued with problems. There are probably fifty different inflationary models. Nobody knows which, if any, is correct. There isn't any empirical test that proves inflation has occurred. So even though most theorists accept inflation today, I'm rather suspicious of the whole thing, because it appears to be motivated by a philosophical bias."

I stopped to analyze Craig's comments. As I thought about inflationary theory, I didn't understand how it would erode anyone's confidence in the overall Big Bang model. "Since this inflationary period supposedly happened a microsecond after the Big Bang occurred," I said, "then it really doesn't affect the question of the origin of the universe."

"That's right," Craig replied. "Prior to inflation, the universe still shrinks back to a singularity."

I put up my hand to stop him. "A what?'

"A singularity," he repeated. "That's the state at which the space-time curvature, along with temperature, density, and pressure, becomes infinite. It's the beginning point. It's the point at which the Big Bang occurred."

I nodded to acknowledge the clarification. "Okay," I said. "Then how would you assess the health of the Big Bang model today?"

"It's the standard paradigm of contemporary cosmology," he answered. "I would say that its broad framework is very securely established as a scientific fact. Stephen Hawking has said, almost everyone now believes that the universe, and time itself, had a beginning at the Big Bang." 23

By this point in our discussion, Craig had provided compelling facts to support the two premises of the kalam argument. All that remained was its conclusion—-and the absolutely staggering implications that logically flow from it. 

STEP #3: Therefore, the Universe Has a Cause

In arguing for the existence of God, thirteenth-century Christian philosopher Thomas Aquinas always presupposed Aristotle's view that the universe is eternal. On the basis of that difficult assumption, he then sought to prove that God exists. Why did he take this approach? Because, Aquinas said, if he were to start with the premise that the universe had a beginning, then his task would be too easy! Obviously, if there was a beginning, something had to bring the universe into existence. But now, modern astrophysics and astronomy have dropped into the lap of Christians precisely the premise that, according to Aquinas, makes God's existence virtually undeniable.

Craig offered that story to punch his next point. "Given that whatever begins to exist has a cause and that the universe began to exist, there must he some sort of transcendent cause for the origin of the universe," Craig told me.

"Even atheist Kai Nielsen said, 'Suppose you suddenly hear a loud bang ... and you ask me, What made that bang? and I reply, Nothing, it just happened. You would not accept that.' 24 He's right, of course. And if a cause is needed for a small bang like that, then it's needed for the Big Bang as well. This is an inescapable conclusion— and it's a stunning confirmation of the millennia-old Judeo-Christian doctrine of creation out of nothing."

At the time an agnostic, American astronomer Robert Jastrow was forced to concede that although details may differ, "the essential element in the astronomical and biblical accounts of Genesis is the same; the chain of events leading to man commenced suddenly and sharply, at a definite moment in time, in a flash of light and energy." 25

But although logic dictates that a cause sparked the Big Bang, I wondered how much logic can also tell us about its identity. "What specifically can you deduce about this cause?" I asked Craig.

"There are several qualities we can identify," he replied. "A cause of space and time must be an uncaused, beginningless, timeless, spaceless, immaterial, personal being endowed with freedom of will and enormous power," he said. "And that is a core concept of God."

"Hold on, hold on!" I insisted. "Many atheists see a fatal inconsistency. They don't see how you can say the Creator could be 'uncaused.' For instance, atheist George Smith says, 'If everything must have a cause, how did God become exempt?' 26 In The Necessity of Atheism, David Brooks says: 'If everything must have a cause, then the First Cause must be caused and therefore: Who made God? To say that this First Cause always existed is to deny the basic assumption of this theory.' 27 What would you say to them?"

Craig's eyebrows shot up. "Well, that just misses the point!" he exclaimed. "Obviously, they're not dealing with the first premise of the kalam argument, which is not that every thing has a cause, but that whatever begins to exist has a cause. I don't know of any reputable philosopher who would say everything has a cause. So they're simply not dealing with a correct formulation of the kalam argument. And this is not special pleading in the case of God. After all, atheists have long maintained that the universe doesn't need a cause, because it's eternal. How can they possibly maintain that the universe can be eternal and uncaused, yet God cannot be timeless and uncaused?"

