A commenter by the name of Don felt left this comment on an old post I wrote ‘This Is How The Universe Happened, It Wasn’t Magic‘, attempting to refute the scientific logic with the below logic. I replied to him, and wanted to turn it into a full-blown post for two reasons. First to communicate the latest research in science, and secondly, because I spent a lot of time writing it, and this is now my fiftieth post, yahoo! (is that three?) Continuing on, this misunderstanding is the clearest instigator of deistic and theistic belief (which is not in itself bad, but believing in something because you don’t understand something else is probably never a good reason). His comment has been corrected for spelling errors (which were quite rampant), otherwise it was left as is.
Last week, among a gathering of friends, we ended up debating for many hours, the subject of creation, religion, and god. It was a lively discussion to say the least, and one I was ill-equipped for, after drinking 10 glasses of wine, and on many occasions, found it difficult to articulate my proper thoughts, much as I imagine, did many of my friends. One rather large mistake we made, was not stipulating a suitable foundation to base our friendly discussion upon, which led to us going around in circles for far too long, as well as relying, far too much on our inter-cranial intuitions, thinking that because we can think certain things, that they must then be granted validity of truth, even in the face of objectivity and even when experimentation says that is not the case. But I want to express what foundation is required for this kind of discussion in order for it to be relevant, to others, as well as any future discussions I get into on the subject, and, somewhat selfishly, articulate my proper thoughts from last night.
What is nothing, and where did the something that we are and see all around us, come from? These are questions asked since our humble beginnings. Through the magic of modern-science, answers are finally being wrested out of the ether of space and time, and into something approximating language. Let us begin firstly, with a scientific controversy in 2012 relating to this very notion: the reception to the book, A Universe from Nothing, by the astrophysicist Lawrence Krauss.
There was a firestorm in some parts of the philosophic—and most certainly all parts of the theological—community due to Lawrence’s book, where he explained the latest theories in Physics. The crux of the storm rested upon the assertion that Lawrence made in regard to the nothing that a Universe can be born from, the Quantum Field (derived from Quantum Field Theory), which is as close to nothing as we have we ever arrived—and maybe ever will. Soon after its publication, the philosopher of science and theoretical physicist David Albert, wrote a scathing review of the book on the New York Times alleging that Lawrence was misleading everyone because his book never addressed the basic question of how a Universe was born of nothing, because the Quantum Field is something, even if it isn’t comprised of matter or energy, and that the book does not mention where those fields came from.
But what if the nothing that we demand explanation of, to explain our origins, never actually existed? That is, a region devoid of fields, physical laws, matter, anti-matter, the Higgs boson, and everything else (presumably including God since by this definition, He is something). What if semantics is the only thing being argued?
Maybe ‘nothing’ doesn’t, and never did, exist, and there has always been something, one-way or the other.
The history of modern-science has come with it, at every step, the uncomfortable notion that we have been wrong about almost everything we’ve had an opinion on, especially those things that are orders of magnitudes bigger or smaller than us, and even many times, that which is on our scale. What makes the notion of ‘nothing’ any different? Below are some ancient and modern common-sense world views that met the cruel fate of greater understanding:
- We are intelligently designed
- The world is flat
- Stars are holes in heaven’s floor
- Earth is the center of the Universe and Solar System
- The aether permeates space
- Time is an absolute function of the universe
- The very small (atoms) obey the same laws as the very large (galaxies)
- Matter is solid
- Space is a vacuum
Our notion of nothing, to me at least, seems no different. It has been recently shown in this strange Universe we live in, by such astrophysicists’ as Lawrence et al, in doing a rather ambitious experiment found that the total amount of energy in the Universe is zero. That is, the amount of positive energy (matter) is exactly cancelled out by the amount of negative energy (gravity), and they both add up to zero. This question, seemingly, is no longer philosophical at its premise, and as Lawrence himself says, “Nothing is inherently unstable.”
