Beginning (bɪˈgɪnɪŋ/) (noun): The point in time or space at which something begins…
Begin (bɪˈgɪn/) (verb): To perform or undergo the first part of an action or activity…
Since the dawn of consciousness (consciousness as the majority of humanity know it as today), mankind has struggled with the concept of infinity, the everlasting. Endlessness and activities that fall outside the arrow of time or the observable universe have always served to confuse the majority of thinkers. Our own journey as most of us perceive it, starts at the beginning with birth and finishes at the end with death. We can get that. We can grasp that quite easily. A football match, a Formula 1 race, a tank of petrol, a ripening and decaying banana, anything that can be perceived and has a finite timescale or lifespan can be understood and goes without question. Anything that follows the arrow of time, anything that has fixed points of start and end does not seem to trouble the human mind. Things seem to come into existence that are observed by man, they stay around for a while and then cease to exist, fading into memory for a while, until such time as the more mundane memories eventually disappear like tears in rain. In the main, we (‘we’ used as a generalisation for the masses) are fine with that.
Our understanding of the perceived reality we all think that we live in today has increased exponentially over recent times, mainly due to the advances of technology and scientific theorems (much to the chagrin of some religious folks).
Within the last millennia, we have discovered that the world is round. We have dug down through the earth to discover our own arrow of time and developed theories of evolution and the most logical origin of our species. We have postulated that the observable universe is 13.7 billion years old via the discovery of CMB (Cosmic Microwave Background) radiation which draws an pitted line at the edge of the universe. We have now reached a time where we are looking beyond materialism (materialism being that our reality consists entirely of physical matter that is the sole cause of every possible occurrence, including human thought, feeling, and action) to determine what exactly is going on at the invisible / quantum level to see if there are answers to questions which have confused and bewildered post-modern man for many centuries.
However, for those who believe in the Creator, The Grand Designer, The One and more specifically for those religious doctrines that hold the everlasting or reincarnation dearly, the question of infinity holds no fear for them. They need not concern themselves either with science or quantum mechanics, as to some God simply exists. Just as there are so many different facets of science and philosophy, religion too has its complexities, ranging from the logical and plausible to the far-fetched and illogical (Christian followers of the literal bible – why would any grape swilling Roman Emperor surround by Baccus masks choose to kill a man who can turn water into wine)…
The Scientific View
Cosmology is the study of the origin, evolution and ultimate fate of the universe. Scientific cosmology uses the scientific method, which means forming theories or hypotheses which make specific predictions that can be tested with observations and depending on the outcome of the observations, the theories will be abandoned, revised or extended to accommodate the results.
The scientific model of the origin and evolution of our universe is the Big Bang. The Big Bang was not like a conventional explosion, in which fragments of a bomb are thrown outwards, but rather was an explosion of space within itself, all the matter and energy of the universe had been contained in a single point, and at the Big Bang all such particles of the embryonic universe began rushing away from each other. The ‘bang’ occurred approximately 13.7 billion years ago, which is thus the age of the universe.
So what of the beginning. The real beginning. Not the Big Bang, but anything and everything that pre-dates it. The scientists have a real disadvantage here. Everything relating to science is meant/said to be empirical. The OED definition of the word empirical means to rely on, derive from or be verifiable/provable by means an observation or experiment. Empiricism is also guided by practical experience and not theory. Religion of course suggests that it need not be empirical due to the very secretive and ethereal nature of the man upstairs.
For a long time it was thought that the universe although expanding, never changed its appearance or its boundaries. I remember back as a child, I was told that the universe was infinite. There was no beginning. There was no end. It was just there, forever and for always, which is difficult to take in as a kid. This concept I later found out was known as the steady state theory and has at its core what is called the Perfect Cosmological Principal, in that the universe is homogenous (of the same or similar nature) and isotropic (having a physical property which has the same value when measured in different directions) in both space and time.
Even further back was poor old Giordano Bruno, who theorised that the universe was static, both spatially and temporally infinite. Space was stationary and neither expanded nor contracted. Like the early misconceptions of man’s view of the earth, Bruno’s universe too was also flat and did not possess curvature. Sadly for him, he was tried as a heretic as his theories extended to suggest that on the basis that as the universe was infinite then it would therefore contain an infinite number of worlds populated by intelligent beings. This clearly contrasted against the beliefs of the Catholic church and in the year 1600 he was burned at the steak (thankfully in a time that predated marshmallows which would have added insult to fatal injury). If it was any consolation to Bruno, he was seen as one of the first martyrs of science and gained quite some posthumous notoriety for his efforts amongst 19th and 20th century contemporaries.
