Creation and the conservation of energy

Creation and the Conservation of Energy

Creation stories are universal among religions, through the ages. The ineffable mystery of life compelled us to explain our existence. In our primitive ignorance of the world, religion was the best we could do to provide the explanations we craved.

Thanks to science, we’re learning more about the universe and illuminating the dark corners of what was once our ignorance.

The word, "create", means: to bring into existence. Thus, if God created the universe, it had a beginning and can not be infinite in both directions of time: forward, yes; backward, no. But why can’t the universe simply be? Why can’t the universe be infinite in both directions of time: forward and backward? Why must it have a beginning? Why must it have been created by a supernatural God?

The first law of thermodynamics – the conservation of energy – makes it clear that nothing is ever created. Matter might change form but it never simply appears or disappears. For instance, we are nourished and grow by eating plants and other animals. Food is transformed into the energy that sustains us and the cells we are made of; including our DNA. Our parents didn’t create us, they transformed us.

Physics' mathematical models break down in a singularity. It is not known whether or not the first law holds in a singularity. If it does, the first law of thermodynamics strips bare the core question of creation and existence. Either the universe always existed . . . or . . . the universe was created by something outside the laws of physics (i.e. something supernatural). Either the universe is truly eternal or God created it. It boils down to physics or the supernatural.

We've had plenty of confirmation of Einstein's famous equation: E=MC2. Energy and mass are equivalent. Before the Big Bang, the entire mass of the universe was contained (as energy) in a super singularity. Whether or not ours is the first and only Big Bang, Big Bangs come from singularities. I believe that, in one form or another (singularity or cosmos), the universe simply is and always was. Not only is there no need for creation or for God: the conservation of energy means there could never have been a time when the universe, in whatever form, did not exist. Something doesn't come from nothing without supernatural intervention.

Because nobody has ever seen anything physically created, the pervasive concept of creation must be a human response to the unfathomable immensity of the eternal. The universe has always existed? What do you mean? Everything comes from somewhere, doesn't it? Yes. But nothing comes from nowhere.

The first law reduces the source of our existence to either the natural or the supernatural. The notion of a personal God is ridiculous to me. But a cosmic God? I can imagine an eternal energy – infinitely hot, infinitely massive – that created the universe in a single, spectacular, explosion that still permeates the entire universe. If you want to call that energy God, I can't refute you.

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Comment by Reggie on August 8, 2009 at 6:29am
It boils down to physics or the supernatural.

We don't know if this is true. Until we know more about what happens to the laws of physics in a singularity, we are really just speculating. But I love speculating about the big questions! Thanks for posting!
Comment by Dave G on August 8, 2009 at 2:17pm
Another interesting tidbit of information. While the laws of physics do not allow energy or mass to be created or destroyed, it does allow for bookkeeping tricks. If you create a unit of positive energy and a unit of negative energy, it balances out to zero, and therefore does not violate the conservation of mass/energy.

There is one hypothesis that the entire universe arose from a quantum fluctuation in vacuum, and that if you added up all of the positive energy and mass, and all of the negative energy and mass, it would come out to a total of zero.
Comment by Atheist Exile on August 8, 2009 at 6:37pm
Hi Reggie,

It COULD be true . . . as long as the first law holds in a singularity: which is something we don't know.
Comment by Atheist Exile on August 8, 2009 at 7:04pm
Hi Michel,

When you say "Before that?", I say EXACTLY! That's exactly what I meant when I said, "Because nobody has ever seen anything physically created, the pervasive concept of creation must be a human response to the unfathomable immensity of the eternal." It's just so unnatural to think the universe simply IS and ALWAYS HAS BEEN. But it is no less logical to say it always has been, rather than to say it must have a beginning.

Einstein said that if any religion is compatible with science, it would be Buddhism. A central tenet of Buddhism is, "What is, IS". Is it really logical to say that our universe -- which we KNOW to exist -- did not exist at some time in the past? Is God a cosmic magician who waved his wand and, voilà, instant universe where once there was nothing?

There's several scenarios I can think of for a truly eternal universe:

1) The singularity (pure energy) hummed with potential for an unknown period of time (perhaps vast, beyond comprehension) before the Big Bang that created our universe.

2) The universe oscillates between singularity and cosmos, expanding and collapsing in a never-ending cycle.

3) The universe is a single member of a, perhaps infinite, number of universes. It may expand forever or cyclically collapse and expand.

As for pure energy not being nothing . . . that was my point. The universe might have always existed, either as a singularity (pure energy) or a cosmos. But how the heck would it come from nothing? That would take supernatural intervention.

If we see a watch, we know it was made by a human because no other animal is complex and intelligent enough to make the watch. The creator is more complex than the created. So, if we entertain the possibility that a supernatural creator (i.e. God) created the universe from nothing, then we are left to explain this unimaginably complex creator God AS WELL AS the unimaginably immense and diverse universe. This additional layer of complexity is absolutely unnecessary if we accept that the universe simply IS and ALWAYS HAS BEEN.
Comment by Atheist Exile on August 8, 2009 at 7:12pm
Hi Dave,

Yes, I've heard those tidbits before. I'm no scientist, so I'm not really sure what to think of such ideas. I do, however, rely on the LAWS of thermodynamics to hold true in all cases (including singularities).


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