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Reason and Revelation Volume 33 #2

Zero Energy Balance and Universes Popping Into Existence

Perhaps it seems like common sense to you that universes do not create themselves—popping into existence all over the place, but many naturalistic scientists are latching on to such bizarre ideas due to their lack of a naturalistic explanation for the origin of the Universe. Famous atheist, theoretical physicist, and cosmologist of Cambridge University, Stephen Hawking, said, “Bodies such as stars or black holes cannot just appear out of nothing. But a whole universe can…. Because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing” (2010, p. 180, emp. added). Is there any empirical evidence suggesting that universes can pop into existence? Absolutely not. Is there evidence that anything can pop into existence from nothing? Nope. We have a law of science that prohibits it—the First Law of Thermodynamics (cf. Miller, 2013). Does the idea that something could pop into existence from nothing remind you of a magician’s trick? Probably. But to many in the scientific community today, naturalism must be true. They will not consider God.  He is not allowed in the discussion. “Creation is unacceptable, but witchcraft? Now that…we’ll consider.”

The Problem for the Naturalist

According to the First Law of Thermodynamics, “energy can be neither created nor destroyed; it can only change forms” (Cengel and Boles, 2002, p. 166). This poses a problem for the atheist, since the energy and matter of the Universe had to come from somewhere. Hawking said:

The idea of inflation could also explain why there is so much matter in the universe. There are something like ten million million million million million million million million million million million million million million (1 with eighty zeros after it) particles in the region of the universe that we can observe. Where did they all come from? The answer is that, in quantum theory, particles can be created out of energy in the form of particle/antiparticle pairs. But that just raises the question of where the energy came from (1988, p. 129, emp. added, parenthetical item in orig.).

Evolutionary physicist Victor Stenger, in his book, God: The Failed Hypothesis, said:

[W]here does the energy come from? The law of conservation of energy, also known as the first law of thermodynamics, requires that energy come from somewhere. In principle, the creation hypothesis could be confirmed by the direct observation or theoretical requirement that conservation of energy was violated 13.7 billion years ago at the start of the big bang (2007, p. 116, ital. in orig., emp. added).

The Naturalist’s Response

Hawking believes he has an answer to this problem for the naturalist—one that is in keeping with the First Law:

The answer is that the total energy of the universe is exactly zero. The matter in the universe is made out of positive energy. However, the matter is all attracting itself by gravity…. Thus, in a sense, the gravitational field has negative energy. In the case of a universe that is approximately uniform in space, one can show that this negative gravitational energy exactly cancels the positive energy represented by the matter. So the total energy of the universe is zero (1988, p. 129).

Stenger concurs:

The first law allows energy to convert from one type to another as long as the total for a closed system remains fixed. Remarkably, the total energy of the universe appears to be zero (2007, p. 116).

So, in essence, these physicists assert that there would have been zero energy in the Universe before the alleged big bang (a theory which we do not support, cf. Thompson, et al., 2003), and then there would have been zero energy in the Universe after the big bang, since “matter energy” can be considered to be positive and “gravitational energy” can be considered to be negative. According to Hawking and Stenger, these two amounts cancel each other out, leaving zero energy in the Universe—zero energy before the bang, and zero energy after. Sound reasonable to you?

The Evidence from Science and Sense

First of all, notice that Hawking boldly proclaims two significant assumptions that cannot even remotely be verified. (1) The Universe must be “approximately uniform in space”; and (2) The “negative gravitational energy exactly cancels the positive energy represented by the matter. So the total energy of the universe is zero” (1988, p. 129, emp. added). How, pray tell, could Hawking know such things about this vast and infinitely complex Universe without being omniscient? Not only can he not know such things, but he cannot even claim such things with the meager evidence about the entirety of the Universe he has at his disposal. It is quite a leap to hold to such unverified assumptions. It is a blind faith in a proposition that cannot be established scientifically. The rational man’s beliefs are based on the evidence—not baseless speculation.

