How Did the Universe ‘Begin’
Or ‘Come Into Being’?

Mark Woodward

In this thread (“How Did the Universe ‘Begin’ or ‘Come Into Being’?” parts 1 and 2 ), we try to point out that whenever a specific naturalistic view is refuted, we are not therefore forced to accept the Genesis creation myth as “the only remining option.” (November 3, 1999, revised, September 9, 2006)

Please note that we have suspended this discussion until Cliff conducts his “Interview With Particle Physicist Victor J Stenger,” who defends the traditional Inflationary Big Bang model as violating no known laws of physics. (November 3, 1999)

Please also note: This was one of my very first letter discussions. Since then, I have learned much of importance. Among that is to document one’s sources. For neglecting to do this for the Washington section, I hereby retract the entire Mark Woodward collection — not for disagreeing with it (I don’t) but simply for lack of source documentation. (Cliff Walker, September 9, 2006)

From: Mark Woodward
To: Positive Atheism
Subject: Positive Atheism Letters Section
Date: Sunday, September 26, 1999

Hi,

Could you please share with me your explanation for the beginning of The Universe? Thanks for your time and consideration.

Mark Woodward

  

Updated November 3, 1999

Could you please share with me your explanation for the beginning of The Universe? Thanks for your time and consideration.

Thanks for your question. I will do my best to address some of the issues seemingly raised by your question, even though the question itself has some serious problems with it. After that, I will try to describe the source of the problems in the way your question was framed.

I don’t have anything to say about “the beginning” of The Universe except that your use of the word “beginning” presupposes that The Universe began. Your question omits the possibility that the word beginning may not apply here. Hawking’s model suggests that it is not proper to think of The Universe as having a “beginning” because, he says, the Big Bang is “boundariless.” We can think in terms of time only since the Big Bang. Even to say that we cannot think in terms of time “before” but only since the Big Bang is to misunderstand what Hawking is saying; the very use of the word before is inappropriate for this model.

Victor J Stenger is not afraid to use the word beginning, although his books were written before Hawking’s book. Stenger says that in a vacuum, pairs of electrons and positrons can and do materialize from nothing and then disappear back into nothing. He also says that since the early state of The Universe was pure chaos and composed of equal amounts of matter and antimatter, no energy was required to initiate the Big Bang. He goes further to describe how the chaotic aspect of the Big Bang’s early state points away from the notion that it was created by an intelligent being. His book is called Not By Design and is available on Prometheus Books.

Another model which does not presuppose that The Universe had a “beginning” is the model which suggests that before the Big Bang there was a “Big Collapse.”

A third model questions whether there was such a thing as the Big Bang but I think there is much to be said for the arguments in favor of some Big Bang model. The Raëlian religion posits a steady-state universe, with life on earth having been created by extra-terrestrials. The Raëlians are atheistic creationists, and their arguments against evolution are in many ways identical to those of the old-earth creationists.

None of these models require a “beginning” (except, perhaps, Stenger’s — depending on what he means when he uses the term beginning). And of these models require a creator to explain the existence of The Universe.

  

In any event, in order to properly speak of “creation” it is necessary to come up with a creator. If you can demonstrate the existence of a creator, then the notion of creation naturally follows. Without an identifiable creator, all we have to go on are our observations of The Universe.

The most important thing to remember, since all we have to go on are our observations and our measurements, is that we have nothing with which to compare how things might have been with how they are; thus, we cannot determine whether The Universe appears contrived (created) or whether The Universe as we see it is the natural result of things acting according to their inherent properties.

This does not hold true for objects within our environment: I can tell that a watch appears contrived because I can detect such things as milling marks and other things that demonstrate that the watch was fashioned. I can also see that it in no way resembles anything known to naturally occur within our environment. Life forms are different in this respect, because our environment is teeming with life and cannot be said to be out of place here. Also, there are no “milling marks” or anything else that we can detect that show contrivance.

  

The only argument that a creationist has left, is to appeal to the sheer unlikeness both of the existence of The Universe and the existence of life. No longer can the creationist say that either event violates known laws of science; the creationist can only point to their remote unlikelihood.

As for The Universe, it exists. We cannot compare our Universe with anything else to determine how things might have been. Our Universe is what it is and all we can do is continue to study it.

