[if you don’t like philosophy, skip this article…]
Have you ever had that feeling that its all been done before? Me too. And yes, this age old question is still unresolved, philosophers can not answer this question, nor can the scientists, nor can the religious. So, why something rather than nothing? I have some thoughts, all of which have been borrowed from more intelligent folks than I.
Science is great at answering the “how” questions, but not so good at answering the “why” questions. Both questions are intriguing. Why has the universe gone through all the trouble of existing in the first place? If you’ve read anything on this site, you can eventually figure out that I’m a Christian. As such, I understand that the Bible explains God’s love for us, and how our the most important command is that we love God and each other. Ok, got that.
But, religion lacks answers to many adventurous questions. I think that’s the way it should be, so as to not spoil the fun of discovery. We only take so many trips around the sun, and it’s meant to be an adventure. This discovery process is exactly how Dr. Francis Collins spent 30 years of his life as an atheist, only to discover God after he decoded human DNA. Somehow, the beauty and complexity prompted Collins to believe in God. I get that, but not a good argument. Complex scientific discoveries do not point to a creator, though it may make such a belief both reasonable and plausible. For me, seeing a beautiful bikini on the beach convinces me that there is a God (can’t be an accident, right?), is my inspired vision any better an argument than Collins’ decoding of the human genome?
Anyway, if we want to answer the question of why there is something rather than nothing, it would be helpful to know what “nothing” is. I became interested in the subject of “nothing” after 21+ years of defending criminal cases. Sometimes, we attorneys must play with the definitions of words. And, I’ve noticed several scientists committing the same slight of hand maneuvers that I get paid to perform. The difference is, as attorneys, we have judges and legislatures and statutes and prosecutors to keep our definitions in check. That’s not the case for scientists, you need only present a few complex models (mix in some big words and heavy equations), and not many folks will recognize the slight of hand. Well, I’ve noticed, and I’ll explain more later.
Back to the big question. The intellectually lazy position is to simply dismiss the question. The question can be brushed off as being irrelevant. Or, that the universe needs no explanation. Who knows, these answers may turn out to be correct, but I’m looking for something a bit more intellectually satisfying (whatever that means–kind of like the supreme court’s definition of pornography, ‘we know it when we see it’).
Another incomplete answer would be that the universe is here by chance. Chance is the scientific equivalent to a “God of the Gaps” analysis, in which religious folks claim that any gaps in scientific knowledge must be the hand of God. Scientist’s gap theory claims that anything they cannot explain must have happened by chance. Of course, both camps may be right on this to some extent. If there is a God, maybe He did in fact cause certain things we can’t explain. Or, regardless of whether or not God exists, there may still be plenty of room for chance in the universe (maybe God does play dice?).
You cannot get something from nothing. An entire universe cannot pop out of nothingness. But, to those scientists who claim such, I wonder why it is that an entire universe pops out of nothingness? Why not a burrito, a Corvette, or a Darth Vader Bobble Head? There seems to be no physical reason for an entire universe to pop into existence, any more than having lesser “things” pop into existence.
The reason I’m addressing nothingness is because I’m accustomed to “defining words”. if you can get away with defining the word, you can arrive at any destination you choose. George Orwell had all sorts of doublespeak in “1984”, and scientists are now behaving in much the same way. The main perpetrators of modern slight of hand tricks are quantum physicists. In order to get around a universe that had a “beginning” and “came from nothing”, they have fabricated new (and ever changing) definitions of the word “nothing”. The nothingness can contain some sort of quantum force, or a scientific model that can explain the situation. To be fair, the same claims can be made of religious folk, in that they create a God to be the “something” that first created everything. Religion’s answer to this question is even worse, quite frankly, though either side may ultimately be correct. Believe me, I’m not suggesting that a universe from nothing is some sort of proof of God, this doesn’t have to go there, because there could be plenty of answers to this question.
The definition of words is often as important to attorneys as it is to scientists. I’m not afraid to admit that I’ve embellished the definition of a word or two or three to suit my client’s best interest. Physicists cannot be said to have this same level of transparency when it comes to defining the “nothingness” at the beginning of the universe.
An odd byproduct of no “thing” before the Big Bang would be that there would be no “time” before the Big Bang. Time as we know it only shows up as ‘spacetime’, and our sort of “time” is only present when there is some “thing” present (energy, quantum stuff, fields, whatever). Yes, entire books have been written on this, sorry for drastically oversimplifying things.
Maybe there wasn’t time before time? How does the absence of time effect concepts of causation? This happens. This causes that to happen. That causes something else to happen. This progression forms an arrow of time, and current theories (like the Big Bang Theory) suggest that all of this had a beginning, though various models claim some pretty esoteric initial conditions.
Regardless of how the beginning began, there was empty space, there was nothing, and then there was something. Why?