One of the first Greek philosophers, Parmenides wrote, “It is,” a statement in regard to the cosmos, or to anything you can think of. And to pre-existence, or nothing as, “It is not.” However, the latter statement is self-contradictory. To say “It is not,” is to say, “It is,” for you’ve contradicted that it is not, because you can think it in your mind (and we can’t actually think of nothing), and if nothing exists, it’s not nothing, but something. Or put more simply, “nothing comes from nothing.” From this, he takes the conclusion, one that I ascribe too, that there has always been something, in one form or the other. Today our best (though incomplete) theories suggest the Quantum Field is at the bottom of it all. Maybe that’s right, and I’m inclined to agree (not that my preference counts), or maybe it will be something else deeper down, but it seems absurd to suggest, or demand, that for a theory to be ontologically relevant, it must explain why there is not nothing. We have only one Universe, which came from a singularity (neither of which is nothing), which gives us a sample of one something, and zero nothings. No matter which way, or how deep, or far any theory goes, it will always be possible to probe one level deeper and say why this and not that? But just asking that question does not give it validity. This is not too say that it should not be disputed, or challenged, for this is where science thrives, but we must understand that our language muddles the issue here: the very word ‘nothing’ has no intrinsic meaning, nor is there anywhere in the Universe where there is truly nothing. Maybe by that admission alone, we’ll never know, but there’s even less fun in that.
“Modern science has been a voyage into the unknown, with a lesson in humility waiting at every stop. Our common sense intuitions can be mistaken, our preferences don’t count, we do not live in a privileged reference frame.” ~ Carl Sagan
I consistently come across debates, books, and articles by Dr. William Lane Craig, where he make vain attempts at using science to prove God. I have no doubt that he is a very highly educated man, which can be deduced solely from his use of language, but he has the unfortunate bias of already being convinced of the existence of God before the science even comes along and so extrapolate out his bias for God and as such, does little more than shift around and use big words in eloquent sentences that sound logical, but which are anything but when critically explored. In every debate that I have watched of Craig, his logic and reasoning are almost fool-proof if no prior understanding of science is known, which luckily I have. Slightly off-topic but related. It seems to me, his language is far more linguistically robust (and dare I say, poetic) than that of the majority of the scientists that he debates against and I do believe that this use of language circumvents (at least partly) much of the intellect of the audience at times. When was the last time you heard of a scientist whip an audience into a fervor? I need not askwhen the last time you asked a preacher do the same thing, we’ve all seen on it, either on tv or in person.
Consider this example; really the only example that needs refuting and to which I will devote my time too, by Mr. Craig. His first, and singular point in regards to the existence of God in all of his debates is the scientific principle of causality; that this Universe has been caused i.e. it had a beginning at some distant point in the past, and that since causality cannot in essence cause an effect before it begins to exist, therefore there must be an external cause, by a transcendent being he calls God. However, in invoking that God created the Universe vis-a-vie cause and effect, he refuses to go one step further and ask ‘What caused God?’, and makes the assumption that God is timeless by way of a few logical and philosophical calculations. In doing this, he thinks that this notion explains the existence of God, and that it is more sound than not having a god.
My first thought when presented with this reasoning was, what is the difference between the Universe creating itself, as opposed to being created by an external personal entity? Well, for me, the answer is word magic. Especially when it is within the scientific laws of physics that a Universe can actually be spontaneously created from nothing according to Stephen Hawking’s latest book, The Grand Design.
This theistic notion of beginning in itself doesn’t make much sense from a scientific perspective (no matter how much Craig wants it too). As anyone who studied high school physics will recall, time is relative, and not an absolute function of the Universe. That is, to different observers in different places around the Universe, time is a different and personal thing, much as our own thoughts are. There is also nothing in the laws of physics that expressly say time moves forward, it is free to move backwards as well and I’m sure there are Universes in which time does indeed move backwards. Therefore, the concept of time and events having a definite beginning and a definite end cannot be assumed to be valid, and Dr. Craig’s first assumption is that the Universe has a finite past. Although the Universe seems to have a beginning from our perspective, that does not mean that was the beginning, nor that there was nothing before it.
