The Thing that Started it All

human-space-universe-cosmosIf the universe has a cause, that cause is transcendent.

This seems rather obvious, and, if it strikes you as a tautology to say that the universe’s cause exists beyond the universe, you aren’t alone. I mention it because Lawrence Krauss is trying to popularize the idea that the quantum vacuum (which is part of the universe) created the universe.

But that is rather nonsensical. A more reasonable view would be to bring up the multiverse. Of course, the multiverse doesn’t explain nearly so much as most think, but the more pertinent issue is that it doesn’t cause the universe. That is to say, the idea that there are many universes doesn’t tell us how any of them (in particular, this one) might have come into being.

More than this, many don’t appreciate what the Big Bang Theory actually claims. If time, matter, and space came into being with the universe, then the cause of the universe is neither temporal, material, nor spacially extended.

Once one sees that the cause of the universe (and of any other universe which may exist) would be beyond space and time, and be powerful enough to create the universe (or even many), one is moving pretty quickly toward theism.

Of course, theism would require that there is something like a mind or will here. Admittedly, I’m not myself fully convinced of this until we get to the fine-tuning discussion. Still, there is a good reason to think this is the case even before we leave the cosmological argument. I’ll discuss that tomorrow.

17 responses to “The Thing that Started it All

  • Allallt

    The quantum vacuum is not actually a part of the universe (i.e. it can exist independent on the stuff that came into existence just over 13 billions years ago).

    Exactly defining the universe can be quite complicated. I define it as a space/time bubble populated by space/time dependent things. That accounts for space/time and energy/matter. However, some people define a universe as “everything that exists”. On the latter definition there cannot be a multiverse, all there can be is a lot space/time bubbles that all exist. However, the point I was going to make is this: if you can think of any one thing that exists independent of time–like maths and logic according to presuppositional apologetics; like the quantum vacuum according to Kraus; like a force like gravity according to Hawking and Mlodinow–then the universe is not just etneral, but also atemporal. If you want to continue this dialogue you really need to close that ambiguity so that people know what they’re dealing with.

    I think the idea that Krauss really wanted to popularise (although I might be mistaken) is what forms the crux of his argument, though: that “nothing” is unstable and we have no reason to believe “nothingness” could exist.
    I assume, as you seem very educated on the matter, you know about the flat geometry of the universe and the zero sum total… and how that suggests that the universe is actually an existential expression of nothing (my last posts are about exactly this, if you want to read longer explanations of what I’m getting at).

    • Debilis

      I’m not sure where you’ve heard this about the quantum vacuum. Could you direct me to the source? Inflationary cosmology entails that space itself came into existence at that time, which is required for the quantum vacuum to exist.

      I agree that the definition is not universally settled. I was using something like “this space-time ‘bubble’, and all the physical things which inhabit it”.

      But I don’t have an a priori objection to the idea that the universe is eternal. Rather, I feel that there are good scientific and philosophical reasons to think that it is not.

      I’ll take a look at your blog; it sounds very interesting. For the moment, however, the zero-sum total (and everything Krauss has said) explains how this physical reality could have come about from an earlier state. It does not explain how the quantum vacuum came into being (and it is not “nothing” in a philosophically proper sense).

      But I’ll cut off my rambling there.
      Otherwise, best to you out there.

  • Alexander

    “If the universe has a cause, that cause is transcendent. This seems rather obvious”

    Except, it’s not? Why is this obvious?

    • Debilis

      The cause of the whole universe would have to be something other than the universe. That seems fairly straight-forward.

      I know we’ve discussed the idea that the observable universe was created from the unobservable universe, but that is a different point.

      Could you elaborate here? It is hard to say more without knowing what your objection is.

      • Alexander

        “The cause of the whole universe would have to be something other than the universe”

        You’re just declaring that the universe *has* a cause. That’s not obvious. You’re also saying that it has to be caused by something *else*. That’s not obvious, either.

        “I know we’ve discussed the idea that the observable universe was created from the unobservable universe, but that is a different point.”

        No, it’s not a different point; it’s smack on target. You brought transcendental into this as “obvious.” You’re the one who need to explain why that is obvious, because I’m saying it’s not obvious. (And, if I don’t think it’s obvious, there’s a good chance that what you think is “obvious” is shorthand for “obvious to you.”)

    • Debilis

      The idea that the universe has a cause is the previous topic. I’m purposely breaking this up to avoid having to put a massive argument on every page.

      But it is obvious that a thing does not bring itself into existence. This is a very basic principle of causation.

      If, however, you want to argue that the unobservable universe brought the observable universe into existence, you are free to do so. But, until an argument is given, I think it is safe to go with standard Big Bang cosmology.

      • Alexander

        “But it is obvious that a thing does not bring itself into existence”

        Again; why is that obvious? At what point is it obvious that Lomatia tasmanica isn’t the cause of itself?

        I know from where you’re coming, of course, I’m not being stupid on purpose. But I’m trying to simply ask why you think it is obvious that the universe, in fact, began? Why hasn’t it always been there? Remember the distinction between the cosmos and the observable universe? We have no idea about the age of the cosmos, even though we know very well about the 13.7 billion years of the observable universe. Why is the cosmos *obviously* caused, as opposed to “it could be” or “never was”? How can you be so sure in your argument that it must be?

        And I can take it even further towards your argument. Even within the constraints of the observable universe we don’t know anything casually about it at all apart from its arbitrary starting time. We can’t tell whether the universe was a big crunch that inversed at our beginning, and the eternity of the universe is a pulsating system of universes (or even the one pulsating universe). There’s nothing that we know of that isn’t compatible with that theory, and so one shouldn’t make so damn sure assumptions based on it, because, well, you’re wrong or, at best, foolhardy.

        This is the annoyance of this whole thing for me. People use half-scientific terms from cosmology and build philosophical arguments from them based on a very different definition of knowledge than what was used in creating the science to begin with (going from a false view of empiricism to a quenian epistemology back to empiricism again … the chain doesn’t sustain the soundness of the argument). It’s close to dishonest, although I understand these are complex issues and accidents and misunderstandings will and do happen.

  • Atomic Mutant

    The important point is “it seems”, which just tells you, that this is something you think. It’s not obvious, it just seems obvious to you. And there is no straight line leading to theism, because claiming “everything has to be create, just god was always there” is not an answer.

    • Debilis

      If you think there is a more reasonable position, by all means, make the case. I love discussing the issues.

      I agree that there is more to be said to establish theism (getting there), but simply rejecting the idea is not a valid refutation. A more plausible option must be defended.

      • Atomic Mutant

        If you want to know more about the cosmological argument, esp. the points made against it as something that leads to theism, simply read about it. There was more than enough written about it.

    • Debilis

      I’ve read a great deal about it.
      So far, I’ve found the points made against it to be weak.

      But, if you have a particular point that you think is a good one, I’d be happy to discuss it.

  • David Yerle

    But the thing is: causality is just a short-hand for speaking about laws that we know. There is no such thing as causation. It makes as much sense to say that the past causes the future as to say the future causes the past. Applying the laws of physics in each direction you get identical results. So causation is not a fundamental driving force in the universe. It is just a human construct that helps us deal with our everyday lives. Therefore, I wouldn’t use causation to argue about anything fundamental about the universe.

    • Debilis

      I wouldn’t accept the notion that causation is simply a human construction or a law of the universe.

      First, this is the idea that logical principles are contingent on the universe itself, that they have no bearing outside of the universe. Are you claiming this?

      Second, are you claiming that anything can come into existence outside of the universe, without any cause at all?

      If so, would you affirm that every kind of conceivable thing exists outside the universe–or just universes?

      This seems a very strange position, I’ll wait for a description before I respond–I’d like to be sure I understand the idea first.

      • David Yerle

        Sorry for the delay. Let me explain myself:
        1. Causation is not a logical principle. It is an assumption based on correlation. (Read Hume for further clarification)
        2. I am claiming that the notion of “cause” is baseless. There is no such thing as a “cause.” There are laws that determine the state of the universe at all times, given one single instant (be that in the future, past or present.) The universe is nothing but a 4-d structure which is frozen. Time is an illusion and so is causation. It would be too long to go into this, but more information can be found in any General Relativity book.
        3. It makes no sense to talk about something “outside” the universe, since the notion of “outside” requires a space-time to begin with. If the universe is space-time (and everything within it) then it’s not only false to say something exists outside: it is meaningless.
        4. If something existed “outside” the universe (using “outside” in a metaphorical sense) then I don’t see why we couldn’t just define “universe” to be what you call “universe” plus whatever is “outside.” That is, claiming something is “outside” the universe means using a flawed definition of universe, since universe means precisely “everything there is.” Put another way: nothing can be outside the universe by definition.

    • Debilis


      Okay, diving right in:
      1. I’m not a fan of Hume’s philosophy, but even Hume believed in causation. This is the source of his famous remark:

      “I never asserted so absurd a proposition as that something could arise without a cause: I only maintained, that our Certainty of the Falsehood of that Proposition proceeded neither from Intuition nor Demonstration; but from another Source.”

      I find it much more reasonable that causation is more than correlation.

      2. Without a concept of cause, regular correlations are not explained. This is a clearly incomplete view.

      Similarly, neither General nor Special Relativity shows that time is an illusion. Minkowski Spacetime is a mathematical model that aids in computation, but it is empirically equivalent to Einstein’s original interpretation as well as Lorentz’s interpretation. I’m not aware of any empirical evidence that would support the minkowskian view relative to the others.

      3. Granted “outside” is a casual term, which was not meant literally. Do you find “existing independently of the physical universe” agreeable?

      4. If you define “universe” in this fashion, this is true. However, I was using the term to refer to the space, time, matter, and energy in the physical region which surrounds us.

      If you’d rather I called this by a different name, I am happy to do so (cosmos, perhaps?). But, regardless, the fact that it needs a cause is supportive of my position.

      Last, do you consider physical laws to be simply part of the “cosmos”? Would causation not apply to anything which exists independently of it? Would anything be able to come into existence in that “realm”? Or, is there some limitation on what can occur even “there”.

      • Alexander

        I’ll just point out here that Hume’s causality is, as you point out, mostly misunderstood, however not in the direction you intend it. 🙂

        Hume basically says that there is no causality, only our definition of it, because we observe it, over and over again. We’ve developed mental model of causality which we use on the universe, but it doesn’t truly exists as an object or actual thing outside the scope of what thoughts we have (including probabilities, etc.) we have of it. He makes the same argument for natural laws; they don’t really exists, they are linguistic shortcuts we rationally make for perceived causality.

        • Debilis

          Fair enough.
          I’ll not get into that too far, as I don’t personally accept the premises leading up to this argument. Meaning that I should really stick to the fact that I don’t accept this concept.

          Personally, I consider the denial of true causation more of a reductio ad absurdum of materialism than an idea that should be (or even can be) accepted.

What are your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: