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.

These are, of course, the tough questions.

“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. It seems modern research and man’s best attempt at interpreting the world (“substance was made from nothingness”) is entirely in line with — what I would call — God’s direct communcation about what happened (“special revelation”). Is it far off, then, to say 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 our otherwise rational minds sink…!

Given that no one was there to witness the event, any hypothesis, no matter how radical, is free game. We have a choice, currently, between multiverses, postulated without evidence, and some sort of omniscient being. I plead, for your own sake, in the name of intellectual honesty: Is not a loving creator the more viable of the two hypotheses?

“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 whatever-verse, 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?”

Holding to a “no-supernatural” premise is, at this point, becoming more and more ludicrous! I have no idea what supernatural means if “natural” means energy and matter “emerge from scratch.”

“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.

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Posted by Keith E. Buhler


  1. Hi I enjoy reading your posts but haven’t posted much.
    “Any occupants would not perceive the ticking of the clock, for they exist in a “closed timelike curve,”

    “This first universe created itself”

    “From the eternal mother universe could spring universes such as ours”

    Let’s see this makes the first universe an eternal, self existent creator. Sound like God to anyone?

    What the scientists miss is the personal part of God. I think that this might be because science, although great at describing the objects of our knowledge has no way to account for the knowing person. Thought and personality are not things material science can deal with. This realm of knowledge is left to philosophers and theologians. The Genesis myth takes objective existence, thought, and personhood into account, therefore it would seem to me that the Gensis myth is more robust then the purely ‘scientific’ version.


  2. I have little time for now, being caught up in a three-way discussion of torture. But I’ll try to squeeze in some thoughts later.


  3. I’m still working on a substantive response (you’ve raised a host of interesting issues), but I will note that C Grace has presented a knock-down argument that pantheism, not theism, is a better fit between science and theology than theism.

    (And let us not forget Multiple Designers Theory, which is even more robust than the Genesis account, because it encompasses even more potentially conflicting personalities.)


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  5. This excerpt makes it sound as if the only reason (the biggest reason?) Detroit won’t downsize is discomfort or lack of political will—that people will “freak out” and “be none too pleased.” I wonder, though, what the practical barriers are. In other words, if we had the will of politicians, home and business owners, and public service departments, could it actually be done?


    1. Well, I think the issue is that the discomfort created by the radical plan isn’t some sort of aestethic or taste thing. We’re talking about a kind of creative destruction response that might be effective, but can have big time collateral damage.

      For example, when I lived in St. Paul, MN I worked at a liquor store owned by an African-American family that had been in the neighborhood for 30+ years. From them I heard the story of Rondo, an old street in St. Paul that was the center of the Twin Cities’ African-American community in the mid 20th century. But in the 50s they bulldozed the street to build I-94 so they could have an interstate connecting the two cities. The interstate has been spectacularly successful for the cities, but when all the homes and businesses on Rondo got bulldozed, the entire community disintegrated. Many people moved away, others tried to start from scratch on Selby Ave. But the first 20 years were simply trying to get reestablished, the next 20 were marked by drug wars and it’s only in the last 10 years that Selby has started to become even a shadow of Rondo.

      Point being, sometimes the smart–or even necessary–urban planning move is incredibly destructive for a certain portion of your community. I think that’s the fear with Detroit. It’s not as simple as packing up all these people on the edges and moving them to the center. That’s the smart and perhaps necessary move from a planning stand point, but what will the costs be to the people of Detroit?

      If you asked a Twin Cities resident if I-94 was worth it, they’d say yes. If you asked a Selby resident? Different story.


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