On the eternity of the universe (or lack thereof)

I’m looking for arguments for the universe having a beginning. Whilst I accept, as an act of faith that the universe had a beginning, I don’t need such a cosmology to argue for the existence of God. I (largely following Ed Feser) prefer to argue from hierarchical series’s rather than linear ones, which ‘have’ to culminate in a first cause. At the same time, it would certainly help the cause of Christ if we could show the universe had a beginning.

What are the scientific arguments? What are the philosophical arguments?

It’s interesting that though Aquinas and Maimonides believed in the creation as an act of faith, they did not believe this could be demonstrated through philosophy.

We know that the observable measurable universe began 13.8 billion years ago for a number of measurable reasons.

  1. the age of the oldest stars. Some stars can easily last more than 20 billion years but no such stars are observed.
  2. the expansion of the universe which can be modeled according to known physics and measurements of density from gravitational effects.
  3. the background microwave radiation and its variations have given us several estimates of the age of the universe.

But if we posit the existence of anything before the observable measurable universe, before the big bang, then anything is possible and we have no way to determine if and which of any such speculations are correct.


The idea of an expanding universe was initially rejected by many scientists because it implied a beginning and hence seemed to support the Bible. Since then they have come to terms with it but we now have a cosmology that depends on hypothetical things such as inflation, dark matter, and dark energy. The universe is so finely tuned that scientists have turned to multiverse theory in order to explain it; but hey, better an infinity of universes than one God.

Just from thermodynamics you can argue that the universe can’t be infinitely old. If it was then, whatever the initial state, heat death should have already occurred.

John 14.

God exists outside of time. Yet Jesus said that there are many places each consisting with their own physical time connected with the “place” God exist “in”. To the disciples it was a house with many rooms. Some translations state mansions seperate from each other. Having a broader sense of physical reality why not universes? Jesus then states that he would prepare or create one for them. Then he states that they all ready knew about this yet created universe. We know that Jesus as The Word created this universe. Jesus was both incarnate and pre-existent.

The first creation was physical with the start of a physical image of God known as humanity. It was by one man’s choice that image was lost. That was a birth of water in more ways than one, since water was the means of totally changing that old created world giving us the current rendition. The next birth will be of spirit and fire. We have been taught that Jesus was preparing the final place. That is not what Jesus said. He clearly said that his disciples were already familiar with the place he was going to create or prepare. Nor did Jesus mention doing any work or preparation on any of the other rooms, mansions, or universes. Yet he stated they existed.

I agree with Mitch here. Science used to be about observation, it has turned into a metaphysical belief system in which all sorts of unobserved and unobservable things are posited to have existed before our universe existed. All of that is speculation. Observational data says our universe had a beginning. There is no observational data that proves any multiverse of any kind, or proves any pre-big bang existence.

I don’t agree with the implication here that science has changed. Scientists are allowed to go out on a limb with speculations about possibilities but that doesn’t mean they don’t know or acknowledge the difference when there is no evidence to back them up. Scientists know the difference even if the media does not or even if scientists indulge in metaphysical ramblings in their popular books which should not be identified with science any more than the works of theology should be considered queen of the sciences anymore. To be sure both string theory and cosmology has gone rather far out on a limb at times and the scientists are well aware how precarious they are.

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If you go back and read the physics of the 30s to the early 60s you will find that the physicists were highly influenced by logical positivism and observation was king. Physics was always about tangible objects. The definition of metaphysics that I am using is this:
A priori speculation upon questions that are unanswerable to scientific observation, analysis, or experiment.

If you disagree with this, take it up with George Ellis who wrote a highly technical book with Stephen Hawkings, not me. Ellis goes even further saying Physics has become a system of Faith!
"Once upon a time, physics dealt with tangible objects - if you couldn’t weigh them or smash them together, at least you could observe them. As times changed, physicists started to deal with more ethereal things: electromagnetic fields and space-time metrics, for example. You couldn’t see them but you could measure their influence on particle trajectories and so justifiably claim evidence of their existence. Nowadays things have changed. A phalanx of heavyweight physicists and cosmologists are claiming to prove the existence of other expanding universe domains even though there is no chance of observing them, nor any possibility of testing their supposed nature except in the most tenuous, indirect way.

How can this be a scientific proposal, when the core of science is testing theories against the evidence? In The Cosmic Landscape, Leonard Susskind argues that we should accept the reality of such universe domains on the basis of two theoretical elements that, taken together, could provide a solution to two major scientific conundrums. The first puzzle is the anthropic issue: the “apparent miracles of physics and cosmology” that make our existence possible. Many aspects of both physics and cosmology seem to be fine- tuned in such a way as to allow chemistry to function, planets to exist, and life to come into being. If they were substantially different, no life at all, and so no processes of darwinian evolution, would have occurred. Which particular aspect of this fine- tuning seems the most significant depends on one’s discipline.

