The universe has always existed

I was taking a break and watching Mr. Deity on YouTube, and a video caught my eye; it’s titled “Explain this to me Atheist” and it poses a question you see raised frequently in debates over theism (even occasionally by some bright kids):

Where did the universe come from?

Now that’s a reasonable question, and the most honest answer is that we don’t really know for sure because the conditions at the beginning of the universe are such that our current physics is inadequate for describing it (we’d need a full theory of quantum gravity, which we don’t yet have). Further, there are several speculative theories in cosmology that offer different answers to the question.

But it’s worth pointing out that if we turn to our best theory of spacetime, General Relativity, which has proved itself fantastically successful over the past century, there is a straightforward answer to this question:

The universe has always been here.

In General Relativity, the Big Bang is a spacetime singularity. What that means is that as you go backwards in time, you eventually run out of time (or, more accurately, out of spacetime). The path back in time cannot be extended beyond 13.7 billion years or so. There is no time before this.

What this means is that there was never a time when the universe didn’t exist. It has always been here.

It’s tempting to think, “Ah, but what about before the Big Bang — say 14 billion years ago — then there was nothing, not even the universe!” But this is mistake. According to General Relativity, there is no 14 billion years ago. There is no “before the Big Bang.” Time doesn’t extend beyond the universe. Anytime there was time, there was a universe to go with it.

So (on this account, at least) it really doesn’t make sense to ask “where” the universe came from, because there is no “where” or “when” apart from the universe. Likewise, it doesn’t make sense to ask what happened “before” there was time, because “before-ness” requires time. It’s difficult for us to wrap our heads around, but we need to recognize the limitations of our concepts. And our concepts of space, time, and cause do not extend beyond spacetime singularities.

Now that I think of it, it occurs to me that Mr. Deity covered this one too:

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32 responses to “The universe has always existed

  1. I think this is a really important point because it opens avenue for an inductive cosmological argument against the existence of God. Basically, according to our best cosmological theories, the universe and all of spacetime began to exist 13.7 billion years ago. The only way there could be a creator of the cosmos would have to be some atemporal being acting via some sort of atemporal causation. One can then provide arguments against atemporal causation and then conclude that there is no creator of the cosmos, and hence, no God. One possible out would be to say that God is temporal and existed for an infinite amount of metaphysical time before the Big Bang but that seems implausible, to say the least.

    • I agree, but it’s important to realize that Augstine all the way back in the 5th Century was arguing that god exists outside of time, and so his creative act should not be viewed as pre-dating the universe (but rather as being outside of time also).

      So this line of argument isn’t going to be news to the theologians. Nonetheless, I think it does help dispel our intuition that there “must have been” a cause of the universe.

  2. A being that exists outside of time couldn’t do anything, because doing something requires change, and if there is change, then there is time. There is also the problem of the impossibility of a timeless being knowing what time it is NOW, which makes omniscience and timelessness incompatible. This also poses problems for Leibniz’s monadology but that is way off topic.

    • This sounds contradictory to me because if what you’re saying is true then there would be no reference point to determine what we call “Now”, the same argument you are making that God cannot be a timeless being because it would be impossible for him to know what time it is now. But the reason, you are saying, is because time and the universe have always been. It sounds like you are saying that nothing exists outside of time and the universe except for time and the universe.
      Furthermore, you’re assuming that “A being that exists outside of time couldn’t do anything, because doing something requires change, and if there is change, then there is time.” Your assumption that change requires time is based on the thought processes of a mind (in this case yours) that is bound by time, and is ill equipped to understand how something that exists outside of time could.

  3. There is a strong inductive argument against the existence of God:
    1. We should only believe in the existence of things which are necessary to explain some facet of our experience
    2. “religious experience” can best be explained in naturalistic terms through psychology, sociology, anthropology, etc
    AND
    1. nature is all that exists
    2. something cannot come from nothing
    3. nature has always existed (in one form or another)
    This fits nicely with general relativity and the big bang. However, one could reject premise 2:
    1. nature is all that exists
    2. it is possible that something can come from nothing
    3. therefore, the universe spontaneously sprang forth out of nothingness
    This also fits nicely with GR and the big bang.

    The theist can’t reject premise 1 without begging the question; what they are trying to prove is that something exists besides nature, i.e., God.

    Since we can explain our experience and the world around us without resorting to a God, and since induction favors the simpler explanation (Occam’s razor), we should reject any explanation that is not naturalistic.

