Sunday, November 22, 2009

Where did the universe come from?

Where did the universe come from? Why is there anything at all? Why is there something rather than nothing?

Well, you won’t find out from me… fact, if you know, please tell me . It is a well know argument from philosophy 101 that postulating that “God” made the U out of stuff from a higher supernatural dimension doesn’t really quite cut it as a satisfactory explanation, because one must then ask the same question about where did God come from…that is, who made God? The old joke Bertrand Russell told was that someone said that the earth rested on an elephant, and when asked what help up that elephant answered that it was another elephant. On being asked what held that one, the person sidestepped with, “suppose we change the subject”. The more recent “It’s turtles all the way down” is an amusing variation on this.

For example, this website seems to confirm what I recall about Stephen Hawking giving this fictional account in A Brief History Of Time:
“A well-known scientist once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the centre of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady atthe came up and said: ‘What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.’ The scientist replied, ‘What is the tortoise standing on?’ ‘You're very clever, young man, very clever,’ said the old lady. ‘But it's turtles all the way down.’”

Here is a kind of crazy metaphysical idea that does in a sense say “it’s turtles all the way down”: Suppose that God A made the universe we inhabit. Now, let’s suppose that God A was made by, or is in some was subservient or dependent upon God B. And so on, an infinite succession of higher Gods, God C, D, E, F….on to an infinite number of Gods. Now let us imagine something analogous to “renormalization” in quantum field theory, where the infinities are not considered an absurd result, but rather lumped into a single infinite God that subsumes in some sense the infinite sequence of Gods.

Consider a sort of analogous argument from elementary particle physics. For example, some scientists have speculated that the level of elementarity never really stops. That is, perhaps there is no smallest building block: atoms are made of electrons and nucleons, nucleons are made of quarks, quarks are made of some even smaller more elementary particle, and so on…it keeps going, never getting to the bottom. Why couldn’t this be true on the other end of the scale, and in a supernatural sense, as described above, where there is an infinite succession of “Gods”, all of which can be in a sense lumped, or renormalized, into a single infinite God?

Of course, can we imagine such a “being” as the kind of personal being that, for example, the Abrahamic religions believe in? I do not know. Nor do I necessarily believe that such a succession of Gods or even a single God in any sense exists. I simply put this forward as what seems to me to be an interesting idea, and one that I do not recall seeing mentioned as a possibility in any other speculative theological writing.


Tom Bailey said...

This is a great blog. I am a huge Stephen Hawkings fan. I worked with a company that helped develop some of his communication products that he has to use to communicate.

It is one of the great questions man asks himself.

I love questions and deep thinking like this.

I stumbled across your blog and I am glad I did.

Best regards,
Tom Bailey

Clayton Hull-Crew said...

An interesting theory, but I keep coming back to the same questions. At a point, there (in theory) has to be a first cause. The theoretical Ultimate Reality on which everything else depends.

What I think you're describing is the eternal regress of causes. Logic dictates that to every effect, there is a cause. One theistic premise states that there has to be a first and independent cause. There can't be an eternal regress.

Your line of reasoning is akin to the atheist reply, pretty much asking "why not?" Why can't there be an eternal regress? The key difference is the divine context.

In my head, I can only see arguments of infinite causes one of two ways. Either the causes really are infinite, which requires a certain logical leap, or there's a cycle at play. That cycle too begs the question of what set it in motion, which requires another addressing of the first cause.

The problem I always run into with the divine is this. There always seems to be a point at which human logic is no longer sufficient. Where we either have to scratch a theory and start over, or allow that there are some forces that lie outside of our rules of logic and causality.

In how we see time, "always" is a fallacy, so we can't (in theory) say something has always been. That means at some point, something came from nothing.

Where can we possibly go from there?

Anyway, good blog. Cindy referred me here, and I'm glad I checked it out.

Clayton Hull-Crew

Tom said...

Thanks Clayton, for the interesting comments.

But the gist of my blog entry here was that maybe there can, in fact, be an infinite regress of causes, and the "sum of the divergent series" could be "God" (arguing by analogy to how in quantum field theory infinities are in a sense "swept under the rug").

I am not sure there is always a first cause to the universe. We tend to think that, perhaps, based on our experience with variuos things in our universe. But, does that hold true for the universe itself? I do not think we really know if it does. But let me add that I resonate with what I think you are saying, in that I would like to think like there has to be a cause of why things exist (see my next blog entry of 12/09/2009).