God did not create the universe according to Professor Stephen Hawking. The scientist, who has previously failed to rule out the role of a creator, says the laws of physics were behind the Big Bang.

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In his forthcoming book, The Grand Design, extracts of which have been printed in The Times, Professor Hawking sets out to answer whether the universe needed a creator: the answer he gives is "no".

The eminent scientist writes: "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.

"It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going."

The book, co-written by American physicist Leonard Mlodinow, sets out to contest Sir Isaac Newton's belief that the universe must have been designed by God as it could not have been created out of chaos.

Professor Hawking had previously appeared to accept the role of God in the creation of the universe, writing in A Brief History Of Time in 1988.

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But his latest conclusions suggest that a form of 'string theory', which is sometimes referred to as the theory of everything, will achieve a single framework that can explain the properties of nature: "M-theory is the unified theory Einstein was hoping to find.

"The fact that we human beings - who are ourselves mere collections of fundamental particles of nature - have been able to come this close to an understanding of the laws governing us and our universe is a great triumph."

The scientist cites the 1992 discovery of a planet orbiting a star other than our Sun as evidence to contest the belief that the universe was created by God: "That makes the coincidences of our planetary conditions - the single Sun, the lucky combination of Earth-Sun distance and solar mass - far less remarkable, and far less compelling as evidence that the Earth was carefully designed just to please us human beings."

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But some scientists disagree that the laws of physics and religion are mutually exclusive.

Reverend Doctor Rodney Holder, an astrophysicist at the University of Cambridge, told Channel 4 News some of Professor Hawking's latest views are "deeply paradoxical".

"To say that because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing is a self-contradiction. To say this does away with God is mistaken. Every moment is dependent on God."

Referring to string theories Rev Dr Holder said there was some doubt in the scientific community: "These theories are on the edge of speculation. The M-theory is not even a full theory."