Thursday, October 13, 2011

Eternal Universe

"Saying the universe is eternal simply is saying that it has no beginning or end, not that it had a beginning an infinite time ago"
—Victor J. Stenger

This quote from Vic Stenger really highlights the failure to understand what the cosmological debate is really about. Mischaracterisations occur on both sides of the debate, from the common atheist quip: "Well who created God then?" to the theist criticism: "You can't have an infinite number of events".

First I will address what I find to be a misguided criticism of theism: "Who created God?". This line of argumentation really fails off the block, because it is a strawman. It doesn't address what theism actually claims, which is generally some sort of eternal uncreated being. By definition this is not a created being, so would not have been created by anything. A much better way to come at this in my opinion is to ask the theist to account for why they point to something undetectable supposedly outside the cosmos to explain the cosmos. What inductions have they drawn to justify an external non-physical explanation for physical phenomena?

The theist argument in this case essentially boils down to an argument from ignorance, they can't explain how the universe came into existence (which is begging the question anyway) so they resort to some generally undefined, mysterious explanation. There is no empirical data that points to this mystical source. Theists will protest that this isn't a god-of-the-gaps argument, but I contend that it is. In fact I contend that it is the ultimate god-of-the-gaps.

Regarding the infinite number of events criticism, I find it to be rather hollow and hypocritical. Any criticism of an eternal universe can be equally be applied to an eternal god. As Carl Sagan said:

In many cultures it is customary to answer that God created the universe out of nothing. But this is mere temporizing. If we wish courageously to pursue the question, we must, of course ask next where God comes from? And if we decide this to be unanswerable, why not save a step and conclude that the universe has always existed?
 Before anyone says it, I do not think that Carl Sagan is proffering the argument that I criticised at the beginning of this post. He seems to me just to be asking what the explanation for whatever god it is that is supposed to have created the universe. If that explanation is not based upon evidence, it is not an explanation at all, and the answer is either unknown, or unknowable. Once this is admitted, plausible scientific explanations for the existence of the universe are much more satisfactory, as they are confirmable by observation.


  1. You didnt really defend anything here. If the universe is eternal then how do we get to the present? Also, is the universe is created it has to have been created by something outside the universe. The universe cannot create itself.

  2. "If the universe is eternal then how do we get to the present? "
    ( this is a malformed question )

  3. "If the universe is eternal then how do we get to the present? "
    ( this is a malformed question )

  4. I believe you have mischaracterized Theism as well. The Bible said God made time (Gen 1:1,1 Cor. 2:7 -"God destined for our glory before time began") To say God existed for an infinite amount of time IS absurd. That is not what Theism states. It states that time has nothing to do with God. It has only to do with the universe he made.