How Contemporary Physics Points to GodFATHER ROBERT J. SPITZER S.J.
Does modern physics provide evidence for the existence of God?
We should begin by clarifying what science can really tell us about a beginning of the universe and supernatural causation. First, unlike philosophy and metaphysics, science cannot deductively prove a creation or God. This is because natural science deals with the physical universe and with the regularities which we call "laws of nature" that are obeyed by the phenomena within that universe. But God is not an object or phenomenon or regularity within the physical universe, so science cannot say anything about God. Moreover, science is an empirical and inductive discipline. As such, science cannot be certain that it has considered all possible data that would be relevant to a complete explanation of particular physical phenomena or the universe itself. It is always open to new data and discoveries which could alter its explanation of particular phenomena and the universe. This can be seen quite clearly in revisions made to the Big Bang model.
So what can science tell us? It can identify, aggregate, and synthesize evidence indicating that the finitude of past time in the universe as we currently know it to be and conceive it could be. Science can also identify the exceedingly high improbability of the random occurrence of conditions necessary to sustain life in the universe as we currently know it to be and conceive it could be.
Even though scientific conclusions are subject to modification in the light of new data, we should not let this possibility cause us to unnecessarily discount the validity of long-standing, persistent, rigorously established theories. If we did this, we might discount the majority of our scientific theories. Thus, it is reasonable and responsible to attribute qualified truth value to such theories until such time as new data requires them to be modified.
The arguments that suggest the finitude of past time (i.e. that time had a beginning) are basically of two types: (a) arguments about the possible geometries of spacetime and (b) arguments based on the Second Law of Thermodynamics (entropy). Though the arguments we shall give may conceivably have loopholes, in the sense that cosmological models or scenarios may be found in the future to which these arguments don't apply, their persistence and applicability to a large number of existing cosmological models gives them respectable probative force. Until such time as they are shown to be invalid or inapplicable to empirically verifiable characteristics of our universe, they should be considered as justifying the conclusion that it is at least probable that the universe had a beginning.
Before examining this evidence, it is essential to discuss the implications of a beginning (in physics) for a creation of our universe. In physics, time is something real, and it has real effects on other physical phenomena. Thus, the point at which the universe comes into existence is also the point at which physical time comes into existence.
How does this imply a Creator? First, in physics, nothing physical could exist prior to the beginning point (indeed there is no "prior to the beginning point" because there is no physical time).
Secondly, if the physical universe (and its physical time) did not exist prior to the beginning, then it was literally nothing. It is important to note that "nothing" means "nothing." It does not mean a "vacuum" or "a low energy state of a quantum field," "empty space," or other real things. Vacuums, empty space, and low energy states in quantum fields are dimensional and orientable — they have specific characteristics and parameters, but "nothing" is not dimensional or orientable, and it does not have any specific characteristics or parameters because it is nothing. For example, you can have more or less of a vacuum or empty space, but you cannot have more or less of nothing because nothing is nothing.
Thirdly, nothing can do only nothing, because it is nothing. To imply the contrary is to make nothing into something. The classical expression is right: "from nothing, only nothing comes."
Fourthly, if nothing can't do anything, then it certainly cannot create anything. Thus, when the universe was nothing, it could not have created itself (made itself into something) when it was nothing, because when it was nothing, it could only do nothing.
Finally, if the universe could not have made itself into something when it was nothing, then something else would have had to have made the universe into something when it was nothing, and that "something else" would have to be completely transcendent (completely independent of the universe and beyond it). This transcendent (and independent) creative force beyond our universe (and its space-time asymmetry) is generally termed "a Creator." Therefore, a beginning in physics implies a transcendent powerful creative force (i.e., a "Creator").
In view of the fact that a beginning in physics implies a Creator, many physicists with a naturalistic orientation would like to avoid the necessity of such a beginning. For this reason, they have proposed that the Big Bang was not the beginning of the universe. Before we can assess this hypothesis, we will want to get a few facts about the contemporary Big Bang Theory.
The Big Bang Theory was proposed originally by a Belgium priest by the name of Fr. George Lemaitre who used it to resolve a problem (the radial velocities of extra galactic nebulae) connected with Einstein's General Theory of Relativity. Though Einstein did not at first affirm the idea of an expanding universe, he later believed it because of its overwhelming verification. Indeed, it is one of the most rigorously established theories in physics today.
Essentially, the contemporary Big Bang Theory holds that a big bang occurred approximately 13.7 billion years ago (plus or minus 200 million years). It may be analogized to a balloon blowing up where the elastic on the balloon is like the space-time field (in general relativity, space-time can actually stretch, expand as a whole, warp, vibrate, and change its coordinate structure according to the density of mass-energy in it).
