During a recent discussion, I was posed the following question:
”So… you’re not saying that the universe is necessary, and you acknowledge that you cannot show the universe is necessary.. so why should we then think that it is?” – Findo
These types of questions raise interesting problems for both theists and atheists. They also seem to raise difficult problems for theoretical physicists. The problem seem to boil down to two unpalatable options which both imply that something has always existed (“necessary” in the language of philosophy).
The options seem to be:
1) The universe is necessary, or
2) The universe is contingent (caused).
The first option solves raises no further questions, but does present us with the mind bending idea that the universe always exists in some form.
The second raises a two further apparent possibilities:
2a) The universe is contingent on something necessary, or
2b) The universe’s cause is also contingent.
This later option leads to the possibility of infinite causal chains, while the former allows an necessary entity. Again, neither seem satisfactory; or at least they are equally unpalatable as a necessary universe.
“Cogito ergo sum.” – René Descartes
Given we empirically test the universe, we know it exists – at least insofar as we know anything truly exists, but modern physicists are often quoted saying “the universe began when nothing exploded”. Of course this is a massive straw man, since the universe began with a singularity.
It is important to note we have been able to experimentally verify many of the prediction made by big bang cosmology, however we have yet to push our science as far we we can push our mathematical models.
Apologists assert their God caused the universe, either by magic 6,000 years ago (if they are fundamentalists), or by conjuring the singularity into being (of they are more reasonable). When pressed on how they have come to know this information, we are often presented with faith or philosophical reasoning (an argument to allow the conclusion). Of course, physicists are also capable of making these philosophical arguments as well.
The mutiverse (M-Theory) is an hypothesis to explain the universe’s particular characteristics, but I feel it’s a solution looking for a problem. After all, why should the mutiverse have its characteristics? Is an infinite number of universes, each with different characteristics, really more palatable than an infinite chain of causation, or an infinite God? I don’t think it is, and there is currently no experimental way to verify M-Theory.
“… the Judeo-Christian God under discussion is described/understood as necessary and thus, to ask who made it is simply a category error which renders the question meaningless.” – Findo
And that’s how we determine reality in every other sphere on endeavour. We construct a model of how the world works, then set about testing that model against reality. Where the model fails, we adjust the model to suit. Rinse, repeat.
Apologists seem to abandon this rational approach when it finally and inevitably fails them. This is preciously the purpose of faith – belief in contempt of the evidence. They “have faith” the cause of the universe is necessary, eternal, and “maximal”. Asking for empirical evidence of God (a real being, we are told) and you’ll be accused of making “category error which renders the question meaningless.” This is goal post shifting at it’s worst.
The question is not “how do we know the universe is not contingent” or “how have we ruled out other possible physical universe” or “how did you rule out ‘God’ as a possible cause”, but how could you know any of these things?
It is the responsibility of those making the claims to provide the evidence to support them.