Friday, February 8, 2008

On Universal Origins

Where did it all come from? Where did we come from? It all had to come from somewhere, and so did we, isn’t that right?
These are questions that Christian apologists rather pugnaciously ask nontheists whenever the issue of creation versus evolution comes up.
There are two references alluded to when such questions are asked; the argument from design (for the origins of life) and the argument of first cause (for the origins of the universe). The two arguments are very closely associated with each other and I’ll speak to both of them together.
The argument of first cause is summed up in saying “everything has to have a starting point, an initial beginning”. The universe may have been around for a long time but no matter how far back in time you go, there has to be a starting point. This is an assumption, one that quite obviously leads to the idea of an eternal creator which in turn leads to the argument from design which is summed up by saying “ anything as complex as life, or even individual organs within a lifeform, is inherently so complex that without some higher intelligence controlling the assemblence of the complex entity, the lifeforms or organs could never have come into being. Chance is not a possibility”. There is an inherent problem with this line of reasoning. If we can agree that the universe is complex (as is life), then we have what’s referred to as an argument of infinite regress. If a system (universe, life, computer virus) is complex and has a designer, then it follows that the designer has to be at least equally as complex if not dramatically more so. This leads to the conclusion that complex design requires designer complexity. If the designer is indeed himself complex, then of course something even more complex than the designer must have designed him, due to the original designer’s inherent complexity requiring complex design. Said again, something even more complex had to have designed the designer. If one argues that the complex designer has simply been eternally in existence, then of course we could simply use the same logic and apply it equally to nature, due to nature’s inherent complexity. Since Christians make the argument that the universe and all of life was created at a finite point in time by god, we have a paradox, which is not a good position to argue one’s case. Who created the creator, who created his creator, who created the creator of the creator, etc. If no one created the creator, then complexity itself does not require design, since god would have to be more complex than his creation. If the complexity of god required no designer, then how does the complexity of nature require one?
A second problem with this line of reasoning is illustrated with the statement that the idea of a beginning for the universe does not necessarily require a creator. It may very well have had one, but to say it required one is simply not true. In fact, it's exactly not true that the universe had to have a beginning. It is perfectly plausible that what we now see as the beginning point of the universe (the big bang moment) may actually have been only a starting over point for the colossal oscillation of the entire universe; kind of like a big balloon being constantly blown up and deflated over and over again. Why could this oscillation not possibly be eternal? Why would it absolutely require a starting point? The fact that we can’t imagine something which pertains to the cosmos, such as eternity being completely non-supernatural, does not mean that it is categorically impossible. Read The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene for an explanation of this potential manifestation of superstring theory. Plausibility is a concept we as humans sometimes are simply incapable of completely comprehending, especially when it comes to the idea of eternity. The more we learn of our natural surroundings, the more plausible concepts will become.
Another seemingly implausible explanation for what we see as a universal beginning can be explained as the other “side” of a black hole (black holes being points in space of infinite density and mass, or singularities). If a black hole’s gravitational pull is so immense as to pull in light photons (which it is) along with everything else, and if the gravitational effect is increased infinitely, as you approach the center of a black hole (which it is), then the possibility for the black hole to invert itself, expanding instantaneously and enormously into another universe on the"other side" is there, although it might be somewhere outside of our ability to currently study. There is a possibility that our universe is not the only universe that exists. Indeed, there may very well be an infinite number of universes comprising a multiverse, each being the expanded other side of black holes in our universe. To categorically apply the notion of a required creator for the beginning of the universe, which is so rudimentarily understood, is the equivalent of packing up the clubs and saying “ I just don’t have my game today fellas” after the ball falls off the first tee without you ever having taken a swing at it.
There should be no confusion of biological evolution with the expansion of the universe, which are two completely different things. For example, biological evolution most likely requires replication, the passing on from generation to generation of observable traits through the inheritance of genes encoded in DNA. This a process that does not, as we understand it, happen as a fundamental force for the expansion of the universe at large. Galaxies don’t spawn daughter galaxies which inherit traits of their parent galaxies. Evolution through natural selection does not apply to the universe.
The questions posed at the beginning are the exact questions that science, specifically the fields of astrophysics and quantum physics, is trying to answer. Religions do not approach answering these sorts of questions. Indeed religion could never answer these sorts of questions. Religion demands us to ignore such pursuits of the knowledge of the fundamentals of existence. The discipline of Philosophy is as close as religion will ever come to these questions. Thought will lead us to the answers we seek, thought and experimentation, nothing else.

No comments: