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The Universe Began to Exist

January 6, 2012

“Ex nihilo”

From the beginning of time men have turned their eyes toward the heavens and wondered why it exists. According to Aristotle, “it is owing to their wonder that men both now begin and at first began to philosophize; they wondered originally at the obvious difficulties, then advanced little by little and stated difficulties about the greater matters, e.g. about the phenomena of the moon and those of the sun and the stars, and about the origin of the universe.”{1} 2,300 years later, philosophers and cosmologists are still seeking to answer this most fundamental question of existence. Derek Parfit, a contemporary philosopher, says “No question is more sublime than why there is a Universe: why there is anything rather than nothing.”{2}

Have you ever asked yourself this question? Why do you exist? Why does the Universe exist? Or why does anything at all exist and instead of just…nothing? For many years, scientists held that the Universe was static, or eternal. That it just existed as if a brute fact of reality. As Bertrand Russell put it in his BBC radio debate with Frederick Copleston, “The universe is just there, and that’s all.”{3}

This view of cosmic origins persisted unchanged until 1917, the year in which Albert Einstein made a cosmological application of his newly discovered General Theory of Relativity. {4} By doing this, Einstein assumed that the Universe existed in a steady state with a constant mean mass density and a constant curvature of space. To his amazement, he found that the General Theory of Relativity would not permit a static model of the universe unless he entered certain “static universe supporting” figures in order to counter balance the gravitational effect of matter. By taking this feature of Einstein’s model seriously, cosmologist Alexander Friedman and astronomer Georges Lemaitre were able to formulate independently in the 1920s solutions to the field equations which predicted an expanding universe. {5} One commentator remarked, “up to this time the idea of the expansion of the universe was absolutely beyond comprehension. Throughout all of human history the universe was regarded as fixed and immutable and the idea that it might actually be changing was inconceivable.”{6}

It was in 1929 when Edwin Hubble’s measurements of the red-shift in the optical spectra of light from distant galaxies provided a dramatic verification of the Friedman-Lemaitre model of an expanding Universe. Hubble’s discovery marked a turning point in the history of science. “Of all the great predictions that science has ever made over the centuries,” exclaims theoretical physicist John Wheeler, “was there ever one greater than this, to predict, and predict correctly, and predict against all expectation a phenomenon so fantastic as the expansion of the universe?”{7} As a GTR-based theory, the Friedman-Lemaitre model has the shocking implication that as one reverses the expansion of the Universe back in time, space-time curvature becomes progressively greater until one finally arrives at a singular state at which space-time curvature becomes infinite. This state therefore constitutes an edge or boundary to space-time itself. {8} English physicist P. C. W. Davies states, “An initial cosmological singularity . . . forms a past temporal extremity to the universe. We cannot continue physical reasoning, or even the concept of space-time, through such an extremity. . . . On this view the big bang represents the creation event; the creation not only of all the matter and energy in the universe, but also of space- time itself.” {9}

In God and the Astronomers, one time leading NASA astrophysicist Dr. Rober Jastrow also describes the astronomical discoveries of recent years and the theological implications of the new insights afforded by science into mankind’s place in the cosmos. He explains that although he is undecided if God exists; “Now we see how the astronomical evidence leads to a biblical view of the origin of the world. The details differ, but the essential elements in the astronomical and biblical accounts of Genesis are the same: the chain of events leading to man commenced suddenly and sharply at a definite moment in time, in a flash of light and energy.” {10}

In spite of these remarkable discoveries in cosmology and astrophysics, the idea of a universe with a beginning made some in the science community uncomfortable. Theorists with the intent of avoiding this absolute beginning of the universe would take refuge in a period of time right after the Big Bang known as Planck time. Planck time is the time, 10^-43 seconds, after the Big Bang in which all of the four fundamental forces are presumed to have been unified into one force. All matter, energy, space and time are presumed to have exploded outward from the original singularity. Nothing is known of this period. {11} However, in 2003, scientists Arvind Borde, Alexander Vilenkin, and Alan Guth were able to demonstrate a theorem which proved that any universe which has on average been globally expanding at a positive rate has a past boundary and therefore cannot be infinite in the past. Whats remarkable is that this evidence not only supports a past temporal singularity event in universes that are expanding like ours – but it does so regardless of what occurred in Plank time. This theorem also applies equally to other models of the universe such as inflationary theories of the multiverse and to higher dimensional cosmologies based on string theory. {12} Vilenkin said in regards to this discovery, “It is said that an argument is what convinces reasonable men and a proof is what it takes to convince even an unreasonable man. With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past-eternal universe. There is no escape; they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning.” {13}

