When and how did the universe begin? Why is there something rather than nothing? Why are we here? Why are the laws of nature so finely tuned to allow life to exist? Does God exist?
These are the most fundamental questions about the universe and about life itself. Once the province of religion and philosophy, these questions now occupy the realm of science more than ever, where they can increasingly be answered without resorting to God. The authors subsequently state that ‘Philosophy is dead’. In the Grand Design, Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow answer or at least try to address these momentous questions. The book explains the scientific answers or theories to questions that have previously been deferred to God. For the first time in human history, we might finally be on the cusp of achieving a total understanding of the universe. While the book doesn’t argue against the existence of God since that can’t be proven, it does state that ‘it is [no longer] necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going’. This is both extremely profound and audacious. A lot of sceptics will beg to differ, yet it can’t be disputed that science could potentially be on the verge of finding the Holy Grail of human understanding. I’ll briefly outline the answers given in the book to these important questions below and conclude with my opinion on all this.
When and how did the universe begin? Our universe began 13.7 billion years ago with the Big Bang. Analysis of light shifts by observing galaxies in the sky shows that our universe is increasingly expanding: back-tracking from this statement means we arrive at a point in time where there was a singularity containing the entire universe. This was right before the Big Bang, an event in which the universe was created and rapidly expanded. Further proof of a Big Bang-like event was found when Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation was discovered, pointing to a huge explosion of sorts. Moreover, analysis of the abundance of elements in the universe falls in line with scientific predictions based on the Big Bang, further solidifying the validity of this theory.
Why is there something rather than nothing? A natural and more difficult question that follows from the theory of the Big Bang is what happened before-where did this all come from? Science may now have an answer and it’s come from a combination of Einstein’s theory of general relativity and quantum mechanics. Einstein posited that time is another dimension-this means that time could have theoretically begun at the Big Bang. We can’t ask what happened before the Big Bang because time didn’t exist before this event. Theoretical physics isn’t intuitive to our picture of the world which is why it can sometimes be difficult to accept. As to the question of why a singularity existed in the first place, regardless of when time began, quantum theory holds the answer. It turns out that the net energy sum of our universe is zero. For all the matter and energy that we see in our world, negative energy cancels it all out. All this negative energy is contained in the fabric of space. Therefore, the entire universe consists of nothing. There isn’t something rather than nothing-there’s nothing as there should be nothing. However, this leaves a final question-why is there a split in positive and negative energy? Why isn’t there a higher entropy? What spontaneously created this universe? Quantum mechanics dictate that something as small as the singularity, composed of equal amounts of positive and negative energy, that triggered the Big Bang could appear at random from nothing. The universe itself, in all its mind-boggling complexity, could have suddenly appeared-certainly an unintuitive proposition indeed. Despite this, experiments have proven that such quantum fluctuations exist and are possible.
Why are we here? Why are the laws of nature so finely tuned to allow life to exist? Humans exist because conditions for life on Earth were correct and the turn of events in the universe was just so to allow life to develop. Normally, this apparent uniqueness of situation would call in the existence of God, however, science may seem to have the answers to this too. While the conditions of our Solar System and of Earth aren’t really that special, the laws of nature and of the universe are rather finely tuned so as to allow for life to exist-were gravity slightly stronger or electrons slightly bigger, the universe would have evolved in such a way so as to not allow for the existence of life. This doesn’t require God though. M-theory, based on quantum theory, postulates the existence of a multiverse. Drawing on from superstring theory, M-theory says that each universe has many different possible histories-there isn’t a defined history until we observe it. All these universes have different natural laws, allowing for many more universes where life can exist while at the same time allowing for many where life is null. This means that our universe isn’t intrinsically special and it’s just a case of chance that our universe happens to be suited for life.
Does God exist? This age-old question is yet to be definitively answered, despite what some may lead you to belove. While this book doesn’t serve to disprove or invalidate the existence of God, it certainly pushed the scales in the favour of science. Science, more so than ever, now has a firmer grip on these questions than religion. While God’s existence can never be disproven, the authors are confident that, if proven, these theories will eliminate God from the equation, so to speak. The universe will ‘not require the intervention of some supernatural being or god’.
In conclusion, The Grand Design is a book that will inform and provoke like no other. It fundamentally altered my understanding and showcased the answers that science can now provide us with by employing great explanations. The book may be ambitious in its claims, but that’s the whole point-it’s meant to stimulate us and show that science may finally eliminate the need for religion and philosophy once and for all. The book follows a logical and cohesive narrative, and its brief and well-explained nature lends itself well to people who don’t come from a physics background.