At that point, another objection popped into my mind. "Why does it have to be one Creator?" I asked. "Why couldn't multiple Creators have been involved?"

"My opinion," Craig answered, "is that Ockham's razor would shave away any additional creators."

"What's Ockham's razor?"

"It's a scientific principle that says we should not multiply causes beyond what's necessary to explain the effect. Since one Creator is sufficient to explain the effect, you would be unwarranted in going beyond the evidence to posit a plurality"

"That seems a little soft to me," I said.

"Well, it's a universally accepted principle of scientific methodology," he replied. "And besides, the kalam argument can't prove everything about the Creator. Nothing restricts us from looking at wider considerations. For instance, Jesus of Nazareth proclaimed the truth of monotheism, and he was vindicated by his resurrection from the dead, for which we have convincing historical evidence. 28 Consequently, we have good grounds for believing that what he said was true."

I conceded the point, but at the same time my mind began to fill with other objections concerning the identity of the universe's cause. Among the most troubling was whether the kalam argument can tell us if the Creator is personal, as Christians believe, or merely an impersonal force, as many New Age adherents maintain.

The Personal Creator

"You said earlier that there's evidence that the cause of the universe was personal," I said. "I don't see how this can be logically deduced. In fact, Smith has complained that arguments like yours cannot establish whether the first cause was, or is, alive or conscious-—-and, he says, 'an inanimate, unconscious god is of little use to theism.' 29 He has a point there, doesn't he?"

"No, I don't think so," said Craig. "One of the most remarkable features of the kalam argument is that it gives us more than just a transcendent cause of the universe. It also implies a personal Creator."

"How so?"

Craig leaned back into his chair. "There are two types of explanations—scientific and personal," he began, adopting a more professorial tone. "Scientific explanations explain a phenomenon in terms of certain initial conditions and natural laws, which explain how those initial conditions evolved to produce the phenomenon under consideration. By contrast, personal explanations explain things by means of an agent and that agent's volition or will."

I interrupted to ask Craig for an illustration. He obliged me by saying: 

"Imagine you walked into the kitchen and saw the kettle boiling on the stove. You ask, 'Why is the kettle boiling?' Your wife might say, 'Well, because the kinetic energy of the flame is conducted by the metal bottom of the kettle to the water, causing the water molecules to vibrate faster and faster until they're thrown off in the form of steam.' That would be a scientific explanation. Or she might say, 'I put it on to make a cup of tea.' That would be a personal explanation. Both are legitimate, but they explain the phenomenon in different ways."

So far, so good. "But how does this relate to cosmology?"

"You see, there cannot be a scientific explanation of the first state of the universe. Since it's the first state, it simply cannot be explained in terms of earlier initial conditions and natural laws leading up to it. So if there is an explanation of the first state of the universe, it has to be a personal explanation—that is, an agent who has volition to create it. That would be the first reason that the cause of the universe must be personal.

"A second reason is that because the cause of the universe transcends time and space, it cannot be a physical reality. Instead, it must be non-physical or immaterial. Well, there are only two types of things that can be timeless and immaterial. One would be abstract objects, like numbers or mathematical entities. However, abstract objects can't cause anything to happen. The second kind of immaterial reality would be a mind. A mind can be a cause, and so it makes sense that the universe is the product of an unembodied [not sure what Craig thinks here; maybe the theology that God has no body, which I prove in studies is totally wrong - Keith Hunt] mind that brought it into existence.

"Finally, let me give you an analogy that will help explain a third reason for why the first cause is personal. Water freezes at zero degrees Centigrade. If the temperature were below zero degrees from eternity past, then any water that was around would be frozen from eternity past. It would be impossible for the water to just begin to freeze a finite time ago. In other words, once the sufficient conditions were met— that is, the temperature was low enough—-then the consequence would be that water would automatically freeze.

"So if the universe were just a mechanical consequence that would occur whenever sufficient conditions were met, and the sufficient conditions were met eternally, then it would exist from eternity past. The effect would be co-eternal with the cause.

"How do you explain, then, the origin of a finite universe from a timeless cause? I can only think of one explanation: that the cause of the universe is a personal agent who has freedom of will. He can create a new effect without any antecedent determining conditions. He could decide to say, 'Let there be light,' and the universe would spring into existence. I've never seen a good response to this argument on the part of any atheist. Putting the issue a bit simpler, British physicist Edmund Whittaker made a similar observation in his book The Beginning and End of the World. He said, 'There is no ground for supposing that matter and energy existed before and was suddenly galvanized into action. For what could distinguish that moment from all other moments in eternity? It is simpler to postulate creation ex nihilo—Divine will constituting Nature from nothingness." 30

Craig had made a good case for the cause of the universe being personal, and yet he offered no evidence concerning whether the Creator is still living today. Perhaps the Creator put the universe into motion and then ceased to exist. Smith also makes this challenge, saying that an argument like Craig's is "capable only of demonstrating the existence of a mysterious first cause in the distant past. It does not establish the present existence of the first cause." 31

This objection, though, didn't faze Craig. "It's certainly plausible that this being would still exist," he said, "because he transcends the universe and is therefore above the laws of nature, which he created. It therefore seems unlikely that anything in the laws of nature could extinguish him. And, of course, Christians believe this Creator has not remained silent but has revealed himself decisively in the person, ministry, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, which shows that he's still around and still working in history. Again, the kalam argument can't prove everything, and that's fine. We're free to look around for other evidence that the Creator still exists. Let's see if he answers prayers, if he raised Jesus from the dead, if he revealed himself in the fulfillment of prophecy, and so forth. It seems that the burden of proof should be on the person claiming he did once exist, but he no longer does."

Even though that seemed to make sense, something inside of me was saying, "Not so fast!" The kalam argument was a little too cut-and-dried; Craig's evidence seemed a bit too airtight. Was his conclusion that a personal Creator was behind the Big Bang really warranted, or might there be a way to get around it?

There was too much at stake not to probe every reasonable possibility, including whether there's an explanation that would negate the need for an absolute beginning of the universe-—and thus eliminate the Creator that the Big Bang implies.

Alternatives to the Big Bang

Eflforts to come up with alternatives to the standard Big Bang model have intensified in recent years. Many scientists are troubled by the fact that the beginning of the universe necessitates a Creator. Others are perturbed because the laws of physics can't account for the creation event. Einstein admitted the idea of the expanding universe "irritates me" 32 (presumably, said one prominent scientist, "because of its theological implications"). 33 British astronomer Arthur Eddington called it "repugnant." MIT's Phillip Morrison said, "I would like to reject it." 34 Jastrow said it was "distasteful to the scientific mind," adding:

There is a kind of religion in science; it is the religion of a person who believes there is order and harmony in the Universe. Every event can be explained in a rational way as the product of some previous event; every effect must have its cause; there is no First Cause. This religious faith of the scientist is violated by the discovery that the world had a beginning under conditions in which the known laws of physics are not valid, and as a product of forces or circumstances we cannot discover. "When that happens, the scientist has lost control. If he really examined the implications, he would be traumatized. 35

Has this attitude, I asked Craig, fuelled efforts to circumvent the idea of the Big Bang?

"I believe it has. A good example is the Steady State theory proposed in 1948," he replied. "It said that the universe was expanding all right but claimed that as galaxies retreat from each other, new matter comes into being out of nothing and fills the void. So in contradiction to the First Law of Thermodynamics, which says that matter is neither created nor destroyed, the universe is supposedly being constantly replenished with new stuff."