Dr. Jastrow, despite his agnosticism, also held an opinion of where the evidence has led. He ended his book this way: “For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.” {14}

Although it would be impossible to discuss every piece of evidence for the Big Bang, or singularity event in this post, there seems to be a large consensus among science academia as to the origins of the universe – that it began to exist. Therefore, unless or until new discoveries are made that disprove the singular event of creation of literally everything from nothing, we must conclude that science is pointing towards what biblical theologians have claimed for centuries; that this universe was created Ex nihilo – “from nothing”.

{1} – Metaphysics A. 2. 982b10-15

{2} – Derek Parfit, “Why Anything? Why This?” London Review of Books 20/2 (January 22, 1998), p.24

{3} – Bertrand Russell and F. C. Copleston, “The Existence of God,” in The Existence of God, ed. with an Introduction by John Hick, Problems of Philosophy Series (New York: Macmillan, 1964), p. 175

{4} – A. Einstein, “Cosmological Considerations on the General Theory of Relativity,” in The Principle of relativity, by A. Einstein, et. al., with Notes by A. Sommerfeld, trans. W. Perrett and J. B. Jefferey (rep. ed.: New York: Dover Publications, 1952), pp. 177-88

{5} – A. Friedman, “Über die Krümmung des Raumes,” Zeitschrift für Physik 10 (1922): 377-86; G. Lemaitre, “Un univers homogène de masse constante et de rayon croissant, rendant compte de la vitesse radiale des nébuleuses extragalactiques,” Annales de la Société scientifique de Bruxelles 47 (1927): 49-59

{6} – Gregory L. Naber, Spacetime and Singularities: an Introduction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), pp. 126-27

{7} – John A. Wheeler, “Beyond the Hole,” in Some Strangeness in the Proportion, ed. Harry Woolf (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1980), p. 354

{8} – John D. Norton. March 2001; January 2007, February 16, 23, October 16, November 10, 2008, March 31, 2010. –

{9} – William L. Craig, The Ultimate Question of Origins: God and the Beginning of the Universe (Astrophysics and Space Science Volume 269-270, Number 0, 721-738, DOI: 10.1023/A:1017083700096)

{10} – P. C. W. Davies, “Spacetime Singularities in Cosmology,” in The Study of Time III, ed. J. T. Fraser (Berlin: Springer Verlag )

{11} – God and the Astronomers (1978), W. W. Norton & Company, 2000, p. 14

{12} –

{13} – William L. Craig, The Ultimate Question of Origins: God and the Beginning of the Universe (Astrophysics and Space Science Volume 269-270, Number 0, 721-738, DOI: 10.1023/A:1017083700096)

{14} – Vilenkin, Many Worlds in One [New York: Hill and Wang, 2006], p.176 {15} – God and the Astronomers (1978), W. W. Norton & Company, 2000, p. 135

  1. There is, however, another option. Rather than ex nihilo, it could also be a sort of “out of everything.” I can not say with certainty that this really is the major consensus among physicist, but it certainly is gaining in popularity (at least enough that Hawkings doesn’t bat an eye to making claims of confidence in the matter). It gets rid of the idea of design and at least specific cause by taking out any special instance (for all conceivable instances exist)– i.e. the multiverse, as you briefly mentioned. Perhaps it’s not perfect yet, but to distill the idea, we do get a logical situation that is at least a little bit better: rather than “everything from nothing,” quite literally “everything from everything.”

    Now personally I have my own reasons to not buy into it, but this would be the big challenge to your argument here I think.

    • Thanks for the comment. I am curious however. Are you saying that some are claiming that it is possible that, “Out of, or from everything came everything?” Where is this everything that everything came from?

  2. The same “whatever” God came from, or I imagine that “everything” never “began.” Time, after all, is a concept of our universe, perhaps it isn’t quite so for all other “universes,” so it could indeed sound silly to ask about beginnings in such an idea. I don’t know the consensus personally. But depending on how you interpret quantum mechanics, it does/can indeed have some experimental backing. In the least it’s nothing to quickly disregard and certainly a lot more plausible than what we use to hear of “a universe with some implications of being designed just poofed into its solitary existence for no reason.”

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