I wrote this in reply to the reader’s question below, but the Daily Telegraph has not published it. The Telegraph Editor is regrettably a god-believer.

WHAT HAPPENED BEFORE THE BIG BANG?

SIR—Glenys Roberts (Daily Telegraph, September 12, 2008) asks, “Surely the really interesting thing is what happened BEFORE the Big Bang?”

The answer derives from a merging of quantum physics and high-energy particle physics with cosmology and astrophysics. Knowledge of advanced theoretical and experimental research is required for a full understanding of the necessary principles. I summarise what follows from a book that I have been writing and is nearly complete.

In the beginning was the void. Time and space were nothingness.

Vic Stenger, physicist, explains how quantum mechanics provides a purely natural mechanism for the transition empty Universe to non-empty Universe.
Physics, in all its powers, resolves that the Universe was instantly self-created, uncaused, from an unstable void or false vacuum—a timeless quantum void—with the property that incipient, virtual particles were omnipresent. It was timeless chaotic emptiness.
For quantum uncertainty is all pervasive, throughout the world and the Universe, even unto the void. In short an unstable void or its alter ego the Universe is all there is to contemplate.

Yet in REAL TIME universes are all there can be.
They are eternally present, forever existing, because their absence would imply an unstable state of the void that cannot exist in time.

Thus, our Universe simply is . . .
. . . . because at least one universe is always necessarily present.
For if not, there would be a void instead—but a void being truly unstable, a universe would instantly replace it. Therefore, a universe–or universes—must be. THEY ALWAYS WERE; AND ALWAYS SHALL BE.

Therefore too, because time cannot exist prior to universes, universes cannot have a first cause. With no first cause, there is no primary origin, no creation. Therefore postulations of the supernatural are superfluous, dispensable and worthless. Theism results from inadequate knowledge of science, and people’s gods exist only in their heads. Atheism is the natural condition of the Universe into which we are all born, and innocently persists until indoctrination into some ‘faith’ is pressured upon, most usually, children.

“The nothingness ‘before’ the creation of the Universe is the most complete void we can imagine. No space, time or matter existed. It is a world without place, without duration or eternity . . .” Heinz Pagels, physicist.

Although, like the stars, the void may not be humanly approachable, its physics is within human reach, because it is entrenched in the theory of cosmological inflation which has abundant empirical evidence supporting it.

Charles Darwin said: ““Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science”. The Descent of Man.

Terence Meaden
Oxford University Department of Continuing Education and Kellogg College

Views: 138

Replies to This Discussion

Dear Terence,

Why should you think it incredible that the unstable void which “existed” before the Bing Bang could be perfectly described by Aristotle’s idea of an unmoved mover? What exactly is the source of your unmovable reliance that there is no cause for the universe?


I agree that the theory that the Judeo-Christian God created the universe is faulty. It is nonsensical to credit an America-European Christian with knowledge of the Hebrew God, and, secondly, that the first cause was not probably an initial cause in a temporally ordered series of successive causes.

Most theistic arguments aim to show that God is necessary to explain the origin or nature of something else, either the universe, or human beings, or moral reality. Richard Dawkins thinks that these kinds of arguments fall to the simple question of the origin of God. He comments that a “designer God cannot be used to explain organized complexity because any God capable of designing anything would have to be complex enough to demand the same kind of explanation in his own right. God presents an infinite regress from which he cannot help us to escape.” (The God Delusion, Arguments for God's Existence, page 103)

If we again are working up to God as the indispensable first or principal cause in a hierarchically arranged set of simultaneous causes, does not this infinite regression in time must stop in a cosmos which has already existed? Does not an eternal universe make an infinite regression of time from present backward actually possible?

What Aristotle and later Aquinas meant by “first cause” is not a first in a temporal series of causes and effects, but rather first or highest in a simultaneously cooperative set of causes. Aquinas does not concern himself with it, because he acknowledges that we do not need to and we cannot speak about God as he is in himself. We can never say which one is the first or principal cause and which are secondary or instrumental causes unless we are directly acquainted with all these causes in their cooperative functioning.

The existence and operation of a hidden or unobservable principal cause cannot be inferred from the operation of observable natural causes that are thoroughly efficacious in the production of their effects; observable natural causes don’t need a principal cause to make them efficacious. Hence there is no ground for inferring God’s existence and operation as the first, principal cause in a hierarchically arranged set of causes.
There could be some elegant analogy here
I have never been accused of being elegant.
Thank you for your reply and I would be very interested hearing what a theoretical cosmologist's opinion would be.
It's the only thing I can conceive of that bridges between the instability and the hot dense point - or maybe eliminates the need of that mechanism.
Saint Augustine held that God has created the world ex-nihilo (from nothing). Since the expression “from nothing” had posed considerable difficulty in the past, he explained it in such a way that an idea of cause and effect could still be maintained.

To say that God has created the world from “no-thing” meant that there was no thing in the space-time world from which the present world was made – God used no “thing.” From the point of view of modern science, the expression “from nothing” meant from no physical or comprehensible thing.

