Science & Faith
8/14/13 at 09:33 AM 61 Comments

Oxford Mathematician John Lennox: Can Mathematical Laws of Nature Create Everything from Nothing?

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John Lennox is Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford

Today we call upon Oxford Mathematician John Lennox to clarify some misconceptions that surfaced in the comments below my last blog. We will focus on the question: Can Mathematical Laws of Nature Create Everything from Nothing? The question itself needs to be reworked, but it is stated this way in order to tie into some common misconceptions. Help is on the way. First, a little backstory is needed.

In his 2010 book The Grand Design, celebrated cosmologist Stephen Hawking and coauthor Leonard Mlodinow claim that the laws of nature are consistent with the universe popping into existence from nothing: “Because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.” (The Grand Design, p. 180). But something can’t cause itself to come into existence because it would have to exist already to have any causal powers. So Hawking’s statement is self-contradictory. Furthermore, a natural law like gravity is not “nothing.” This is another contradiction. Oxford's Dr. John Lennox's points out these and other contradictions in Hawking's (and Dawkins's) unreasonable worse-than-magic claims in this exclusive full-length video. Even better, read Lennox's book God and Stephen Hawking: Whose Design Is It Anyway?

Now, how about those comments below my last blog? DeepSouth says that

"in order for the universe to make itself, it would have to already exist, since if it did not exist, it could not make itself."

SepticNY replies:

"We can replace "universe" with "god". Right back at ya. At least atheists have one LESS step."

Let's clarify this thread. Something can’t cause itself to come into existence because it would have to exist already to have any causal powers. DeepSouth and SepticNY, do you agree? Isn't it irrational to reject the proposition in bold font? Perhaps the bold proposition clarifies some of what DeepSouth had in mind. SepticNY, your reply to DeepSouth is not a criticism of the biblical deity because God reveals himself to be self-existent (he has no beginning and does not depend upon anything else for his existence).

Ultimately every worldview (thestic, atheistic, or otherwise) proposes that something or someone is self-existent. For example an atheist might believe in a beginningless series of past events in a godless reality that consists of a multiverse (infinite number of universes, which, considered as a whole, constitute "everything"). Surely it is an interesting question as to whether this atheist's "everything" or the biblical God (or something else) is that which is self-existent (not the sort of thing that needs to be created). This is partly behind the wisdom of Hraefn replying to DeepSouth:

If by "universe", you mean this space-time continuum, then it is possible that something existed before (or outside) this universe.

SepticNY, in later conversaton with DeepSouth, asks

How do you know that the universe is not eternal?? As I mentioned before you need to brush up on your Cosmology. No need for god or god(s). If you bring in god you are just delaying the next logical question - Who or what made god????? Why not just eliminate that unproven variable. No need for it. No need for god.

Actually current majority-viewpoint cosmology points to at least our universe having a begining (not eternal on its own). Anyway, both an atheist who believes in an eternal universe (or eternal multiverse) and a theist who believes God is eternal, have something in common. They both believe in a basic proposition that can't be proved. I think the evidence strongly points in the direction of God rather than atheism, but nobody has proof on either side. I think God has designed it this way for a good reason. He does not force us to believe in him, but provides sufficient clues for those who are willing to follow those clues to him.

Let's look at some more comments below my last blog. Hraefn writes:

Mike Keas thinks that something cannot come from nothing. By this we can conclude that Mike Keas knows nothing whatsoever about Quantum Mechanics and Theoretical Physics.... [and then lower in the thread] ... If a vacuum cannot be called "nothingness", then "nothingness" does not exist in this universe, and any claim that "something cannot arise out of nothing" is therefore pure speculation. .... [and then lower in the thread] ... According to quantum theory, the vacuum contains neither matter nor energy, but it does contain ''fluctuations,'' transitions between something and nothing in which potential existence can be transformed into real existence by the addition of energy.

