The famous theoretical astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, addressing a large audience at the California Institute of Technology on April 16, said that the Universe did not need a divine creator to bring it into being.
Space.com reports that hundreds of people began queuing up for free tickets to the lecture titled "The Origin of the Universe" 12 hours before it began at 8 p.m. local time. By 6 p.m., two hours before the lecture began, the queue had grown to about a quarter-mile long.
Organizers had to use a second auditorium and a lawn with a Jumbotron to accommodate the crowd.
Professor Stephen Hawking's lecture, which began with a recital of an African creation myth, discussed the philosophical and religious question, "Why are we here?"
The theoretical physicist noted that while many still rely on religious explanations which postulate a divine creator of the Universe, scientific evidence does not support the traditional belief that a god or gods created it.
The physicist was critical of people and institutions that seek to challenge scientific theories of the origin of the Universe. He asked: "What was God doing before the divine creation? Was he preparing hell for people who asked such questions?”
Hawking's question rephrases a witty exchange between the German Protestant theologian Martin Luther and a student who, after listening to a lecture on the biblical book of Genesis, wanted to know what God was doing before the Creation. Luther told him that God was busy in the Eternity collecting switches to flog impertinent humans who ask foolish questions.
Hawking reviewed the history of the theological debate about the origin of the Universe. He also reviewed scientific theories about its origin, including the steady-state and the big bang theories.
He noted that his work in the 1980s in collaboration with physicist Roger Penrose, appeared to prove that time began at a cosmic singularity edge of space and time. He recalled that at about the time he and Penrose published their paper on the so-called Penrose-Hawking Singularity Theorem, Pope John Paul II asked scientists not to study the moment of Creation because it was a sacred moment. Hawking quipped: "I was glad not to be thrown into an inquisition."
Hawking said that more recent theories, such as the M-theory, and observations of the Universe by space telescopes, suggest that most previous explanations of the origin of the Universe were wrong. But the view he expresses is not surprising. Scientists always think that the latest theories and observations are right, but change their minds as soon as newer observations and theories arise.
M-theory is a version of multiverse theories which propose that there are several universes that spring out of "nothing." It has received widespread acceptance among theoretical astrophysics since the mid-1990s.
The multiverse is the set of all possible (parallel) universes as constrained by an underlying unifying theory. Each universe in the set is an alternative reality. The broader the underlying unifying symmetry the more diverse the multiverse set that springs forth.
M-theory is based on the string theory. It proposes an 11-dimensional structure of spacetime.
Hawking ended the lecture by renewing his call for intensification of space exploration efforts. He said: "We must continue to go into space for the future of humanity. I don’t think we will survive another thousand years without escaping our fragile planet."
According to Space.com, Hawking spends a few weeks at Caltech every year consulting with colleagues. He is suffering from a crippling neurological disorder called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.