    Since there is no deductive argument that can decisively prove or disprove the existence of God, we must use induction instead. Since induction favors a naturalistic explanation, the existence of God should be rejected.

    • “2. it is possible that something can come from nothing” I would say that this borders on irrationality, but, depending on whether you mean some kind of philosophical nothing or a real, actual, absolute nothing, you may have crossed that border. When Christians say God created the universe from nothing, they are meaning an absolute nothing. I imagine your response would be, “But then there wouldn’t have been ‘nothing’ because there was God.” God created the universe out of nothing, meaning apart from himself, not as an extension of himself, or from himself. The universe did not come out of God. No part of the universe, none of it, existed. God spoke and the universe came into existence because he commanded it. Or, he God-ed it into existence if you will.

      If by “it is possible that something can come from nothing” you were meaning what some call a philosophical nothing, or a scientific nothing, or a quantum physics kind of nothing, then you never really have nothing. Some would explain it to mean that there was nothing in the sense that there was no energy, no matter, no spacial curvature, nothing but flat space. Well, that’s not nothing because you still have “flat space.”

      Some would say there wasn’t even flat space, but there was nothing, and that the principles of quantum physics came into play with a quantum vacuum. They say that everything (which of course was nothing) compressed until bang, it exploded into existence. Of course that begs the question of “if it didn’t exist what was it?”The absurd answer would be “nothing.”

      However, this theory still doesn’t have “nothing” because there are two things that are in play: 1. quantum physics, and 2. a quantum vacuum. You can’t have a vacuum if there is nowhere for that vacuum to exist, therefore how did the vacuum come into existence? Furthermore, if, when there was nothing, quantum physics was still at play, then the logical question would have to be, “what was there for it to be in play on?” In other words, quantum physics is really just a description of other things, or how things work. If quantum physics is in play, it must be in play on something, which implies there there was not nothing, and that something had to exist for it to be in play on.

      But all of these theories have one thing in common, they all presuppose the laws of nature, in whatever form they may have taken, existed. There again begs the question, “where did the laws come from?”

      If you say that whatever was there had always been there, then you really have a form of God, just by some other name, because only God could exist without beginning or end. It’s really just an attempt to get out from under the possibility that we just might really be accountable to an ever existent being. The only way to explain the universe without God is to give it godlike qualities and then deny God’s existence. It’s really just the same thing we’ve been doing since the Creation.

  4. The big bang is fun to think about. I can’t help but think of a singularity existing which THEN explodes, but this obviously isn’t correct since this would require time. The explosion was the first thing that happened; the singularity can’t be logically or temporally prior to this explosion (it can’t be logically prior if it isn’t temporally prior). This is weird, because I think that normally we would say that the thing that explodes is logically prior to the explosion, i.e., the existence of the explosion depends on something which explodes.

  5. Patrick says: “Since there is no deductive argument that can decisively prove or disprove the existence of God, we must use induction instead. Since induction favors a naturalistic explanation, the existence of God should be rejected.” I agree with you about this, but I don’t think that a theist has to. In particular, you could be accused of setting up a false dichotomy: no deduction, therefore induction. But here’s a third option: start with the assumption that theism is true, and only abandon this position if theism can be defeated.

    Is this ridiculously ad hoc (why not a teapot?) and verging on circularity? Yes. Is this wildly out of line with how we evaluate non-religious claims? Yes. It certainly seems that the lack of evidence for supernatural beings is a good reason to reject their existence. But a lot of the theists that I know indeed take the stance that religious claims should be evaluated differently. I think that your argument would therefore fail to respond to their position.

  6. A common mistake that people make when talking about the big bang is to simply take the GR model as correct, and therefore assert various consequences of this model as fact (e.g. ‘nothing came before the big bang’, or ‘the universe has always existed’). But as this article correctly notes, GR is not the final word in physics. As yet we *just don’t know* what the correct model of the early universe will turn out to be. Kudos for getting this right!

    • Thanks. Yeah, it’s always tricky to deal with the fact that all of our current physical theories are at best effective theories, and yet surely they nevertheless give us the best foundation we have for grappling with questions of the nature of the world.

