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mattbrowne's avatar

How do atheists explain the universe or multiverse?

Asked by mattbrowne (31724points) June 8th, 2010

The first law of thermodynamics states that energy can be transformed, but cannot be created or destroyed. If it cannot be created, the mass of our universe should be zero, which it is not. Why?

If our universe is part of a multiverse, how do atheists explain the natural laws of the multiverse (I call them meta laws to distinguish them from the natural laws we observe) which include a universe-generating mechanism?

I would welcome comments which include more than just “well, that’s just the way it is”. Thanks in advance.

A second related question is:

What do believers and agnostics think about the explanations for the universe given by atheists?

So atheists first, please.

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71 Answers

Cruiser's avatar

If you have the stomach to do so, consider the universe as on ongoing series of random events since that first trillionth of a second of the Big Bang. I am a direct result from the order of the laws of nature that in reality are nothing more than random interactions almost predetermined from that moment of birth of the universe. Everything that has happened prior to my birth has been random events already set into motion by a gazillion other random events amid atomic interactions. If I stop here right now and don’t finish typing this answer many things that were supposed to happen wouldn’t. You wouldn’t read my thoughts, you wouldn’t then go “HUH??” and you wouldn’t take that next sip of coffee which would affect everything and every one that made that cup of coffee exist! “HUH?” See!! I knew you would think that or did I? I am essentially borrowing atoms to take this moment to express my thoughts which are an accumulation of experiences and random events not only in my life but those of all the people I directly or indirectly interacted with! You can’t control any of this you can only participate in this show of life in our universe. It is called the Butterfly Effect and that is what I believe this orderly random chaos we know as the universe is all about.

prescottman2008's avatar

Nothing x Time x Chance = Everything

Fly's avatar

I think you’re coming at this question with a different viewpoint than the one that many atheists and agnostics have. Rather than using the fact that matter cannot be created or destroyed to prove that there must be a higher being, I question how a higher being could have created them if that is the case.

I also consider the fact that there is an infinite amount of information concerning atomic and molecular physics, among other sciences, that we do not know yet. Many theories and things that we believe to be facts are really tentative. For example, in recent history we have been able to create antimatter, something that previously only existed in theory but had scientific basis. Just because we don’t know that something is possible yet doesn’t mean that it isn’t and can’t be proven in the future.

However, to believe anything along these lines, I need some sort of justification or proof from already known facts that show that it could be possible. I will believe what we may be able to prove through science over what I am told to blindly believe from a book any day.

Seek's avatar

I don’t know much of anything about how the universe formed. It’s not something I’ve ever studied in great depth, mostly because I find the history and anthropology of humans fascinating enough to take up my time that I have no desire to seek elsewhere.

Knowing the cause of the Big Bang isn’t really a concern of mine. I have enough empirical evidence to suggest that every god I know of is thoroughly imaginary, so I don’t seek the existence or absence of a deity in the development of the universe. There’s just no reason to do so.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Cruiser – Why a series of random events? Why not a series of non-random events?

@Fly – I didn’t say there must be a higher being. I believe there is, but I cannot prove this. I want to understand how we can explain the universe when this higher being does not exist. For the sake of the argument.

@Seek_Kolinahr – Which empirical evidence do you have to show us that God is imaginary? Or are you talking about rain gods?

Rarebear's avatar

@mattbrowne OKay, got it. I’ll respond later when I have more time.

Cruiser's avatar

@mattbrowne Sure, why not, but ultimately they can be reduced to random events as it was the random expansion of the universe and the random collision of atoms that created all the matter of the universe and the subsequent random interaction of this matter that created all which we observe and quantum mechanics covers quite neatly how even this observation of matter has a cause and effect….all essentially random of course.

Seek's avatar

Well, for example, we know full well that there is no home of the gods on Mount Olympus. We also know the earth is not a flat plane held up by the tree Yygdrassil and surrounded by a snake that ever consumes itself. We also know that no matter how much you believe in Biblegod, he’ll never answer the prayer to regrow your amputated limb, though the holy books state plainly that if you ask of any thing in Jesus’ name, being a believer, you shall have it.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Cruiser – Yes, but where do the laws of quantum mechanics come from? How can we explain them?

