The Universe and Everything

Question from Bryson:
So based on scientific evidence the universe at one time began to exist right? Explained by What we call the big bang theory. Another law is whatever begins to exist has a cause right? As in there’s something that begins to exist, there’s a cause for it, it existing being the effect. So if a universe existed, logically there’s a cause. Since the universe hasn’t existed yet, there’s no time/space/energy. Which leads to the conclusion that the cause of this “big bang” has to be something outside the laws of time/space/matter.

Well since only two things fall under this category, one would be a divine entity, the other an abstract object like the number 1 or something. My question is how would something abstract be a cause? I know Stephen Hawking said something along the lines of because of the laws of the gravity, there is no need for a creator because that proves the universe will create itself from nothing. But, of course, after thinking about it, if the universe hasn’t existed yet, that would mean the laws don’t exist yet. Plus, while the laws of gravity are describe gravity, it has no creative power. If put 1 dollar in the bank, and then next week 2 dollars, I can logically and mathematically explain why I now have $3. But, if I put 1 dollar in the bank and depend on mathematics to increase it, I would never have more than $1.

I know some people have even talked about something to do with a multiverse, but of course that doesn’t disprove god either because logically with a being capable of creating one universe, why would he not be able to create more if it wished.

Answer by SmartLX:
The good old cosmological argument. This argument falls at the first hurdle, but drags on and knocks over all the others regardless.

– No, scientific evidence has not established that the universe began to exist. It has established that it was once concentrated at or near a single point, then expanded outwards. The evidence says nothing about whether the matter and energy in that point was created at that instant or it got there from somewhere else.

– There are two modern perspectives on matter and energy. According to the classical laws of conservation, they may be converted into each other but they are never created or destroyed. Since they exist now, this would imply that they have always existed and didn’t need a creator. On the other hand, according to quantum mechanics matter can emerge spontaneously in certain circumstances as long as the same amount of antimatter does too, because the total amount of positive energy stays the same. Again no creator is needed, so neither way supports the supposed necessity of a creator.

– If the Big Bang was caused by something outside of our universe’s space and time, it doesn’t make the cause timeless or spaceless. It might be a natural entity with its own spacetime and energy, say, another universe.

– We have never unambiguously observed a divine entity, so it is pure assertion to say it can exist outside of space and time. We have only observed the “abstract” (mathematics, logic, etc.) within the confines of a physical universe as it affects the objects in that universe, so we don’t know whether the abstract can exist without the material either. Regardless, you pose a false dilemma because there is at least a third choice: an object in a different system of spacetime. And the whole thing is moot until the necessity of a cause is established.

– No, the possibility of a multiverse doesn’t disprove the existence of a god, but nothing does. A god is a possibility in a multiverse as well as in a single universe. There’s just no good reason to think it’s real, let alone necessary.

18 thoughts on “The Universe and Everything”

  1. Hi Bryson, be careful when basing your arguments on the Cosmological Argument (in its several guises). It’s not anywhere near as solid as some theologians like to make out. SmartLX has ably mentioned some of the problems. Here’s a few further points:

    “So if a universe existed, logically there’s a cause.”

    Why? You’re assuming that logic as we perceive it is an ontological-absolute. But we have no evidence that the laws of logic are invariant, unchanging and eternal, transcending time, space and matter, and so representing a constraint on all possible realities (including a God). Here’s a simple logical construct:
    Object A has a property
    Object B has some other (mutually exclusive) property
    The first rule of logic is that any object having property A cannot have property B (and vice versa) and an object cannot have property A and B simultaneously (bachelors cannot be married etc). OK, let’s see if that fits for all of the universe:
    Let property A be mass.
    Let property B be wavelength.
    These properties are mutually exclusive.
    Yet an electron has both mass and wavelength simultaneously, only one of which can be observed at any single time, according to how you measure it. Similarly, the nucleus of Lead-186, for example, is able to exist in three entirely different shapes simultaneously; a sphere, a prolate spheroid and an oblate spheroid. At the most fundamental level we can measure, it appears that the universe is logical, but it does not work using the same type of logic that we normally do. What we know as logic could be no more than descriptions of reality garnered from our sensory experiences and so reliable only within that particular frame of space-time reference in which we have evolved. There is a certain arrogance in assuming that the way humans normally perceive relationships between phenomena must be the same way in which the whole of existence is structured.

    “Since the universe hasn’t existed yet, there’s no time/space/energy.”

