Brief Questions to the Big Questions – Stephen Hawking

Genesis and the Big Bang – Gerald Schroeder, Ph.D.


“Study astronomy and physics if you desire to comprehend the relationship between the world and God’s management of it.” – Maimonides, The Guide for the Perplexed.


On a recent trip to Michigan, I purchased two books written by physicists that address the existence of God but come to opposite answers. The first is by Stephen Hawking who probably needs no introduction. He was a mathematician, theoretical physicist, and cosmologist at the University of Cambridge and considered by most people as the second greatest theoretical physicist of the 20th century just behind Einstein.

The second book is by Gerald Schroeder, an Orthodox Jewish applied physicist who received his degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is a former member of the United States Energy Commission.  He is currently a professor at Aish Ha Torah College in Israel.1

Hawking’s book begins with a chapter titled: “Is there a God?”2 His thesis begins by expressing his belief in science wherein “there are certain laws that are always obeyed.” He then says it is reasonable to argue these laws are the work of God, but that this is more a definition of God then a proof of his existence. And this is not what most people mean by ‘God.’ He does not believe God serves as an explanation of the origin of the universe, rather “the universe was spontaneously created out of nothing, according to the laws of science.” The universe consists of matter and energy (which are interchangeable) and space – all of which Hawking says came out of the Big Bang which itself came from nothing.

How can that be? Hawking explains that the laws of physics require the universe to have negative energy and the Big Bang created both the positive and negative energy whose sum adds up to zero, much as if you make a pile of dirt by digging  you end up with both a mound and a hole. That negative energy still exists in space and balances out the equation. Also the laws of quantum mechanics tell us particles like protons “can appear at random.” Therefore “if the universe adds up to nothing, then you don’t need a God to create it,” and “the laws of nature itself tell us that not only could the universe have popped into existence without any assistance, like a proton, and have required nothing in terms of energy, but also that it is possible that nothing caused the Big Bang. Nothing.”

Last he argues that since the Big Bang starts essentially as an infinitesimally small and infinitesimally dense point or essentially a black hole and since time stops at black holes, time does not exist before the Big Bang hence does not require a cause, that is, the question of whether God created the universe makes no sense as there is no time before the Big Bang.


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“As for a future life, every man must judge for himself between conflicting vague possibilities.” – Charles Darwin

Our analysis of death and immortality has been quite revealing – taking us through the distinctions between life and existence, metaphysical and physicist conceptions of time, and being and nothingness. Literal biologic and personal spiritual immortality seem unreasonable and unwieldy. They appear to be the naïve thoughts or hopes of the childhood of our race, following our emergence via evolution to self-consciousness. We cannot prove our ancestors were wrong, but we can distill from our analysis more sophisticated formulations on life and death.

These conclusions include:

  1. Inevitable biologic death gives man a focal point for life, an impetus to accomplish something meaningful in a finite time frame, within one’s historicity.
  2. While alive man can have a transcendental form of eternity through infinite present moments and continuance within his phenomenal experience of being.
  3. Metaphorical immortality derives from offspring, effects on others, and works.
  4. Man’s perpetuity within the universe occurs via the recycling of his materiality, his mental energies, the chain of causation he initiates, and participation in space-time.
  5. If there is an afterlife it most likely takes the form of impersonal spiritual continuance within a greater being, but this cannot be demonstrated.
  6. Of known creatures, man uniquely participates in the two eternal aspects of the universe – by virtue of his material make-up of indestructible subatomic particles and through his knowledge of the eternity of the universe as a whole.
  7. Man also uniquely participates in the two poles of being – nothingness and ultimate being – and in this participation achieves the existential summit within the universe.

At the end of the day death does not truly justify the fear most of us naturally experience although only the most hardened fail to see it as a cause for regret. All of our reasoning converges on one conclusion; the best response to man’s mortality is for us to live fully and thoughtfully, to appreciate our apparent uniqueness in the cosmos, and to recognize that at a minimum our immortality is instantiated in having existed at all.

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“He whose preoccupation is with excellence longs fervently to find rest in perfection; and is not nothingness a form of perfection?” – Thomas Mann, Death in Venice.