In this point, therefore, Dr. Terence Meaden and Saint Augustine do not conflict.

Probably, Dr. Terence is the last man here to accept that, but I see no reason why the New Atheism should not acknowledge that whatever it was that God had used, it was ineffable to man, and what is ineffable to man may properly be called “nothing.”
Dear Claudia
You continue to clutch at straws, as if Augustine could have had anything meaningful and useful to contribute to this modern world of high science. What you have done is to cherry-pick what you hope is a gem of logic from a morass of nonsense which of course was born of Augustine's deep ignorance.

Augustine was simply a man of his times, living in a non-scientific age where he hoped everything was explicable by the principle of GODDIDIT.

This longer example from his biblical world indicates the level to which his fount of knowledge reached. It concerns Earth, the impossibility of antipodes and the descent of mankind from Adam:

"As to the fable that there are Antipodes, that is to say, men on the opposite side of the earth where the sun rises when it sets to us, men who walk with their feet opposite ours, that is on no ground credible. Even if some unknown landmass is there, and not just ocean, there was only one pair of original ancestors, and it is inconceivable that such distant regions should have been peopled by Adam's descendants."

So where do you stand as regards atheism or the New Atheism? It seems as though you want to posit a god somewhere in your scheme of things---positioning a god into your personal gaps of understanding?

I have provided you with an explanation for the origin of the Universe which is 100% approachable by modern physics.

Either the world of the Universe is wholly interpretable by science (which is what makes me a 100% atheist) or it is not.

And if it is not, then there is something supernatural in the world too. But anybody who allows a bit of the supernatural to reside in the neuron circuits of their thought system is not only not a 100% atheist, he or she is not a complete atheist at all. QED
The advancement of knowledge occurs by the rendering of human experience intelligible. Often the most effective way to do that is through the use of metaphor. We use previously known principles or mechanisms on which the new experience can be modeled.
Dalton and Bohr's model of the atom does not show us the atom only a model that can be related to known behaviors that illustrate the nature of some of the atom's behavior.
What makes an understanding of the quantum realm difficult is that there few real world models with which to illustrate the principles and behavior of most of the quantum world, much is ineffable outside of the realm of mathematics.
.
The difficulty arises when the metaphor is confused with the reality and when the reality is stretched to fit the metaphor, which is often the case when religious or conspiracy theory arguments attempt to use scientific principles to verify supernatural phenomenon or improbable events. The same twisted thinking applies when ancient “prophecy” is liberally interpreted to fit current world events or coming events (Nostradamus, 2012, Revelation, etc.)
Dear Dr. Terence,

Reading St. Augustine with the sole purpose to find “fallacies” in his intellectual thinking is an unscientific method with no basis in reality, or the historical context of his time. First, St. Augustine used religion to change his life but not to explain everything by the principle of God-did-it. “God-did-it” is a sort of very modern principle.

To believe in a universe wholly explicable by science is an act of faith, as it is secularly defined. Faith is an acceptance of something that is of supreme importance. It is a willingness to define oneself in terms of, and to give oneself over to, a transcendent goal; indeed, you have given yourself to science. It is what we devote our lives to.

It is metaphysically not good that a new atheist lives in a fantasy world of splendid isolation, imagining its own mind (and the power of reason) to be a god. The dangers of solitariness at least equal its pathos. Is reason then to be viewed as a god in the new atheism?

In this way, members of the New Atheism truly have no knowledge; it is through your capability of reasoning that you fully know how the universe started – with a big explosion – but you put aside all the areas of knowledge that are beyond the reach of a computer-like analysis. Basically, you have picked up all the things that you don’t like of human nature – think that are repulsive to reason – and call them, “religion.” This is hardly a scientific – objective and dispassionate – starting point.

Your explanation of what happened before the Big-Bag was marvelous. It was somehow anticipated by the Greek philosophers in a mixed genre of poetic inspiration and rationalization.

Claudia
Because, Phil, I am interested, and seek for, a philosophy of History - rather than a philosophy of Being.
I try to avoid the word faith and prefer confident, confidence or conviction I also try to avoid the word belief as it is tied up with faith.
I like the lubricated Jeebus suggestion as that is generally the only reasonable response when arguing with a fundy.
"When millions of scientists perform hundreds of millions of experiments during the course of 150 years and they arrive at sets of conclusions as deduced from the results that beautifully and scientifically explain the sequence of the evolution of life, the rest of us who have not participated in these experiments nonetheless have absolute confidence . . . in the thoroughness and correctness of scientific method and the veracity of the scientists and the exactness of their data, calculations and deductions."

Yes Phil. "Confidence" is a most appropriate word to use, so I have modified my statement above.
I agree. Belief and faith are all or nothing absolutes - you either got it or you don't. Confidence can, on the other hand, can be held in degrees of certainty. The degrees of confidence avoids the necessity of stating absolutes when such absolutes may, in fact, not exist. The real world seldom presents neat absolutes - most phenomenon have untidy uncertainties lurking within them.
Not if thinking that there is no use in thinking is a useful thought...

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