Second, notice that he says, “in a sense, the gravitational field has negative energy” (1988, p. 129, emp. added). The words, “in a sense,” are significant, because they highlight the fact that gravitational energy is not really inherently “negative.” We call it “negative” from a certain viewpoint when we have such a thing as a directional axis to compare its effect with; but, in actuality, gravitational energy is simply energy—regardless of its sign. Hawking, himself, used the term “energy” to describe gravity. Whether or not it is considered “negative” is not the question. The question in light of the First Law is, where did it come from?

Third, this line of reasoning implies that things could and should be popping into existence all around us all the time, as long as those items have enough negative gravitational energy to offset them. Particles, rocks, and infinitely complex Universes should be popping into existence, since such occurrences—according to these physicists—would not violate a natural law. But wait. That does not happen. It has never been observed to occur even once. And our common sense verifies that it will not happen. Science does not support such a hypothesis. The hypothesis is unscientific.

Fourth, consider: is there energy in the Universe today that would not have been in existence before the supposed big bang? Yes. If I were to ask Hawking and Stenger if energy exists in the Universe today, what do you suppose they would say? To ask is to answer. But the First Law prohibits the creation of energy. So, the question is not whether the energy balance before and after the big bang is still zero. The important question in light of the First Law is whether or not there is energy in the Universe today that was not there before the big bang. The answer would have to be, “yes.” In fact, there are, by Hawking’s own admission, “negative” and “positive” energies in existence. According to the First Law of Thermodynamics, they could not have created themselves. Therefore, God must exist.

In essence, Hawking and those who hold to his position are playing word games with “zero.” It is like the man who holds out an empty fist and asks a child, “What am I holding in my hand?” The child responds, “Nothing.” The man continues, “What is stronger than God?” The child responds, “Nothing.” The man then concludes, “So, what I’m holding in my hand is stronger than God.” In logic, this is known as a “fallacy of equivocation,” which the Collins English Dictionary defines as “a fallacy based on the use of the same term in different senses, esp. as the middle term of a syllogism, as the badger lives in the bank, and the bank is in the High Street, so the badger lives in the High Street” (2003, ital. in orig.; cf. Baum, 1975, pp. 477-478). While there is a Universal energy balance of zero in Hawking’s model, it does not mean that there is actually zero energy in the Universe. On the contrary, the exorbitant amount of energy in the Universe calls for an explanation that can only be given by the Creation model.


In the words of Stenger:

Conservation of energy [i.e., the First Law of Thermodynamics—JM] and other basic laws hold true in the most distant observed galaxy and in the cosmic microwave background, implying that these laws have been valid for over thirteen billion years [NOTE: we do not hold to this deep time supposition—JM]. Surely any observation of their violation during the puny human life span would be reasonably termed a miracle…. In principle, the creation hypothesis could be confirmed by the direct observation or theoretical requirement that conservation of energy was violated 13.7 billion years ago at the start of the big bang (pp. 115-116, emp. added).

It is truly ironic that Stenger, himself, while attempting to dismiss the necessity of the supernatural in explaining the origin of the Universe, “confirmed” the existence of God through the “theoretical requirement that conservation of energy was violated” in the beginning of time. It is sad that Stenger’s admission on this point illustrates that, prior to Hawking’s development of this argument, Stenger recognized the need for the supernatural in explaining the origin of energy, since no “scientific” argument was available. Why, sir, did you not accept God before that point? And why, sir, do you not accept Him now, since He alone can account for the existence of the awesome Universe in which we reside?


Baum, Robert (1975), Logic(New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston).

Cengel, Yunus A. and Michael A. Boles (2002), Thermodynamics: An Engineering Approach (New York: McGraw-Hill), fourth edition.

Collins English Dictionary (2003), (New York: HarperCollins Publishers),

Hawking, Stephen (1988), A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes (New York: Bantam).

Hawking, Stephen (2010), The Grand Design (New York, NY: Bantam Books).

Miller, Jeff (2013), “Evolution and the Laws of Science: The Laws of Thermodynamics,” Apologetics Press, 2786.

Stenger, Victor J. (2007), God: The Failed Hypothesis (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books).

Thompson, Bert, Brad Harrub, and Branyon May (2003), “The Big Bang Theory—A Scientific Critique [Part 1],” Reason & Revelation, 23[5]:32-34,36-47.

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