Interestingly, Bruno’s contribution to the birth of modern science is seen as key, if not controversial. Some scholars stress the importance of Bruno’s ideas about the universe being infinite and lacking geocentric structure (geocentricity being an Aristoltelian concept that it was the earth that was at the centre of the universe and that everything revolved around it), and it was his notions that divided the old theories from new ones. Others see in Bruno’s idea of multiple worlds instantiating the infinite possibilities of a pristine, indivisible One, and a forerunner of Everett’s MWI (Many Worlds Interpretation) and of quantum mechanics.
In contrast to the theories of steady state and static universes, a wild-eyed wild-haired man by the name of Albert Einstein proposed within his General Theory of Relativity that whilst concurring that the universe was indeed temporally infinite, it was in fact spatially finite. In other words, time is infinite (perhaps not in the same sense as the common man perceives what time is or the way in which Stephen Hawking would describe it) but the space in which ‘our observable universe’ exists is not infinite.
There is no doubt that Professor Stephen Hawking is a clever lad, so naturally when one thinks of events leading up to the Big Bang, many would turn to him for words of wisdom. Several years ago he gave a lecture in Japan entitled ‘The Beginning of Time’. The lecture itself contains a great many things about a great many things, but my quest for this chapter was to look for specifics on ‘pre-time’. It is commonly known that Hawking is one of the founding fathers (the other being Roger Penrose) of the singularity principle, in that just over 13.7 billion years ago the entire universe was condensed down to a single point in space and of infinite density. In a statement of resignation almost, there are 3 key points:
1. Anything that happened or existed before the Big Bang are not and cannot ever be observed, defined or measured and it is for this reason that true cosmology begins at Year Zero…
2. The Laws of Physics breakdown at the point of the singularity, hence science cannot predict or empirically prove how the universe began…
3. Until such time as science can empirically prove how the Laws of Physics works at the point of singularity, according to Hawking ‘one would have to appeal to an agency outside the universe. This may be why many religious leaders, were ready to accept the Big Bang, and the singularity theorems’…
Hawking also suggests that the universe is infinitely finite, that there was no ‘time’ before the Big Bang because ‘time’ did not exist before the formation of the space-time associated with the Big Bang and subsequent expansion of the universe in space and time.
He suggests that if we could travel backward in time toward the beginning of the universe (dust off the Delorian Doc), we would note that quite near what might have otherwise been the beginning, time gives way to space such that at first there is only space and no time. Beginnings are events that have to do with time, because time did not exist before the Big Bang, the concept of a beginning of the universe is meaningless. According to Hawking, the universe has no origin as we would understand it, and the universe was a singularity in both space and time, pre-Big Bang, thus, the universe has no beginning (nor is it a steady state universe), it simply has no initial boundaries in time nor space.
He has also developed two key concepts to give context to his theories on time. Real Time and Imaginary Time, both of which are worthy of inclusion here:
Real Time: Real time is a horizontal line. It has a past to the left. It has a future to the right. It has a point somewhere between the start and end which is the present. The universe is measured in real time.
Imaginary Time: Imaginary time is a vertical line. Imaginary time can be difficult to visualize, but it is a way of looking at time as if it were a dimension of space, one can move forward and backward along imaginary time, just like you can move right and left in space.
“In short, there wouldn’t be any boundaries to imaginary time. If one knows the state of the universe in imaginary time, one can calculate the state of the universe in real time. One would still expect some sort of Big Bang singularity in real time. So real time would still have a beginning, but one wouldn’t have to appeal to something outside the universe, to determine how the universe began. Instead, the way the universe started out at the Big Bang would be determined by the state of the universe in imaginary time. Thus, the universe would be a completely self-contained system. It would not be determined by anything outside the physical universe, that we observe”.
So it seems that ‘we’ occupy a specific point in space, operating within a self-contained universe which runs in real time, whilst Dr Who can occupy any point in space and time (both real time and imaginary time), and in any universe (should there be more than one under MWI principles). I want his job!
