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Stephen Hawking's Last Words

Stephen Hawking passed away on March 14, prompting the expected outpouring of laudatory expressions and tributes. Hawking was born on the 300th anniversary the famed astronomer Galileo's death, and now he has died on the anniversary of fellow theoretical physicist Einstein's birth, causing many observers to look to the cosmos for some kind of scientific significance.

What we do know is this. In the 30 years since the publication of his landmark book, A Brief History of Time, Hawking has stood above all others when it comes to explaining the universe and its origins. So it is fascinating to realize that his "last words" on the subject were pretty profound, and they came just a few weeks ago on StarTalk, the popular science program on NatGeo hosted by astronomer and bestselling author Neil deGrasse Tyson.

In this episode Tyson asked Hawking a question that has puzzled scientists since the Big Bang was established as the best explanation for the beginning of the universe: "What was before the Big Bang?"

The Big Bang, of course, is the term scientists use to describe the way the universe began, in an instant of time with an explosion of pure energy that formed matter and became the building blocks of everything that exists. In other words, the universe as we know it came from the Big Bang.

So what was Hawking's reply? "Nothing." Not that there's no answer, but the answer is, “Nothing was around before the big, Big Bang.” There are no plausible explanations for what happened before the universe materialized out of nothing, not even Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. Therefore, according to Hawking, nothing existed before the Big Bang creation event.

It’s not clear if the scientific community will accept Hawking’s answer. Some scientists like the multi-verse theory, which says our universe is but one of a series of parallel universes. Others are fans of the cyclical model of the Big Bounce—the idea that our universe was caused by another collapsing universe.

At least one physicist is open to the idea that a Star Wars-type world existed before the Big Bang, and others have suggested that aliens brought life to our universe.

We’ll stick with Stephen Hawking’s theory of nothing for one simple reason. The only way for something to come out of nothing is if it’s created by something that already existed. And the only candidate for that “something before something” is God, who is by definition uncreated and self-existent. The writer of the book of Hebrews puts it this way:

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible (Hebrews 11:3).

Rather than being scientific nonsense, the notion of God creating out of nothing is elegant, beautiful, and compatible with Hawking’s answer to the question, “What was there before the Big Bang?”

If Hawking and the Bible are to be believed, there was nothing material before the Big Bang creation event that could give rise to our material universe. There was only God—the immaterial, immortal, infinite, all-powerful, all-wise, all loving Creator and sustainer of life, who created ex nihilo, or “out of nothing.”

It may be a coincidence that Stephen Hawking died on a date with so much scientific significance, but it's not by chance that the last words of this brilliant physicist point to our Creator God. 

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Christianity 101 is a collection of books and digital resources by Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz that talk about God in a way that encourages people to grow in their faith.