Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Existence—What a Concept!

With the imminent activation of the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland which will try to replicate conditions of the universe immediately following the Big Bang, we stand on the threshold of a breakthrough in our understanding of the universe. This new knowledge will likely lead to an enhanced perspective—possibly even a rewriting of the laws of physics as science now understands them.

Yet even if the LHC experiments reveal how the universe came into being, it can't tell us why. Perhaps this is something man will never know. Yet by rephrasing the issue, it's fascinating to speculate on the words of the Seventeenth Century philosopher and scientist Gottfried Leibniz : "Why is there something instead of nothing?" In other words, why does the universe exist?

This question is tackled by Adolf Grunbaum in his article "Why Is There a Universe at All Rather than Just Nothing (Part 1)" which appears in the June /July issue of "Free Inquiry". He states that according to Leibniz and Christian philosophy, everything exists only contingently, and the default state of the universe is non-existence. What brings the universe out of the void and into existence is an entity that is a necessary being whose reason for existence is self-contained and is eternal. Obviously, this entity is God. Furthermore, the universe could not continue to exist without God's perpetual intervention. It would lapse into nothingness.

Grunbaum turns this supposition around and challenges the logic that the de facto state of the universe is nothingness. He asks why can't existence— "something" rather than "nothing" be the default state? Further, why is God necessary and not contingent? By the way, this last question indirectly touches on the issue of first cause, for if God is a contingent entity , that renders moot that age-old riddle: If God created the universe, who created God?. And besides, the concept of a "manufactured" world is not universal. Many cultures past and present view the universe itself as eternal without having been brought about by an outside force.

I agree with Grunbaum, and as for the notion that the Universe requires constant support of a supreme being in order to stay in existence, I am reminded of the Deist philosophy of the Enlightenment. The great thinkers of that era who were not out-and-out atheists or agnostics believed in the existence of God, but only as a "watchmaker" who created the universe and then left it to run on its own. Carrying this line of line of thought further this implies that even if God exists, he has "retired" and is irrelevant in the affairs of humankind.

One one hand, cosmologists no longer accepts the "steady state" theory that the universe has existed forever. Instead, there is good evidence that the Big Bang occurred about 14,000,000,000 years ago. There is no evidence that this was the act of a supreme being. Perhaps this beginning was the result of something that occurred in a larger metaverse. Or perhaps our universe is one of an infinite number of parallel universes, each in a different dimension. Or possibly every instant in time is a point of departure that itself creates an infinite number of alternate worlds.

On the other hand, in several billion years there may be a "Big Crunch" in which creation will stop its present course of expansion and collapse back in on itself, only to start the cycle of a Big Bang, expansion, and eventual collapse again. So maybe our current universe is one in an infinite number of cycles that have happened and will continue to do so forever. To that extent maybe it is these universes as successive events that are eternal after all.

But just because we don't know all the answers to these questions and perhaps never will is no reason to continue clutching to the belief of a "big daddy in the sky" no matter how emotionally comforting such a myth might be.

1 comment:

Mike said...

Got here through the Blog Symposium.

I've often heard it said (particularly among creationist circles) that belief in a multiverse is just as much a matter of faith as belief in God, since there's no evidence for it. But I have 2 issues with this.

1) Belief in a deist god is totally different to believing in the Abrahamic god. There is a HUGE difference between believing there was a first cause (which AFAIC is a tenable position as valid as any other about the origin of the universe, we don't really know) and believing that there is an afterlife, and that this god has an impact on our daily lives, and can hear our thoughts etc etc. Philosophical arguments for a first cause are not good arguments in favour of religious faith.

2) It's clearly not the same kind of faith. We live in one universe, why couldn't another one exist too? Why couldn't many more exist? But we've no experience of anything like a deist god.