The other day I observed that the evidence supports the conclusion that the universe is not eternal. Joseph Palazzo shot back: “You have no evidence of that.” Notice the lack of qualification. I have no evidence to say the universe began to exist a finite time ago. Really? So then what does the evidence establish? Ray Ingles explains:
“The evidence actually indicates that all the mass-energy we can presently observe was once concentrated in a small area. We are not able to extrapolate even a few femtoseconds before that point. At least, no physicist will. Theologians are apparently less constrained to evidence.”
Hmm, perhaps we can gain more clarity on what’s going on here by taking a look at a passage from Kristine M. Larsen’s helpful volume Cosmology 101. Larsen writes:
“If we follow the expansion of the universe backward in time, we seem to be driven to a singularity, where the entire universe is compacted into a mathematical point of infinite density and zero volume, and where the equations of general relativity break down. This seemingly ridiculous prediction is a symptom of our lack of a unified theory of quantum mechanics and general relativity. Once such a ‘theory of everything’ is developed, it is expected that the singular birth of the universe will be avoided.” (Cosmology 101 (Greenwood Press, 2007), 116).
I like this passage because it is written clearly and offers an accurate representation of the attitudes of many physicists. As a result, we can learn a lot from it.
The first thing we learn is that Ray’s assertion that no physicist will “extrapolate even a few femtoseconds before” the earliest scientifically accessible period in the universe’s existence is completely false. In fact, Larsen explicitly asserts that “Once such a ‘theory of everything’ is developed, it is expected that the singular birth of the universe will be avoided.” That most certainly is speculation.
So apparently speculation is permissible just so long as it is speculation of the right kind, namely that which erases the embarassing singularity at the beginning of the universe. And the kind of speculation which is verboten is that which would posit a singularity and leave the door open for an agent cause of it.
What an inspiring expression of faith that is. Now we see through a glass, darkly, but then we shall see face to face, just as soon as we get this whole Theory of Everything up and running. Then we will know the universe fully even as we are fully known.
This helps us understand how Joseph can claim that we have no evidence that the universe isn’t eternal. He’s simply declared such explanations verboten, inadmissible, reasoned out of court. But what sort of justification could there by for such a dogmatic declaration? So far as I can see, the proposed justification is that recognizing any limit to scientific investigation will undermine scientific investigation. Frankly that looks to me about as bizarre as declaring that recognizing the existence of land will undermine a sailing expedition. Why would anybody think that?
Perhaps the thought is this: the minute we concede that it looks like a singularity does exist at the beginning of the universe, then we will call off the scientific investigation and in doing so we will ensure that we learn no more about the beginning of the universe. This, of course, is completely bogus. Nobody is saying “Looks like there’s a singularity up ahead folks. Might as well call it a day.” We still keep understanding the universe as much as we did before. But we also refuse to accept the dogmatism that we shall never recognize a singularity if the evidence is right that there is one. (A very easy way to test this is to see whether cosmologists who believe there is a singularity are less productive than those who do not. Until there is evidence of this, the entire claim belongs in the bogus bin.)
Let’s think some more about Larsen’s observation that “If we follow the expansion of the universe backward in time, we seem to be driven to a singularity…” And we can do so with an analogy. Imagine that your father is arrested for murdering the town judge. Of course you are desperate to know what the evidence is, convinced that your dear old dad could never commit the crime. Then in the court the prosecution presents a surveillance video from the gas station across the street from the court house. In the video you can see your dad walk into the alley, hide behind a dumpster, pull out a Glock pistol, load the ammunition, turn back to the court house and wait for two minutes, Then precisely at 3:17 PM (the time the judge was shot) you see your dad raise his arm and appear to aim. At that moment the tape ends.
The defense attorney gets up, beads of sweat forming on his furrowed brow:
“If we follow the tape, we seem to be driven to the conclusion that the defendent committed the crime. A man who has never committed a crime before, who is a well respected member of our community. This seemingly ridiculous conclusion is a symptom of our lack of knowledge as to what the defendent was in fact doing and who the real killer was. But once we learn those facts, it is expected that the alleged guilt of the defendent will be avoided.”
I don’t know what you’d think of that kind of defense. Perhaps you’d be so committed to seeing your dear old dad vindicated that you’d be willing to countenance any speculation but the conclusion that the available facts seem to support. You could do that, I suppose. But to declare that there is no evidence supporting your father’s guilt even as you engage in unrestrained speculation to support his innocence? At least recognize that such a conclusion would be driven by your faith in your presuppositions about your dad, rather than the available evidence.
And if you want to continue to believe that a theory of everything or a grand unified theory will solve all your problems and make the embarassing singularity go away, they you can continue to exercise that faith. But don’t deceive yourself into thinking there is no evidence to the contrary