    Although it is widely accepted that time and space were created at that single point that expanded outward to become the universe, there is no evidence from modern cosmology to suggest that energy was created at that time. And if it was, why couldn’t your God have been created at that time as part of the total energy package? If you dispute that (I’m not saying its true or not), you’re still left to explain how God came into existence and whether he has a purpose and whether he is constrained by the laws of logic or not. Claiming God created the universe is not an explanation, it’s a description. It just pushes the explanation back a stage.

    “only two things fall under this category, one would be a divine entity, the other an abstract object like the number 1 or something.”

    Actually there are more than two. How about the simulation hypothesis, including nested simulations? If we are living in a universe that is a simulation, there is probably no way we would ever know. There is at least as much evidence for the simulation hypothesis as there is for the God hypothesis. Some argue that there is much more.

    There’s another problem. Lets assume the following is true: causality has a beginning (as it logically must, according to the Cosmological argument, otherwise the illogicality of an infinite regress must be the case), and that beginning must be God, as he is the only possible being capable of ex nihilo creation. Then much of Christian (but not necessarily Islamic) theology relying on our having free will collapses. It’s ironic that the very people who champion the Cosmological Argument also claim that human beings act with contracausal free will, that we are “prime movers”, the “uncaused cause of our own actions” that have “no antecedent conditions.” I’m quoting here so-called ‘sophisticated’ theologians like Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland. How can they argue contracausality as logical proof for the existence of God, and then argue that human beings must logically possess that very same characteristic, in order to further demonstrate the logic of their particular theology?

  2. Wow, that first paragraph has so many incorrect assumptions, inconclusive claims, and leaps of logic in it that I got carpel tunnel just thinking about what I’d have to write to fix all that…

    I’ll just pick on two. First one: “Another law is whatever begins to exist has a cause right?” That’s not a law. it’s not a theorem. It’s not anything actually. There is no postulate or concept that says anything that exists now had to have a cause. Light moves at a certain speed. There is no known reason why it moves at that speed, it just does. It just is. This concept is sometimes hard for cultists to understand because their religious indoctrination has caused them to believe that there has to be a reason for everything, In reality that is not the case. There isn’t always a cause for something.

    Second: “I know some people have even talked about something to do with a multiverse, but of course that doesn’t disprove god either because logically with a being capable of creating one universe, why would he not be able to create more if it wished.” It’s funny you would use the word logic within a statement that says something doesn’t disprove a god. Why? Because it is false logic to want to prove that something doesn’t exist. You can only prove that something DOES exist. In order to prove something you need data, and something that does NOT exist does not provide any data. Something nonexistent is dataless. So you can only prove that a god does exist. The problem is, of course, that there is no data that points to the existence of a divine being. None. Forget proving that a god doesn’t exist, try proving that one does….

  3. Please compare:

    A1: All cats are mortal.
    A2: Socrates was mortal.
    A3: Thus Socrates was a cat.

    B1: God is commonly believed to be a thing that never began.
    B2: The temporal universe likely came from a thing that never began.
    B3: Thus the temporal universe likely came from God.

    Bryson, do you see my point?

  4. [ No, scientific evidence has not established that the universe began to exist. ]

    While that is true, there is logical justification for a temporal universe.

    If the universe is infinite in time, then every single potential event and effect would have already taken place, because there would be no constraint of time to prevent it from happening. These events would have had (quite literally) all the time in the world to take place.

    However, there are still certain events that are liable (potential) to take place. Hence, the universe cannot have infinite amount of time.

    Also, since time is defined by distance/velocity (T=D/S), an infinite universe must have either an infinite amount of space (distance) or an infinite velocity. A little research will show you science holds the answer to answer these variables.

    1. Who’s to say every single potential event and effect hasn’t already taken place, and we’re not just cycling through again? It wouldn’t even mean we aren’t having a unique experience. The number pi uses all 10 possible digits in base ten within the first 35 digits, but it manages to be infinite without ever repeating. There’s always a new combination.

      The time taken to traverse a given distance at a given velocity is only D/V if both are constant, or average to a constant. If the universe cycles between expansion and contraction, its average velocity in either direction is zero and the time tends towards infinity if you divide by zero. If new universes are created regularly from the quantum foam, even if each one expands only so far, the combined distance travelled is infinite and the time is infinite. So there are at least two ways, both maintained as possibilities by cosmologists for a long time, in which the equation works out to infinity. Regardless, none of this matters to the argument over God unless a universe with a true beginning is determined to even require a cause, and then the nature of the cause is open for debate.

