Wednesday, February 9, 2011

did the universe begin? does it have a cause?

It's an age-old argument - what caused the universe? Some say there is no explanation other than God. Others argue that it didn't begin but has always been, others that they don't know what the cause is, but one day science may discover it.

Jim, who blogs at both Quodlibeta and Agent Intellect, reckons the latest scientific understanding of these two questions is a nail in the coffin of atheism. I think he's both right and wrong.

The discovery and development of big bang cosmology has shown that our universe had a beginning, and hasn't existed eternally. I think it is true that this gives support to the theistic explanation, and puts some pressure on atheism to find an alternative explanation. Many atheists find themselves in the position of arguing that the hypothesis that God created doesn't explain anything, yet at the same time have to admit they don't have any explanation themselves.

But the multiverse hypothesis and some other more speculative aspects of modern cosmology now make it possible to believe that the cause of our universe was a previous universe, or some other physical system. Thus it is possible to believe that although our universe had a defined start, there may have been an infinite chain of universes that never had a beginning, and therefore (arguably) the universe doesn't require a cause.

Of course the idea of an infinite chain of anything seems contradictory both logically (you cannot count to infinity) and physically (in infinite time, every possible physical process would have occurred and the universe would have "run down" an infinite time ago, and we wouldn't be here) but nevertheless some people hold to this view.

You may like to read Jim's argument for yourself and see what you think, or check out how did the universe start?

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