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Stephen Hawking Says Universe Created from Nothing 1060

mr_3ntropy writes "Speaking to a sold out crowd at the Berkeley Physics Oppenheimer Lecture, Hawking said yesterday that he now believes the universe spontaneously popped into existence from nothing. He said more work is needed to prove this but we have time because 'Eternity is a very long time, especially towards the end.' There is also a Webcast available (Realplayer or Real Alternative required)."
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Stephen Hawking Says Universe Created from Nothing

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  • Worthless link (Score:3, Informative)

    by JesseL ( 107722 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @02:32PM (#18351173) Homepage Journal
    The linked article at The Daily Californian barely touches on any of the stuff mentioned in the /. summary. Do we have to listen to the webcast to get any of the good stuff?
  • what the.... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Lxy ( 80823 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @02:35PM (#18351267) Journal
    The article points to his overall speech to be filled with satire. It's hard to say what he was trying to get at, and is he serious? "The universe was built from nothing, but we can't prove it because that would take too long".

    Is he joking or is he serious? I have a bolder conclusion:

    "The universe was built from SOMETHING. Since time is seemingly infinite in both directions, I'll never be able to prove it, but I know I'm right".
  • Not in TFA (Score:4, Informative)

    by bill_mcgonigle ( 4333 ) * on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @02:39PM (#18351375) Homepage Journal
    I guess you have to watch the webcast because TFA doesn't say that. If anybody wants to summarize here that would be great.

    IIRC from A Brief History of Time, Hawking theorized that time, a dimension, didn't exist 'before the universe' because it doesn't make sense to ask about time any more than the other three dimensions of spacetime before TFU existed. He had some maths explanation about how the time dimension approached 0 and curved back on itself (somebody more fresh elaborate...), and I think he got the Pope to concede time after time-0 to nature.

    Maybe he's proposing a new theory here, reflected in the webcast?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @02:43PM (#18351437)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @02:44PM (#18351453)
    i was at the talk. the bubble analogy was meant to help the lay-person understand the fact that the universe is expanding. it had nothing to do with the beginning of the universe.
  • I can't remember the exact numbers, and it is less than the general population, but a rather significant percentage of scientists believe in God. I just thought I'd throw that out there.
  • by Rude Turnip ( 49495 ) <[valuation] [at] []> on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @02:52PM (#18351649)
    Some cultures would also go for the argument that the universe and a complex, intelligent, powerful creature are one and the same, rather than being separate. No need to limit ourselves to Western philosophies.
  • by WryCoder ( 18961 ) <(ten.erohs) (ta) (kbk)> on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @02:54PM (#18351681)
    Although TFA doesn't actually discuss the hypothesis that "universe spontaneously popped into existence from nothing" (I suppose you'd have to go to the webcast for that), Hawking's use of the phase "that he now believes" implies that this is something new, and that he's in the process of developing it.

    In fact, the idea is decades old, and has been popularized in several widely read books.

    I recollect Gamov's book, "My World Line", wherein he recounts a time he and Einstein were crossing the street in traffic while discussing how an energetic universe could have arisen. Gamov pointed out that since gravitational energy was negative and the energy of matter was positive, they could balance and a universe could form without a net input of energy. The idea struck Einstein so forcefully that he froze in the middle of the street while he considered it.
  • by Remus Shepherd ( 32833 ) <> on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @02:56PM (#18351727) Homepage
    He's making an analogy. A rigorous explanation is beyond the generalized audience he had there. Even those with proper background to understand it would probably have been bored -- they came there to see a scientist celebrity, and Hawkings did not disappoint.

    For your enlightenment, the 'water' in question is a series of multidimensional branes [], according to one cosmological theory. The universe may have been created when two branes collided, creating turbulence that manifested as a big bang in our dimensional space. These collisions go on all the time, but like the 'bubbles in boiling water' analogy not all the turbulence creates new universes.