  7. theres no such thing as nothing , cause somethings always been , there was never a beginning , there can never be an end. IT IS SO SIMPLE , I CANT BELIEVE SCHOLARS HAVENT FIGURED IT OUT ! IM A 9TH GRADE DROP-OUT & i found it so simple-, deep but simple , i am now 56

    • it is because you are a very bright that you find very little need for formal education. i too found school very boring and unnecessary. it is the burden of the thinker.

  8. [Comment edited to remove all caps. Please avoid yelling. A couple brief comments that did not add substance to the conversation were deleted. -P]

    Look at it as if you were traveling in a rocket at 100 billion m.p.h. & suddenly you came up on a wall thousands of miles thick , there is still something on the other side of that wall, probably just darkness , space , but if you traveled trillions of years you would never come to an end , which in turn proves what I wrote in my poem is true , its just plain old common sense !

  9. The universe has not always existed. It had a definite beginning. Background radiation and the increasing acceleration of the expansion of the universe prove this. So our universe (time, space and matter) all arose at the big bang. The question is, what caused the big bang? This certainly did not happen from nothing, by itself? That is completely absurd. When I say nothing, I mean literally nothing. Naturalists make the mistake by saying that virtual particles are proof that things can come into existence from nothing. This nothing they refer to, is actually a vacuum which is still part of our universe, inside our universe, still part of space, time and matter. It still is something. So for them compare the ‘nothing’ before the big bang to the ‘nothing’ in a vacuum, is like comparing apples with tractors. The only possible explanation how something came from nothing, is if an agent outside of our dimensions of space, matter and time caused it into being. There is simply no other answer – it leads directly to a creator – aka God. It does not end there. At the initial big bang, the foundational laws or universal constants came into existence, unchanging laws like gravity, electromagnetism, strong and weak nuclear forces etc. Now these laws all have certain attributes, and are all completely independent of each other. It just so happens that when these laws act upon each other, amongst all the other hundreds of different factors in our universe, galaxy, solar system etc, like the size of the moon, earth and sun, distance between all three, the tilt of the earths axis, the thickness of the earths crust, the composition of our earths atmosphere, the amount of h20 on our planet, complex life such as ourselves are able to exist/evolve. It is no coincidence. If any one of these universal constants was changed by a hairs breadth, we wouldn’t exist. planets would even have formed. It such a fine balance of multiple factors calibrated just right to allow complex, ‘self aware’ life as ourselves to exist. Mathematicians have calculated the odds of this happening by chance and the answer was undeniably IMPOSSIBLE. The evidence ALWAYS leads to God.

    • …’fine tuning’ leads to *which* God?

      Personally, I take this all as evidence for a cosmic ham sandwich that started it all. I call my theory ‘ham sandwich of the gaps’.

      • Come on Physicalist…you’re a philosopher and your just gonna let fallacies like the one Tyle posts here stand? isnt your job to smackdown these replies that amount to rambling bar room drunks?

        When a person is so dense as to suggest that he has a point by just stating that there are different deities throughout history–and this fact alone proves there is no God..he should be immediately pummeled.

        There isnt a single person on earth who doesn’t understand what is meant by GOD.
        Plus, is the question of why we all exist equate to why there is lightening? Is this a Gap that science can fill in? Is that how dysfunctional your reasoning is?

        The question of why there is something rather than nothing is not awaiting an answer by science. Does this poster think that a little box is gonna be found that had all the initial conditions, blueprints, and trajectories plotted out to bring us into being? Because that would be God if it was found. I cant think of a single scientist who believes this qualifies as a gap unless he has is one of those deranged new atheists selling books.

        It is THE philosophical question of all time. It is not open to science. I cant believe I just had to actually type that–but this is how inept this new little clan of uneducated basement dwellers are.

        Its almost like these guys are totally unaware that their replies only serve to embarrass them. God is the most reasonable answer to the question–thats why the overwhelming majority of mankind throughout history believes in a creator. To act like this is joke–that no one had any reason to draw this conclusion only makes normal people think you’re a weirdo. What the overwhelming majority thinks in Psychology is called “Normal”. You can disagree–but you cannot act as if the “Norm” is crazy without proving you’re the one who is crazy. You have to grant that people have come to these conclusions because they have weight. By just ridiculing them with what amounts to na na na just makes you look grossly ignorant and so pathologically biased that why should anyone even consider a thing you say? If Ham sandwich reasoning is what you use to defeat the weight of mankind’s belief in God, you have to ask yourself if have good reasons for anything you believe.

      • Michael, please be nicer. No need for personal insults (“idiot basement dweller”, etc etc).

        “Yahweh is the most reasonable explanation for why there is something rather than nothing.” I don’t agree. I think my (satirical) Ham Sandwich proposal is just as reasonable. Also, just to be clear, I don’t think either one is particularly reasonable. I think both are unmotivated, implausible, unevidenced, and don’t even resolve the ‘problem’.

    • Thanks for your comment. I offer a reply above the fold here.

  10. Pingback: Spacetime Singularities and the Origin of the Universe | Physicalism

  11. This question has plagued me from the age of 15 and really made me care little about our daily lives in many aspects. But I have come to the conclusion that space, time, and matter have always existed in some form or another. They were never created – they were always there. This leads me to believe the Universe has been there as well as it is a part of the three mentioned earlier. It makes it more logical to my mind that existence has always existed. To have a beginning is not logical nor necessary.

  12. There’s also the aspect that it is ONE and interconnected……The physical aspect of the universe we percieve through galaxies-if you consist of them-they are atoms, and if you look from inside -a galaxy …when matter falls in the core,the core shoots jets of energy transfering the information to the upper levels .The non-physical aspect is the field that contains all the information ever and represents the oneness,and because everything is embedded in the field ,through it the lower levels are constantly receiving information from the bigger thingy that they form

  13. and btw the galaxies themselves create the field sooo its kinda weird but it sure didnt start….

  14. ”subconsciousness”

  15. the big bang is a lie to keep the conscious mind who ”believes” in it from properly connecting with the field, consciousness can chose what it affects or what it is affected by or what part of the subconscious it connects to,subconsciousness manifests ”locality” because it reacts to what most affects it

  16. thats why time only exists for the conscious mind ,because the mind’s purpose is the moment,not eternity

  17. One has to PROVE a beginning before a HOW or WHERE can even be spoke of. WHAT CAUSED the singularity? There is no before time, if the universe has ALWAYS BEEN HERE, tryin to STILL stick with the bigbang theory, since it implies it precedes the universe, this argument refutes itself. I’d say our SOLAR SYSTEM is 14 billion years old, possibly cased by this “singularity” and the universe (EVERYTHING THAT EXISTS) has no predecessor ;-)

  18. I too subscribe to the position that the Universe always existed. Never had a beginning or will have and ending. There never was and never will be absolutely ‘nothing’. I do not define the Universe as only the predominant matter/energy that makes it up as we see it. Nor is the Universe in its current form the absolute definition of the Universe. In the sense that the Universe is ever changing, stars are changing form, being born, burning out, galaxies colliding, on and on and on. Just because we cannot see past 13.7 billion years doesn’t mean there wasn’t a Universe before that. The simplest solution to me is that the Universe has always existed in some form or another. I do not think that this is impossible at all, but difficult for most people to wrap their heads around this concept as we are ultimately programmed to understand a beginning and ending based on our own experience of our life having a beginning and ending. I suppose the Universe at one time could have been in the form of some singularity, but even that isn’t ‘nothing’, and begs one to demand what was before said singularity and what created that? Then what created what created the singularity, and on and on and on, until we keep trying to find some ‘beginning’, when there never really was one in the first place.
    Until we can come up with enough concrete proof about the Universe, the above position, to me, makes the most sense.

    One can theorize there was ‘nothing’ before something, but where did that ‘something’ come from and what caused it? How could something cause something from nothing, as when there is nothing, nothing is there to cause anything(something) to happen. It’s easy for one to then come up and explain this being from some divine creator, because one simply does not know the clear answer to the above. For a creator to create something, the creator itself can’t be ‘nothing’, but has to exist somehow and to create something, must get the stuff that makes that something from somewhere. I suppose if one is really willing to go crazy with this, one could say there is a creator in some type of separate ‘God Dimension’ that is somehow outside the Universe and can create the Universe. Though, even that only proves that ‘something’ was required to ‘make’ the Universe. As well this hypothetical creator would be outside the Universe’s Space/Time and the concept of time would not apply. Thus a creator itself could not be in our Universe before creating it, as the creator would be in ‘nothing’, and therefor the creator itself would be nothing, and then nothing can’t create something. You see it’s just too implausible to go in this direction, and the simplest most logical conclusion is that the Universe never had a beginning nor will have an ending.

    The Universe has ALWAYS existed and will continue to exist.

