What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos


Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers


Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge


Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more

What Physics Can and Can't Say About God

April 29, 2013, 7:30 AM

One of the things that has been going on in contemporary physics for the last really 15 or 20 years is that physicists seem to be in some sense trying to present an alternative to God.  We all know Stephen Hawking’s famous line from the end of A Brief History of Time that when we know this theory of everything, when we find this cosmic blueprint, we will know the mind of God.  

Now I think this is a bit problematic myself and I think it relates to a misunderstanding about what the function of God is. In the Judeo-Christian conception of God, at least, God has two functions.  One was to be the creator of the universe and one was to be the redeemer of man. As creator of the universe God has to construct the universe somehow. The philosophy behind modern mathematical physics is that God in some sense created the world according to mathematical equations. So when we find this ultimate set of equations we will in some sense be knowing the mind of God, reading the mind of God, seeing how God did it.

Well that may possibly be so, but the problem that you have is what about the redemptive function of God?  For most Christians anyway, God’s real and important function was not to bring the universe into being, but to be there as the redeemer of our souls at the end of time. So physics has nothing to say about the redemptive function of God.

So I think it’s actually in some sense wrong to claim that physics can ever lead us to God.  It can lead us to a conception of how the universe potentially came into being, but it’s never going to say anything about what is important to most Christians about their faith and about their relationship with God, which is they want to know about how at the end of time they will, as it were, be united with God as a thinking, emoting, moral being. On that subject physics really cannot offer us any insight.

So I've argued in quite a number of places, including my book Pythagoras' Trousers that we shouldn’t be talking about physics in these quasi-religious terms.  I think that it gives a misleading picture of what physics can do and I think that to a certain extent using God has been as it were a bit of a PR campaign to try to get people into the project of hugely expensive machines like the Superconducting Super Collider that cost vast amounts of money.

I think part of the reason that physicists have used God, the word God so much is to try to as it were make this quest to understand the theory of everything seem so important that we have to spend tens of billions of dollars. My view is that if it’s worth spending tens of billions of dollars on we need to have the discussion openly as a society and not as it were illicitly use God as our mascot.  I don’t think God can or should be the mascot for physics, but with that said, I think physics is a valuable and wonderful project and we should talk about, as a society, how we want to pursue it. 

In Their Own Words is recorded by experts in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock. 


What Physics Can and Can't ...

Newsletter: Share: