Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
Philosophy, Religion 

Creation and the cosmological argument

The cosmological argument usually comes in a form similar to this: Everything that exists has a cause, so the universe itself must also have a cause, and that cause is an agent outside of time and space, i.e. a god that created the universe.

The reason the cosmological argument seems so persuasive is that it is easy to compare with how humans interact with the world. We are a species that thrive on our ingenuity with our own creations, so why wouldn’t the universe itself be a creation too? The problem is that there are two different contexts here for the word “creation”.

In the human context “creation” usually means something physical, for example a bridge. Casually we can say that we created the bridge out of nothing and now it helps people cross the river. But what we really did was to arrange some matter and energy into different states of matter and energy. We moved blocks of stone, and welded pieces of metal together. The whole enterprise came about through causality; the way matter and energy interact over time in the universe. This is well understood and described by the physical laws we have discovered through science.

In the cosmological context “creation” means the very existence of matter, energy, space and time. Note that the word now has a completely different meaning. No scientist has ever created matter/energy out of nothing. This would be to violate the First law of thermodynamics. This law tells us that energy/matter can only change form; it can never be created or destroyed. As far as we know the universe could not have been created in the normal sense of the word, so it makes no sense to speculate about how it could happen.

Imagine a character in a computer game running around in his digital world. We are as clueless about the true nature of the universe as this game character is about the computer that animates his experience. It’s even worse: We created this digital world to resemble our own world, so the physical laws in the game are somewhat like our own physical laws, but the true nature of our own universe might be vastly different from how we experience it. Maybe the word “create” has no meaning when it comes to matter/energy. We can learn from the science of quantum mechanics that human intuition is a poor guide to understand the marvels of the universe.

It gets worse still. 14 billion years ago the universe was a dense small singularity that exploded in the Big Bang. Some believe that this was also the creation of space-time, either through some natural phenomenon or through a divine agent. Just think about this for a moment to see how incomprehensible it is: At current time the universe exists and we are here to reason about it. Now try do describe how this “creation” happened, and you’ll see that we humans don’t even have words for it. The words “created”, “causality” and “before” only make sense when space-time already exists.

The bottom line is that the universe just exists and that’s all we know on the subject. To pretend to know more is silly, no matter if you believe in a god or not.

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