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: 181

Replies to This Discussion

science, in the broader sense

You just gave a good definition of philosophy. Science is a rather new word in our vocabulary. We used to call it natural philosophy.


tools and their value in coming up with rational answers

This is one of the most central topics in philosophy. Maybe even the most central topic.
I think it's highly relevant these days. But why reinvent the wheel?
I know hardly anything about this topic so excuse me if my question is naive but to me it seems really bizarre that something (i.e. the universe) popped out of nothing, so why didn't/isnt/wont something keep popping out of nothing? What I mean is why isn't the whole universe just one infinite extremely dense blob?
Phil, you want to clarify the relationship between science and philosophy. You want definitions. And yet – without them – you already know that Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus and Sartre are philosophers and not scientists? How come?
Plato and Aristotle all belong to a time when there was no borderline between what we today call science and philosophy. Their thoughts have dominated religion, philosophy and science in Europe ever since, for more than 2000 years. And they still do. There is quite a few examples in this thread.
You discovered that Plato and Aristotle “were used to justify Christianity”. Sure enough. Christianity was founded on their thoughts – especially Plato's.

The idea that time has a beginning comes from Plato. It is the opening paragraph in the gospel of John, and the catholic church consider it to be a fundamental dogma. They are rather pleased with “scientists” like Stephen Hawking, as he names this idea “science”.
In this thread we learn that In the beginning was the void. Time and space were nothingness. What is this? If not Plato again?

Science – as in observations and experiments – knows of no beginnings. Everything comes from something. Nothing comes from nothing.
Even the questionable Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics -advocated here - does not violate this. Or, at least it didn't until we are told that
The nothingness ‘before’ the creation of the Universe is the most complete void we can imagine. No space, time or matter existed.
Science? No. Philosophy? Maybe...

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.

There is no abundant empirical evidence supporting a theory of cosmological inflation. The empirical data underlying the Big bang theory is Hubble's observation of redshifted light from galaxies. This was interpreted solely as a doppler shift, and thus the galaxies were moving away from us. At the time it was already known that our closest star, the sun, displayed a redshift that could not be due to motion. This was ignored. Our modern platonists had all they needed to go. Fronted by a catholic priest, Lemaitre, they quickly developed a “scientific” creation myth.
At this point it might be worth remembering that Hubble was the first astronomer able to demonstrate that there actually was more than one galaxy in the universe. Today we have observed nearly 200 billions of them. There has been a tremendous growth in our observatorial ability. Did this lead to an abundance of new evidence supporting an expanding universe? No.
It has given us an abundance of empirical evidence contradicting the Big Bang. Accompanied by an abundance of strange ad hoc theories – desperately seeking to save the Platonian ideas.
The introduction of “dark matter” and “dark energy” has given us a universe where more than 90% of it has never been observed. And we are not talking way out there, we're talking about our immediate surroundings!
Plato again? He told us we were too imperfect to observe the real world. It could only be found in some kind of divine mathematics. Our modern platonists, with their increasingly complex computer models, seems to be nearly there!

Here is one recent paper summarizing some real observations related to the Big Bang. Ashwini Kumar Lal's conclusion is
There is a growing body of evidence which demonstrates the Universe could not have begun with a Big Bang 13.75 billion years ago. Indeed, the day may come when it is determined there never was a "Big Bang" and cosmologists of the future will only gaze back in wonder at how anyone could have believed in a creation event which was refuted by so much contradictory evidence.

Replacing God with nothing does not make the creation of the universe less supernatural. Labelling the ideas of Plato “science” doesn't help either...
You are completely missing the point here! Let me try again...

There are no scientic support for the idea that time has a beginning.
This idea comes from Plato, a philosopher that detested observations.
His ideas has entrenched western thinking right up to this day.

I never said that Plato was right! I thought that should be clear enough from what I wrote...
You are the one defending this idea as “science”. I call it nonsense.

It is rather funny to see how eagerly you attack anyone who questions Stenger's theories here. Not by rational arguments, rather by your “faith in science”. Oh sorry, “confidence”, was that it?

Your answer to Maggie is rather typical:
My response to the Origins mystery is this. We want to find answers but we have to be disciplined enough not to start plugging nonsense into the void. Anything beyond hard-nosed scientific speculation (physics and math) with regard to the Big Bang or other Big Questions is pretty much woo. Sometimes we just have to say we don't know.

Her questions were simple: Can something pop out of nothing? And if so, why don't it keep popping out of nothing?
What is it in your answer that adresses these questions?

Likewise, in your answer to me. You keep going on about the greek philosophers.
They didn't have a broad and deep understanding of the universe or human nature in scientific terms.
They didn't rely primarily on science, particularly our modern understanding of biology and psychology.
Their speculations can be replaced by science-based conjecture.
They were not limited by empiricism.

This somehow give the impression that modern science is well known to you. And that you have some of the understanding they lacked. I therefore expected that you at least would come up with some arguments in favour of the expanding universe and the beginnings. But what happens?
You simply chicken out by declaring I'm going to skip the rest of the rambling and cut to the chase.