    Your next question is 'where did the branes come from'? Branes are mathematical concepts. If someone tells you 1+1=2, you can't really ask where '1' came from. If there is a multiverse it has to have some sort of brane structure, in much the same way as if humans exist they have to have skin.

    So the universe was 'created by nothing' in a pretty accurate sense, as a mathematical concept is as close to 'nothing' as anyone is likely to conceive. But in the end, Hawkings' words were chosen for showmanship, not precision.
  • by nsayer ( 86181 ) * <nsayer @ k f u . c om> on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @02:58PM (#18351749) Homepage
    Some years ago there was a documentary series called "The Creation of the Universe," with Timothy Ferris. They talked about this theory that the universe could have sprung into existence from out of nowhere. He said of the idea, "It sounds incredibly unlikely, but then it only ever had to happen once."
  • by meringuoid ( 568297 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @03:00PM (#18351807)
    "What was God doing before He made the world? Was He preparing hell for people who asked such questions?" Now, rediculous stuff comes from the other side as well; but when incredibly smart and esteemed scientists like Hawking make such statements that show an animosity toward and lack of understanding of religion, it might antagonize people.

    Lack of understanding? He was quoting St. Augustine [].

    It's a quote he uses a lot. Read a lot of Hawking's speeches and you'll see that he rehashes old material endlessly; it's a hell of a job for him to actually go through the labour of typing out anything new, what with his condition, so he copies and pastes wherever possible from previous works and speeches. Whole paragraphs tend to get copied from Brief History to this day.

    The full quote from the book was:

    "As we shall see, the concept of time has no meaning before the beginning of the universe. This was first pointed out by St. Augustine. When asked: What did God do before he created the universe? Augustine didn't reply: He was preparing Hell for people who asked such questions. Instead, he said that time was a property of the universe that God created, and that time did not exist before the beginning of the universe. [Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time (New York: Bantam, 1988), p. 8]"

    Thus Augustine's idea of time is in full agreement with Hawking's: that time is a function of the universe, so 'before creation' is a meaningless phrase.

  • by norton_I ( 64015 ) <> on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @03:09PM (#18351959)
    The last number I saw, which I don't have an authoritative reference for, said 20-25% of physicists believe in God, compared to ~90% of the general population. The percentage is higher when you consider all scientists, but still, science is not a very religious occupation.
  • by i_should_be_working ( 720372 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @03:10PM (#18352003)
    To add to what meriguoid said above about the uncertainty principle:
    Stuff comes out of nothingness all the time. Literally all the time. A particle and it's anti-particle will pop out of nothing for no apparent reason. Physical law allows this through the uncertainty principle. That stuff usually exists for an extremely short amount of time and then ceases to exist again. But some stuff that comes from nothing can be made to stay.
    Before recent evidence showed that the expansion of the universe is accelerating, it was assumed by many that the net energy of the whole universe was zero. Positive energy in the form of matter, negative energy in the form of gravitational potential to balance it out.
  • by DogDude ( 805747 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @03:13PM (#18352049)
    The only even remotely rational way that an intelligent person can believe in any kind of "god" is to understand science, and see some of the freaky stuff that we can't understand (ie: "if all matter is made up of sub-atomic particles, and those particles appear to move randomly, then is there such a thing as free will?"). I could see how a particle physicist or astrophysicist with a good understanding of science could say, "Shit, I guess maybe there could be something else out there pushing around these particles or making these black holes, etc.").

    That's extremely different than a mouth breather with an IQ of 90 saying, "God is real because my daddy says so" or even "regular" people saying "God is real because it says so in this book".

    And, when I say scientist, I meant Scientist. When I say Scientist, I don't necessarily mean everybody who works in a lab. I'm referring to the kind of person that things rationally, and scientifically about all kinds of things, whether they happen to actually study science or not. There are plenty of people who may work in science, but still believe in gods and demons and devils and fairies etc, etc. But a truly Scientific person could never, and would never believe something is true based solely on heresay.
  • by MikeRT ( 947531 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @03:15PM (#18352111)
    Do you want to have atheism tainted by what atheist Communist regimes did to religious believers? How about the Christians who were massacred by Communist regimes because their views were called "counter-revolutionary?" And before we forget, how about that French Revolution where secularists did unto the Roman Catholic faithful as they believed had been done unto them, except it was done in fa, far worse numbers?

