August 31 2011

3 Options for the Origin of the Universe


When you see a photo like this, with a car stuck in a tree, you ask the obvious question, “How the hell did that get there?” It demands some form of an explanation. I think the universe is like that.
The very fact that we and everything else is here rather than not, demands some form of explanation. I’m not talking purpose (although that may be related). I’m talking origins. When you look at the world, when you stare up at the stars, when you look at your own hand, you can not ignore the obvious question, “How the hell did all this get here?”

Now I am absolutely no expert in science or quantum mechanics, but it seems to me that there can only really be three options for the origins of the universe. Each option is in it’s own way whacky and unbelievable. Each one involves an idea that is bigger and weirder than anything we can see or experience or test scientifically, but all scientists still fall into one of three camps in how the explain the ultimate question of origins.

These are the 3 options:

Option 1. Magic Gun Theory – The material reality had a beginning that was from nothing and caused by nothing.
Option 2. String Theory – The material reality is eternal and had no beginning.
Option 3. Creator Theory – The material reality had a beginning that was caused by an eternal, non-material reality (God).

Now, I’ll explain what I mean by these three option in a moment, but as I see it, every theory imaginable must fall into one of these three. Consequently, every person must chose to side with one of these three options if they are to answer the “How did it get here?” question. You could, of course, go with Option 4. which is “I have no idea” (this by the way is my answer to the car in the tree) but if it really is the case that there are only 3 mutually exclusive options for the origin of the universe, then you still would have to conclude that one of these three options must be the answer, even if you feel there is no definitive way of discovering which one is true.

The terrifying thing about the idea that we can never know the answer is that the implications that stem from each option are vastly different. If there is a non-material (or spiritual) reality and if that is in the form of a personal deity then a mountain of questions arise and the relevance of theology and philosophy about the nature of God and spiritual reality becomes incredibly important. If on the other hand, there is no spiritual reality and that the material reality is all the is, then that has great implications for the irrelevance for all religion and raises many questions about the origins of morality and the claims of those who have experience of the spiritual. This is of course only skimming the surface of the implications that arise on both sides, but hopefully the point is clear that trying to work out which of the three options is true is a vitally important and practically relevant pursuit.

Let me now try to simply describe each of the three options:


Option 1. Magic Gun Theory

This is the theory that claims that the material reality (including all matter and energy that exists) came into existence as some point in history, exploding on to the scene with the Big Bang. This is supported by what we observe about the universe – that it is expanding – giving the impression that it had an origin at some point. The reason why I call this the “Magic Gun Theory” is because it states that this event somehow created matter and energy out of nothing and nothing at all (non-material or otherwise) caused the bang to happen in the first place. It all just magically happened and appeared for no reason. This theory seems like an easy way of combining what we observe about the universe with an atheistic view of the world. The problem with this view is that it is completely unscientific. No modern scientist would claim that matter and energy can all of a sudden just appear from absolutely nothing, with nothing causing that to happen. It is simply a theory that defies all we know about science, for the sake of marrying evidence (that there seems to be a beginning) with prejudice (that they want to believe in nothing spiritual).


Option 2. String Theory

The material reality is eternal and had no beginning.


Option 3. Creator Theory – The material reality had a beginning that was caused by an eternal, non-material reality (God).

Now in the end, although this theory seems quite ridiculous, I guess I have to admit that each theory has it’s element of wackiness. In this case, you either believe in a magic universe that can defy scientific logic or you believe in a magic deity that defies scientific logic. I personally think that

The Origin and Fate of the Universe – Steven Hawkins

According to this theory [strong anthropic principle], there are either many different universes or many different regions of a single universe, each with its own initial configuration and, perhaps, with its own set of laws of science. In most of these universes the conditions would not be right for the development of complicated organisms; only in the few universes that are like ours would intelligent beings develop and ask the question: “Why is the universe the way we see it?” The answer is then simple: If it had been different, we would not be here!

There are something like ten million million million million million million million million million million million million million million (1 with eighty zeroes after it) particles in the region of the universe that we can observe. Where did they all come from? The answer is that, in quantum theory, particles can be created out of energy in the form of particle/antiparticle parts. But that just raises the question of where the energy came from. The answer is that the total energy of the universe is exactly zero. The matter in the universe is made out of positive energy. However, the matter is all attracting itself by gravity. Two pieces of matter that are close to each other have less energy than the same two pieces a long way apart, because you have to expend energy to separate them against the gravitational force that is pulling them together. Thus in a sense, the gravitational field has negative energy. In the case of a universe that is approximately uniform in space, one can show that this negative gravitational energy exactly cancels the positive energy represented by the matter. So the total energy of the universe is zero.

Now twice zero is also zero. Thus the universe can double the amount of positive matter energy and also double the negative gravitational energy without violation of the conservation of energy. It is said that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. But the universe is the ultimate free lunch.

One could say: “The boundary condition of the universe is that it has no boundary.” The universe would be completely self-contained and not affected by anything outside itself. It would neither be created nor destroyed. It would just BE.

The idea that space and time may form a closed surface without boundary also has profound implications for the role of God in the affairs of the universe. With the success of scientific theories in describing events, most people have come to believe that God allows the universe to evolve according to a set of laws and does not intervene in the universe to break these laws. However, the laws do not tell us what the universe should have looked like when it started – it would still be up to God to wind up the clockwood and choose how to start it off. So long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator. But if the universe is really completely self-contained, having no boundaries or edge, it would have neither beginning nor end: it would simply be. What place, then, for a creator?


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