Cots and the Cosmic Commencement

by Kevin Sharpe

(reprinted with permission from Science & Spirit, Concord, NH)

My baby daughter lay soft in her cot under colorful mobiles that gently turned. She gasped and fought for life. Another bout of pneumonia whisked her to the edge.

I looked for several months to find the culprit. When it rained heavily, runoff from the park behind the house flowed over our backyard and settled under the house. It was the dampness of the house from this water that made Miriam so vulnerable.

Cosmologists usually trace the origin of the universe to the big bang--the gigantic explosion and fireball that began the universe between twelve and twenty billion years ago. But what caused the big bang?

Edward Tryon suggests it started from events at the quantum level of "the vacuum." The vacuum goes far beyond the absence of air; forget the everyday carpet cleaner. It contains nothing, not even space or time. But it does possess infinite energy (something physics ordinarily ignores--the power of the physicist!) and we know that microscopic particles come into existence in it and then instantly annihilate each other. It was one of these fleeting fluctuations that flashed up the big bang.

Even if the vacuum produced the big bang, we still don't know its origin and that of quantum laws. Big bang cosmology says nothing on where they came from.

The Restaurant at the Beginning of the Universe doesn't serve a free lunch, or breakfast for that matter. However many times you ask the question of the origin of the universe, and however many layers you push it back through, you always end with something unexplained. Theories don't reveal all; each starts with something.

You may think Stephen Hawking's cosmology an exception. Basic to a universe is a set of laws. As changing the combination of ingredients for a cake leads to different taste and texture sensations, different sets of laws produce different universes. The anthropic principle shows that the evolution of creatures able to probe natural laws requires a special environment in the universe, and, the Cambridge physicist adds, only one theory of cosmic beginnings or set of laws leads to a universe with those special settings. If you want your cake to taste sweet, you must include in it a form of sugar. Since the inquisitive creatures (namely us) do exist, cosmologists must choose that theory. This universe could only possess the laws it has. Hawking also concludes that the universe could only start with the initial conditions it did. Thus, he claims that only one set of conditions was possible for the beginning of the universe and it could only possess one set of laws. Does this mean the existence of the universe explains its existence?

Hawking's cosmology tweaks the imagination. Notice he assumes the pre-existence of a form of logic or self-consistency, not only the existence of human-like beings. David Schramm roots for Hawking. "You just have to say: in the beginning [before the big bang], there was mathematical consistency (an elementary form of logic). Everything else follows, including us." The nothing from which the universe arose is, in Willem Drees's words, "not an absolute nothing." I call the logic that leads to the universe the "subuniverse."

Besides a pre-logic, something else pre-exists. Drees writes in Beyond the Big Bang: "Even if theories are perfect and complete, they do not answer the question of why there is anything which behaves according to those theories. The mystery of existence is unassailable." Something bestows existence on the universe, raising it from a conjecture that may or may not happen, to a reality. In A Brief History of Time, Hawking similarly asks, "What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?" The mystery--the gift Drees writes of and the fire of Hawking--plus a pre-existing logic from which the laws of the universe develop, lie in the subuniverse. They provide the universe, John Wheeler writes, "with a way to come into being."

Spiritual tradition associates creation with the rational mind of the Divine. As the features of the pot reflect the mind of the potter, the basic laws of the universe arise from the Divine and reflect the Divine's own reasoning. The Scot, Thomas Torrance, emphasizes something else as well. The universe arises from not only the Divine's reason, but also the Divine's creative power. The existence of the pot, not just its features, reflects the ability of the potter to construct from raw materials. The name of the creator in Hebrew is "YHWH" (Yahweh, Jehovah) or, translated into English, "he brings into existence whatever exists."

These two properties of the Divine, logic and fruitfulness, are those of the subuniverse. The subuniverse mirrors the essential properties of the Divine. In fact, we could think of the subuniverse as the Divine.

Hawking's as well as other cosmologies, assume the Divine's existence.

Back to Contents Does God Exist?, May/June 1996