The concept was intriguing if nothing else. "What was the evidence for it?" I asked.

"There was none!" Craig exclaimed. "It never secured a single piece of experimental verification. It was motivated purely by a desire to avoid the absolute beginning of the universe predicted by the Big Bang model—in fact, one of its originators, Sir Fred Hoyle, was quite overt about this. He was very up front about his desire to avoid the metaphysical and theological implications of the Big Bang by proposing a model that was eternal in the past."

I interrupted. "Wait a minute, Bill," I said. Recalling a comment by science philosopher Stephen C. Meyer in my earlier interview, I asked: "Wouldn't you agree that the motivations behind a theory are independent of its scientific worth?"

"Yes, yes, I'd agree with that," Craig replied. "In this case, though, there were no scientific data supporting it. It's a good illustration of how scientists are not mere thinking machines but are driven by philosophical and emotional factors as well."

Rather than try to second-guess the motivations of cosmologists, I decided to ask Craig about several alternatives to the standard Big Bang model that have gained currency through the years. Maybe one of them could succeed in toppling the theistic conclusion of the kalam argument.

Exploring Sagan's Cosmos

The first alternative I mentioned to Craig—the Oscillating Model of the universe-—-was popularized by astronomer Carl Sagan on his Cosmos television program. This theory eliminates the need for an absolute beginning of the universe by suggesting that the universe expands, then collapses, then expands again, and continues in this cycle indefinitely. Interestingly, Sagan even quoted from Hindu scriptures to show how this is consistent with its cyclical themes. When I asked Craig about Sagan's theory, he said that, yes, he was quite familiar with it.

"That model was popular in the 1960s, particularly among Russian cosmologists," he said. "In 1968, when I was at the World Congress on Philosophy in Diisseldorf, I heard Soviet bloc cosmologists espousing this model, simply because of their commitment to dialectical materialism. They could not deny the eternality of matter because this was part of Marxist philosophy, and so, despite the evidence, they were holding out hope for the Oscillating Model."

"But," I interjected, "support for this model apparently hasn't waned. As recently as 2003, Bill Bryson, in his bestseller A Short History of Nearly Everything, said that one notion among scientists is that we're just one of an eternal cycle of expanding and collapsing universes, like the bladder on an oxygen machine.' " 36

"Well, several problems with the Oscillating Model have been well known for decades," he replied. "For one thing, it contradicts the known laws of physics. Theorems by Hawking and Penrose show that as long as the universe is governed by general relativity, the existence of an initial singularity—or beginning-—is inevitable, and that it's impossible to pass through a singularity to a subsequent state. And there's no known physics that could reverse a contracting universe and suddenly make it bounce before it hits the singularity. The whole theory was simply a theoretical abstraction. Physics never supported it. Another problem is that in order for the universe to oscillate, it has to contract at some point. For this to happen, the universe would have to be dense enough to generate sufficient gravity that would eventually slow its expansion to a halt and then, with increasing rapidity, contract it into a big crunch. But estimates have consistently indicated that the universe is far below the density needed to contract, even when you include not only its luminous matter, but also all of the invisible dark matter as well.

"Recent tests, run by five different laboratories in 1998, calculated a ninety-five-percent certainty that the universe will not contract, but that it will expand forever. In fact, in a completely unexpected development, the studies indicated that the expansion is not decelerating, but it's actually accelerating. This really puts the nails in the coffin for the Oscillating Model.

"And one more problem: even if physics allowed the universe to contract, scientific studies have shown that entropy would be conserved from one cycle to the next. This would have the effect of each expansion getting bigger and bigger and bigger. Now, trace that backwards in time and what do you get? They get smaller and smaller and smaller, until you finally come to the smallest cycle—-and then the beginning of the universe. So Joseph Silk, in his book The Big Bang, estimates that even if the universe were oscillating, it could not have gone through more than a hundred previous oscillations prior to today." 37

All of this did, indeed, seem to doom this theory. "Sagan was an agnostic who liked to say that the universe 'is all there is, or ever was, or ever will be,'" 38 1 said. "But you're saying that the evidence indicates—"

"—-that the Oscillating Model itself implies the beginning of the universe which its proponents sought to avoid. That's right," Craig said.