@Seek_Kolinahr – Okay, I agree. We got evidence that the gods do not live on Mount Olympus. We also have evidence that the natural laws are stable. But the word miracle also refers to unlikely events which are in harmony with the natural laws. I think among many things Jesus was also an ancient psychotherapist. But he did definitely not regrow amputated limbs.

Seek's avatar

Indeed. The cult of Jesus has existed long for a good reason. The guy was charismatic and told people what they wanted to hear. Along the same lines, I wouldn’t be surprised if we had a Cult of Oprah in a few thousand years. Could you imagine the anthropologists of the future trading copies of “O!” and Oprah’s Book Club editions for oodles of money?!

All I think when I hear about another religion is “Hm. I wonder what circumstances led this civilisation to create this deity? Given the track record of man’s religions throughout time, I see no reason that any current or future deity should be “right” where all previous ones have been disproven and dismissed.

arpinum's avatar

@mattbrowne Wild guess: it has something to do with particle/antiparticle pairs being separated in a black hole type event or colliding universes. Throw in some Feynman diagrams, bada bing bada boom, energy conserved with the visible universe having mass/energy.

ucme's avatar

Hi agnostic here, i’ll just sit on the fence with this one.I can so I will.Ouch, another splinter in the arse,beginning to resemble a dartboard now.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

“What do believers and agnostics think about the explanations for the universe given by atheists?”


Rarebear's avatar

@ucme Are you agnostic for all gods? Zeus for instance? :-)

ucme's avatar

@Rarebear If it pleases & suits then yeah of course.I love fences, really comfortable.Other than the odd prick or two.

Cruiser's avatar

@mattbrowne That is the beauty of Quantum Mechanics is you can define it within the constructs of Quantum Physics, maybe even apply a nice theory but the minute you define it assumes another role by that mere act of defining it.

When you see a large organic mass with green leafy things all over it growing in the forest what do you see? A tree of course but in reality it is a gazillion atoms all held together by the mere event of your observation! That is the universe in action coupled with your random observation of those atoms you decided to call a tree. Then you need to ask yourself why? Was it deliberate or in reality a series of random events over billions of years all coming together for that one split second!

Shuttle128's avatar

I explain the multiverse as an expression of every possible outcome. Each universe is an expression of each different set of physical constants that are possible and each possible outcome of quantum events (should quantum events be a part of such universes). We happen to find ourselves in a universe that supports life because we developed from such a universe. We would not, and could not find ourselves in a universe that cannot develop life.

That explains all the individual universes but not quite the existence of the multiverse; however, it seems much easier to say “everything exists,” then to demarcate what exists and what does not. There doesn’t appear to be any reason to believe that only one universe exists, and there are no reasons to believe that the possibilities of the universes are limited.

@Cruiser I don’t think quantum physics behaves as you think it does. Things don’t exist just because a person happens to see them. Quantum decoherence occurs when the state is “observed,” but states are “observed” by some kind of physical interaction. When you look at a tree you are interacting with the photons that are reflected from the atoms that make up that tree. Those photons originated from the sun and interacted with the atoms causing a specific quantum state for each atom in the tree. This interaction would occur whether or not those photons interacted with your eyes.

mattbrowne's avatar

@arpinum – How do you explain the particle/antiparticle pairs separation?

mattbrowne's avatar

@Rarebear – I’ll print the whole article to study it carefully and get back to you with a more detailed response. My first response is this

How do atheists explain vacuum fluctuations? Why does the vacuum fluctuate and create a universe with the mass of 100000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 kg?

mattbrowne's avatar

@Cruiser – Do the laws of quantum mechanics rule an eternal multiverse? Or were these laws created before the 10^-43 second of our universe?

Cruiser's avatar

@mattbrowne I am a big fan of the M Theory but honestly I don’t know that answer I don’t think anyone really does yet for sure but from the little I do know I would have to say yes as these laws as presented are empirical and govern pretty much all the dynamics of all things physical and once something exists these laws IMO would apply. Obviously when or if there was ever nothing at all, quantum mechanics is a lady in waiting.