      1. [Regardless, none of this matters to the argument over God unless a universe with a true beginning is determined to even require a cause, and then the nature of the cause is open for debate.]

        I have to agree with you. What then is the reason for us to believe that the universe is self sufficient?

        1. No particular reason to believe that, but no reason to believe it isn’t self-sufficient either. The universe does appear to be self-contained, not apparently gaining or losing any net substance during its expansion. Therefore the only fact which might even be claimed to support an outside influence is that the universe exists at all, and then only if you ignore the possibilities of a past-infinite universe or a spontaneously generated universe.

          1. [Therefore the only fact which might even be claimed to support an outside influence is that the universe exists at all]

            This does seem to be the real question.

            Wouldn’t the universe exist at least in concept? After all, if nothing else, it is an idea.

            If someone claims that even the idea of the universe doesn’t exist, they contradict themselves by using the idea in their claim.

            It would seem, then, that the universe does exists, even if only in concept.

            1. Of course the universe exists as a concept. It also exists as a real thing, solipsism notwithstanding. It existed before brains existed to contain the concept of a universe, and the universe now contains those brains. That doesn’t mean that everything which exists as a concept is also a real thing; there are many concepts of God, some better defined than others, and also concepts of God as a fictional character. Some concepts just have no basis in reality.

              1. If this is true:
                [Therefore the only fact which might even be claimed to support an outside influence is that the universe exists at all]

                And if this is true:
                [Of course the universe exists as a concept. It also exists as a real thing]

                Could there then exist a possible claim to support the idea of an outside influence?

                Note: “possible”

                1. Not just a possible claim, people do claim that all the time. Yes, it’s possible that there’s an outside influence on the universe. Some astrophysicists even claim that there’s evidence of this, because while there is no extra material showing up there are some anomalous gravitational pulls in odd directions, though this does not have widespread support. Here’s an article.

                  Care to press on to the pointy end of your argument, Steve?

  5. If the universe was infinite, and time was infinite, then we couldn’t possibly be here. You can never reach the here and now. Logically impossible. There is no middle of infinity.

    “What then is the reason for us to believe that the universe is self sufficient?”

    In my mind it Is because the universe equals nothing. Everything in the universe, when added together, cancels out. The universe is literally nothing broken up into a lot of pieces…

    1. This seems like a convincing point, but its not to me. It takes the unwarranted assumption that because something equals nothing, it is therefore self-reliant. There are, however, many examples of closed systems that we can use (i.e. a vacuum with a pair of strictly two objects, each of who’s gravity cancels out their kinetic energy) that contain a net of zero. However, these systems did not bring themselves into being, nor have they always existed. The were composed of prior agents – namely, the two objects and the barrier that holds the system.

      Why is this relevant? Because it specifically gives an example of how some things, although adding up to zero, can still be reliant on prior agents.

      Hence, just because something adds up to zero does not authoritatively imply that it is a completely self-sufficient entity.

      Please note: I am not making a case for a god. I am merely pointing out that it is possible for something to exist, equal zero, and still be reliant on other things.

      1. To be technical about the two particles in your example, they don’t cancel each other out, so therefore it’s not a true zero system. You’d need a particle/anti particle pair to achieve zero. On top of that you are referring to a hypothetical system. It is, in reality, impossible to have a closed system inside this universe that would allow a vacuum with just two particles to exist as you example states.

        The only closed system that we know of that actually exists is the universe itself. It has been repeatedly shown that all it contains adds up to nothing. Based on that, I have no problem concluding that the universe is just a different state of nothing than it was before it broke into all these pieces. The universe is still nothing in total, and always has been.

        This doesn’t preclude the possibility that there can be an outside influence. I don’t know why the universe is here, so I won’t exclude the possibilities of things like gods, or quantum fluctuations, or zero point energy, etc. I can state though that the universe is nothing when added up, and there’s no reason needed for nothing to exist, is there?

        1. [I can state though that the universe is nothing when added up, and there’s no reason needed for nothing to exist, is there?]

          No, but, according to you, there are different types, or “states” of nothing. What warrant do we have for saying that nothing can, in fact, change “states”?

          1. Because we know the universe adds up to nothing. It’s like any equation, both sides have to be equal to each other. The universe and the nothing that existed before the universe are the same thing, just in two different expressions.

            1. ‘Because we know the universe adds up to nothing.’

              What are the entities of the universe that add up to nothing? Does the total space-time of the universe also add up to nothing? If yes, then how?

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