"But," I pointed out, "permutations of his theory are being proposed even today." I removed a newspaper article from my briefcase and read the headline to Craig: "Princeton Physicist Offers Theory of Cyclic Universe."39

"This cosmologist says the Big Bang is not the beginning of time but a bridge to a pre-existing era," I said. "He says the universe undergoes an endless sequence of cycles in which it contracts with a big crunch and reemerges in an expanding Big Bang, with trillions of years of evolution in between. He says mysterious 'dark energy' first pushes the universe apart at an accelerating rate, but then it changes its character and causes it to contract and then rebound in cycle after cycle."

Craig was familiar with the concept. "This model is based on a certain version of string theory, which is an alternative to the standard quark model of particle physics," he explained.

"The scenario postulates that our universe is a three-dimensional membrane in a five-dimensional space, and that there's another three-dimensional membrane which is in an eternal cycle of approaching our membrane and colliding with it. "When this happens, it supposedly causes an expansion of our universe from the point of collision. Then our universe retreats and repeats the cycle again, and on and on.

"The idea is that this five-dimensional universe is eternal and beginningless. So you have a cyclic model of our universe that is expanding, but nevertheless this larger dimensional universe as a whole is eternal."

Though difficult to conceptualize, this idea had a certain amount of appeal. 

"What do you think of this model?" I asked.

"Well, this isn't even a model, it's just sort of a scenario, because it hasn't been developed. The equations for string theory haven't even all been stated yet, much less solved. So this is extremely speculative and uncertain. But let's consider it on its merits," he said.

"This cyclic scenario is plagued with problems. For one thing, it is inconsistent with the very string theory it's based on! Nobody has been able to solve that problem. Moreover, this is simply the five-dimensional equivalent of a three-dimensional oscillating universe. As such, it faces many of the same problems that the old oscillating model did.

"But more interesting is that in 2001, inflation theorist Alan Guth and two other physicists wrote an article on how inflation is not past eternal. They were able to generalize their results to show that they were also applicable to multidimensional models, like the one in this newspaper article. So it turns out that even the cyclical model in five dimensions has to have a beginning."

Craig sighed as he sat back in his chair. "It s amazing how this falls into a consistent pattern," he said. "Theories designed to avoid the beginning of the universe have either turned out to be untenable, like the Steady State theory, or else they imply the very beginning of the universe that their proponents have been desperately trying to avoid."

"So the future of this cyclic scenario is ... what?"

"It will probably provide grist for further exploration," he said. "Still, another prominent inflation theorist, Andre Linde, said this concept has been very popular among journalists and very unpopular among cosmologists."

"Speaking of Linde," I said, "he proposed another theory, called chaotic inflation, that would eliminate the need for a beginning point."

"That's right," Craig said. "He speculated that maybe inflation —-this rapid expansion of the universe-—-never really quits. He said maybe the universe expands like a balloon, and when it reaches a certain point, then inflation is spawned off of it and begins to expand, and then something expands off of that. So you have inflation begetting inflation begetting inflation, and it goes on forever. The obvious question, then, is this: could inflation be eternal in the past? Could every inflationary domain be the creation of a prior domain so that the universe is an eternally inflating and self-reproducing entity?"

"Is that possible?"

"I'm afraid not. As I said earlier, a universe that is eternally inflating toward the future cannot be past eternal. Two prominent physicists demonstrated that as far back as 1994. There has to be a beginning at some point in the indefinite past. In Linde's response, he admitted they were correct."