    Get over yourself. You don't live in a theocracy or a country that is becoming theocratic. If you actually think that, then it shows you don't know a bloody thing about the Bible. The only "theocracy" in Judao-Christian history was pre-kings Israel, the only time where religion directly ruled the population. Ever since then, there were spheres of authority that caused the religious bodies and state to interact, often reinforcing one another. That, however, is not "rule by God," but rather rule by religion and a state.

    If you want to argue that America is becoming a religion-inspired Fascist state, we could toss back a beer in agreement. An actual theocracy, well, I leave it to you to read the Mosaic Law and tell me that our legal system and government looks anywhere near what is spelled out in the Torah.
  • Re:Not really (Score:3, Informative)

    by hobo sapiens ( 893427 ) <TEA minus caffeine> on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @03:19PM (#18352215) Journal
    Not sure about the rest, but Newton and Kepler were most certainly not athiests.
  • But, you do have to make some axioms before you can make any theorems. At some level, we all have things we believe in. Whether or not those faiths are "blind" is a matter of argument. Feel free to disagree, but I most likely won't respond as I've got a shockingly large number of replies to respond to for what I thought was a fairly benign statement. Additionally, I've had this argument enough to have a pretty good idea where it's going... ;)
  • by cowscows ( 103644 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @03:21PM (#18352237) Journal
    Along similar lines to this, for anyone who thinks that the idea of some eternal life beyond this one sounds boring or silly, as it's generally used to relate to God and religion, Eternity does not mean infinite time, it's more like an existing outside of time. It's pretty hard to say for any of us to say what that experience might be like, but in the sense often used in religious discussions, it's not helpful to imagine eternity as a really really long time.
  • One line proof (Score:4, Informative)

    by Lord Bitman ( 95493 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @03:23PM (#18352315) Homepage
    "Causality is an aspect of the universe" therefore: "The universe itself (or whatever caused it, ad infiniwhatever) requires no cause"
    gee, that was tough. And only figured out several thousand years ago...

    Interestingly: even if causality exists within our universe, it does not exist in any universe which does not exist. Draw your own conclusion, so long as it's the same as mine. ;)
  • by JeanPaulBob ( 585149 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @03:25PM (#18352355)
    What on earth? Sorry, Lord Ender, but you not only don't quite understand what theists claim, you don't even accurately list the other possibilities. You left out the other two major possibilities, and your #2 isn't claimed by anyone I've ever read.

    1. The universe popped into existence from nothing, or
    2. A complex, intelligent, powerful creature (presumably with a beard) popped into existence from nothing, then one day decided to create the universe from nothing, or
    3. The universe has always existed, or
    4. God has always existed, and created the universe from nothing.

    Now, maybe you left out 3 because you're assuming the Big Bang. If so, that's fair enough.

    But the claim of every major theistic group I know is #4, not #2. You seem to be aping Dawkins' arguments, with a similar ignorance of the actual set of alternatives. No one claims that the order/complexity/whatever of God just popped into existence. People (Hawking, Dawkins, apparently you) do claim that the order of the physical universe & natural law just popped into existence. If you're going to compare your views to other people's, and if you care about honesty and intellectual integrity, please accurately represent them.

