Hugh Ross Is Right (Sort of) . . . the Debate Is Over

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Terry Mortenson, who occupies the office next to mine here at Answers in Genesis, recently blogged about Hugh Ross’s presentation at the apologetics conference in Charlotte three months ago. There Ross reportedly said that “‘the debate is over’ among scientists when it comes to whether there is a causal agent in the universe. Instead, he said, the conversation is shifting to whether God is a personal God.” Apparently, Lawrence Krauss and Stephen Hawking didn’t get the memo. I’ll say more about them in a moment. But first, what was the basis of Ross’s bold claim? He quoted from a 2002 paper by three Stanford physicists who wrote the following:

Another possibility is an unknown agent intervened in the evolution, and for reasons of its own restarted the universe in the state of low entropy characterizing inflation.
Most people hearing or reading that one sentence would focus on the words, “ . . . unknown agent intervened in the evolution, and for reasons of its own . . . ” and would interpret them to mean that the unknown agent was God. Ross certainly did.

It is possible that the authors meant it that way, but I don’t think so. The authors did not make any other such statements, so that one sentence stands in stark contrast to the rest of the paper, if that is what they meant. With much serious discussion now about the multiverse, the belief that our universe is just one of an infinite number of universes, the authors easily could have been thinking of an interaction between our universe in its infancy and some other universe, perhaps the hypothetical one that might have given birth to our universe. Another universe certainly would qualify as “an unknown agent.” The words, “for reasons of its own” may have just been a misfortunate use of words, for those words suggest will or purpose to most people.

Furthermore, notice that the quote begins with the words, “Another possibility….” This possibility was just one of several that the authors considered in answering their conundrum. What was that conundrum? The title of the paper was “Disturbing Implications of a Cosmological Constant.” The cosmological constant was a hypothetical repulsion term that Albert Einstein introduced in his cosmological model in 1917 to preserve the static universe. After Edwin Hubble showed in 1929 that the universe was not static but expanding, Einstein famously called the cosmological constant his “greatest blunder.” The cosmological constant remained an unwelcome concept in cosmology for seven decades. However, by 1999 data had amassed that caused cosmologists once again to accept the concept that the rate of expansion of the universe is increasing, meaning that there is a repulsion term in the universe after all.* During the intervening years, cosmology had advanced tremendously, and spatial repulsion included with those advances produced a problem for the standard cosmology—the universe must have originated in a very low state of entropy, but why did it begin this way? The three Stanford physicists, writing in 2002 shortly after the discovery of cosmic repulsion, discussed several possible ways to answer this question. Ultimately, they concluded with what they thought was the best answer:

Perhaps the only reasonable conclusion is that we do not live in a world with a true cosmological constant.
You may notice that the conclusion appears to negate the title of the paper – the authors concluded that a “true cosmological constant” might not exist. One way to read this is to assume that the authors wished to deny cosmic repulsion as a way to solve the problem that they identified. However, there is another possibility. Notice that what Einstein introduced in 1917 was the cosmological constant. That is, it was a spatial repulsion term that was constant in time and space. But what if cosmic repulsion is not constant in time and space? That is the possibility that many cosmologists now consider. To distinguish from the truly constant repulsion, cosmologists have taken to calling this “dark energy” rather than the cosmological constant. That is, dark energy is not a “true cosmological constant” in that it is not constant. I think that this is the sort of thing that the three Stanford physicists had in mind—a non-constant spatial repulsion that probably can operate in a way so that the problem of low entropy in the early universe does not exist.

This sort of quote mining by Hugh Ross on whether the universe, as interpreted by the big bang model, requires a Creator is not new. For instance, in his 2008 book Why the Universe Is the Way It Is, Ross quoted Stephen Hawking (p. 13):

It would be very difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just this way, except as the act of a God who intended to create beings like us.
Such a quote implies that Hawking is a theist, which most certainly he is not. This quote is from Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, published in 1988. Much changed in the two decades between the publication of the books of Hawking and Ross, including Hawking’s thinking. For instance, in 2010 Hawking wrote (Hawking, 2010, p. 172) the following:
It is reasonable to ask who or what created the universe, but if the answer is God, then the question has merely been deflected to that of who created God. In this view it is accepted that some entity exists that needs no creator, and that entity is called God. This is known as the first-cause argument for the existence of God. We claim, however, that it is possible to answer these questions purely within the realm of science, and without invoking any divine beings.
A few pages later, Hawking wrote (Hawking, 2010, p. 180) this:
Because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing in the manner describe in Chapter 6. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.
Now, to be fair to Ross, these quotes from Hawking appeared two years after publication of Ross’s book, Why the Universe Is the Way It Is. But even in his 1988 book (pp. 115–116) Hawking discussed how in 1981 he had given a talk at a cosmology conference in the Vatican of all places on how he thought that physics provided a way for no need of a Creator. Furthermore, in October 2014, four years after Hawking’s latest book was published, Ross boldly proclaimed in Charlotte that “the debate is over.” Why did Ross use a 12-year-old quote by three lesser-known physicists and not use the more recent one by the much more famous Hawking? Nor is Hawking alone. We must not forget Lawrence Krauss’s much more strident 2012 book, A Universe from Nothing. Such direct assaults on the need for a Creator will increase in the years ahead. The point is, contrary to what Ross claims, in the judgment of many prominent cosmologists the debate is over, and Hugh Ross lost. But ultimately, it is the atheists who will lose.

 

*These concepts are described in more detail in chapter two of my book, Universe by Design.

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