  19. Mic said “”For a creator to create something, the creator itself can’t be ‘nothing’, but has to exist somehow and to create something, must get the stuff that makes that something from somewhere. “”

    It has always shocked me how little people actually have behind their beliefs. Just look at all the ideas from people above. Atheists and agnostics have some of the most confused ideas backing up their conclusions. Formulate your arguments and see if the conclusions follow the premises.

    God has to get his “stuff” from somewhere? Do you know how poorly read you have to be to say this? You have to had virtually studied nothing anyone has written on the subject.

    Where do you get the stuff to make the worlds and people in your dreams? God doesn’t have a backhoe and storage shed with shovels and picks. He is portrayed as pure Thought. God is not in the universe–the universe is in God. If God wanted to kill you he wouldn’t have to drop a rock on your head he could simply stop thinking about you. A rock is not really hard in your dreams is it? You may feel it is but its composed and sustained by thought.
    This is one of the reasons why God best fits our questions of existence. The puzzle needs an immaterial cause. Any physical cause will always fail

  20. The thing is, nothing is not the empty void space outside our planet. Nothing is the non-existence, and hence cannont be accounted for possessing anything. No-thing can overcomes the Nothing, even the big-bang, time or something like this. For the Big-Bang to exist, there might not have been nothing, there might have been the whole universe, supressed in a small tiny little dot. So there might only be two reasons for existence: or it emerged from something that can co-exist wit The Nothing, or it always existed in a way that time was always there before it. In a hipotesis of no-time, it is necessary to have something to make the start up. As I do really hope there is no God, as otherwise he would be the meaniest thing in the universe, I tend to think that everything always existed.

  21. Seems you atheists like to rant about something you don’t even believe exists. Seems you believers like to rant about how wrong (“sinful”) other people are, when you can’t realize how wrong all of us are, including yourselves.

    We’re always arguing about what God has done for this Universe (whether God created it or what plans God has for it). But we never argue about God’s existence itself, all we debate about is how humans and the world (be it Earth or the Universe) were made.

    There is Deism, which believes God is the Universe. In most religions, God is claimed to have always existed. The Universe may have always existed. So put these theories together… It seems we have found the simplest explanation to how God is everywhere, in everything, and knows everything: God is the Universe. Maybe the Universe is the Holy Spirit (a.k.a. God’s own Soul) manifesting. So I wouldn’t really say the Universe always existing further disproves the existence of God.

    Science is willing to state it as fact, that matter cannot be created nor destroyed, so why can’t we just acknowledge that matter is a Divine presence (omniscient because it is omnipresent).

    I think religions are fine when taught and practiced in peace and love, but it is we humans who corrupt many things. Whether there is truly a God or not, humans are ultimately to blame for the suffering we experience.

    You atheists are as silly as believers to say, “Why did God allow suffering to exist?”

    Well, why are YOU allowing suffering to CONTINUE to exist?

    If you feel like you’re meant to change the world, change it. But if you feel this lifetime doesn’t give you the opportunities to change it. If you refuse to die and leave humanity on Earth wreaking havoc, that is what reincarnation is for: to make your dreams of changing this world come true and experience all of the other things you long dreamed of doing.

    If God knows everything, God therefore knows of the future, knows someday we’ll learn and become wiser, because of all of the suffering. But is it really God who kills someone else? No, there are animals that hunt other animals and there are humans who murder humans.

    To dream of a perfect world where everything is nice and no one eats anyone else, is so fucking naive, and goes against the theory of evolution and natural selection people believe in. God used evolution as Its method to grow the ultimate garden: the Universe.

    You want a peaceful world of humans, make it. You complain about how “God has been nothing but malevolent” while holding your double-edge sword, the other edge being evolution and natural selection, which involves the potential extinction of a species, predatory animals, and natural suffering altogether.

    Suffering is natural. It is we humans who have taken it to a worse level. You can’t blame something you don’t believe in, nor should believers use God or religion as justification for the wrongs they do.

    Our world wouldn’t be what it is today if it weren’t for religion. I am grateful for the good and the bad, but I too can envision a “better world” and have a feeling it is coming soon.

    All you religious people and atheists do is argue, you fight each other just like all other humans do. You both want peace and happiness for the Earth, but you reject one another. You’re just being another example of the fighting that humanity has been doing for hundreds of thousands of years. Well at least most of us are fighting each other on an intellectual level, instead of attacking each other– that’s an improvement.

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