Hawking concludes that the universe has not existed forever. Rather that the universe, and time itself had a beginning in the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago. The beginning of real time, would have been a singularity, at which the laws of physics would have broken down. Nevertheless, the way the universe began would have been determined by the laws of physics, if the universe satisfied the no boundary condition. This says that in the imaginary time direction, space-time is finite in extent, but doesn’t have any boundary or edge. The predictions of the no boundary proposal seem to agree with observation. The no boundary hypothesis also predicts that the universe will eventually collapse again. However, the contracting phase, will not have the opposite arrow of time to the expanding phase (so we won’t be womb diving any time soon).
He also concludes that my ‘The History Of Everything’ blog should actually start at Chapter 2…
The Religious View
Creationist cosmologies are explanations of the origins and form of the universe in terms of the Genesis creation narrative, according to which God created the cosmos in eight creative acts over the six days of the ‘creation week’ (obviously in the days before outsourcing to suppliers / PRINCE2 methodology):
Day 1: Creation of light, separation of light from darkness.
Day 2: Creation of the firmament, separation of waters above the earth from waters below.
Day 3: Separation of waters below the firmament from the dry land; the earth is commanded to produce vegetation.
Day 4: Creation of ‘lights’ (Sun, Moon and stars) in the firmament.
Day 5: Creation of fish and birds to populate the sea and sky.
Day 6: Creation of animals (followed by) creation of mankind.
Young Earth Creationists interpret the six days as six 24-hour periods. Old Earth Creationists allow for millions or even billions of years within the ‘creation week’. Both regard the Genesis story as history, and that the earth and the universe are equally old and were created at the same time.
Creationism is premised on belief in the inerrancy of the bible. According to Creationists, the Book of Genesis cannot be questioned, else the entire bible is compromised. Genesis is the book that provides an account of the origins of all the basic entities of life and the universe: the origin of life, of man, of death and of the solar system. Thus the first chapter of Genesis describes God creating the world through divine command over six days.
Young Earth Cosmology Beliefs:
Young Earth Creationists hold that the world is no older than about 10,000 years. This is based on the comprehensive chronology built into the Old Testament, rather than on the six days of creation (the belief that creation took place over six days does not automatically lead to a 10,000 year old earth). They hold an outline of world history from an Old Testament perspective in which the period from Abraham to Jesus is listed as approximately 2000 years, plus the 2,000 years from Christ to the modern day is not in question, and the debate focuses on the centuries-long life spans of figures from the book of Genesis.
Prior to the mid-18th century, the age of the earth was calculated partly or wholly on the basis of the bible and religious theory. Using these methods, the conclusion was that the earth was created in 4004 BC, exactly four thousand years before the birth of Christ, giving the universe an age of some six thousand years.
Young Earth Creationists dismiss the Big Bang as a work of fiction, and that the theory is nothing more than an attempt by men to try and explain how they think we might have been created without a Creator.
One of the largest problems facing Young Earth Creationists is the starlight problem, which runs as follows:
1. There are galaxies billions of light-years from earth, meaning it would take light from their stars billions of years to reach us.
2. We can see these galaxies, so their starlight has already arrived;
3. Therefore the universe must be billions of years old.
As an old earth (and universe) is not acceptable (it conflicts with the Bible-based age of the earth), so alternative explanations are offered up to include that God created starlight when he created the universe six thousand years ago and the age of distant starlight is skewed because the Bible refers to God stretching the universe. Those who do not accept the biblical explanation of God stretching the universe consider the age of distant starlight as deceptive and the explanation is not entirely satisfactory, as the first implies a God who deceives.
A second notion, is that the speed of light was faster in the past than it is now (the theory is called C-decay, from the cosmological symbol C representing the speed of light).
A third idea, sets this aside and proposes that the Earth is located near the centre of a finite and bounded (spherical) universe. Time dilation would allow events at the edge to appear to have happened billions of years in the past as seen from earth.
Young Earth Creationists typically reject standard accounts of stellar evolution, and observational evidence of recent star formation. In particular, creationists dispute the widely accepted nebular hypothesis for star formation.
Old Earth Cosmology Beliefs:
A 6,000 year old universe contradicts the evidence from a range of sciences that the earth is four and a half billion years old. Old Earth Creationists accept that the earth is old, while (mostly) still holding the events of Genesis to be the historical truth. In the late 19th century, Old Earth Cosmologies dominated, and few Christian apologists did not accommodate scientific geology and paleontology (the study of fossils) by interpreting vast ages for earth history within the biblical ‘days’ or else separating Genesis into two creations, one ‘in the beginning’ billions of years ago and a second Eden-type creation in six days much later on.
