I wrote this in reply to the reader’s question below, but the Daily Telegraph has not published it. The Telegraph Editor is regrettably a god-believer.


SIR—Glenys Roberts (Daily Telegraph, September 12, 2008) asks, “Surely the really interesting thing is what happened BEFORE the Big Bang?”

The answer derives from a merging of quantum physics and high-energy particle physics with cosmology and astrophysics. Knowledge of advanced theoretical and experimental research is required for a full understanding of the necessary principles. I summarise what follows from a book that I have been writing and is nearly complete.

In the beginning was the void. Time and space were nothingness.

Vic Stenger, physicist, explains how quantum mechanics provides a purely natural mechanism for the transition empty Universe to non-empty Universe.
Physics, in all its powers, resolves that the Universe was instantly self-created, uncaused, from an unstable void or false vacuum—a timeless quantum void—with the property that incipient, virtual particles were omnipresent. It was timeless chaotic emptiness.
For quantum uncertainty is all pervasive, throughout the world and the Universe, even unto the void. In short an unstable void or its alter ego the Universe is all there is to contemplate.

Yet in REAL TIME universes are all there can be.
They are eternally present, forever existing, because their absence would imply an unstable state of the void that cannot exist in time.

Thus, our Universe simply is . . .
. . . . because at least one universe is always necessarily present.
For if not, there would be a void instead—but a void being truly unstable, a universe would instantly replace it. Therefore, a universe–or universes—must be. THEY ALWAYS WERE; AND ALWAYS SHALL BE.

Therefore too, because time cannot exist prior to universes, universes cannot have a first cause. With no first cause, there is no primary origin, no creation. Therefore postulations of the supernatural are superfluous, dispensable and worthless. Theism results from inadequate knowledge of science, and people’s gods exist only in their heads. Atheism is the natural condition of the Universe into which we are all born, and innocently persists until indoctrination into some ‘faith’ is pressured upon, most usually, children.

“The nothingness ‘before’ the creation of the Universe is the most complete void we can imagine. No space, time or matter existed. It is a world without place, without duration or eternity . . .” Heinz Pagels, physicist.

Although, like the stars, the void may not be humanly approachable, its physics is within human reach, because it is entrenched in the theory of cosmological inflation which has abundant empirical evidence supporting it.

Charles Darwin said: ““Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science”. The Descent of Man.

Terence Meaden
Oxford University Department of Continuing Education and Kellogg College

Views: 589

Replies to This Discussion

Dear Claudia
You continue to clutch at straws, as if Augustine could have had anything meaningful and useful to contribute to this modern world of high science. What you have done is to cherry-pick what you hope is a gem of logic from a morass of nonsense which of course was born of Augustine's deep ignorance.

Augustine was simply a man of his times, living in a non-scientific age where he hoped everything was explicable by the principle of GODDIDIT.

This longer example from his biblical world indicates the level to which his fount of knowledge reached. It concerns Earth, the impossibility of antipodes and the descent of mankind from Adam:

"As to the fable that there are Antipodes, that is to say, men on the opposite side of the earth where the sun rises when it sets to us, men who walk with their feet opposite ours, that is on no ground credible. Even if some unknown landmass is there, and not just ocean, there was only one pair of original ancestors, and it is inconceivable that such distant regions should have been peopled by Adam's descendants."

So where do you stand as regards atheism or the New Atheism? It seems as though you want to posit a god somewhere in your scheme of things---positioning a god into your personal gaps of understanding?

I have provided you with an explanation for the origin of the Universe which is 100% approachable by modern physics.

Either the world of the Universe is wholly interpretable by science (which is what makes me a 100% atheist) or it is not.

And if it is not, then there is something supernatural in the world too. But anybody who allows a bit of the supernatural to reside in the neuron circuits of their thought system is not only not a 100% atheist, he or she is not a complete atheist at all. QED
The advancement of knowledge occurs by the rendering of human experience intelligible. Often the most effective way to do that is through the use of metaphor. We use previously known principles or mechanisms on which the new experience can be modeled.
Dalton and Bohr's model of the atom does not show us the atom only a model that can be related to known behaviors that illustrate the nature of some of the atom's behavior.
What makes an understanding of the quantum realm difficult is that there few real world models with which to illustrate the principles and behavior of most of the quantum world, much is ineffable outside of the realm of mathematics.
The difficulty arises when the metaphor is confused with the reality and when the reality is stretched to fit the metaphor, which is often the case when religious or conspiracy theory arguments attempt to use scientific principles to verify supernatural phenomenon or improbable events. The same twisted thinking applies when ancient “prophecy” is liberally interpreted to fit current world events or coming events (Nostradamus, 2012, Revelation, etc.)
Dear Dr. Terence,

Reading St. Augustine with the sole purpose to find “fallacies” in his intellectual thinking is an unscientific method with no basis in reality, or the historical context of his time. First, St. Augustine used religion to change his life but not to explain everything by the principle of God-did-it. “God-did-it” is a sort of very modern principle.

To believe in a universe wholly explicable by science is an act of faith, as it is secularly defined. Faith is an acceptance of something that is of supreme importance. It is a willingness to define oneself in terms of, and to give oneself over to, a transcendent goal; indeed, you have given yourself to science. It is what we devote our lives to.

It is metaphysically not good that a new atheist lives in a fantasy world of splendid isolation, imagining its own mind (and the power of reason) to be a god. The dangers of solitariness at least equal its pathos. Is reason then to be viewed as a god in the new atheism?