    And if you think the distinction I'm making between 2 and 4 is irrelevant or meaningless, keep this in mind: The Big Bang was resisted because people wanted to have a universe that always existed. They could accept an eternal universe; they did not want to have to explain a universe that started to exist. (Of course, we can also suppose an eternal chain of Big Bangs, universes spawning other universes, etc., so the Big Bang doesn't actually settle this question of eternality.) So, those philosophical naturalists thought 3 was more reasonable than 1 for precisely the reason that theists claim 4 is more reasonable than 2.
  • by Ambitwistor ( 1041236 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @03:32PM (#18352493)
    Actually, I think he was describing Linde's eternal inflation [], not braneworld scenarios.
  • Re:Not at all. (Score:2, Informative)

    by beckerist ( 985855 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @03:37PM (#18352579) Homepage

    You would be right, if and only if Hawking was talking about things that couldn't ever be proven one way or another. At that point, he wouldn't be doing any sort of physics anymore, he'd be somewhere off in that grey area where it borders philosophy and religion. []
  • by Control Group ( 105494 ) * on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @04:12PM (#18353309) Homepage
    You're making an assumption: that the rules which obtain in the observed universe also obtain in the absence of that universe. If we make a different - equally valid - assumption that physical law is a feature of the universe, then there's no reason to think that causality itself, much less conservation of energy, apply "before" the universe existed. In that case, there's no reason to think that it's any less likely for stuff to spontaneously appear than it is for it to not.

    Basically, you can't think of the pre-universe (whatever that means) as even a void, since space itself doesn't (necessarily) exist without the universe there to define it. We need a different word for true nothingness: a state of existence such that there are no dimensions (including time), so there is no space, and there is no necessary correlation to the physical laws we observe from within the universe.

    This, of course, is all very, very metaphysical - since we're intentionally talking about a place/time/state/what-have-you such that all the knowledge we have about things is no longer applicable, we are unable to make any provable claims about it. Such as, for example, that something sprang from nothing. In the rules that obtain absent a universe, perhaps something springs from nothing all the time.

    Or, perhaps, there really was an infinite void in the spatial sense, filled with quantum foam. If that's the case, then perhaps the entire universe sprang into being when there was a local event of virtual particles suddenly outnumbering virtual antiparticles - a probability perhaps thousands of orders of mangitude worse than that of all the snowflakes in a blizzard being identical in structure, but postulating an infinite space demands that everything with a non-zero percent chance of happening happen an infinite number of times.

    Of course, that would lead one to conclude that there are an infinite number of other universes out there, separated (on average) by gulfs of void the magnitude of which is proportional to the probability of the event happening in the first place...and we're about to run into Olber's paradox if we take this far enough.

    But basically, your choices are very simple:

    There was nothing, then there suddenly was something.
    There has never been nothing, something has existed for an infinite stretch of time.

    Really, I don't find the former any more (or less) hard to accept than the latter. Either is an unsatisfactory answer: on the one hand, you've got spontaneous creation. On the other, you've got "it just is." Spontaneous creation doesn't sit well with those of us who live in the causal, conservative, time-directed universe. "It just is" denies that it's worth thinking about, which doesn't sit well with those of us who like to think.


    Life's a bitch, you know?
  • by fatphil ( 181876 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @04:18PM (#18353417) Homepage
    In particular (in the UK at least) it's lowest (barely >10%, IIRC) for those who work with human bodies - the doctors, surgeons, and physiologists. I was not surprised when I saw this statistic, as they probably understand better than anyone that we humans ain't anything special, we're just meat. Physicists were in close 2nd place, at easily <15%, IIRC. Figures will vary depending on how agnostics are classified. Personally I view "I do not know if there is a god, and believe *there is no way to find out*" (emphasis mine) is an atheistic belief. If the questions/options are worded the 'right' way, and all atheists and agnostics are bundled together, then you can get figures as low as 5% being believers, even in the US, which would typically turn up higher proportions of religious belief that most western European countries.