I thought about another popular alternative: quantum models of the universe, like Edward Tryon's, which I mentioned earlier. There are several variations, but basically they claim that our universe is part of a bigger mother universe, which is made up of a quantum vacuum where fluctuations occur and turn into baby universes. Our universe is one of these offspring. While our universe is expanding, the bigger mother universe is infinite and eternal.

When I brought up this concept, though, Craig pointed out two fatal problems with it. "Remember we said earlier in our conversation that a quantum vacuum isn't nothing, but that it's a very active sea of fluctuating energy that itself demands an explanation for how it came into being," he said. "What accounts for its beginning? And second, there is a positive—-that is, a non-zero-—-probability that a fluctuation would occur and a universe would be spawned at each and every point in this quantum vacuum.

"So if the mother universe were eternal, eventually a universe would have formed at each point. Think about that. Finally these universes would be running into each other or coalescing until the entire quantum vacuum in the mother universe would be filled with an infinitely old universe, which contradicts our observations. That's why this model hasn't survived."

Hawking's Challenge

Most developments in cosmology live an obscure existence within the pages of arcane scientific journals, with only a few—-often, the most outlandish ones-—receiving even the briefest mention in the popular press. Luminaries in the field, such as Linde and Guth, are hardly household names. But when Stephen William Hawking speaks, the public listens.

A theoretical physicist who is currently the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, a post once held by Sir Isaac Newton, Hawking has become a science icon. He has sold millions of copies of A Brief History of Time, although Business Week once quipped that the book is "the least-read best-seller ever." 40 His celebrity status was validated when he achieved cartoon form on The Simpsons and chapter 5: played a cameo role on Star Trek, where he challenged a holographic Einstein to a game of chess.

Hawking, who uses a wheelchair for mobility and a synthesizer for speech due to a progressive neuromuscular disease, has been on a quest for the elusive Theory of Everything, which would unify general relativity with quantum theory. Along the way, he has proposed a quantum gravity model for the universe that he says eliminates the need for a singularity-—-that is, the Big Bang.

When actress Shirley MacLaine asked Hawking whether he believes God created the universe, he replied simply, "No." 41 He told the BBC: "We are such insignificant creatures on a minor planet of a very average star in the outer suburbs of one of a hundred thousand million galaxies. So it is difficult to believe in a God that would care about us or even notice our existence."

In a chapter called "The Origin and Fate of the Universe" in A Brief History of Time, Hawking says: "So long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose 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?" 43.

I broached Hawkings theory to Craig. "It sure sounds like he has finally managed to put God out of business," I said.

"Not quite," replied Craig.

When I asked him to explain why not, Craig pulled a piece of paper and pen out of his top drawer. "Let me draw you two pictures that will clarify what I mean," he said.

"The standard Big Bang theory can be represented by a cone," he said, drawing what looked like an empty sugar cone from Baskin-Robbins. "The point of the cone represents the beginning of the universe-—the singularity where the Big Bang occurred. It's the beginning point, and it has a sharp edge to it. 44 The expansion of the universe, as it gets older and grows, is represented by the cone's overall expanding shape."

I nodded that I was tracking with him. Then he took a second sheet of paper and began drawing a picture of Hawkings theory. "Hawkings model is like a cone, too, except it doesn't come to a point." He drew a picture of what resembled a badminton birdie; instead of coming to a sharp point, the end of the cone was rounded.

"As you can see, there's no singularity. There's no sharp edge. If you were to start at the mouth of the cone and go backward in time," he said, his pencil tracing the long side of the cone, "you would not come back to a beginning point. You would simply follow the curve-—-and suddenly you would find yourself heading forward in time again."

"This was consistent with the way Hawking's biographers envisioned his theory. They said it would be like walking northward until you reach the North Pole, and then suddenly, if you keep walking, you find yourself heading south. 'There is no beginning and no end-—-no boundaries,' one writer explained. 'The universe always was, always is, and always shall be.'" 6

Craig put down his pencil. "Presto!" I exclaimed as I looked at his drawing. "No beginning, no singularity, no Big Bang—no need for God."

