Astrophysicist Alex Filippenko of the Universityof California, Berkeley took part in a panel discussion on June 23, 2012 at the SETICon 2 conference on the topic “Did the Big Bang Require a Divine Spark?”  Taking a page out of the playbooks of Stephen Hawking and Lawrence Krauss, Filippenko claimed that “the Big Bang could’ve occurred as a result of just the laws of physics being there. With the laws of physics, you can get universes.”[1] If the laws of physics are responsible for churning out universes, then the ultimate question is not the origin of the universe, but the origin of the laws of physics.  Where did they come from?  Filippenko recognizes this problem, saying “The question, then, is, ‘Why are there laws of physics?’  And you could say, ‘Well, that required a divine creator, who created these laws of physics and the spark that led from the laws of physics to these universes, maybe more than one.’”[2] 

It’s at this point that Filippenko trots out the “who created God?” objection to demonstrate the explanatory inadequacy of the God hypothesis, claiming that we would still have to ask who/what created God, and who/what created the thing/person who created God, ad infinitum.  He seems to be unaware of three crucial facts: 

  1. The objection is meaningless because it is based on a misunderstanding of what is meant by “God.”
  2. It is fallacious to think one must have an explanation of an explanation for it to be a valid explanation
  3. An infinite regress is impossible, so given the principle of parsimony, there is no reason to think there is a causal entity beyond God.

How, then, does Filippenko answer the question of the origin of the physical laws?: “The ‘divine spark’ was whatever produced the laws of physics, and I don’t know what produced that divine spark. So let’s just leave it at the laws of physics.”[3]  Well that explains just about nothing!  While I can appreciate his epistemic humility in admitting that the laws of physics need an explanation, and that he does not know what that explanation is, his answer is surely less than satisfying. 

If the laws of physics had a beginning, as Filippenko seems to believe, then they need a cause and cannot be the ultimate explanation for reality.  The same is true of the quantum vacuum, which the laws of physics acted on to create the universe.  If the quantum vacuum had a beginning, then it cannot be the ultimate reality either.  One could try to solve this problem by claiming that the laws of physics are actually eternal, and thus the ultimate reality, but since there cannot be physical laws in the absence of physical reality, the quantum vacuum has to be eternal too.  Unfortunately, this won’t work either.  If the quantum vacuum was eternal, then it should have spawned off an infinite number of universes an infinite time ago.  And yet our universe is only 13.7 billion years old, not infinitely old, proving that the quantum vacuum is not eternal.  And if the quantum vacuum is not eternal, neither are physical laws. 

No matter how you slice it, physical reality cannot be the ultimate reality.  One can choose to remain agnostic on the question of ultimate origins as does Filippenko, but his agnosticism appears to be rooted in his naturalistic assumptions about reality as well as his mistaken belief in the possibility of an infinite regress.  If we do not assume naturalism and we recognize the need for a first cause, then theism not only becomes a possible explanation for why there is something rather than nothing, but the most plausible explanation. 


[1]Space.com, “The Big Bang Didn’t Need God to Start Universe, Researchers Say”; available from http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2012/06/25/big-bang-didnt-need-god-to-start-universe-researchers-say/?intcmp=features; Internet; accessed 25 June, 2012.
[2]Space.com, “The Big Bang Didn’t Need God to Start Universe, Researchers Say”; available from http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2012/06/25/big-bang-didnt-need-god-to-start-universe-researchers-say/?intcmp=features; Internet; accessed 25 June, 2012.
[3]Space.com, “The Big Bang Didn’t Need God to Start Universe, Researchers Say”; available from http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2012/06/25/big-bang-didnt-need-god-to-start-universe-researchers-say/?intcmp=features; Internet; accessed 25 June, 2012.

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