Now, going back to our analogy, suppose there are paint spots all over the balloon. Notice that as the balloon expands (i.e. as space-time stretches and expands as a whole), all the paint dots (which may be likened to galaxies) move away from each other. Our universe has been doing something like this for 13.7 billion years.
Our observable universe seems to have a finite amount of mass-energy. It has approximately 4.6% visible matter (matter-energy that can emit light, electromagnetic fields, etc.), 23% dark matter (which interacts with gravity, but does not seem to have luminescent or electromagnetic activity), and 72.4% dark energy (which seems to be like a field attached to a space-time field causing space-time to accelerate in its expansion). The visible matter in our universe seems to be approximately 10^55 kilograms which is approximately 1,080 baryons (protons and neutrons — particles with significant rest mass).
Since the time of Fr. Lemaitre, the Big Bang Theory has been confirmed by multiple, distinct data sets which come together around a similar set of numbers and values: Edwin Hubble's' Redshifts (which shows that all galaxies are moving away from each other); Arno Penzias' and Robert Wilson's discovery of the 2.7 degree Kelvin uniformly distributed radiation which is the remnant of the Big Bang; evidence from the cosmic background explorer satellite (COBE); and further evidence from the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP). This is why most physicists consider the Big Bang to be a rigorously established physical theory.
Was the Big Bang the beginning of the universe? Many physicists think that it was because the Big Bang was the moment at which space-time came into existence and because there is no physical evidence for a period prior to the big bang.
However, some physicists believe that the Big Bang was not the beginning of our universe which opens the possibility for a pre-Big-Bang period of indefinite length (perhaps avoiding a beginning and all of its implications for a creation). This hypothetical pre-Big-Bang period is made possible through quantum cosmology (which allows the universe to operate in a space-time smaller than the minimums required by general relativity). Currently, string theory is one hypothetical candidate for quantum cosmology in which some physicists (including Stephen Hawking) have placed considerable hope. (Those of you interested in additional detail on quantum cosmology and string theory will want to read the Postscript to Part One in New Proofs for the Existence to God).
String Theory allows for the possibility of higher-dimensional space, which in turn, allows for two possible pre-Big-Bang periods:
It is not important to know all the details of a multiverse or an oscillating universe in higher dimensional space, because there is only one relevant question: Do these speculative scenarios themselves require a beginning or can they go indefinitely back into the past?
It so happens that a considerable amount of work has been done in the area of space-time geometry proofs which conclude that all inflationary model universes, multiverses (which must be inflationary in order to exist), and oscillating universes in higher dimensional space must have a beginning. These extraordinary proofs suggest the probability that our universe (or any multiverse in which it might be situated) must have a beginning, which implies a transcendent Creator. So what are these proofs?
There are three pieces of evidence arising out of space-time geometry proofs which indicate a beginning of our universe or any speculative multiverse in which our universe might be situated. It also indicates a beginning of oscillating universes — even oscillating universes in higher dimensional space. These proofs are so widely applicable that they establish a beginning of virtually every hypothetical pre-Big-Bang condition which can be connected to our universe. They, therefore, indicate the probability of an absolute beginning of physical reality which implies the probability of a Creator outside of our universe (or any multiverse in which it might be situated).
Since 1994, three proofs or models have been developed that show that not only our universe, but any multiverse and inflationary bouncing universe must have a beginning: 1) The 1994 Borde-Vilenkin Proof, 2) The modeling of inflationary universes by Alan Guth and others, and 3) The 2003 Borde-Vilenkin-Guth Theorem (the BVG Theorem).
Arvin Borde (Kavli Institute of Theoretical Physics at the University of California Santa Barbara) and Alexander Vilenkin (Director of the Institute of Cosmology at Tufts University) formulated a proof in 1994 that every inflationary universe meeting five assumptions would have to have a singularity (a beginning of the universe/multiverse in a finite proper time)1. Our universe meets all the conditions in this proof. In 1997 they published a paper on their discovery of a possible exception to one of their assumptions (concerning weak energy conditions) which was very, very unlikely within our universe. Physicists, including Alan Guth (the Victor Weisskopf Professor of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and father of inflationary theory) did not consider this exception to be relevant: "...the technical assumption questioned in the 1997 Borde-Vilenkin paper does not seem important enough to me to change the conclusion [that the 1994 proof of a beginning of inflationary model universes is required]."2 Therefore, the 1994 proof still has general validity today.
Guth concluded this study as follows: "In my own opinion, it looks like eternally inflating models necessarily have a beginning...As hard as physicists have worked to try to construct an alternative, so far all the models that we construct have a beginning; they are eternal into the future, but not into the past."3
Borde, Vilenkin, and Guth joined together to formulate an elegant and vastly applicable demonstration of a beginning of expanding universes (in a famous article in Physical Review Letters). Alexander Vilenkin explains it as follows:
The point where relative velocities become arbitrarily close to the speed of light constitutes a boundary to past time in any expanding universe or multiverse. Though the conclusion of Borde, Vilenkin, and Guth is somewhat technical for non-physicists, its importance makes their precise words worth mentioning:
This proof is vastly applicable to just about any model universe or multiverse that could be connected with our universe. Alexander Vilenkin put it this way in 2006:
Physicists do not use the word "impossible" very often. So, Vilenkin's claim here is quite strong. The reason he is able to make it is that there is only one condition that must be fulfilled — an expansion rate of the universe greater than zero (no matter how small).
It is important to note that Borde, Vilenkin, and Guth applied their theorem to the string multiverse as well as to higher dimensional oscillating universes. I present their own words here (which might be quite difficult for non-physicists) because they give a sense of the authors' own appreciation of the vast applicability of their theorem:
The boundary to past time (required in the BVG theorem) could indicate an absolute beginning of the universe or a pre-pre-Big-Bang era with a completely different physics. If it is the latter, then the pre-pre-Big-Bang period would also have to have had a boundary to its past time (because it would have a rate of expansion greater than zero). Eventually, one will reach an absolute beginning when there are no more pre-pre-pre-Big-Bang eras.
This is an extraordinary conclusion, because it shows that a beginning is required in virtually every conceivable pre-Big-Bang scenario — including the string multiverse and oscillating universes in higher dimensional space. By implication, then, even if there were multiple pre-Big-Bang eras, it is likely that these eras would have to have an expansion rate greater than zero, which means that they too would have to have a beginning, which would make an absolute beginning virtually unavoidable. This absolute beginning would be the point at which the universe came into existence. Prior to that point the universe (and its physical time) would have been nothing, which as we saw above, implies a Creator.
Exceptions to this theorem are very difficult to formulate and are quite tenuous because they require either a universe with an average Hubble expansion less than or equal to zero (which is difficult to connect to our inflationary universe) or a deconstruction of time which is physically unrealistic. (For an extended discussion of these exceptions, you may consult Chapter One, Section III.D-E of New Proofs for the Existence of God). For this reason all attempts to get around the BVG Theorem to date have been unsuccessful. Even if physicists in the future are able to formulate a hypothetical model which could get around the BVG Theorem, it would not mean that this hypothetical model is true for our universe. It is likely to be only a testimony to human ingenuity. Therefore, it is probable that our universe (or any multiverse in which it might be situated) had an absolute beginning. This implies a creation of the universe by a Power transcending our universe.
There is another impressive set of data which corroborates the above three space-time geometry proofs, namely, the Second Law of Thermodynamics (i.e. entropy). The constraints of time and space here will not permit me to address this topic, however, those interested in explication of it may consult Chapter One (Section III A-C) of New Proofs for the Existence of God.
In conclusion, the evidence from physics (from both space-time geometry proofs and the second law of thermodynamics) indicates the probability of a beginning of our universe. In as much as a beginning indicates a point at which our universe came into existence, and prior to that point that the universe was nothing, then it is probable that the universe (and any hypothetical multiverse in which it might be situated) was created by a transcendent power outside of physical space and time.
There are several conditions of our universe necessary for the emergence of any complex life form. Many of these conditions are so exceedingly improbable that it is not reasonable to expect that they could have occurred by pure chance. For this reason many physicists attribute their occurrence to supernatural design. However, some other physicists prefer to believe instead in trillions upon trillions of "other universes" (which are unobserved and likely unobservable).
Before discussing which explanation is more probative, we need to explore some specific instances of this highly improbable fine-tuning. We may break the discussion into two parts:
We will discuss each in turn.
A low-entropy universe is necessary for the emergence, development, and complexification of life forms (because a high entropy universe would be too run down to allow for such development). Roger Penrose has calculated the exceedingly small probability of a pure chance occurrence of our low — entropy universe as 10^10^123 to one. How can we understand this number? It is like a ten raised to an exponent of:
This number is so large, that if every zero were 10 point type, our solar system would not be able to hold it! Currently, there is no natural explanation for the occurrence of this number, and if none is found, then we are left with the words of Roger Penrose himself:
What Penrose is saying here is that this occurrence cannot be explained by a random, pure chance occurrence. Therefore, one will have to make recourse either to a multiverse (composed of bubble universes, each having different values of constants) or as Penrose implies, a Creator (with a super-intellect).