Not very impressive...
The ancients had neither the tools nor an existing body of knowledge upon which to make meaningful observations on the origins of the universe; that said, they formed the foundations from which modern science has evolved. Much of their thinking was laughably wrong, in fact, Aristotle's ideas probably stifled the advance of science, based largely on the belief of his infallibility . Despite that, they fostered the idea of critical examination and thinking outside of dogma and preconception - a foundational aspect of science
Phil, the main contrast consists in the fact that the Bing Bang does not illuminate the human condition as The Republic of Plato did.

Plato proposes that human life is an imprisonment in a cave: Prisoners are chained in the cave, facing a wall; their bonds are fixed in such a way that the wall is all they can see. Behind them a great fire roars, but between them and the fire is a walkway, on which people parade a series of objects, such as carved images of animals or humans, whose shadows fall on the wall under the prisoners’ gaze.

The bearers pronounce the names of the objects as they pass and the echoes of the names bounce off the wall. All the prisoners can experience, therefore, are shadows and echoes. That is what they understand to be reality. If any of them are released, the brightness of the sun’s real light is blinding, and makes their sight of any of the real objects less convincing than the shadows which they have come to know so well, and the echoing names which they have heard.

The particular phenomena we perceive in our lives are shadows of their ideal “Forms,” which represent truer and higher versions of reality than the ones which we can readily know. We should not be content with these shadows. And individual human soul should do its best to find its way back to the Forms which lie behind the world of our clouded senses, because there we may find arête – excellence or virtue.

The path is through the intellect. Plato writes: “Excellence (arête) of soul” is our chief purpose of direction, because beyond even the Forms is the Supreme Soul, who is God and who is ultimate arête."
So I have to explain why the universe - time, space, energy and matter - popped out of nothing? Hawking can be consulted on this but what's the point? I have confidence in science and this is presently the best model.

The point is that if you say that Hawking's model is "presently the best model" you should be able to sustain that postulate. You are not.

Where does Hawking say that the universe popped out of nothing?
I think you'll find that Hawking tries to avoid that fallacy by saying that the universe started as a singularity, which he defines as a point of infinite density and spacetime curvature.
You could safely argue that such an entity has never been observed in the real world, but Hawking still doesn't say it started from nothing.

Your confidence in science turns out to be confidence in some scientists and you dont even know what they are talking about.
The first law of thermodynamics isn't violated if the energy of the universe is exactly zero, and it's starting to look that way, in terms of physics.

True, a temperature of exactly zero would not violate the first law of thermodynamics. In fact it wouldn't violate anything at all, because nothing ever could happen.
Besides, the temperature of the entire universe is measured to be 2.7 K according to Big Bang theory.

At this point in time, science generally agrees that our universe began with a singularity about 13.7 billion years ago.

Why then do you find it so hard to come up with a single conclusive evidence showing that the universe is expanding?
And now it is a singularity?
Why then do you support Stenger's cosmology. It says in the start of this thread:
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.

Void, vacuum, emptiness...
Doesn't sound much like a point of infinite density to me...
Klypp knows better than to trust in the work of thousands of scientists, working for over eighty years on the failed foundation of one man's theory, that seemed like it could have made sense, and had one empirical bit of evidence based on ten years of research to support it. Especially since it's been so long, how could they possibly turn back and question things at this point?

Because that's what scientists do, they hear a theory that seems to make sense with one major piece of evidence to support it and then adopt it as fact because they don't generally demand rigorous testing of a hypothesis, they'd rather be told what's what. For over eighty years now they've trusted this on authority alone.

Even the brilliant Albert Einstein, who doubted the work of the man who postulated the Big Bang itself, upon learning of Hubble's shoddy red shift evidence, suddenly abandoned his skepticism and ceased efforts upon his life's work, the universal constant. All the scientists needed to do was realize what Klypp has, that the idea of something coming from nothing makes no rational sense to a mammalian biped that evolved with the sensory organs necessary for life in a terrestrial arboreal environment eating fruits and small animals while judging the distance between tree branches.

No, it makes no sense at all, and these thousands of scientists accept this counter intuitive nonsense based on authority alone, their faith in the magic of Hubble and Lemaître. Let alone this unquestionable faith is not shared at all with scientists before and after Lemaître and Hubble for any period near that of 80 years, unless you wish to look at the centuries of accepted doctrine which persisted before this recent scientific age of prosperity we've been conned into existing within. It's not even a conspiracy, it's just that the last 80 years of scientists, with all their talk of empirical evidence, have been incompetent and without the curiosity sufficient to dare question what others accepted before them. Not like Klypp, he dares to see what others would not.

Trusting in a body of knowledge said to be gathered and tested by those dedicated solely to finding said knowledge through rigorous skepticism and experimentation is no different than having the confidence of the religious zealot in his fear of the shuddering mountain in it's great wrath at having been angered over an early harvest. No different than cherishing the beauty of a god's satisfaction with the spilled blood and suffering on his own avatar in the name of absolving the sins of your ancestors.

You're all failures, and need to wise up. Klypp is trying to show you this, and you're just writing him off as a self deluded denialist with a personality disorder.

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