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How scientific is the myth?

September 20th, 2005 | 4 min read

By Keith E. Buhler

Jim, if you'll join me again, I am picking up the world-origins debate. I am reading through Briane Greene's book The Fabric of the Cosmos, with great interest, I found the article you pointed me to quite encouraging.

Here are a few highlights from that article, readers, with my questions/comments attached:

"The initial matter-filled space of the universe might have bubbled at trillions of degrees, before it detonated for unknown reasons, its contents cooling into recognizable elements as they expanded into frigid space."

A) Where did the frigid space come from.
B) Why did it detonate.
C) Where did the initial matter come from.

"Singularities, zones that seem to defy current understanding of the laws of physics, are believed to reside at the cores of the gravitational sump pumps called black holes. Einstein's equations suggest that if enough matter collapses into a black hole, gravity overwhelms other forces and forms a point with no dimensions but infinite density. The physicists Stephen Hawking of Cambridge University and Roger Penrose of Oxford University are generally credited with proving that singularities are not just hypothetical, but probably exist."

"...since it appears almost inescapable that substance was made from nothingness at some point."

If this is modern science's best guess at the moment, then I will point out that my original claim, that the Genesis account is scientific, is at least plausible. That iModern research and man's best attempt at interpreting "general revelation" is entirely in line with what I would call God's direct communcation about what happened ("special revelation"). That is, it seems that the Genesis story is the most wholistic and scientific hypothesis on the table.

"Hawking's early math also suggested the galaxies should collapse back to their starting point and destroy the universe in a big crunch, the antithesis of a big bang. But the evidence does not show cosmic contraction. Astronomy finds the distant galaxies hurtling away at near-blur velocities of hundreds of miles per second, even speeding up. "The data now suggest the universe will expand forever, and perhaps even accelerate forever," says Ruth Daly, a Princeton University physicist."

"So far no theory is even close to explaining why physical laws exist, much less why they take the form they do. Standard big-bang theory, for example, essentially explains the propitious universe in this way: "Well, we got lucky."

"Today, mainstream researchers increasingly embrace the idea of a multiverse, in part because it might explain the life-favoring features of the cosmos without reference either to the supernatural or to incredible chains of luck. The problem with multiverse thinking is that so far there is no evidence other universes or dimensions exist."

Sigh, the depths to which we will let other-wise rational minds sink... Is not a loving creator at least a viable hypothesis at this point?

"Smolin supposes that deep in the past, some unknowable event triggered the first foundations of a multiverse."

"Deep in the past, some unknowable event"? OK, I think God triggered the first foundations of the whateververes, and I think God is unknowable, but at least we know God is unknowable (again, he told us). And God's unknowability is cool.

"Modern as multiple universes might sound, the idea is not new. In 1779, David Hume remarked, many prior universes "might have been botched and bungled throughout an eternity ere this system."

Also, Plato considered (and dismissed) the idea of multiple universes in 300 BC.

"But if inflation happened once, it should happen countless times,' says Michael Turner, a University of Chicago astrophysicist. It's not just that somewhere within the universe might be one extraordinary place capable of releasing a daughter cosmos. If matter and energy can emerge from scratch, why couldn't this happen over and over again?"

"Physicist Andrei Linde of Stanford University takes eternal-inflation thinking to its rational limit with his concept of a "self-reproducing" cosmos that copies itself constantly, perhaps even more than once a second. In Linde's theory, exotic initial conditions like the false vacuum are not required: Quantum forces in normal space are capable of generating the beginnings of another universe, and because normal space is everywhere, creation can happen practically anytime. "


This last bit is the most interesting and the most controversial. I will not comment, but rather submit it for your (Jim) consideration, as well as that of all Mere-O readers.

One thing we don't know is why there is a cosmos at all. As Derek Parfit, a fellow at Oxford University has written, "No question is more sublime than why there is a universe: Why is there anything, rather than nothing?" Just try to conceptualize true nothingness: that there had never been anything. Probably there always had to be something, because the absence of existence is not possible; the question is how far back one must go to locate the ultimate antecessor. That, at last, may take us to what came before the big bang. On this point J. Richard Gott and Li-Xin Li, two Princeton physicists, recently proposed another twist on genesis thinking: that big bangs come and go, but the universe itself has always existed.

Gott and Li assume that somewhere in time and space there is a unitary, eternal cluster of galaxies. Any occupants would not perceive the ticking of the clock, for they exist in a "closed timelike curve," a looped cosmos that may be conceptualized as a four-dimensional doughnut. Someone attempting time travel in this anterior universe would go past the same events over and again, in the way that an airplane taking off from Honolulu and flying east would never find the "beginning" of the Earth but would repeatedly pass over Honolulu. Occupants of this "mother universe" also would see no cosmic expansion, perceiving their firmament as a steady state in which everything has always existed, kept alive by energy endlessly drawn from the quantum netherworld. "This first universe created itself and was its own mother, making the first matter in some way we will never be able to know," Gott supposes.

From the eternal mother universe could spring universes such as ours, with expanding frontiers and a one-way arrow of time. Each "normal" cosmos would have other normal universes branching off from it, generated by black holes or inflation or whatever the bang mechanism is ultimately proved to be. If a time traveler could follow the chain of genesis backward, eventually the mother universe would be found. But from that point there would be nowhere else to go.

The Gott/Li hypothesis is straight-no-chaser physics, expressed in terms such as "Cauchy horizons" and the "renormalized energy-momentum tensor." But if this idea sounds to you a bit like the depiction of an empyreal realm, you may be forgiven. That which came before the big bang may have been divine or may have been natural. Whatever it was, it's looking more fantastic all the time.