In response to a prior post, I received a pretty thoughtful, non-hysterical comment that nonetheless invoked the infamous “something from nothing” argument that theists sometimes use to dismiss physics and introduce a Deus ex Hallucina to explain the Big Bang. I commented back, but because my comment involved a few hundred words I decided to bump it up to the main-post level. Here it is.

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As someone who works in the physical sciences, this complaint about “something from nothing” is something I encounter fairly often… and with all respect, it’s a complaint typically leveled from those who have a non-professional understanding of natural processes.

Physics does not - at any point - require the evolution of “something” from “nothing” in the sense you mean. People read about the Big Bang and assume it means that all the mass-energy in the universe appeared out of pure nullity, but that’s not correct. It’s highly likely that the Big Bang was caused by brane fluctuations in higher-dimensional spacetime… something that is completely amenable to a physical-mathematical treatment, and doesn’t require the violation of any laws. The mass-energy making up our universe probably derives from the energy released when (at least) two higher-dimensional branes interacted (crossed hyper-paths), leading to a catastrophic diversion of mass-energy at the boundary condition. Spacetime itself is not “nothing”, either… it’s a fabric of structured energy and force, real and measurable.

As far as “material” stuff goes… most people also fail to understand that mass is simply congealed energy. The two are not different from each other at a fundamental level. Everything in the universe is a function of energy doing something… everything from gravitational flexure of spacetime to pair-production. The equations governing such transitions are well established.

This all becomes hard to picture, but several popular books treat the matter very well. I’d recommend The Five Ages of the Universe, The Elegant Universe, The Whole Shebang, and Fabric of the Cosmos, as nice treatments of the subject.

The only thing modern physics fails to do at the moment of the Big Bang is reconcile quantum effects at the Planck scale with gravitation. That’s it. It’s a gap, but one likely to be filled as people keep working on things like the LHC. It’s a gap between two sets of equations, requiring only that we figure out exactly the formulation linking them. But at no point in that gap is it necessary to invoke a complex, gigantic sentient computer made of twisted space… or whatever formal description a “god” would require.

This is where I get so frustrated with people who invoke the “god of the gaps” argument vis-a-vis the Big Bang. It explains nothing to invoke a god where a current gap in rigorous understanding exists. Positing a thinking organism that supersedes spacetime as an explanation for spacetime, requires such colossally unfounded assumptions as to be absurd.

What set of processes generated this titanic thinking creature that theists posit? What is it composed of? What evidence is there of this composition or the underlying structural requirements for processing information in an ordered system at energy densities exceeding that of Grand Unification? How many new physical laws would need to be written, to allow such a profoundly complex entity to exist? When did it form? How? Where?

And why would such a theoretical, hypothetical Overmind necessarily correlate with the petty predispositions of a single late-Bronze/early-Iron Age tribe in the Middle East on our one little planet?

When someone can answer those questions, with replies that propose physical processes less complex than what rational, empirical inquiry can provide, and when some - any - evidence is provided supporting such a baroque model as theism assumes… then I will listen attentively. But a warm fuzzy feeling at church, arguments from personal incredulity, and scientific assertions from people who haven’t spent the years and hard work required to offer a coherent opinion… those don’t count as serious arguments.

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Tags: cosmology, deus ex hallucina, god of the gaps

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Comment by Father Nature on December 3, 2008 at 11:50am
Thanks for a great post. I always laugh when I hear creationists trying to use the big bang or the 2nd law of thermodynamics or DNA "codes" to confuse the ignorant.

"A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing."

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