Susskind, a particle physicist, thinks the most important is the issue of the cosmological constant, relating to a universal repulsive force that acts on all matter. But this leads to the second conundrum: simple estimates suggest that this constant should be 120 orders of magnitude larger than recently observed. This is a major crisis for quantum field theory, which underlies these estimates. The link to the anthropic question is that if the constant were only twice as large, there would be no galaxies, stars, planets or life. The observed very small value of this constant, although contrary to our present theory of the quantum vacuum, is a necessary condition for our existence. The first part of the proposed solution is the idea of a ‘multiverse’ - the existence of a huge number of ‘pocket universes’, like the vast expanding Universe domain we see around us, that are part of a much larger physical existence. These are supposed to arise through inflation, a process of extremely short-lived, very rapidly accelerating expansion that preceded the hot Big Bang era in the early Universe. ‘Chaotic inflation’ occurs if inflation is still occurring in distant domains around us today, forming overall a fractal-like structure of inflating domains and pocket universes.

The second part of the solution is the landscape of possibilities, a recent discovery in string theory, which is itself a proposed theory of fundamental physics that unites gravity with quantum physics. It has been suggested that the ‘vacuum’ of string theory is a structure of immensely complex possibilities, with each possible vacuum resulting in a different kind of local physics; for example, all possible values of the cosmological constant will occur in the different vacua of string theory. If we suppose that the pocket universes of chaotic inflation correspond to different vacua, then all possible kinds of local physics occur at different locations somewhere in the multiverse. If enough combinations of possibilities are realized in this way, then the incredibly special conditions for life to exist will inevitably occur some- where in the multiverse. The apparent design of conditions favourable to life in our own universe domain can therefore be explained in a naturalistic way.

This is an intriguing picture that unites quite disparate elements of physics and cosmology in a synthesis that is satisfying in many ways. But the question here is whether it is a scientific proposal, as there is no chance whatsoever of observationally verifying its main prediction, the existence of numerous other expanding universe domains beyond our visual horizon. We might hope to base our prediction that the multiverse exists on the fact it is an inevitable outcome of well established physics, but the physics underlying the proposal is hypothetical, rather than established. String theory is neither well defined nor experimentally proven, despite the energy and enthusiasm of its proponents, and there are alternative theories. The inflation field has not been uniquely identified in physical terms, much less shown to have the properties supposed in chaotic inflation.

We might hope to detect the multiverse [739/740] indirectly by observing the remnants of the physical processes that underlie its existence; for example, the low value of the cosmological constant today could be such a hint. The problem here is that a multiverse proposal cannot in general be disproved this way, because if all possibilities exist somewhere in the multiverse, as some claim, then it can explain any observations, whatever they are. For example, no observations of anisotropy in the cosmic background radiation can disprove the multiverse hypothesis because all possible anisotropies will be generated in the different expanding universe domains; you just have to live in the right one.

The particular multiverse version proposed by Susskind, however, has the great virtue of being testable in one respect. It is supposed to have started out by quantum tunnelling, resulting in a spatially homogenous and iso- tropic universe with negative spatial curvature, and hence with a total density parameter .[Omega]o < 1. The best observationally determined value for this parameter, taking all the data into account, is [Omega]o = 1.02 :t 0.02. Taken at face value, this seems to contradict the proposed theory. But given the statistical uncertainties, the observations do not definitively exclude [Omega]o < 1, so the theory survives; nevertheless, the observed value should be taken seriously in this era of 'precision cosmology: These data are not discussed in the book - a symptom of some present-day cosmology, where faith in theory tends to trump evidence. Presumably the hope is that this observational result will go away as more evidence is collected.

The Cosmic Landscape is extremely well written, provides an excellent non-technical overview of the relevant physics, and tackles important questions in a lively way. However, it confuses the event horizon in the expanding universe with particle and visual horizons. In addition, like many multiverse writings, it uses the concept of infinity with gay abandon, when there is good reason - as pointed out by mathematician David Hilbert - to claim that it is not a good physical concept. The book also tries to justify the multiverse idea in terms of the ‘many worlds’ interpretation of quantum theory - an unproven and totally profligate viewpoint that many find difficult to take seriously.

As a philosophical proposal, the multiverse idea is interesting and has considerable merit. The challenge facing cosmologists now is how to put on a sound basis the attempts to push science beyond the boundary where verification is possible - and what label to attach to the resultant theories. Physicists indulging in this kind of speculation sometimes denigrate philosophers of science, but they themselves do not yet have rigorous criteria to offer for proof of physical existence. This is what is needed to make this area solid science, rather than speculation. Until then, the multiverse situation seems to fit St Paul’s description: "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.’ In this case, it is faith that enormous extrapolations from tested physics are correct; hope that correct hints as to the way things really are have been identified from all the possibilities, and that the present marginal evidence to the contrary will go away." George Ellis, “Physics Ain’t What it Used to Be,” Nature, Dec. 8, 2005, p. 739-740

At the same time deeper questions arise, some of which I have already considered. If the convolutions appropriate to extra-dimensional physics really do ultimately lead to a picture of the four-dimensional universe that accurately resembles the reality we experience, but if at the same time these dimensions remain forever hidden, ephemeral theoretical entities, inaccessible to our experiments, if not our imagination, then in what sense are these extra dimensions more than merely mathematical constructs? What, in this case, does it mean to be real?” Lawrence M. Krauss, “Hiding in the Mirror,” (New York: Viking Books, 2005), p. 208

For decades, string theorists have been excused from testing their ideas against experimental results. When astronomers discovered the accelerating expansion of the universe, which string theory fails to account for, many string theorists took shelter in a remarkable excuse: that their equations describe all possible universes and should not be tied to matching data in just one of them.”