Rarebear's avatar

@mattbrowne Bottom line is that at the moment we don’t have all the answers. If we did, there wouldn’t be a need of science. But there’s no reason to tidy things up into a little bow by putting a divinity aspect to it.

arpinum's avatar

@mattbrowne black holes do this, as could the colliding of two universes. There may be other pre-bang methods.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Rarebear – I think science cannot explain the universe, only phenomena which are observed within it.

Rarebear's avatar

@mattbrowne Okay, then, you explain the universe.

mattbrowne's avatar

Here’s how I see it:

Atheists can’t explain the universe.
Theists can explain the universe, but can’t explain the uncreated creator.

So in principle both groups are dealing with a similar problem.

Unexplained is not the same as inexplicable. Science faces many unexplained phenomena such as dark energy, dark matter, unified quantum gravity, abiogenesis and so forth. I time these phenomena will be explained by scientists.

The universe or multiverse as such is inexplicable. We don’t know why the natural laws are the way they are or why some potential meta law governing an uncreated multiverse exists. Science does have limitations. There is the realm of the inexplicable. Which means no definite answers are to be expected in the future. Science however will continue to deal with the unexplained within our universe.

Rarebear's avatar

First of all the question is flawed. Your statement, “explain the universe” doesn’t mean anything. It’s like saying “explain the sun”. The question needs to be phrased differently. Also, there’s no evidence of a multiverse besides mathematical constructs.

Theists can explain a universe by saying, “God did it”. That means nothing. It’s a cop out. It’s saying, “whatever we can’t explain by science we’ll explain by a god.” Thousands of years ago, the sun wasn’t understood, so a god was put in its place. What you’re doing is exactly the same thing albeit at a more esoteric level.

gasman's avatar

sorry @mattbrowne, I didn’t see your question until now. You state:

The first law of thermodynamics (FLT) states that energy can be transformed, but cannot be created or destroyed. If it cannot be created, the mass of our universe should be zero, which it is not. Why?

Ever since Einstein showed that mass and energy are inter-convertible, the conserved quantity is actually known as mass-energy. An electron and a positron (matter and anti-matter particles, each having some mass) may annihilate each other in a burst of energy carried by gamma rays—a pair of high-energy photons. Photons, as you know, are massless. After such an event the mass of the universe has indeed decreased a little. The reverse can and does happen a well. Note that in high-energy physics the mass of a particle is expressed not in grams but in electron-volts, which are units of energy.

Second, the fact that some quantity is conserved doesn’t imply that it must be zero.

The Standard Model of cosmology, which today stands as one of the most successful (i.e., able to explain predict observations) scientific theories. Yet the ‘something from nothing’ problem is beyond the reach of experiment and open only to wildly speculative theories—if any. We know with confidence what happened in the first few femtoseconds of the big bang and thereafter, but the actual time-zero moment of the big bang is still a mystery. That’s why it’s treated mathematically as a ‘singularity’—a forbidden point that lies outside theory.

Scientifically it is unknowable. Might we fully understand the origin of the big bang some day? Maybe not for centuries, maybe not ever, but we’ve been surprised before by seemingly unknowable things yielding to illumination by breakthroughs in theory or observation.

What’s any of this got to do with theism or atheism?

Rarebear's avatar

@gasman Unless I have it wrong @mattbrowne thinks that because of the perceived violation of the FLT the existence of the universe cannot be explained scientifically and mandates the need for a deity. Or something like that, I’m still not sure.

gasman's avatar

@Rarebear We’ve come a long way from the invention of the telescope to slam-dunk confirmation of the big bang. Where (or why?) did it all come from is a deep scientific mystery. The multiverse concept is something of a dodge but might be true nonetheless.

If you wish to retain a rational, empirical, scientific world view, however, then postulating a creation deity is unfathomable—now you have to explain both the universe and the existence of this highly complex and powerful deity. You’ve traded one mystery of existence for an even bigger one.

Rarebear's avatar

@gasman I agree with everything you have written. I have no doubt that the multiverse theory may be true. Many leading string theorists are counting on it. There’s just no experimental evidence for it and until there is, it’s just pretty math.

gasman's avatar

Btw, you should take a look at this comic book by James Lu Dunbar, a remarkable 30-page exposition of the Standard Model written in verse reminiscent of Dr. Seuss. Here’s the text of the first four pages:
In the beginning
before Time had begun,
NOTHING existed
and nothing was fun.