According to Stephen Hawking, the 4th dimension of time’s inception was as a spatial dimension, this occurred when the Big Bang was small enough to be governed by both the Theory of Relativity and Quantum Theory, which eventually morphed into what we know as time. So, this being the case, prior to the morphing of the 4th spatial dimension into a temporal dimension, how could one define a beginning? For all we know (and perhaps more likely), it could exist like that for infinity, putting into question the notion of a finite past. Time is in essence, the material rate of change. Without a temporal dimension, can something be said to begin, that is to change from nothing to something, and then change continuously?
Pursuant to this, many scientists today are moving on from the notion of the big bang being the beginning, and there is tantalizing physical, as well as lots of theoretical evidence to suggest that we live in a multiverse, and our Big Bang and Universe are just small events and places in this Multiverse. According to the theory, there may be upwards 10^500 Universe’s, and ours is but one among them. This is a number beyond any notion of imagination. As Stephen Hawking put it in The Grand Design, if you could count one integer per millisecond since the Big Bang, which is a thousand times a second for 13.72 billion years. By now, you would have only reached 10^20.
Since time is merely a dimension, and perhaps, not an intrinsic property of Multi-verse, than the issue of where did everything come from, or rather, what cause everything to spring forth, becomes in a sense, irrelevant. If time doesn’t exist outside of our Universe, than what can be said of existence? It has been found that the total energy of the Universe, when added all together, is exactly zero. No word magic or tricks, literally ZERO. Does Cause and Effect still hold sway in causing into existence that which cancels itself out mathematically. What is true is that there is a lot more to be learnt, and we are still a ways off from fully understanding the Universe, how it came to be, and the greater multi-verse. I have made a few assumptions in my reasoning, but those assumptions (I like to think) are logical and will be what comes to pass. If that is not the case, then I am content with changing my argument based upon the new evidence at hand if it ever shows up. Something those that argue for the existence of God never do.
Naturally, once this new theory, M-theory becomes verified, validated and accepted, Craig will simply re-arrange and re-purpose his argument and move his transcendent cause back a few steps to suit his already defined and unchangeable notion of God, and twist the science in trying to solidify his conclusion, and persuade others who aren’t very well-versed in scientific matters on the nature of existence.
According to this logic, merely extended a few extra steps (though he attempts to explain it away), God, the cause of our Universe, must Himself have a cause, and though he wishes it away with philosophical statements of grandeur, timelessness, and personality, doesn’t make it so. So with this in mind, perhaps, God, like a majority of people on this insignificant speck of dust flying through space, believes in a God to explain His own creation, and the conundrum ever spirals upwards, each God believing in an ever greater God.
How different is this analogy to that little old lady who stood up in Bertrand Russell’s lecture, after he had just finished explaining how the Earth revolves around the Sun, which in turn revolves around the centre of our Milky Way galaxy, and said that everything he just said was nonsense, that the Earth is flat and actually supported on the back of a turtle. To which he replied, “What is the turtle standing on?” too which she countered that it rests upon the back of another turtle which rests upon another turtle, and so on into infinity. I guess God is a turtle… She was just making stuff up that best agreed with her philosophical intuitions, much as Dr. Crag does at the intersection of theology, philosophy, and science where things get very, very murky.
Many people think the Universe was created by God. Of those, a few believe the Earth is just a few thousand years old and created it in 6 days. I get into this debate a bit, and routinely the defense of the other party is that they can’t imagine it happening any other way. Somehow ignorance became knowledge of God. Anyway, even though I know most of those people won’t read this, I’m going to explain how it happened anyway. An exercise in futility if you will…
But before I begin, a short rant. Just because you don’t know where something came from doesn’t mean it was invented. There are those who hold onto a belief in God because they see a Universe that seems designed. A world so perfect (even though it isn’t, our technology just makes it seem so) for us to live on that it couldn’t have just happened by itself, of course they neglect to remember (or just don’t know) it is amiable to us because we evolved to adapt to it, not the other way around, and 99.99% of all species of animals that have ever roamed the earth, went extinct over the eons, so God created an imperfect world for them for…what? Why did he create them in the first place? There’s also the small notion that the rest of the Universe, so far remains inhospitable to human life. Hmm. On the scale of the cosmos, we don’t register at all, not even a blip. Of course, if you still want to believe God did it, then all by means, knock yourself out. No one is going to force you to believe anything you don’t want too. Just remember, you are entitled to your own opinion, but not to your own facts, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan so succinctly put it.
