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A discussion panel held last weekend by SETI, or the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, asked a group of scientists whether a divine power was necessary to start the Universe some 13.75 billion years ago. While the cosmologists would not rule out the existence of God, they did agree that such a divinity was not strictly necessary. "The Big Bang could've occurred as a result of just the laws of physics being there," said astrophysicist Alex Filippenko of the University of California, Berkeley. "With the laws of physics, you can get universes."

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SETI Institute astronomer Seth Shostak also defended a Godless genesis, saying: "Quantum mechanical fluctuations can produce the cosmos. If you would just, in this room, just twist time and space the right way, you might create an entirely new universe. It's not clear you could get into that universe, but you would create it." Renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking took a sharper tone in an interview he gave last year: "I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark."

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