Where did it come from?
How did Nothing appear?
When it comes to that nothing,
well nothing is clear.
It’s the utmost unknown,
but it’s nothing to fear:
That nothing is gone,
and instead we are here!

So we know that from somewhere,
some something would come
into existence,
though we don’t know where from.
We think it all started
from the same tiny spot:
the smallest,
most teeny,
most itty bitty
—denser than DENSE
and hotter than HOT!

Then lickety-split,
things got going fast.
That dense little dot
did not get to last.
A Bang,
and a Boom,
and a really massive blast!
In every direction
existence was cast.

You might also take a look at this You-Tube video: ‘A Universe From Nothing’
by Lawrence Krauss 2009

mattbrowne's avatar

@Rarebear- Okay, let me rephrase then. How do atheists explain the origin of the natural laws governing a multiverse or governing our universe?

I read most of your article. One important aspect in it is the following: BBT does not cover or explain the origin of our universe.

And I didn’t state there’s a need for a deity. All I said is that a deity is a possible explanation for the origin of the natural laws including quantum fluctuations / vacuum energy. And thereby explaining the created mass of our universe despite the FLT. I’m open to studying alternative explanations. But so far none are provided and I think this isn’t even possible. But if there are good arguments for it being possible after all, I’m listening.

mattbrowne's avatar

@gasman – It might well be that in a couple of centuries we got a widely accepted multiverse theory (or whatever) explaining the origin of our universe including everything that went on before the 10–43th second of its existence. This doesn’t solve the issue of infinite regress: the origin of the uncreated eternal multiverse. The origin of the laws governing an uncreated eternal multiverse. Don’t you see the problem?

Fyrius's avatar

Why ask “atheists”? This is a question for astrophysicists. Ask them.
This subject has nothing in particular to do with theology, unless you intend to abuse it as a gap for god to be stuffed into.

mattbrowne's avatar

Astrophysicists study natural phenomena. They are astronomers dealing with the physics of the universe.

Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy that investigates principles of reality transcending those of any particular science.

Physics and metaphysics are not the same thing.

My question is a metaphysical question. Of course many physicists are also atheists. And I welcome their answers.

Fyrius's avatar

I would predict the atheist physicists will not have a systematically different answer from the religious ones. Not if both groups are worth their salt as scientists.
As I said, there seems to be no logical connection to theology, save ancient creation myths and god-of-the-gaps fallacies.

I’m furthermore not too impressed by the fact that physics and metaphysics have always been approached as different endeavours, one a branch of science and the other a branch of philosophy. This does not in itself substantiate the implication that their subject matters are also distinct by nature. I have my doubts about that dichotomy. I think the existence of the universe is a phenomenon for the physicists to grapple with.

As for my own answer to your question: I don’t. To me it’s just one of so many questions I lack the expertise to answer.

Rarebear's avatar

@mattbrowne “Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy that investigates principles of reality transcending those of any particular science.”
No. There is no “reality that transcends science.” There is only reality.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Fyrius – Sorry to be so frank, but you also seem to confuse astrophysics with cosmology. There’s overlap, but their realms of study are not identical. I’m not impressed by atheists running out of arguments and then throwing in myths and a god of the gaps when this isn’t the subject of the discussion at all. You can do better than that. No one was talking about a rain god because scientists can’t explain the reason for rain. This discussion is about the origin of the natural laws. This discussion is about the ultimate why question, the ultimate explanation of the universe and its laws. An alternative to the theist explanation of these laws would be a kind of meta law capable of explaining itself. This is sometimes also referred to as the self-explanatory universe. I don’t think such a meta law will ever be found. But some atheists think it will. But how exactly? I couldn’t find any books or articles about this.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Rarebear – Your statement is the position of philosophical naturalism. See my reply to @Fyrius: An alternative to the theist explanation of these laws would be a kind of meta law capable of explaining itself. This is sometimes also referred to as the self-explanatory universe. I don’t think such a meta law will ever be found. But some atheists think it will. But how exactly? I couldn’t find any books or articles about this. Your article above doesn’t say anything about this.

Fyrius's avatar

You never have to apologise to me for being frank.
Very well. So let’s not get hung up on what names we have for people working on different pieces of the puzzle, yes?

