TW Viewpoint | Where Did the Universe Come From?

June 28, 2017 | Wallace Smith

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As physicists and cosmologists piece together the history of the cosmos as best they can, they run into an uncomfortable question: Just where did the universe come from?

Working with the Einstein field equations in the 1920s, physicists came to a startling conclusion. The universe was not static and unchanging. Rather, the universe must be expanding.

Many observations-from the redshift of light from distant galaxies, to cosmic background radiation-seem to confirm that conclusion.

But the implications of an expanding universe were a bit of a difficult pill for physicists to swallow. Because if the universe were constantly expanding as time passes, that means that in the past it was smaller than it is, now. And if you continue to play that movie backwards, it implies that at some point, perhaps billions of years ago, the entire universe-all time, space, matter, and energy-had a BEGINNING as an infinitesimal point. And before that? Nothing.

The idea that the universe had a beginning as an infinitely small, dense singularity was dismissively termed the "Big Bang." The name stuck, and the "Big Bang" is now the accepted theory.

But a beginning to the universe bothered many, and it still does, today. After all, if you have a creation event, don't you need a Creator? The problem was summarized by physicist Stephen Hawking in 2012, "A point of creation would be a place where science broke down. One would have to appeal to religion and the hand of God."

After all, the universe is EVERYTHING: Not just you and me and your Aunt Matilda, but Earth, the planets, the stars, the galaxies, light, energy-even space and time, itself. It would be very convenient for scientists looking to avoid the need for a Creator to be able to say that somehow the universe has simply always been here. But the science is telling the scientists something else: It hasn't always been here. It all had a beginning. It all came into existence… from nothing.

In 2012, New Scientist magazine dubbed the crisis, "The Genesis Problem," and physicists and cosmologists have been struggling against it for decades.

Several solutions have been suggested. For instance, a popular theory for some time has been that perhaps the universe is cyclic. That is, perhaps the universe simply goes back and forth, with a Big Bang followed by a collapse that you might call the Big Crunch, only to bounce back again and collapse again-over and over and over. In such a way, perhaps the universe has existed forever.

Another popular idea is referred to as Eternal Inflation. It suggests that the initial inflationary period of the Big Bang is actually an ongoing, eternal activity, leading not just to our universe but many universes, each one bubbling out of the inflation of previous universes-making the universe out to really be some sort of "multiverse." Perhaps that would save us from a beginning.

Alas, it is not to be so.

The work of cosmologists such as Alexander Vilenkin and Alan Guth has demonstrated that, even in such fanciful scenarios, there still had to be a beginning.

For instance, in the case of a cyclic, "bouncing" universe, they found that the only way such a series could be sustained was if each new universe were bigger than the last. Rewind that story backward into the past…and you still get a cosmic beginning point.

And when examining Eternal Inflation, they found that while the theory worked for a frothy bubbling of new universes going into the FUTURE, there still had to be an initial START to the bubbling. There still had to be a beginning of the universe from nothing.

Alexander Vilenkin summarized the results succinctly: "All the evidence we have says that the universe had a beginning."

So, just how do you get everything-all time, space, matter, and energy-literally everything-from nothing?

As Julie Andrews helpfully sang to us in "The Sound of Music," "Nothing comes from nothing. Nothing ever could."

If we are willing to follow the evidence where it leads, and if physics is consistently pointing us to a moment of creation, isn't it time that we considered a Creator?

I'm Wallace Smith for Tomorrow's World Viewpoint.

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