We previously determined that the consequences of man’s understanding of his ultimate fate as a transient in an eternal universe include the desirability of preparing for death and embracing being while alive. In the last two blogs I reviewed one approach to the preparation for death, Seneca’s Stoic formulation. Today we will look at the embrace of being.  

When one reads philosophy, one finds unexpected essays within otherwise standard texts. One of the most poignant of these is the final chapter in Richard Taylor’s introductory Metaphysics.1 Taylor methodically reviews body and soul; freedom versus determinism; space, time, and eternity; causation; and God – essentially following academic arguments in all of these areas. But his concluding chapter appears to be speculative, existentialist, even spiritual or poetic. The path he takes us on is one of the most powerful I have encountered in all my reading; one I have read over and over.

He starts by reminding us that the approach of death and nothingness cannot be stayed. Nothingness is “immense, for in truth it is infinite in every way possible” and “the most total certainty.” Then he refutes the hope of the durable soul or ego as “already a part of the nothingness…as not even real to begin with.” But all is not lost; “that which is inexorable and infinite, that which we are, from which we came, and to which we assuredly go is not nothingness, but its very opposite, which is being.”

We find no dread in the extinction of other things even most people, no it is our own personal being, or self, whose extinction we dread. He asks then what is this self?  As we mentally separate the self from other things we move progressively inward from distant to closer things and finally to that which is inside us. But this inner self defies description and is “indistinguishable from nothingness.” Our inner ultimate reality is total, perfect, nothingness. Therein is the paradox, the nothingness of the self makes us fear nothingness.

He concludes with a suggestion: “Try this: instead of starting with the heavens and firmament, mountains and oceans and drifting clouds, with things, and peeling all these away in a vain search for something somehow more precious at their center, do the opposite. Instead of withdrawing inward, toward some imagined bit…try to proceed outward, and see heaven and earth, mountains and oceans, and drifting clouds, all you have been taught to regard as things, as others, as foreign and distant, see all these as they are. You will be astonished to find yourself and nature in one and the same; and far from dreading the nothingness, which now seems like sickness, and hardly worthy of anyone, which is how you began all this, your state of mind will be just the opposite. You will rejoice in being, in nature, in yourself, which will now have ceased to be any mystery, and you will finally understand without seeking further what Spinoza meant by the intellectual love of God.”

So what is the final lesson revealed in our search for immortality – perhaps we have been asking the wrong question all along. Man should seek not perpetuity, but perfection, and man alone in all of existence knows or will know the two perfect antipodes of reality – nothingness and ultimate being.

1Taylor, Richard, Metaphysics, Prentice-Hall, Inc., New Jersey, 1974. ISBN 0-13-578468-9, pages 121-126.

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Seneca wants us to eliminate the propensity to regret our mortality, “Before I became old, I took care to live well; in old age, I take care to die well.”5 No life is long and a life is long enough once one attains wisdom. He tells Lucilius, “Make haste to live…and think each of your days to be an individual life. The man who accustoms himself to this way of thought, for whom life is complete each day, if free of worry…”6 This is the paradox Seneca teaches, preparation for death entails living life to its fullest!

Seneca also speaks frequently of death as liberation or freedom, although in his letters, he is often referring to suicide – and in fact he died by his own hand at the command of the Roman Emperor, Nero. The lesson for our time, where human afflictions are treatable and politics is less bloodthirsty, is that death after terminal illness or fraility of advanced age is release from suffering. And even in our century we control to some extent the final time of death depending on how we face disease.

Last Seneca finds solace in the knowledge that we share death with all men, in fact with all life. We then are part of a whole, “there are fixed seasons by which all things progress; they must be born, grow, and perish.”7 And “Nature has this one particular point among other instances of its justice: when the time arrives to leave this world, we’re all in the same condition.”8

Preparation for death by living fully and following Seneca’s five steps is one of the fundamental lessons of the investigation of human mortality. Next we will juxtapose being and nonbeing to uncover a second key truth.

1Seneca, How to Die, Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J., 2018. ISBN 978-0-691-17557-7, page ix-x.

2Ibid, page 2.

3Ibid, page 22.


5Ibid, page 38.

6Ibid, page 56.

7Ibid, page 100.

8Ibid, page 109.


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