Hraefn, think about your last words quoted above: "by the addition of energy." Where did that energy come from? From nothing? "Nothing" in the most rigorous sense means the complete absence of anything, including matter/energy and properties of any kind (including whatever properties in a quantum vacuum make possible the fluctuations physicists observe). Physicists really don't mean "nothing" in the most rigorous sense when they use this word. SkepticNY helps here. In response to MGT2 (who was supporting my points), SkepticNY writes:

How do you know that something can't come from nothing? Do we have a "nothing" we can test? Science is all about testing....

Exactly, scientists can't study "nothing" in the most rigorous sense described above. Scientists also don't study whether or not a round square is possible. We know that a round square is impossible by pure reason without any scientific experiments or observations. A round square is self contradictory in a similar way that "something coming from nothing" is unreasonable, once you carefully define the terms. Don't let the popular usage of "nothing" by some scientists and non-scientists confuse you about all this. Let's keep this conversation precise.

If you listen to the talk linked above by Oxford University's John Lennox (or read his book linked above), you will find more insight in regard to the discussion above. For example, Lennox writes (in his book):

To offer people a choice between God and science as explanation is like offering people a choice between Henry Ford and mechanical engineering as an explanation for a Ford motor car! In order to explain it completely, you need an explanation in terms of science and in terms of agency. It is the same with God and the universe.

Finally, here below is an excerpted from Discovering Intelligent Design, by Gary Kemper, Hallie Kemper, and Casey Luskin; Chapter 5, "The Empire Strikes Back." This addresses many of the issues above. Oxford's John Lennox gets a few words in below as well (DID quotes him).

A number of theories have been proposed to explain a materialistic origin of the universe.


Some materialists have claimed that the universe created itself. As Stephen Hawking argues, "Because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing." But for anything to create itself, it would have to exist before it was created. Most people would agree this is logically absurd. Oxford mathematician John Lennox observes that Hawking confuses physical laws -- which merely describe how the universe works -- with ultimate explanations:

The laws of physics can explain how the jet engine works, but someone had to build the thing, put in the fuel and start it up. The jet could not have been created without the laws of physics... Similarly, the laws of physics could never have actually built the universe. Some agency must have been involved. What options are left for materialists? Since they are unwilling to accept intelligent design as a first cause, materialists hold that ultimately the universe came into being by chance for no reason at all.

Betting on Chance

Oxford University scientist and author Peter Atkins parodies the book of Genesis with a summary of the materialistic view:

In the beginning there was nothing. Absolute void, not merely empty space. There was no space; nor was there time, for this was before time. The universe was without form and void. By chance there was a fluctuation...

Atkins goes on to argue that this random, theoretical, primordial fluctuation spawned a chain of events that caused everything else -- the chance universe.

While Atkins is correct that before the universe there was nothing, not even space or time, his argument does not account for the very beginning of everything. He says, "By chance there was a fluctuation." But if absolutely nothing existed, some questions arise.

  • What was it that fluctuated?
  • Why was there an environment that allowed for such "fluctuations"?
  • What caused that non-existent something to fluctuate?

For many years, materialists have been attempting to answer such questions without much success. Is "chance" an appropriate final explanation in science?

When a person says that something happened "by chance," there may seem to be an implication that chance actually caused the event. But "chance" is not the true cause.

For example, we often think of a coin toss before a football game as an example of "chance." When a referee flips the coin, there are a number of factors that will cause it to come down heads or tails, such as the weighting of the coin, the placement of the coin in his hand, the amount of applied force, wind, and gravity.

Because many of these factors are difficult to predict or control beforehand, we attribute the outcome to "chance." But "chance" is not really the cause at all. That term is an expression of probability and is used simply to predict and describe events. It is not a causal agent.

Yet Atkins attributes the origin of the universe to chance. In this context, chance is not an explanation. It is the absence of an explanation.

To buy or learn more about Discovering Intelligent Design, the first comprehensive curriculum to present the scientific evidence for intelligent design for both young people and adults, visit

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