    I know a research scientist (astrophysicist) at NASA Ames who can prove that the world is only 6000 years old.
  • Bell's Theorem (Score:4, Informative)

    by benhocking ( 724439 ) <{benjaminhocking} {at} {}> on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @04:31PM (#18353643) Homepage Journal

    I expect that the only "random" things in nature are the ones we don't understand, and much of what appears to be random anyways isn't - even discounting chaotic systems. Wolfram's "New kind of science" metions simple finite automata that generate output that passes all tests of randomess.
    You should read up on Bell's theorem [] - assuming you haven't already. IIRC, Wolfram's book completely ignores it. I'm disappointed that 't Hooft didn't address it, as he is surely aware that would be the first complaint against any deterministic theory. Note: Bell's theorem doesn't completely rule out deterministic theories, but it does impose some rather harsh constraints on their existence. Anyone who posits a deterministic theory without addressing Bell's theorem is ignoring the elephant in the room.
  • Re:Try again. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Skeezix ( 14602 ) <> on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @04:43PM (#18353817) Homepage
    The Bible contains all sorts of statements that we now know to be false, in the sense that they contradict all available evidence. The religious respond by going into elaborate contortions to maintain their beliefs (see, for example, "God put the dinosaur fossils there to test us").

    No, the religious nut-cases do that. They are the ones you always hear about in the media. You don't hear about the millions of reasonable, open-minded religious people who are capable of realizing that the Bible doesn't actually say how old the earth is and Genesis 1 was meant to be poetic rather than a scientific account of how God created the universe.

  • by potat0man ( 724766 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @05:40PM (#18354597)
    If you think liberal and conservative is synonymous with non-religious and religious then I suspect you have a very superficial understanding of what it means when someone identifies themself as any of the four.
  • 1h05m16s (Score:2, Informative)

    by anwaya ( 574190 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @07:23PM (#18355839)
    At this point in the RealAudio stream, Hawking says:

    I now think I can show how the universe was spontaneously created out of nothing, according to the laws of science.
  • Re:Try again. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Sunburnt ( 890890 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @07:37PM (#18355985)

    Descartes would ask - how do you know the rules of logic are correct (obviously, I mean in the physical, not logical sense)?

    A lot of people have tried to answer that, and the best answer seems to be that you can't. Language is a convention that attempts to engage the world; it doesn't describe it in any way that is obliges reality to conform, because the "rules" of language are contained within that language's use. Logic is an axiomatic way of approaching language, and its truths only have certainty within the system's axioms. It endures because it generally seems to work better than competing systems, as far as helping us accomplish empirical goals.

    With the "cogito", however, I can't find a way to argue, because by arguing, I would be proving my own existance.

    Not exactly: you would only be proving (in the sense of certainty) the existence of existence. It's the kind of subtle bastard of a distinction that kept 19th century philosophers awake into the morning. The point of more recent philosophical thought is that you can't doubt the experience of existence, but there's always a way to attack its certainty in language, because language does not conform to experience in a way that gives its propositions inherent certainty outside of the appropriate rules of grammar.

    If you're interested in these philosophical issues, I would recommend Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations. People slate it as difficult, but it seems to me that many of these people are looking too hard for an epistomological system (a theory of knowledge) in the book, although none is either asserted or contained therein. Indeed, the author generally avoids technical language, yet managed to become perhaps the most influential 20th-century philosopher.

  • by Tony Hoyle ( 11698 ) <> on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @07:52PM (#18356191) Homepage
    One is Joseph's line, and one is Mary's line.

    FFS you could have worked that one out in 10 seconds.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @11:21PM (#18357827)
    Luke's list (Luke 3:23-38) from David to Jesus has 43 names: David, Nathan, Mattathah, Menan, Melea, Eliakim, Jonan, Joseph, Judah, Simeon, Levi, Matthat, Jorim, Eliezer, Jose, Er, Elmodam, Cosam , Addi, Melchi, Neri, Shealtiel, Zerubbabel, Rhesa, Joannas, Judah, Joseph, Semei, Mattathiah, Maath, Naggai, Esli, Nahum, Amos, Mattathiah, Joseph, Janna, Melchi, Levi, Matthat, Heli, Joseph and Jesus.

