Thursday, 7 August 2014

Where did the universe come from?

"So where did the universe come from? Did it come from nothing? Or has it existed eternally into the past?". I often hear this rhetoric given by religious apologists and laymen who sport a surface level understanding of modern science and philosophy. I wanted to clarify some salient issues:

Much ado about Nothing

When religious apologists talk about the universe "popping into existence", they seem to be basing this idea on a faulty way of looking at what the Big Bang was. To say "the universe came into being from nothingness" is to evoke the image of there first being nothingness, and then, suddenly, the universe appeared! This is a terrible terrible way of looking at the phenomenon. Apologists talk about 'nothingness' as if it were a real state of affairs. They think of the Big Bang as though reality changed from a state of nothingness to a state of existence, and the idea of that happening for no reason makes no sense to them, because such a change could not occur without a cause.

But they don't seem to understand that there is no such thing as a state of nothingness. "Nothingness" was never a state reality was ever in. The universe did not "pop into reality" because there was no reality for it to pop into. A better way of thinking about the Big Bang is as a temporal boundary, rather than as a change from nothingness to somethingness. I.e. if you were to go backwards in time, the Big Bang is simply as far as you could go. So when apologists talk about the universe "popping into existence from nothingness", they are making the mistake of thinking of nothingness as a prior event or as a prior state of affairs which cannot be changed without some cause. Bur reality did not change from a state of nothingness to a state of somethingness because there was never any state of "nothingness" to begin with.

Cause and Effect:

The Kalam Cosmological argument asserts that something which is temporally finite in the past is contingent. In other words, its existence is dependent upon something else. But the fact that a temporal boundary exists does not denote the contingency of the universe. It does not prove the universe needs a cause.