Saint Thomas Aquinas’ Five Proofs for the Existence of God, Quinque viae, have stimulated philosophical, theological, metaphysical and even scientific thought since the 13th Century. And Aquinas was simply summarizing the thought of his days, as the ideas contained in his Five Ways are ancient.
The Third Way is called The Argument from Contingency (as summarized by Kreeft), also called the Cosmological Argument:
The Argument from Contingency:
1. If something exists, there must exist what it takes for that thing to exist.
2. The universe — the collection of beings in space and time — exists.
3. Therefore, there must exist what it takes for the universe to exist.
4. What it takes for the universe to exist cannot exist within the universe or be bounded by space and time.
5. Therefore, what it takes for the universe to exist must transcend both space and time.
Modern physicists and cosmologists are very much aware of this argument, and many feel that there is no need of a “God” to explain the existence of the Universe. Much of modern physics is directed towards the search for a “Theory of Everything”, which would explain the Universe without reference to a “God”. Professor Stephen Hawking is the most well-known of these physicists, saying in his 2010 book, The Grand Design, “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going” because “Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist”.
Hawking’s belief rests on his assertion that the universe creates itself, explains itself, and sustains itself. And this can all be explained with a Theory of Everything, whose hopes rest currently on M-Theory.
The problem is that mathematics has already proved that such a Theory is not possible. Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem (1931) states that “no non-trivial set of arithmetic principles can have its proof of consistency within itself” (as Father Stanley Jaki formulates it in Means to a Message, 1999). In other words, if a Theory is consistent within itself, it cannot be complete. It is, as it were, “contingent” on something outside of itself. Basically, mathematics has proven what Aquinas said 800 years ago: the universe itself is contingent upon something outside of it for its existence.
Physicists have been slow to accept that this Theorem applies to Physics, or the “Theory of Everything”, hoping that it could be limited to mathematic systems only. But no one less than Hawking awakened to this idea, saying in Gödel and the End of Physics, 2002:
What we need is a formulation of M theory that takes account of the black hole information limit. But then our experience with supergravity and string theory, and the analogy of Godel’s theorem, suggest that even this formulation will be incomplete.
Some people will be very disappointed if there is not an ultimate theory that can be formulated as a finite number of principles. I used to belong to that camp, but I have changed my mind.
As Jaki so succintly puts it (A Late Awakening to Gödel in Physics, 2004), “Gödel’s theorem means, among other things, that physicists who aim at reading God’s mind will not succeed.”
But this is a positive thing. As Hawking has said (2002): “I’m now glad that our search for understanding will never come to an end, and that we will always have the challenge of new discovery. Without it, we would stagnate. Gödel’s theorem ensured there would always be a job for mathematicians. I think M theory will do the same for physicists.”
And Jaki (2004) agrees: “Gödel’s theorem remains a serious assurance to all physicists that their minds will forever be challenged by ever fresh problems.”
So, this is not an end to Physics, but the beginning of an infinite exploration, impelled by (not limited by) the fact that the universe is contingent upon a being we have labeled “God”.