17. The Other Side of the Singularity
The issue I’m examining here is whether or not we can make this claim: “Prior to the Big Bang, there was nothing.” The idea is that if there was, in fact, something that existed prior to the singularity of the Big Bang, then perhaps that thing is actually responsible for the singularity and the idea of God can be left out of the Big Bang altogether.
In conversations with atheists, their position seems to be that we have zero evidence one way or another as to whether there was something prior to the Big Bang since we can have no information from before the singularity. With zero evidence, the question of whether there was something or not balances equally at the 50/50 mark, and a rational person should not lean one way or another on the question. “Maybe there was nothing” they say, “but maybe there was a ‘singularity-generating-machine’. This ‘singularity-generating-machine’ seems more likely than God since it is a ‘thing’ unlike God, which is just a spirit for which we have no physical evidence.
In the book, The Goldilocks Enigma, this is what physicist, Paul Davies has to say on the subject:
Strictly speaking, there is no reason why spacetime cannot exist on the far side of a singularity. That is, we can imagine joining another spacetime onto the big bang singularity from the other side. However, that would be entirely gratuitous. Because the singularity represents infinite curvature and density, and an end to the basic physical theory that describes all this, we cannot suppose that any physical object or influence can penetrate the singularity, so there is no way of knowing whether there is anything on the far side of it or not. Nor can we attribute much meaning to the assertion that there is. After all, space and time there would not be “our” space and time, so even proclaiming that the “other” spacetime comes “before” our big bang is moot. If appending this “prior spacetime” carries no physical consequences for our universe, no purpose is served in positing it.
The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, on the other hand, quotes physicists Barrow and Tipler who actually claim nothing exists before the Big Bang. By “nothing” – I take them to mean “not anything in our universe.”
The standard Hot Big Bang model, as the Friedmann-Lemaitre model came to be called, thus describes a universe which is not eternal in the past, but which came into being a finite time ago. Moreover – and this deserves underscoring – the origin it posits is an absolute origin ex nihilo. For not only all matter and energy but also space and time themselves come into being at the initial cosmic singularity. As Barrow and Tipler emphasize, “At this singularity, space and time came into existence; literally nothing existed before the singularity, so, if the Universe originated at such a singularity, we would truly have a creation ex nihilo” (Barrow and Tipler 1986, p. 442). On such a model the universe originates ex nihilo in the sense that it is false that something existed prior to the singularity.
While it is true that we can’t know whether or not something existed on the other side of our Big Bang singularity, cosmologists’ best theories tell us that in the singularity, the universe contracted to a zero radius of infinite density and that the singularity was the absolute origin of the matter of our universe. Whether or not something exists on the other side of the singularity, we know that if it was responsible for the Big Bang singularity, then it had to create the singularity out of nothing since cosmologists are clear that nothing on the other side of the singularity could be related to any of our matter, energy or space-time. In other words, something on the other side of the singularity could not use their own “raw materials” to construct our singularity – their “stuff” is separate from our “stuff.”
Even if you were to accept accept the audacious claim that some physical object exists on the other side of the singularity and it somehow had the ability to create out of nothing, you still must deal with the problem of what created this thing on the other side of the singularity. All you’ve done in positing a physical thing on the other side of the singularity, is you’ve moved the problem of “first cause” back a little further.
Atheists commonly turn this problem back around on God and ask, “who created God?” But to ask who created God is to assume that He was created which by definition He was not. The characteristic of aseity (God’s uncaused self-existence) is such a core characteristic of God that if you remove it from Him, then we are no longer talking about God. It would be like trying to talk about a triangle – but one that had no angles. Without angles, a triangle can no longer be a triangle.
In the end, you have to ask yourself which is more likely:
a)Before the singularity nothing existed and God brought the singularity into existence out of nothing.
b)Before the singularity some physical thing existed that could create the singularity out of nothing.
(a) certainly has more explanatory power, given God’s aseity, whereas with (b) you would still have the lingering question of what created the “something” that existed on the other side of the singularity. The other problem with (b) is that you are left with the uncomfortable position of having to think of a physical thing that could have this God-like characteristic of being able to create out of nothing. On the other hand, (a) doesn’t have this problem since God, by definition is all-powerful.
In conclusion, it is possible that some physical thing existed prior to the Big Bang, but it would be unreasonable to believe that it could have been the cause of the singularity. And if something did exist prior to the Big Bang, it was causally separate from our universe and so we could never be aware of it and therefore to posit such a thing would be gratuitous.