A cosmological constant is a number which controls the equations of physics, and the equations of physics, in turn, describe the laws of nature. Therefore, these numbers control the laws of nature (and whether these laws of nature will be hospitable or hostile to any life form). Some examples of constants are: the speed of light constant (c= 300,000 km per second), Planck's constant (ℏ = 6.6 x 10-34 joule seconds), the gravitational attraction constant (G = 6.67 x 10-11 ), the strong nuclear force constant (gs = 15), the weak force constant (gw = 1.43 x 10-62), the mass of the proton (mp = 1.67 x 10-27 kg), rest mass of an electron (me = 9.11 x 10-31 kg), and charge of an electron proton (e = 1.6 x 10-19 coulombs). There are several other constants, but these pertain to the following anthropic coincidences (highly improbable conditions required for life):
The odds against all five of the anthropic coincidences happening randomly is exceedingly and almost unimaginably improbable. Most reasonable and responsible individuals would not attribute this to random occurrence (because the odds are so overwhelmingly against it), and so, they look for another explanation which is more reasonable and responsible.
For this reason, almost no respectable physicist (including Stephen Hawking), believes that these anthropic coincidences can be explained by pure chance. In view of the fact that no natural explanation has been found for them, most physicists have made recourse to one of two trans-universal explanations:
Is the naturalistic explanation more reasonable and responsible? Not necessarily because the other universes (and the multiverse itself) are in principle unobservable. Furthermore, it violates the principle of parsimony (Ockham's Razor) — the explanation with the least number of assumptions, conditions, and requirements is to be preferred. As physicist Paul Davies notes:
In addition, one more problem is that all known multiverse theories have significant fine-tuning requirements. Linde's chaotic inflationary multiverse cannot randomly cough out bubble universes because they would collide and make both universes inhospitable to life; the bubble universes must be spaced out in a slow roll which requires considerable fine-tuning in the multiverses initial parameters.9 Similarly, Susskind's String Theory landscape requires considerable meta-level fine-tuning to explain its "anthropic" tendencies.10
Given these problems, is the multiverse a more reasonable and responsible explanation of our universe's anthropic coincidences? Many physicists believe that it is not, not only because of the above three problems, but also because of the likelihood of a Creator. When the evidence for a beginning is combined with the exceedingly high improbability of the above anthropic coincidences, a super intellect seems to be the best explanation because it avoids all the problems of a hypothetical multiverse. Thus, it is both reasonable and responsible to believe on the basis of physics, that there is a very powerful and intelligent being that caused our universe to exist as a whole. While contemporary physics does not prove the fullness of God, it certainly points to him.
Father Robert Spitzer, S.J. "How Contemporary Physics Points to God." Magis Institute (March, 2011).
Reprinted with permission of the Magis Institute.
The mission of the Magis Institute is to explore and share the close connection between reason and faith as revealed by new discoveries in astrophysics and philosophy.
Father Robert Spitzer, S.J. is currently the President of the Magis Center of Faith and Reason and the Spitzer Center for Ethical Leadership. The former is dedicated to showing the close connection between faith and reason in contemporary astrophysics, philosophy, and historical study of the New Testament. The latter is dedicated to personal and cultural transformation that supports principle-based ethics and leads to noble and enduring success. Father Spitzer was President of Gonzaga University from 1998-2009. He has published 5 books and numerous scholarly articles, started 6 national institutes, and speaks widely on the philosophy of science, philosophy of God, and ethics. Fr. Spitzer has as spoken to thousands of audiences, and has done ethics consulting for over 300 organizations, including Boeing, Caterpillar, Toyota, Costco, the British Prime Minister's Cabinet, the leadership of Costa Rica, Protestant and Catholic leadership in Northern Ireland, and the Orthodox Church in Russia. Father Spitzer is the author of New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy, Spirit of Leadership: Optimizing Creativity and Change in Organizations, Five Pillars of the Spiritual Life: A Practical Guide to Prayer for Active People, Healing the Culture: A Commonsense Philosophy of Happiness, Freedom, and the Life Issues, Ten Universal Principles: A Brief Philosophy of the Life Issues, as well as videos such as Suffering and the God of Love, and Healing the Culture.
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