Thoughts on the Universe

If there's anything that grinds my gears, it's this snarky question often posed by believers to atheists (actual phrasing may vary):
"If there's no God, Mr. Smartypants Atheist, where did the universe come from? Huh? Riddle me that! Do you think everything just came from nothing?"
 In the last post, I linked to a Q&A in which W.L. Craig said the following:
In fact, here you should turn the tables and ask [atheists] how time could come into existence with no causal conditions whatsoever. That is truly bizarre. Why did time and the universe begin to exist at all? How could they begin to exist in the absence of any causal conditions?
The typical response from non-believers is "I don't know" – which is perfectly valid. After all, if we knew why and how everything got here, physicists wouldn't have jobs.

But the better response is to point out that simply assuming that the universe 'came from' anything at all is to presuppose the conclusion of First Cause arguments. After all, that's exactly what we're talking about when we say A came from B – we're talking about cause and effect. That's where Craig stumbles in the quote above; the first cause arguments, like the Kalam Cosmological Argument, are merely designed to argue that the universe requires a First Cause – not to prove that the First Cause is God. The non-believer is not arguing that the universe was caused by 'nothing', but that there did not need to be a cause at all.

An uncaused universe?

There is nothing we can rightly call the 'beginning' of our universe at all, and that includes the 'singularity' at the epoch of the Big Bang. In The Grand Design, Stephen Hawking elaborates:
"Although one can think of the big bang picture as a valid description of early times, it is wrong to take the big bang literally, that is, to think of Einstein’s theory [general relativity] as providing a true picture of the origin of the universe. That is because general relativity predicts there to be a point in time at which the temperature, density, and curvature of the universe are all infinite, a situation mathematicians call a singularity. To a physicist this means that Einstein’s theory breaks down at that point and therefore cannot be used to predict how the universe began, only how it evolved afterward.” [p.128]
This means that the 'cosmic singularity', which theologians have been known to claim is the beginning of the universe, is really just a mathematical artifact of our incomplete understanding of the universe – one that shows we need a quantum theory of gravity.

A common objection to the idea of an uncaused universe is that the universe cannot be infinitely old. I have no idea if this is a valid criticism (I'm no mathematician), but either way it's a false dilemma. Perhaps, as Stephen Hawking and Jim Hartle contended in their No Boundary proposal, time would function like another dimension of space prior to the Big Bang, rather than being an 'arrow' as we experience it today. Perhaps the universe is cyclic. Perhaps the multiverse is the "giant levitating superturtle". In all cases, our experience of time doesn't give us a complete picture of what time really is.

All this simply means that the universe very well may exist uncaused. It didn't 'come from' anything or anywhere; it just is. There are two very good reasons to believe this is the case:
  1. The logical incoherency of First Cause arguments [more]
  2. Every modern theory of cosmology disposes of our conventional understanding of time


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