With that out-of-the-way, let’s get started!
13.72 billion years ago, a singularity exploded creating space and time. In the first few seconds, inflation occurred (exponential increase in size beyond what is occurring today), and during this inflation, little quantum jitters were magnified, creating tiny imperfections in the fabric of spacetime. Before the Big Bang, neither space nor time existed so the question of what came before the big bang isn’t a question. During the big bang, three gaseous elements were created in descending quantities; hydrogen (77%), helium (23%), and trace amounts of lithium. As the Universe expanded, it cooled down, naturally dissipating its heat. This all happened in just the first few minutes.
Then, matter started attracting other matter gravitationally, due to those tiny imperfections (otherwise everything would’ve been pulling equally on everything else and would remain formless). After lots of time, there were clumps of matter around the place swirling around and forming into spheres generating heat (friction). The bigger a clump of gas got, the more pull it exerted on other gas floating around, and other gas clumps nearby. As these clumps got bigger, the swirling gas within them start moving faster around each other and generating ever more heat. The bigger the clumps became, the faster the gas moved, and the more gas that was attracted, and the more heat was generated. Eventually, this heat reached a critical temperature and nuclear fusion began. At this juncture, the clump of gas turns into a star. Nuclear fusion is the process of smashing two elements together so violently, thereby forming a new element in the process, with 1% of the energy released as electromagnetic radiation; a small sliver of which we perceive as heat, and see as light.
Here, Hydrogen fused into helium, which is eventually fused into Carbon, in turn fused into Oxygen, and so on until Iron and other heavy metals are made. Once heavy metals like Iron are made, the star has reached the end of its life (as it can’t use iron as fuel), and the gravitational inward pull of the star’s mass begins to outweigh the outward push of its weakening nuclear reaction, and it rapidly collapses on itself, breaking the balance that kept the star in equilibrium. If the star is big enough, then the rapidly collapsing frictional-kaleidoscope heats the star’s interior so quickly, so energetically, that it explodes outwards, seeding the Universe with its matter, in what is known as a supernova. It is in supernova that elements heavier than Iron are made. This process repeats ad infinitum until the 92 natural elements are created and flying across the Universe every which way creating other stars, planets, and seeding galaxies. Everything that you are made of came from an exploding star. Side note: If the star is even bigger (about four solar masses), then the gravity is so strong, that it creates a black hole, where the current laws of physics break down.
Then, about nine-billion-years after the Big Bang, in a quiet corner of an ordinary galaxy, untold amounts of dust, ice, rock and even gas begin co-mingling in the aforementioned gravitational process, around a newly forming yellow star, which we would eventually call the Sun, and begin their tumultuous journey to becoming our Solar System. Asteroids and meteors zip around the place seeding these new planets with new elements, and eventually with the building blocks of life, amino acids. In at least our case, one of the commonly accepted theories is that a meteor with amino acids (the building block of proteins: we are made of protein) landed here on Earth. In the ensuing, millions of years. These amino acids mixed with lightning and volcanic activity, becoming organic matter, and then somehow, in a process known as abiogenesis, transformed into single-celled life, of which we believe the first life was an archaea and bacteria. Evolution begins at this point, and within two-billion years, the first multi-celled life appeared as a result, of what we believe was an archaea organism swallowing a bacteria, thereby absorbing its energy allowing it to grow. From here random mutations routinely appear in each successive generation, and those that are conducive to the organisms survival live to pass on their genes. This is known as natural selection via random mutation. It took several hundreds of millions of years from the creation of the Earth to single-celled life, then another couple of billion years to multi-celled life, and then five-hundred million years to hominids, then five-million-years to us, Homo sapiens.
That’s how it all started. Not that hard is it? Of course, I’ve left out a few things such as Dark Energy & Dark Matter, some finer points of planetary formation, and the genetic evidence that links us to that first single-celled archaea, but the core of it is the gist of it. Those extra details I just mentioned fill in the blanks in-between some of the events just told, but the story told without them is easier to digest. It’s easier to first build a foundation, then start building your home, or in this case, your knowledge.