Craig grimaced. "Let's think about this for a minute before you come to that conclusion," he said.

The World of Imaginary Numbers

"Has Hawking made a mistake?" I asked. The mere suggestion sounded impossible!

"I think he has made a philosophical error by thinking that having a beginning entails having a beginning point. And that's simply not the case," Craig replied.

He pointed toward his rendering of Hawking's model. "Granted, there isn't any singular point here, but notice this: the universe is still finite in its past. It still has a beginning in the sense that something has a finite past duration. In other words, pick an interval of time—-say, a second, a minute, or a year. For any finite interval of time you pick, there are only a finite number of equal intervals prior to that time. And in that sense, Hawking's model has a beginning. Even he says that the universe has an origin out of nothing in the sense that there's absolutely nothing that comes before it.

"So this would be an example of a model that has a beginning but doesn't involve a singularity. That's what many scientists are trying to come up with, because the laws of physics would apply all the way back. They don't break down in a singularity. And that's more palatable to them."

Before I could ask another question, Craig added: "Now, I've been taking Hawking's model at face value, but it's also important to note that he is only able to achieve this rounding-off effect by substituting 'imaginary numbers' for real numbers in his equations. What are imaginary numbers?

"They are multiples of the square root of negative one," he said. "In this model, they have the effect of turning time into a dimension of space. The problem is that when imaginary numbers are employed, they're just computational devices used to grease the equations and get the result the mathematician wants. That's fine, but when you want to get a real, physical result, you have to convert the imaginary numbers into real ones. But Hawking refuses to convert them. He just keeps everything in the imaginary realm. What happens if you convert the numbers into real ones? Presto, the singularity reappears!" Craig said. "In fact, the singularity is really there the whole time; it's just hidden behind the device of so-called imaginary time. Hawking concedes this in a subsequent book he co-authored with Roger Penrose. 47 He said he doesn't pretend to be describing reality, because he says he doesn't know what reality is. So Hawking himself recognizes that this is not a realistic description of the universe or its origin; it's merely a mathematical way of modeling the beginning of the universe in such a manner that the singularity doesn't appear."

I was amazed! Even though Hawking's Internet site says his theory implies that the universe "was completely determined by the laws of science," 48 even he wasn't able to successfully write God out of the picture.

"What's important to understand, Lee, is how reversed the situation is from, say, a hundred years ago," Craig continued. "Back then, Christians had to maintain by faith in the Bible that despite all appearances to the contrary, the universe was not eternal but was created out of nothing a finite time ago. Now, the situation is exactly the opposite. It is the atheist who has to maintain, by faith, despite all of the evidence to the contrary, that the universe did not have a beginning a finite time ago but is in some inexplicable way eternal after all. So the shoe is on the other foot. The Christian can stand confidently within biblical truth, knowing its in line with mainstream astrophysics and cosmology. It's the atheist who feels very uncomfortable and marginalized today."

As I sat there in Craigs office, my mind could conjure up no rational scenario that could derail the inexorable logic of the kalam argument. The philosophical and scientific evidence of contemporary cosmology was pointing persuasively toward the conclusion that a personal Creator of the universe does exist. This was powerful stuff—and I still had a long way to go in my investigation.

I wondered, however, how a cosmologist or physicist might respond to Craig. As compelling as the kalam argument undeniably is, does it really have the potential to change the mind of a scientist? Or would it merely become fodder for more and more creative—or, as some might say, desperate—-counter-arguments and objections? Christians often caution that a skeptic cannot be argued into the faith. Yet if someone were sincerely open-minded, could Craigs case be sufficient to prompt a personal verdict in favor of God?

I mused about this aloud to Craig. He thought for a moment and then launched into a fascinating story about a doctoral dissertation, a handmade booklet, and a changed life.

