Sunday, August 17, 2008

In the beginning...

Typical boring argument:

Theist: “But how could the universe have just existed forever? Obviously someone or something needs to have created it, right?”

Atheist: “Well, but how could God have just existed forever? Isn’t that essentially the very same question?”

Theist: “Hmmm… grumble grumble, alpha and omega, er…, exists out of time, uncreated, uh… holy spirit, scoffer, the fool hath said in his heart…”

Atheist: “Okay then…”

Okay, a bit harsh. A bit exaggerated. I know. But it has never failed to surprise me how many people will say that 1) it’s plainly obvious that the universe cannot have existed forever or spontaneously come to be and 2) it’s plainly obvious that God must have existed forever (or ‘outside of time’).

I mean, I get why it’s such a common argument. It boils down to the following: “The origins of existence are something beyond my comprehension. And that which is beyond my comprehension I call God.”

Ultimately, then, “I don’t know. But I’m comfortable with not knowing, because my god is unknowable.” Which, you know, is convenient.

The honest truth is that I don’t actually completely understand the scientific approaches to this answer. I realise it’s connected to how time exists in relation to the speed of light, so when there is no light, there is no time, so there is no infinity. I get it, and yet I entirely don’t.

But the idea of an infinite god who just happens to exist without any explanation of how or why such an entity could exist falls even further outside of my grasp of understanding. Certainly that events might come to be naturally, in and of themselves, makes more sense to me than the notion that an entity with a personality, with consciousness and with a ‘masterplan’ could suddenly pop up out of nowhere (or, rather, ‘always exist’, or ‘exist outside of time’). Whatever consciousness is, it’s more logical for me to consider a process by which it evolved within humans and other forms of life than to say that it just kinda always was, within a particular deity, who then decided to give his creations, humans, the same quality.

It seems to me that, when it comes to the question of the absolute beginning of everything, both theists and atheists actually talk in similar ways: x being eternal/timeless/uncreated is something I can’t believe in, so I presume y to be eternal/timeless/uncreated. However, from a personal perspective, I can add three things to this: 1) I can freely admit that I have no idea how the universe came to be; I require no god to plug in that gap, though. 2) Whatever the truth might be (and I’m not ‘strong agnostic’ about it; I believe that we can, and hope that we do, find an irrefutable explanation for this), I can freely admit that the idea of eternity, of the universe coming to be in a sudden uncreated explosion, fills me with awe and more than a twinge of fear. 3) However the universe came to be, I’m pretty damn glad that it did.


newplasticsmell said...

Does there have to be a beginning? The human mind tends to think of everything as having a beginning and an end . . or at least a beginning. My opinion is the universe has always existed in some form or another. That makes to most sense to me. Throwing a deity in before the big bang seems kinda superfluous. Before the big bang, the universe was contracting. Before that, it was expanding. And so forth.

reading_is_dangerous said...

If time is a dimension of space, then it doesn't flow, except from the point of view of the human mind who accepts this illusion as an ultimate truth, but they are many who see things otherwise, including myself. What we call the past and the future are just different places, and every moment co-exists.

I say the universe exists as a manifestation of the absence of any possible rule within the Void. Indeed, where/when there is Nothing, there can be no Law at work, and therefore Everything can be.

It just so happens that Everything _is_, and each of us, the part of a continuum of Being--well, we're just part of it.

And when you think, it is the Universe that thinks, because you're part of it, and there is no "You" without the Rest.

Have a nice day!