Creationist cosmology holds that the ‘First Cause’ of the universe does lie outside time and space, and indeed ‘creation science’ is described as the principle that the universe, energy and life were the result of sudden creation from nothing. The idea that God created the world ‘out of nothing’ has been a fundamental tenet of Christian theology since the 2nd century, but scholars agree that the idea is not actually in Genesis, nor in the entire Hebrew Bible, and is found no earlier than later Judaism.
Creationist cosmologists credit the biblical authors with cosmological knowledge well in advance of their contemporaries in the ancient world. They believe that the universe is curved rather than flat, bounded rather than unbounded, and finite rather than infinite. Most strikingly, there seems to be a common hypothesis that the universe has a centre and the earth is at or near it (Galacto-centrism). A creationist cosmology requires a finite universe that is most likely spherically symmetric about our galaxy. For the authors of the bible, and for centuries afterwards, the earth was believed to be the centre of the universe. Only in the last few hundred years has this been challenged, first by proof that the Earth is not the centre of the solar system, followed, early in the 20th century, by the discovery that the Solar System is far from the centre of the Milky Way.
Some Creationists describe God as the uncreated creator of the universe. The existence of the universe thereby serves as proof of the existence of God, given that whatever begins to exist has a cause of its existence, concluding that the universe itself has a cause of its existence, and this cause would have to be uncaused, eternal, changeless, timeless, and immaterial. More to the point, it would have to be a personal agent who freely elects to create an effect in time. The conclusion is that it is rational to believe that God exists. The demonstrated existence of God in turn leads into God’s purpose in creating the cosmos, which is mankind. The observations that place the earth near the centre of the universe are consistent with God’s focus on mankind.
One of the most common creationist criticisms of the Big Bang concerns the horizon problem and supposed problems with the inflationary theory of the early universe. Creationists have claimed that dark matter and dark energy are doubtful concepts invented by Big Bang theorists in order to uphold their theory.
The Cosmological Argument
The cosmological argument is an argument for the existence of a First Cause (or Uncaused cause) to the universe, and is often used as an argument for the existence of a Grand Designer, usually identified as God. It is traditionally known as an argument from universal causation, an argument from first cause, the causal argument or the argument from existence.
The basic premise of all of these is that something caused or continuously causes the universe to exist, and this First Cause is what is called God. It has been used by various theologians and philosophers over the centuries. It is also applied by the Spiritist doctrine as the main argument for the existence of God.
A version of the cosmological argument could be stated as follows:
1. Every finite and contingent being has a cause.
2. Therefore, a First Cause (or something that is not an effect) must exist.
According to the argument, the existence of the Universe requires an explanation, and the creation of the Universe by a First Cause, generally assumed to be God, is that explanation.
In light of the Big Bang theory, a stylized version of argument has emerged:
1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2. The Universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the Universe had a cause.
Some cosmologists and physicists argue that a challenge to the cosmological argument is the nature of time itself, in that it is the Big Bang that is the point at which all dimensions came into existence, the start of both space and time. Then, the question “What was there before the universe?” makes no sense as Hawking would vehemently agree. The concept of “before” becomes meaningless when considering a situation without time.
The Islamic philosopher Avicenna inquired into the question of being, in which he distinguished between essence (In philosophy, essence is the attribute or set of attributes that make an entity or substance what it fundamentally is, and which it has by necessity, and without which it loses its identity) and existence (In common usage, it is the world one is aware or conscious of through one’s senses, and that persists independently in one’s absence). He argued that the fact of existence could not be inferred from or accounted for by the essence of existing things, and that form and matter by themselves could not originate and interact with the movement of the universe or the progressive actualisation of existing things. Thus, he reasoned that existence must be due to an agent cause that necessitates, imparts, gives, or adds existence to an essence. To do so, the cause must coexist with its effect and be an existing thing.
Thomas Aquinas, a theologian in Medieval Europe, adapted the argument he found in his reading of Aristotle to form one of the most influential versions of the cosmological argument. His conception of First Cause was the idea that the universe must have been caused by something that was itself uncaused, which he asserted was God. This cosmological argument is one of which many Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and other theists all around the world believe gives proof that their version of God does exist as he is the only logical cause of all effects in the universe.