Physical Laws, Spiritual Laws

While in Germany to pursue his second doctorate, Bill and his wife, Jan, were attending a convention of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, a prestigious German organization devoted to promoting international research cooperation between scholars. While chatting with various scientists, they met a prominent Eastern European physicist, who described for them how physics had destroyed her belief in God. She said that now when she looks at the world, all she sees is darkness without and darkness within, Craig recalled. "I remember how that struck me so forcefully. What a description of the modern worlds predicament—utter meaninglessness and despair. Suddenly, Jan spoke up. 'You should read Bill's doctoral dissertation,' she said. 'He uses physics to prove the existence of God.'"

Craig's eyes got wide as he relived the scene. "My first thought was, 'Oh, no! What is this famous physicist going to say?' But she replied that, yes, she would be very interested in reading it. So we gave her a copy of my dissertation on the kalam cosmological argument—the very kind of material we've been discussing today, Lee. As she read it over the coming days, she started to get more and more excited. She told me, 'I know these people you're quoting! These are my colleagues!' Finally, she returned the dissertation to us and announced, 'I now believe in the existence of God. Thank you so much for restoring my faith in him.' We were thrilled! We said, 'Would you like to know him in a-personal way?' She was a bit hesitant, but she said, 'Uh, of course.' So we asked her to meet us that night in the local restaurant. That afternoon Jan and I prepared a little handwritten version of the Four Spiritual Laws, which spell out how a person can become a follower of Jesus. 49 When we sat down with her at the meal that night, we opened the booklet and read the first sentence: 'Just as there are physical laws that govern the physical universe, so there are spiritual laws that govern your relationship with God.' And she said, 'Oh, physical laws! Spiritual laws! This is something I can understand! This is just for me!' Finally, we got to the point in the booklet that asks whether God is outside of your life or on the throne of your life. She clamped her hand over the booklet and said, 'Ah, this is so personal! I just can't answer at this time.' We said, 'That's all right. Let us just explain how you can receive Christ as your personal savior.' We described how she could pray to ask God to forgive her wrongdoing and to receive Jesus as her for-giver and leader. After that, we let her take the booklet home with her. Well, the next day when we saw her, her face was just radiant with joy! She told us she had gone home that night and there in her room had prayed to give her life to Christ. Then she took all her tranquilizers and booze and flushed them down the toilet! We gave her a copy of the New Testament and parted ways for several months. When we saw her later at another convention, we wondered what the status of her faith would be. But she had the same joy, the same radiance, and she greeted us with love and told us that her most precious possessions were her New Testament and her handmade Four Spiritual Laws."

Bill smiled. "You asked whether God can use cosmology to change the life of a scientist," he said. "Yes, I've seen it. I've seen it happen with all kinds of skeptics. Once I gave a talk at a college in Canada on the kalam argument. Afterward a student said, 'I've been an agnostic all my life. I've never heard anything like this. I now believe that God exists! I can hardly wait to go share this with my brother, who's an atheist.'"

Craig glanced out the window as he pondered what else to say. Then he turned to me once more. "Certainly there have been earlier ages when the culture was more sympathetic toward Christianity," he said. "But I think it's indisputable that there has never been a time in history when the hard evidence of science was more confirmatory of belief in God than today."

I leaned over and punched the "stop" button on my recorder. I couldn't think of a better segue to my next interview. Now that Craig had made a powerful case for God as Creator of the universe, it was time to consider the laws and parameters of physics. Is there any credibility, I wondered, to the claim that they have been tuned to an incomprehensible precision in order to create a livable habitat for humankind?

For Further Evidence

More Resources on This Topic

Craig, William Lane. "Design and the Cosmological Argument." In Mere Creation, ed. William A. Dembski. Downers Grove, InterVarsity, 1998.

Reasonable Faith. Rev. ed. Wheaton,  Crossway, 1994.

and Quentin Smith.  Theism, Atheism and Big Bang Cosmology.

Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Moreknd, J. P., and Kai Nielsen. Does God Exist? Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus, 1993.





Keith Hunt