Renowned British scientist Stephen Hawking, writing in a soon-to-be-published book, theorizes that God did not create the universe.
Instead, the theoretical physicist argues that the origin of the universe, explained in modern science by the "Big Bang" theory, was the inevitable consequence of the laws of physics.
Excerpts from Hawking's forthcoming The Grand Design appeared Thursday in the British newspaper The Times.
Hawking writes that "because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist."
The Grand Design is scheduled for release September 9 - one week before Pope Benedict's visit to Britain.
The excerpts sparked an almost immediate rebuttal from Rabbi Jonathan Henry Sacks, the spiritual head of Britain's largest synagogue body.
The rabbi refers to a widely perceived "mutual hostility" between religion and science as, in his words, "one of the curses of our age." He also warns that such hostility is "damaging to both religion and science in equal measure."
Scientist and educator George Ellis, the president of the International Society for Science and Religion, is quoted as saying his biggest problem with Hawking's theories is that they present the public with "a choice - either science or religion."
Hawking, one of the most revered figures in theoretical physics, is the author of the seminal 1988 book A Brief History of Time. The 68-year-old is wheelchair-bound and almost completely paralyzed. He was diagnosed at age 21 with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and communicates through a computer-generated voice synthesizer activated by his fingers.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.