googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: A Time Dilemma for Naturalists

Monday, May 20, 2013

A Time Dilemma for Naturalists

I've been reading a little about time, lately. Time is an interesting phenomenon and even though we experience it all our lives, there's still a lot about it that we don't know or understand. Of course, there are many things we have discovered about time. For example, most of mainstream science sees time as a sort of “fourth dimension”. That is, any object in our universe occupies height, depth, and width, but it also must occupy time – the fourth dimension – in order to exist.

When some people think of the Big Bang, they picture something like all of the matter in the universe pressed together into a single point suspended in space somewhere for countless eons – then BANG, it exploded and all the matter became the stars and planets. That's a false impression since, according to the theory, even space did not exist prior to the Big Bang. What's more, neither did time exist prior to the Big Bang! It's a misnomer to even say “prior” in regards to the Big Bang; that would be like saying something could be “north” of the North Pole.

Here's a wrinkle I see in the Big Bang: It's one thing to say that all matter and space once existed in a single, infinitesimally small point.  It's quite another thing to say that time did not exist before the Big Bang.  If time is truly a fourth dimension in our universe (so nothing could exist outside of time), and if time began at the Big Bang, then NOTHING in our universe could have existed before the Big Bang.  The Big Bang is not simply when a singularity of preexisting matter began to expand. The Big Bang would mark that moment when everything literally poofed into existence. There was nothing, then there was everything. It's poofism.

Some people are more than a little squeamish about the idea that everything literally poofed into existence and so they cling to an equally unscientific idea; namely, that matter is infinitely old. This might rebut the incredible notion of “poofery” but an infinitely old universe carries its own, philosophical difficulties.

There are a few people who think of infinity like it's just a very large number so when they think of an “infinitely” old universe, they simply stretch the billions of years into a number larger than they can imagine. That's completely wrong. If someone began counting, he would never “eventually” reach infinity. He could count forevermore and he would simply reach bigger and bigger numbers. He'll never get “half way” to infinity. In fact, no point in infinity is ever obtainable. No matter how long he counts, he'll not even have begun to take a step toward infinity. You can't count an infinite set of numbers, you can't travel across an infinite amount of space, and you can't cross an infinite amount of time. Get it? It's important that this point be understood because I'm going somewhere with it.

Those people who believe matter is infinitely old have to believe that the Big Bang occurred “after” an infinite history. In other words, they have to believe the Big Bang happened at some point after an eternity had already passed! Logically speaking, that's absurd. It's even more absurd than believing in poofery. No matter how much time has passed, there hasn't been enough time for us to have reached this point if the universe is infinitely old!

I was looking for some quotes to use in this post and it seems I'm not the first person to notice this dilemma. Physicist and blogger, Dr. Dave Goldberg, made this comment in a post titled, What Happened Before the Big Bang:

[W]e absolutely don't know what happened before the Big Bang. Regardless, logic dictates that we're left with one of two possibilities:
  • The universe had some sort of beginning, in which case we're left with the very unsettling problem of what caused the universe in the first place.
  • The universe has been around forever, in which case there's literally an infinite amount of history, both before and after us.

Wow! My thoughts exactly. Once I read his article, I feared people might suspect me of plagiarism. He even uses my “north of the North Pole” analogy (it's not my analogy, of course, but one that has been used many times before). Hopefully my readers know me better than to suspect me of plagiarism.

I'm sure the absurdities of their theory weigh heavily on the minds on many scientists. A good theory should explain all the facts but all natural theories about the origin of our universe leave way too many questions unanswered to satisfy the curious mind. There are so many facts still unexplained that no natural explanation of the ultimate origin of matter is deserving of the title, “theory.” Dr. Goldberg explores some very fanciful solutions. Each one is very technical sounding but none of them amount to anything more than story-telling.

