I should make it clear from the start that I have no religious agenda. I’m not a believer. I’m not a committed atheist either.

For 10 years, I was an editor at Scientific American. During that time, we were diligent about exposing the falsehoods of “intelligent design” proponents who claimed to see God’s hand in the fashioning of complex biological structures such as the human eye and the bacterial flagellum. But in 2008 I left journalism to write fiction. I wrote novels about Albert Einstein and quantum theory and the mysteries of the cosmos. And ideas about God keep popping up in my books.

Should scientists even try to answer questions about the purpose of the universe? Most researchers assume that science and religion are completely separate fields—or, in the phrase coined by evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould, “nonoverlapping magisteria.” But as physicists investigate the most fundamental characteristics of nature, they’re tackling issues that have long been the province of philosophers and theologians: Is the universe infinite and eternal? Why does it seem to follow mathematical laws, and are those laws inevitable? And, perhaps most important, why does the universe exist? Why is there something instead of nothing?