The renowned physicist, cosmologist, and author, Stephen Hawking, says that our universe did not need the hand of God to come into existence.
Speaking to a packed audience Tuesday night at the California Institute of Technology, he jokingly asked his listeners, “What was God doing before the divine creation? Was he preparing Hell for people who asked such questions?”
Hawking, who has suffered for decades from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease, spoke on the topic, “The Origin of the Universe.” Fans queued up for 12 hours before his lecture, creating a line about a quarter-mile long, according to an observer from Space.com. At least one person offered as much as $1,000 for a ticket, while a second auditorium and a Jumbotron viewer were needed to accommodate the enormous crowd.
Hawking began his talk by relating an African creation myth and then went on to outline current and historical explanations–scientific and theological–about how the universe was created. These included relativistic physics and Thomas Gold’s steady-state theory, which hypothesizes that the cosmos has no beginning and no end and that galaxies continue to form from spontaneously created matter.
Hawking also discussed M-theory, first postulated by Caltech’s Richard Feynman, another well-known physicist. M-theory proposes that multiple universes are created out of nothing and have many possible histories and many possible states of existence. The potential for life would only exist in a few of these states and in even fewer would the phenomenon of humanity be possible. According to Hawking, M-theory is so far the only viable explanation of the Big Bang and the observed universe. Rejecting the notion of a repeating Big Bang, he said that time began at the moment of singularity, which was probably a unique event.
“I was glad not to be thrown into an inquisition,” quipped Hawking, making a reference to Pope John Paul II’s warning during the 1980s against investigating the moment of creation, which is considered sacred by Catholics.
Hawking first visited Caltech in 1974 and has been a visiting professor there since 1991. Each year, he spends a month or so at the institution lecturing and debating the enigmas of the cosmos with his colleagues.
Hawking closed his lecture by advocating the continued exploration of space, saying it was crucial for the future of humanity. The renown physicist has repeatedly called on humanity to pursue policies that allow for the exploration of space and other planets.
“I don’t think we will survive another thousand years without escaping our fragile planet,” he concluded.