From the Greek meaning 'heavy with wine'
A blog devoted to science and reason
Written after a glass or two of Pinot Noir.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Where did the universe come from? Part 2

In part 1, I showed that a literal reading of the Bible leads to a litany of contradictions. In support of this position, Dr. John Haught, a theologian from Georgetown University, said during a panel discussion that appeared after the Discovery Channel program Curiousity: Did God Create the Universe that the Bible is not a source of cosmology. (I'll go further and say it's not a chemistry, geology, or biology book either.) His view is that the Bible is a source of hope for Christians.

So maybe someone can explain to me why so many people think that a scientific explanation for the origins of the universe is an attack on Christianity. Particularly in light that the central tenet of Christianity, if I remember my catechism correctly, is that salvation comes through Jesus. No where in the Bible does it demand that you believe that God created the universe.

But I digress from the main point of this post: The Prime Mover or the First Cause. Simply put, God had to create the universe, because how else does it come into existence.

The argument for the First Cause goes like this:
1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

Aristotle is credited for first making the first of this sort of argument, the cosmological argument. Many Jewish, Muslim, and Christian thinkers have spent much energy on this.

Sounds like a pretty good argument, doesn't it.

Now if I were a philosophy professor teaching logic, I could spend an entire semester tearing this apart, but I'm a physics professor. So let's examine it with the physical evidence.

Statement #1: Everything that begins to exist has a cause. This statement seems to be common sense, but it's physically wrong. All of quantum mechanics is built upon the notion that nature is governed by chance. It's often difficult for many physics students to comprehend this. Even Einstein didn't like this probabilistic nature, but your computer, your cell phone, your TV, the scanner at the grocery store, and the light sensor on lamp poles all work because nature is random, not deterministic.

Let me illustrate with an experiment: The Two-Slit Experiment. Watch this You Tube video for a good explanation of the experiment. The basic set up is the experimenter shoots a beam through two small slits onto some detector; let's just call it a movie screen. It doesn't matter what the beam is. It could be a beam of photons (a laser), a beam of electrons, or a beam of atoms. What we measure on the movie screen is where each photon, electron, or atom lands. We find that where each thing lands is completely random; that is, where it ends up is governed by the laws of chance. The implication is that nothing causes that tiny bit to land where it does.

You don't have to like this result, but you have to realize that every modern device you use works, because nature, at its most basic level, is not caused.

Statement #2: The universe began to exist. Hawking believes that the universe began with the Big Bang out of nothing, and the laws of physics allows for light and matter to be created out of nothing. However, many physicists for good reason hypothesize that this universe is one of many, and at the Big Bang, sprung from the mutiverse, and it's conceivable that the multiverse has been around forever. As with all science, when there are competing hypotheses, experiments decide. We'll have to wait for those results.

So if you're with Hawking, you can accept the second statement, but if you're with physicists like Brian Greene, you don't.

Statement #3: Therefore, the universe has a cause. The argument failed with the first statement. Therefore, the universe was not caused.

I'll leave with this statement from Hawking. "Science does not deny religion. It provides a simpler alternative."

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