But when the theory does not match the one data set we have, is it science? There is a joke circulating on physics blogs: that we can, after all, call our universe unique. Why? Because it is the only one that string theory cannot describe. Should we laugh or cry?” Anonymous, “Ideas Needed,” New Scientist, Dec. 10, 2005, p. 5

It sort of hurts my head to think about it, but nothing could have preceded the Big Bang as we understand it, because time itself did not exist until the universe came into existence. While I believe this was something Hawking wrote of in his lay book A Brief History of Time, it is something Augustine concluded theologically pre- Big Bang about 1600 years ago.

Philosophy including philosophy of science typically has no part whatsoever in the education of a scientist let alone in how they do the work of science. So changes in the philosophical landscape, and the fall of logical positivism is certainly one of those changes, are really irrelevant to the work of science.

And you can pop quotes until you are blue in the face but none of this is science. They are just opinions and irrelevant. I can only repeat myself in saying that none of this babbling changes the fact that scientists know the difference and none of these speculations without supporting evidence is considered scientific fact.

To be sure considerable work has been done in string theory and cosmology because the mathematics is there to be explored, but scientists know that without evidence none of this is more than an exploration of possibilities. Why do the do all this work even though they know there isn’t a shred of proof it has anything to do with the real world? It is because the exploration of this mathematics might lead to a means to finding evidence. So far that hasn’t happened, especially in string theory, and it has been rather disappointing.

I tend to believe that both the idea of the eternal universe is actually compatible with the notion of space and matter having a cosmic beginning, but it depends on how you define ‘universe’. If universe and being/existence are one and the same, then the universe must be eternal, as even nothingness would have to be or exist (as Parmenides argued). But I tend to agree that space and matter likely did have an absolute beginning. Time on the other hand could not have had a beginning, since the state before the universe began was still a ‘time’.

That is where you are wrong. This is a misunderstanding of the big bang, which is not an explosion of matter filling empty space. The big bang is about the appearance of space and time as well as everything in it. So there is no reason to ask questions about a nothingness before the universe began, since measurable time starts at that point and as far as what we can measure, there is no before.

A cruder way to put this: if you could travel back in time to just before the big bang, you could not sit and watch from some safe distance in empty space. There was no empty space.

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If you could take yourself out of time, you could see the physical time all at once. Time is not a defined eternal event. It is a progression of events. If time is a dimension, then it is possible it has a fixed set of parameters. What that entails God only knows. One would still be outside of this time event and still only see it as a whole. From all scriptural accounts, it is said that time has a beginning and end, thus not eternal, even if it only had a beginning. Even though the universe is expanding, the fact that it has an end announced by God, it is a closed finite system with a definite beginning and end.

The universe and existence are one and the same, the universe dose have a beginning, because it is finite, which means it is not eternal or self-existing. Thus Parmenides was mistaken. If mass, energy, and space had a Beginning then tine did also according to E = mc squared which is well tested. Energy, mass, space, and time are interdependent, meaning you can’t have one without the others and you can’t fail to have one without not having the others.

This also means that God is the only explanation for the universe and the universe is what proves the existence of God. The real problem here is that some people do not want to accept this reality, so they are looking for alternatives.

It seems to me that they are attacking Einstein’s theory which is the foundation of the Big Bang, which is science, because it does not agree with their dualistic materialistic philosophy. Instead they need to revise their philosophy to be triune and take into account the Trinity and body/mind/spirit.

Local pantheist agrees that God, existence, and the universe are indivisible, call out the fire department! :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

Not to worry.

Yes, if one believes that the universe and God are one and the same, the existence of the universe proves the existence of God. However it is also true that my existence proves the existence of my father. Similarly the existence of the universe proves the existence of its Creator.

The Big Bang eliminates the possibility of pantheism because a pantheistic universe is eternal as God is eternal. The Big Bang indicates that the universe was created and God (YHWH) was the Creator.

The Big Bang was a point when time, space, and matter were all very condensed. We really don’t know, and can’t say, what, if anything, existed on the other side of it.

The Big Bang was the point when time, space, mass, and energy come into existence. The evidence indicates that NOTHING, no mass, no energy, no space, and no time existed on the other side of it. That does leave God Who is the Source of mass, energy, space, and time, and not the universe/existence itself.

You’ve just equated God with NOTHING. I’m sorry, I can’t help but disagree on every point.

I assume you mean NOTHING of the natural universe, no mass, no energy, no space, and no time, and no natural laws, existed on the other side of it (before it). Only something supernatural could predate the BB.