Dr. Goldberg makes no effort to defend the second option. Perhaps he sees impossibility of an infinite past. What strikes me most about his quote is his use of the word, “unsettling.” The first option is only “unsettling” if you reject the very reasonable conclusion that the universe has a supernatural Creator: One who is, Himself, eternal and so is able to create a “beginning” at any moment He desires. One who is also able to create ex nihilo (out of nothing).

There is such a Creator. We call Him, Lord!


Steven J. said...

Actually, there's a logical problem with creating a beginning at any moment the Creator desires: there are no moments until time is created, and so the only possible moment for a beginning is the very first one. The idea of God existing outside of time (which you don't raise explicitly but which I think is implied in your argument) would seem to imply that God didn't wait some suitable period of time to enact creation: there was no time, no duration, till He created it (which raises a question for finite beings in Heaven: how do you have experiences in a timeless realm?).

Anyway, the Big Bang is supposed to explain [a] the pattern of redshifts of distant galaxies, [b] the relative cosmic abundances of hydrogen and helium, and [c] the cosmic microwave background (an actual succcessful prediction of the theory: it was not observed until after the theory was devised). It's very good at this; that it doesn't answer every possible question one can dream up does not distinguish it from other theories.

With some exceptions (such as, apparently, Lee Smolin), physicists tend to regard time as an illusion ("albeit a stubbornly persistent one"). The Big Bang, on this view, is a boundary in space-time in a universe that, modeled properly, is just "there": it has existed for all time, for all that time extends only finitely into the past.

Likewise, the cyclic universe model might or might not imply an infinite number of cycles, but if it implies infinite cycles, that doesn't mean we need to worry about whether we've had enough time to get to this point (although, on that assumption, we've had an infinite amount of time; isn't that enough for you?); you no more have to "get through" infinite billions of years to get to here than you have to count through an infinity of negative numbers to get to zero on a number line. On either the finite-age or infinite-age model, all that time is just an aspect of how we experience the universe; it isn't how the universe essentially is.

RKBentley said...

Steven J,

Since we're limited to linear time, we really have no words to describe points of “time” in eternity. I apologize if you object to the word, “moment” but I feel it is adequate to convey my point. Since God is not limited to time, I don't understand on what logical grounds you claim He isn't able to interject time “whenever” the mood strikes Him.

I understand that the Big Bang does not attempt to explain the ultimate origin of time/matter/space. Rather, it only proposes that it all once existed in a single point. I didn't mean to say that the The Big Bang isn't deserving of the term, “theory.” I was referring to the philosophical (and unscientific) explanations of the existence before the Big Bang like those proposed by Dr. Goldberg in the article I linked.

Certainly, there has been some criticism of the idea of time as a 4th dimension. Some people view time as more of a mathematical formula used to measure the relative frequency or velocity of physical objects. But most of the objections to time as a 4th dimension really boil down to semantics. I've never read anyone who actually claims that any physical thing can exist outside of time.

Your argument that you don't have to count all the negative numbers in order to start counting from zero is rather weak. If the “history” of the universe “before” the Big Bang were counted in reverse – year “BT” as it were (Before Time) – then you would necessarily have to count ALL of the negative numbers before reaching zero. Of course, it's impossible to count all of the negative numbers so you would NEVER reach zero (the starting point of time).

Finally, suggestions like the bang-crunch-bang-crunch model of the universe not only don't solve your dilemma, they're no more scientific than saying the universe was created by leprechauns. If you reject the possibility that God created the universe on the flimsy grounds that it's not scientific, why would you even entertain such ridiculous alternatives? I ask rhetorically because I already know why – any natural explanation (no matter how far fetched) is preferable to the supernatural one. You may not know how the universe began but you KNOW God didn't do it!!

God bless!!


Steven J. said...

I don't think there is a mathematical model that describes leprechauns creating the universe; there are at least two that describe cycles of big bangs and big crunches. It seems to me that if cyclic Big Bang theories were really no more scientific than leprechauns, it would be very hard to explain why there are actual scientists who promote the former but not the latter.