The Reason for Belief in an Eternal Universe
Christians who believe the big bang model frequently argue that if the universe had an origin, then there must be a transcendent Creator. Indeed, the implication of a Creator was the main reason why so many cosmologists and astronomers opposed the big bang model for many years in the middle of the 20th century. Many scientists chose to believe in an eternal universe rather than the big bang origin primarily because an eternal universe avoids the need of a Creator. However, the 1965 discovery of the cosmic microwave background convinced most scientists that the big bang was the correct origin model of the universe. Consequently, the big bang model has been the dominant cosmogony for nearly a half century, so today few people are aware of that early opposition.
Even though the big bang model now enjoys wide acceptance, the need for a Creator has not gone away. To counter this problem, cosmologists and physicists have devised arguments that supposedly show how the big bang could have happened apart from a Creator. Over the years, those who criticize recent creationists have chastised us for not publishing our work on creation in what they consider legitimate scientific journals. The critics claim that when creationists write popular-level books, creationists are attempting to circumvent the scientific process. Interestingly, very little of the supposed mechanisms of how the universe came into existence spontaneously is published in scientific journals either. Instead, atheist scientists write their thoughts on this subject in popular-level books. A recent example of this is Lawrence Krauss’ 2012 book, A Universe from Nothing. In this book, Krauss draws upon topics that have been published in scientific journals to make some conclusions about the origin of the universe apart from a Creator, but those conclusions were made in the book, not in the scientific literature.
Enter Quantum Fluctuations
The question arises whether any articles have been written in the traditional scientific journals on the spontaneous appearance of the universe. One possibility is Tryon (1973). Tryon published in Nature, a prestigious science journal, but his brief article reads more like a letter or opinion piece, so it is doubtful that it went through any sort of rigorous peer review. Apparently, Tryon was the first to suggest that the universe began in a quantum fluctuation. Perhaps a better example would be the more recent, detailed paper on the supposed quantum fluctuation origin of the universe by Stenger (1989).
What is a quantum fluctuation? In classical physics, we know that energy is conserved, that is, that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. Our understanding of the conservation of energy comes from countless experiments of localized parts of the universe, but, presumably, the law of conservation of energy applies to the universe as a whole. Therefore, it would seem that the sudden appearance of energy, as required by the big bang model, would violate the conservation of energy. However, many physicists think that the Heisenberg uncertainty principle (HUP) offers a way around this problem. The HUP is an aspect of quantum mechanics, the physics of small systems, such as atoms and sub-atomic particles. The HUP places a limit on how well we can know information about a small particle. One formulation of the HUP relates our uncertainty in knowing a particle’s energy to the uncertainty in the measurement of time that the particle occupies the measured energy . Let ΔE represent the uncertainty in the amount of energy and ∆t represent the uncertainty in the time. Then the product ΔE∆t is approximately equal to ħ, where ħ = h/2π, and h is Planck’s constant. Planck’s constant has the value 6.626 x 10-34 Joule-second. Notice that Planck’s constant has the appropriate units of energy and time. Planck’s constant is very small, so the uncertainties are vanishingly small on a macroscopic scale. That is why the HUP is not observable in the macroscopic world. However, on the scale of subatomic particles, the uncertainties can be large compared to the quantities involved, so the consequences of the HUP can be significant on the microscopic scale.
But Does This Mechanism Work?
There are certain experimental results that demonstrate the HUP, so the HUP is a well-accepted phenomenon in quantum mechanics. However, a problem arises when physicists attempt to expand the meaning and application of the HUP to violations of the conservation of energy. This expansion is the teaching that violations of energy conservation are allowed as long as they do not last very long. That is, if ΔE is the violation of the conservation of energy over some time ∆t, then such violations are permitted as long as the product ΔE∆t is less than ħ. To support this interpretation, physicists often refer to certain experiments where they infer that pairs of virtual particles pop into existence before popping back out of existence. Albert Einstein showed with his famous E = mc2 equation that matter and energy are equivalent things. Hence, the appearance of particles would violate the law of conservation of energy, unless the pairs of particles exist for a very short period of time. While this is a common interpretation of the HUP, it is controversial. For instance, Bunge (1970) has called virtual particles fictitious and argued that quantum field theory can explain these experiments without appeal to virtual particles. Or consider the comments of David Griffiths, a physicist with two well-respected textbooks in relevant fields. In one text he wrote this:
It is often said that the uncertainty principle means energy is not strictly conserved in quantum mechanics—that you’re allowed to “borrow” energy, as long as you “pay it back” in a time; the greater the violation, the briefer the period over which it can occur. Now, there are many legitimate readings of the energy-time uncertainty principle, but this is not one of them. Nowhere does quantum mechanics license violation of energy conservation, and certainly no such authorization entered into the derivation of Equation 3.74.(Griffiths 2005)
And in another text he wrote the following:
In special relativity, the energy E, momentum, p, and mass m of a free particle are related by the equation E2-p2c2 =m2c4. But for a virtual particle E2 – p2c2 can take on any value. Many authors interpret this to mean that virtual processes violate conservation of energy (see Problem 1.2). Personally, I consider this misleading, at best. Energy is always conserved. (Griffiths, 2008)
Dismissing these objections, many physicists and cosmologists want to apply this approach to the entire universe. They ask, “What if the sum of the energy in the universe is zero?” They conclude that if the energy of the universe is exactly equal to zero, then the universe could have popped into existence without violating the conservation of energy and could continue to exist for billions of years. In his essay, Tryon (1973) famously quipped that “our universe is simply one of those things which happen from time to time.” This is the ultimate evolutionary theory, because the universe itself is just a sort of accident; there was no cause, and so there is no need of God.
Besides relying upon a very questionable application of the HUP, this approach also requires that the total energy of the universe is zero. There is a tremendous amount of energy in the universe. Much energy is in the form of light or other electromagnetic radiation. Quantum mechanically, we think of radiation consisting of particles called photons. Each photon has energy E = hν, where ν is the frequency of the photon. Since both h and ν are positive, all energy of electromagnetic radiation is positive. Matter in the universe has an equivalent energy given by the famous Einstein equation E = mc2, where m is mass and c is the speed of light. Since c is a large number that is squared, matter in the universe has considerable energy (this is why nuclear power is so efficient). Since m and c are positive numbers, the total energy of matter in the universe is positive as well. Together, the mass and radiation energy of the universe is considerably positive, so for the universe to be the result of a quantum fluctuation, there must be a tremendous amount of negative energy to counterbalance the positive energy.
Where might this negative energy be? In physics, the only negative energies are those encountered with potential energies. Indeed, Tryon used gravitational potential energy in the general form –GmM/R to estimate the total gravitational potential energy of the universe. Using values then current (circa 1973), Tryon found that gravitational potential energy and the energy of matter were roughly equivalent, from which he concluded that the universe had zero energy. However, potential energies are zero only if we choose an appropriate reference point to make them so (the mathematics is simpler this way). In classical physics, the choice of reference point is arbitrary, and if we choose a different reference point, all potential energies could be positive. Hence, in an absolute sense, one cannot so easily make the energy of the universe zero. However, some physicists have argued that in non-classical physics this is possible (Berman 2009) or have put forth theories of how certain fields may be present in the universe that may require negative potential energies. Indeed, the entire motivation for this sort of approach appears to be the bias against the possibility of a Creator rather than some formal requirement based upon observation of the universe or known laws of physics.
These musings demonstrate the futility of man’s thinking apart from God.
Setting this difficulty aside for now, the manner in which a quantum fluctuation could operate is not totally agreed upon. One possibility is to argue that the universe appeared truly out of nothing in a manner consistent with itself. In a world without quantum fluctuations, the sudden appearance of energy would violate a basic property of the universe, the conservation of energy, so a universe governed by classical physics without the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle cannot spontaneously appear out of nothing. However, a universe governed by quantum mechanics allows for quantum fluctuations, so the universe could have arisen in this manner. Another possibility is to argue that the big bang was preceded by . . . well, nothing. But does nothing truly exist? Quantum mechanically, a vacuum totally devoid of matter isn’t so empty. As previously mentioned, this whole line of reasoning relies upon a particular interpretation of the HUP. This same interpretation requires that virtual particles spontaneously pop into and out of existence. Those virtual particles amount to a form of energy. If this vacuum that preceded the big bang had more energy than the current universe, then, since physical systems naturally go from higher to lower energy, the big bang inevitably followed that earlier, higher energy state. However, Tryon (1973) hinted at the current thinking on the subject when he suggested that the universe appeared, not out of nothing, but in “. . . the vacuum of some larger space in which our Universe is imbedded.” Now many astronomers and cosmologists think that our universe is just one universe in a vast multiverse consisting of myriads of other universes. In this view, our universe was spawned by a hypothetical process called inflation. This process is supposedly spawning even more universes even now in a supposedly never-ending process. The multiverse is the totality of all these past and future universes. This amounts to a return to the eternal universe, albeit on a much grander scale. As previously mentioned, an eternal universe has no place for God.
Notice that these things are discussed in popular-level books, not in the scientific literature, so apparently evolutionists are not held to the same standard that creationists are. This sort of reasoning may seem silly or even bizarre to most people, but such ideas have gained tremendous traction among physicists in recent years. At first, these were just wild ideas that physicists informally discussed, followed by more formal discussions in colloquia, followed by brief mentions in popular-level books. The statements in books eventually were expanded to the point that they became the main focus of books. For instance, nearly 30 years before Krauss published his book, James Trefil (1983, pp. 203–208) briefly discussed such ideas in his book, The Moment of Creation. Halfway between, Before the Beginning: Our Universe and Others, a book by Marin Rees (1997), took a decidedly less tentative approach. While Krauss’ recent book appears more definite, most readers may not notice his frequent use of qualifying terms, such as “could,” “might,” and “may.” In the near future we can expect physicists, astronomers, and cosmologists to take a much more forceful attitude in insisting that it is as indisputable as gravity that a quantum fluctuation gave rise to the universe.
There are at least three serious logical problems with this entire line of reasoning:
- Quantum mechanics implicitly assumes the existence of time and space, so how can the laws of quantum mechanics create time and space?
- The only way that we know quantum mechanics is (at least approximately) correct is because we can do experiments and make observations to verify its predictions. Even if we accepted at face value the claim that QM allows particles to “pop” into and out of existence, who has ever observed a universe popping into existence?
- Point #2 is one of the big logical problems with the claim that the laws of physics can explain the creation of the universe. These laws have only been observed to be applicable within our universe. We thus have zero justification for believing that they would apply “outside” the universe.
Of course, these musings demonstrate the futility of man’s thinking apart from God. As the Apostle Paul warned in his epistle to the Romans (1:21–22, KJV),
Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. . . .
Unfortunately, many Christians embrace the big bang as evidence of the God of the Bible, and thus they have wedded the big bang model to their apologetics. Often their motivation is to bring people to salvation, reasoning that the big bang model shows that there must be a Creator, and so people will want to investigate who God is. However, people who take this approach fail to grasp the significance of these new developments within the big bang model. Lost souls who follow the latest pronouncements of scientists about the big bang are inclined to take those scientists’ opinions about there being no need for a Creator as well. While the motivation for evangelism of those Christians who accept the big bang is commendable, their approach is doomed to failure as the big bang model continues to assume a more atheistic bent.
Answers in Genesis stands for the authority of Scripture, so we start with the Bible when interpreting science rather than starting with the pronouncements of fallible scientists to interpret the Bible. We recognize that there are scientific problems with the big bang model (see “Does the Big Bang Fit with the Bible?”), but, more importantly, there are numerous biblical problems with the big bang model as demonstrated in the following articles:
- The Big-Bang God or the God of Scripture?
- Does the Big Bang Fit with the Bible? (video)
- The Big Bang? (Chapter 2 in Evolution Exposed: Earth Science
- The Big Bang: God’s Chosen Method of Creation?
- Big Bang topic page
In reaching lost souls, the authority of Scripture always will outperform the ideas of men.
I would like to thank Jake Hebert of the Institute for Creation Research in assisting me with this article. He has written on these themes:
Berman, M. S. On the Zero-Energy Universe. International Journal of Theoretical Physics 48 (2009): 3278.
Bunge, M. Virtual Processes and Virtual Particles: Real or Fictitious? International Journal of Theoretical Physics 3, no. 6 (1970): 507–508.
Griffiths, D. J. 2005. Introduction to Quantum Mechanics, 2nd edition. Cranbury, New Jersey: Pearson.
Griffiths, D. 2008. Introduction to Elementary Particles, 2nd revised edition. Weinheim, Germany: Wiley-VCH Verlag, 65.
Krauss, L. M. 2012. A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing. New York: Free Press.
Rees, M. 1997. Before the Beginning: Our Universe and Others. Reading, Massachusetts: Addison Wesley.
Stenger, V. J. The Universe: The Ultimate Free Lunch. European Journal of Physics 11 (1990): 236–243.
Trefil, J. S. 1983. The Moment of Creation: Big Bang Physics from before the First Millisecond to the Present Universe. New York: Charles Scribner’s and Sons.
Tryon, E. P. Is the Universe a Vacuum Fluctuation? Nature 246, no. 5433 (1973): 396–397.