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Stephen Hawking, in his recent book, The Grand Design, breaks the news, bitter to some, that God was not needed to create the universe. Whether God was needed or necessary to facilitate the creation the universe is a question very different from was it God that created the universe. The latter relates to verifying a fact. The former relates to analyzing potentially different options for the act of creation. My take on Hawking is that he goes for the first: God was not needed to create a universe, at least according to the laws of nature as we understand them.

As a lecturer at an orthodox yeshiva, and thank God having both a Torah and science (MIT) background, I totally agree with Professor Hawking. To create a universe from absolute nothing God is not necessary. All that is needed are the laws of nature.

That God might have used the laws of nature to create the universe is fully consistent in relationship to the Biblical accounts of God’s actions. The only name for God in the creation chapter, Genesis chapter one, is Elokiim, God as made manifest in nature. Maimonides in his monumental Guide for the Perplexed (1190; part 2, chapter 6)) wrote that God acts at times via the forces of nature. An example of God using nature to accomplish a goal is in the Exodus account. After our leaving Egypt, God led us to the banks of the Sea of Reeds (or the Red Sea depending upon translations; see the First book of Kings chapter 9 verse 26 for the location of the Sea of Reeds.). There trapped by the sea, God saves us from the pursuing Egyptian army by splitting the sea with a strong east wind that blew all night (Exodus 14:21). That detailed description of the wind was given to let us realize that it may have seemed as possibly natural. How natural? After the Israelites pass through the opened sea, the pursuing Egyptian soldiers follow right on in. After all it is just a lucky wind. (See D. Nof and N. Paldor; Are there oceanographic explanations for the Israelites’ crossing of the Red Sea; published in the esteemed, peer-reviewed scientific journal The Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, Vol. 73; no. 3; March 1992, for a peer-reviewed account of the possibility of the wind actually opening the sea.) If the wind had seemed super-natural, the army would have fled back home. So natural-seeming was the wind that the Bible had to tell us that it was God that made the wind blow at that time. So we see that the laws of nature instilled by God at the creation are a part of God’s tools in this world, and as we will see also possibly for creating this world.

In 1973, Edward Tryon, professor of physics, published an article in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal, Nature, describing the possibility of how the creation of the universe might be the result of a vacuum fluctuation (Tryon; “Is the Universe a Vacuum Fluctuation?” Nature, 246(1973), pp. 396-397). For those persons interested in the details of the quantum mechanics that make this a possibility, Tryon’s paper is the correct place to start. The physics is complex, but it is consistent with our understanding of the laws of nature.

Try to imagine nothing. Not an empty vacuum. Space is something and a vacuum is empty space. Humans can not envision “absolute nothing” but at least internalize that concept. The vacuum fluctuation occurs not in a conventional vacuum but in a “virtual vacuum.” Now quantum theory holds that probability is the fundamental mathematical structure of the physical world, not absolutes, but “likelihoods,” probabilities. Quantum theory holds that nothingness is also subject to this uncertainty, this probability. Ultimately what this means is that the “nothing” might become “something” popping into existence and then immediately disappearing. The smaller the something is, the greater the possibility, probability, that it can happen. The probability is never very large, but at the dimensions of a fraction of a fraction of a proton, statistics give it a fighting chance. And then rather than having this newly created mass / energy disappear, if this speck of space and energy undergoes a sudden massive expansion, what the Russian scientist Alex Starbolinski and the American scientist Alan Guth suggested and has been termed as inflation, the universe is on its way to becoming a home for life.