In this way, members of the New Atheism truly have no knowledge; it is through your capability of reasoning that you fully know how the universe started – with a big explosion – but you put aside all the areas of knowledge that are beyond the reach of a computer-like analysis. Basically, you have picked up all the things that you don’t like of human nature – think that are repulsive to reason – and call them, “religion.” This is hardly a scientific – objective and dispassionate – starting point.

Your explanation of what happened before the Big-Bag was marvelous. It was somehow anticipated by the Greek philosophers in a mixed genre of poetic inspiration and rationalization.

Because, Phil, I am interested, and seek for, a philosophy of History - rather than a philosophy of Being.
I try to avoid the word faith and prefer confident, confidence or conviction I also try to avoid the word belief as it is tied up with faith.
I like the lubricated Jeebus suggestion as that is generally the only reasonable response when arguing with a fundy.
"When millions of scientists perform hundreds of millions of experiments during the course of 150 years and they arrive at sets of conclusions as deduced from the results that beautifully and scientifically explain the sequence of the evolution of life, the rest of us who have not participated in these experiments nonetheless have absolute confidence . . . in the thoroughness and correctness of scientific method and the veracity of the scientists and the exactness of their data, calculations and deductions."

Yes Phil. "Confidence" is a most appropriate word to use, so I have modified my statement above.
I agree. Belief and faith are all or nothing absolutes - you either got it or you don't. Confidence can, on the other hand, can be held in degrees of certainty. The degrees of confidence avoids the necessity of stating absolutes when such absolutes may, in fact, not exist. The real world seldom presents neat absolutes - most phenomenon have untidy uncertainties lurking within them.
Not if thinking that there is no use in thinking is a useful thought...
science, in the broader sense

You just gave a good definition of philosophy. Science is a rather new word in our vocabulary. We used to call it natural philosophy.

tools and their value in coming up with rational answers

This is one of the most central topics in philosophy. Maybe even the most central topic.
I think it's highly relevant these days. But why reinvent the wheel?
I know hardly anything about this topic so excuse me if my question is naive but to me it seems really bizarre that something (i.e. the universe) popped out of nothing, so why didn't/isnt/wont something keep popping out of nothing? What I mean is why isn't the whole universe just one infinite extremely dense blob?
Phil, you want to clarify the relationship between science and philosophy. You want definitions. And yet – without them – you already know that Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus and Sartre are philosophers and not scientists? How come?
Plato and Aristotle all belong to a time when there was no borderline between what we today call science and philosophy. Their thoughts have dominated religion, philosophy and science in Europe ever since, for more than 2000 years. And they still do. There is quite a few examples in this thread.
You discovered that Plato and Aristotle “were used to justify Christianity”. Sure enough. Christianity was founded on their thoughts – especially Plato's.

The idea that time has a beginning comes from Plato. It is the opening paragraph in the gospel of John, and the catholic church consider it to be a fundamental dogma. They are rather pleased with “scientists” like Stephen Hawking, as he names this idea “science”.
In this thread we learn that In the beginning was the void. Time and space were nothingness. What is this? If not Plato again?

Science – as in observations and experiments – knows of no beginnings. Everything comes from something. Nothing comes from nothing.
Even the questionable Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics -advocated here - does not violate this. Or, at least it didn't until we are told that
The nothingness ‘before’ the creation of the Universe is the most complete void we can imagine. No space, time or matter existed.
Science? No. Philosophy? Maybe...

Although, like the stars, the void may not be humanly approachable, its physics is within human reach, because it is entrenched in the theory of cosmological inflation which has abundant empirical evidence supporting it.

There is no abundant empirical evidence supporting a theory of cosmological inflation. The empirical data underlying the Big bang theory is Hubble's observation of redshifted light from galaxies. This was interpreted solely as a doppler shift, and thus the galaxies were moving away from us. At the time it was already known that our closest star, the sun, displayed a redshift that could not be due to motion. This was ignored. Our modern platonists had all they needed to go. Fronted by a catholic priest, Lemaitre, they quickly developed a “scientific” creation myth.
At this point it might be worth remembering that Hubble was the first astronomer able to demonstrate that there actually was more than one galaxy in the universe. Today we have observed nearly 200 billions of them. There has been a tremendous growth in our observatorial ability. Did this lead to an abundance of new evidence supporting an expanding universe? No.
It has given us an abundance of empirical evidence contradicting the Big Bang. Accompanied by an abundance of strange ad hoc theories – desperately seeking to save the Platonian ideas.
The introduction of “dark matter” and “dark energy” has given us a universe where more than 90% of it has never been observed. And we are not talking way out there, we're talking about our immediate surroundings!
Plato again? He told us we were too imperfect to observe the real world. It could only be found in some kind of divine mathematics. Our modern platonists, with their increasingly complex computer models, seems to be nearly there!

Here is one recent paper summarizing some real observations related to the Big Bang. Ashwini Kumar Lal's conclusion is
There is a growing body of evidence which demonstrates the Universe could not have begun with a Big Bang 13.75 billion years ago. Indeed, the day may come when it is determined there never was a "Big Bang" and cosmologists of the future will only gaze back in wonder at how anyone could have believed in a creation event which was refuted by so much contradictory evidence.

Replacing God with nothing does not make the creation of the universe less supernatural. Labelling the ideas of Plato “science” doesn't help either...




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