    Matthew's list (Matthew 1:2-16) from David to Jesus has only 28 names: David, Solomon, Rehoboam, Abijah, Asa, Jehoshaphat, Joram, Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, Manasseh, Amon, Josiah, Jeconiah , Shealtiel, Zerubbabel, Abiud, Eliakim, Azor, Zadok, Achim, Eliud, Eleazar, Matthan, Jacob, Joseph and Jesus.

    Moreover, only 6 ancestors appear in both of these lists: David, Shealtiel, Zerubbabel, Eliakim, Joseph, Jesus.

    Luke's list has 43 generations from David to Joseph (or Mary, as Christians claim), but Matthew's list has only 28 generations from David to Joseph. That would mean that if Luke's list is indeed Mary's genealogy, then Mary would be 15 generations younger than Joseph. 15 generations is a lot of time even if the average age at which all of Mary's ancestors gave birth to the next generation was just 10 years, in which case Mary would be 150 years younger than Joseph! That is clearly not the case.

    Let us assume that Matthew's list got shorter because of loss in translation, and other errors. If that is true, let not the evangelists admit that Bible is true (i.e. inerrant) in the literal sense. Hence it has to interpreted, in which case, they should not hold it as evidence against scientific evidence.

    The most holy book, has 15 errors in such a short passage. Many of those errors could be claimed to be because of human intervention. Then what does that say about the amount of strain we should have when living exactly by its preaching?

    Does it make sense that The Holy Word of God given by God so that ordinary men may live by its above-human-logic morality, is infused with silly logical errors so that we may be confused by it? This is not strictly a valid argument in Christianity because God the Potter can choose to make the pot anyway he wishes.

    Using common sense to figure out what is literal and figurative in the bible as many evangelists do today, requires arbitrary line drawing. Don't you see how this works? The universe is earth-centric... wait, science disproved that, so that must have been a metaphor. The earth (and universe) are only 6000 years old... wait science disproved that, I guess that must have been a metaphor too. I've got an idea... why not look at this like you would any other source of information: fairly. If the claims made in the bible show themselves to be wrong, then stop making excuses for it and treat it like it is: an unreliable source of information.

    The only reason people started believing that the bible should be interpreted symbolically is because all of its claims turned out to be ludicrous... not because the bible states or implies that it should be interpreted this way.This is a dishonest and bias way to analyze data. If I came up with an explanation for something which was later disproved, you wouldn't automatically assume that my data was just figurative would you? So why do people do this with the bible? If you look at anything in a figurative sense, you can make any crazy statement a truth.

    God is just the line in the sand which separates the known from the unknown. As science continues to answer these unknowns, the line keeps getting drawn further and further back until God becomes obsolete. The only important question left will be, "are you willing to let go?" d-of-god-part-2.html []
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 15, 2007 @04:16AM (#18359217)
    The first 18,5 minutes of the Webcast are more or less a - at times funny - commercial for Berkeley (and for Hawking). The speech itself is similar to the one he gave at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. A transcript can be found here: ml []
  • Re:It's simple (Score:2, Informative)

    by honestmonkey ( 819408 ) on Thursday March 15, 2007 @04:43PM (#18367497) Journal
    Actually, I think that particles being created from nothing is observed in the lab. It's what allows black holes to radiate and decay. Virtual Particles (vacuum fluctuations) are created in matter/antimatter pairs that come into being and then annihilate each other after a short time. The Wikipedia article about this is [].

    The entire universe might be a vacuum fluctuation. That is, there might have originally been nothing. With all that potential, the universe pops into existence. With nothing, there is no time. The universe pops up, the clock starts. The universe either collapses into a big crunch, or if it expands long enough, everything evaporates, eventually leaving nothing. The bang/crunch cycle might exist for a while until there is at some point an evaporation. With nothing left, pop, another universe.

    Thus, the "existence" can be "forever" without the "universe" lasting forever.

Nondeterminism means never having to say you are wrong.