As for life, if the atoms that form amino acids and RNA and DNA were such that we could not expect them to bind the way they do — but if we had found that they arrange themselves this way anyway — I would call that a strong argument that something is tinkering with the laws of nature. However, the atoms that make up these molecules fit together in the ways that can be predicted based upon the characteristics of those atoms; no “laws of nature” are being violated through the formation of these atoms.

  

In his new book How the Mind Works, Steven Pinker explains what I think is the main problem with discussing things such as the concept of the “beginning” of The Universe. Humankind has spent 99 percent of its time foraging on the African savannah, and the human mind is equipped to understand short periods of time and causality within Euclidean time and space. The leading physicists cannot fathom the Schrödinger’s Cat riddle or Hawking’s “boundariless Big Bang” — but equations and the empirical tests point in those directions (thus far), so, if the evidence warrants, we do well to accept them even if our minds have difficulty picturing them.

Pinker uses, as his example, his own inability to picture the fourth dimension. He says that if he were to place his left shoe in the fourth dimension and turn it around, that shoe would then fit his right foot. I admit that I cannot imagine that either, though it is the most graphic description of the fourth dimension I have heard; I can see what the fourth dimension involves, although I cannot imagine how it would work.

It appears that some of the things we were taught to take for granted in high school physics class in 1973 — things which have been demonstrated time and time again — are not part of the everyday thinking of the human mind. Even when Richard Dawkins, in his recent book Unweaving the Rainbow, attempted to paint a picture of just how long a billion years is, my mind was completely boggled; I can use the figure, but I cannot bring that length of time into an experiential frame of reference. Unfortunately, some of us are not content to remain agnostic on these things, so we fall back upon comfortable concepts in order to explain our world to ourselves.

  

The most important problem raised by your question, though, is that without an identifiable, demonstrable creator, we are justified either with agnosticism or outright doubt in regards to claims that The Universe was created. If there was a creator, this being has done a superb job at hiding itself from the honest investigation of many people who sincerely seek the truth in these matters, but who refuse simply to take the word of this or that ancient band of marauders.

I prefer the outlook of Joseph Lewis, who said: “Is it not better to place a question mark upon a problem while seeking an answer than to put the label ‘God’ there and consider the matter closed?” (From his 1960 lecture, “The Philosophy of Atheism.”)

Cliff Walker
“Positive Atheism” Magazine

  

  

  

How Did the Universe ‘Begin’
Or ‘Come Into Being’?

Tim Jenkins

Here is another letter with a similar wording. I referred the reader to the above discussion, and mentioned my hopes to interview physicist Victor Stenger. After this, I intend to write a much more detailed report. When I do, I will place a link to it from the top of this file.

From: Tim Jenkins
To: Positive Atheism
Subject: Positive Atheism Index
Date: Monday, 27 September 1999

Hi, I was wondering how you think The Universe came into being. Could you explain your theory/theories so that I could understand?

  

From: Positive Atheism
To: Tim Jenkins
Subject: Positive Atheism Index
Date: Saturday, 2 October 1999

I was wondering how you think The Universe came into being.

Your question presupposes that The Universe “came into being” and then asks me to explain how this happened. I am not, at this point, convinced that The Universe ever “came into being,” so cannot answer this question as asked. A better question would have been to ask me to explain the existence of the Universe.

I briefly discussed various explanations for the existence of The Universe and posted that discussion in our letters section [above]. If you have any questions, you can respond to that post and I will address your questions the best I can.

Please be aware that I intend to write a much more detailed report in November, perhaps for our December issue, but before I do that I hope to interview particle physicist Victor Stenger on November 6. The report I pointed to above does not take into consideration Stenger’s model. Once I have studied Stenger’s views and have asked him my questions, I will be more prepared to discuss the models that attempt to explain the existence of The Universe. [Note: I later updated that report slightly to mention Stenger’s views.]

Cliff Walker
“Positive Atheism” Magazine

  

Material by Cliff Walker (including unsigned editorial commentary) is copyright ©1995-2006 by Cliff Walker. Each submission is copyrighted by its writer, who retains control of the work except that by submitting it to Positive Atheism, permission has been granted to use the material or an edited version: (1) on the Positive Atheism web site; (2) in Positive Atheism Magazine; (3) in subsequent works controlled by Cliff Walker or Positive Atheism Magazine (including published or posted compilations). Excerpts not exceeding 500 words are allowed provided the proper copyright notice is affixed. Other use requires permission; Positive Atheism will work to protect the rights of all who submit their writings to us.