Aquinas claimed that there must be something to explain why the universe exists. Since the universe could, under different circumstances, conceivably not exist (contingency), its existence must have a cause, not merely another contingent thing, but something that exists by necessity (something that must exist in order for anything else to exist). In other words, even if the universe has always existed, it still owes its existence to an Uncaused Cause, which is understood to be God. The argument from contingency allows for the possibility of a universe that has no beginning in time. It is a form of argument from universal causation. Aquinas observed that, in nature, there were things with contingent existences. Since it is possible for such things not to exist, there must be some time at which these things did not in fact exist. Thus, according to Aquinas, there must have been a time when nothing existed. If this is so, there would exist nothing that could bring anything into existence. Contingent beings, therefore, are insufficient to account for the existence of contingent beings, there must exist a necessary being whose non-existence is an impossibility, and from which the existence of all contingent beings is derived.
What caused the First Cause?
One objection to the argument is that it leaves open the question of why the First Cause is unique in that it does not require any causes. Some argue that the First Cause is exempt from having a cause, while opponents argue that this is special pleading or otherwise untrue. The problem with arguing for the First Cause’s exemption is that it raises the question of why the First Cause is indeed exempt. Even though causality applies to the known world, it may not necessarily apply to the universe at large. In other words, it is unwise to draw conclusions from an extrapolation of causality beyond experience.
Identity of a First Cause
Even if one accepts the cosmological argument as a proof of a First Cause, an objection against the theist implication of the proposition is that it does not necessarily identify that First Cause with God. Just because the First Cause does not itself have a cause, it does not necessarily mean that it must be a god.
Another objection is that the argument concludes that a god exists, but if so, this god must have a cause (according to the same argument). This leads to an infinite regress of causes (and gods) unacceptable to the theist, so most believers make an exception for their god, asserting that it doesn’t need a cause, but there is no obvious reason why this exception cannot be applied to the universe, too. If a god just is, why can’t the universe just be.
Furthermore, even if one chooses to accept God as the First Cause, there is an argument that God’s continued interaction with the universe is not required. This is the foundation for beliefs such as deism that accept that a god created the universe, but then ceased to have any further interaction with it, and even pandeism, which proposes that the creator of the universe actually became the universe, and so ceased to exist as a separate and conscious entity.
The cosmological argument is simply that a First Cause (the Big Bang singularity, God, or an unarticulated First Cause) must exist.
So here we are at the end of the beginning as it where. If I am to draw a logical conclusion, I would conclude that what existed before the Big Bang is greyer that a troupe of elephants in 1996 England away kits, watched through a monochrome TV.
It is clear from the musings of Hawking et al that science today can offer no evidence or substance to what occurred before Year Zero nor do they appear over concerned, and will not be able to until such time as the god particle is confirmed and the laws of physics at the singularity/quantum level are understood. That said, it logically follows that universal time, real time as we know it, started at the Big Bang and not 4004 BC, and certainly not in 6 action packed days.
However, in contrast to the Hawking belief that real time only starts at the Big Bang, I disagree, if there is a before state (albeit before the arrow of time in ‘our universe’), then real-time also existed and possibly always has just under different conditions and perhaps different measures, remember the abstract concept of time is a human creation.
It is also clear that one cannot discount the notion of a Grand Designer. If science cannot offer an explanation and Hawking himself would state that one would have to appeal to an agency outside the universe to understand how this whole thing started, then it would be folly to think otherwise.
Whilst I don’t buy in to the premise that the existence of the universe thereby serves as proof of the existence of God, what has to be asked is what is the actual purpose of the universe and why do we exist. It is almost impossible to think that I have a connection to an event that occurred 13.7 billion years ago, that I actually exist in the first place given the probability that everything has to align perfectly and with ridiculous odds to make this all possible, but in a universe of a hundred billion galaxies, each with a hundred billion stars, there is every possibility that eventually the conditions will be right. Even more so if one believes that there is more than one universe, multiverses, infinite universes even, then this was bound to have happened. Surely…
Zipbung’s Sliding Scale of Probability:
a. God exists (Rating 4. Impartiality)
b. The universe was created by a Grand Designer (Rating 4. Impartiality)
c. The universe and everything in it was created in 6 days (6. Strong Doubt)
d. The universe started as a single point in space and is 14 billion years old (2. Strong Belief)