When I questioned the connection to theology, I didn’t say that to fling mud. I also didn’t intend it to be a substitute for arguments. If you dismissed it as such, I must ask you to reconsider it. I’ll elaborate on it.

I believe you do use the existence of the laws of nature as a gap for god to be stuffed into. We don’t know where natural laws come from, and you offer the explanation that a god might have done it, in whatever ways you may define (or should I say: avoid defining) that word. Is this not the same god-of-the-gaps fallacy that led to the postulation of rain gods, only applied to a more complex issue?

I surmise that what you call the “theist explanation” of the existence of natural laws is not actually an explanation at all. You still don’t know how the god you postulate could have created our natural laws, nor do you know of any conceivable natural laws that it would have been unable or less likely to create.
I surmise your explanation is a black box, no more understandable than the mystery it’s supposed to make sense of. It has no defined internal workings and it makes no predictions. It only serves to sate your curiosity without actually feeding it anything substantial.

If I’m right about this, then the lack of a well-defined alternative doesn’t have much weight as a reason to believe what you suggest. Even though you believe a god did it, and I leave the answer blank, we both understand just as much of the origin of natural laws; only you have one more postulation and one less unsatisfied feeling of curiosity.

A politically convenient postulation, I might add.

gasman's avatar

@mattbrowne “This doesn’t solve the issue of infinite regress: the origin of the uncreated eternal multiverse.”

No, but at least the multiverse parsimoniously explains why we might not be so special (“fine-tuned”) after all. As for why there is something rather than nothing—that’s the deepest mystery of all, clearly beyond the ken of modern physics—even string theories. Maybe it will all make sense after the discovery of some higher level of description. Maybe a mathematical theorem of physical theory will require that there be something rather than nothing! Who knows…?

Bottom line: I accept unknowable (in our time) mysteries of the universe, always hoping the next big breakthrough will come tomorrow. Cosmologically I get a lot of mileage out of anthropic principle as well as Ockham’s razor (or an equivalent Einstein’s quote:“make things as simple as possible, but not simpler.”)

Isn’t it obvious that religion is a neolithic holdover from a time when all natural phenomena were unknowable? Our brains are pre-wired by evolution to devise anthropomorphic mythologies—as old and diverse as humanity. Creation is the ultimate anthropomorphic act. Birds build nests and bees build hives, but arguably only man can create something from a master plan. Existence, however, does not require such a creator to mimic humans.

You can’t prove a negative, so I can’t prove that no deities exist. Show me proof of a deity and I have to eat my words. The hypothesis that creation is the work of a deity, however, is remarkably bold and complex from a scientific viewpoint (which is what I’m trying to portray here). Religion is a claim for which no apparent physical evidence exists, yet the burden of proof is on the claimant. I’m not saying you shouldn’t believe, just that you needn’t.

Rarebear's avatar

@gasman I agree that the multiverse theory is most compelling when you take into account our universe. If there really is an infinite number of universes, then it is a statistical certainty that at least one such as ours exists. That said, I don’t “believe” in anything that has no scientific validity and, like string theory, the multiverse theory (which is an offshoot of M-theory) is as I said just pretty math. But if the multiverse is true, then it makes the theists need for a god even more irrelevent than it already is.

roundsquare's avatar

What’s wrong with the answer “I don’t know?”

As far as I know, scientists don’t have a good answer to this question. They can work things back to just before the big bang, but that is where they stop. As of yet, the math can’t be pushed beyond that.

That being said, any atheist who thinks they have an answer is either a) a super genius who has worked out physics way beyond most physicists and should publish a paper and become rich and famous or b) someone who needs some schooling in the ways of science.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Fyrius – Here’s a common gap:

Science knows how the Earth was formed. Science knows how primitive life developed into complex life (evolution). Science does not know how life was formed first. Therefore God must have intervened. Life cannot arise on its own. That’s the position of the “Intelligent Design” movement which I categorically reject.

I’m not talking about a gap. I’m talking about the origin of existence and the origin of natural laws as such and an explanation for these natural laws. I’m interested in ideas how a law could eventually be found that has the capability to explain itself (not just how it works). I know that smart atheists are contemplating this issue. And I’d like to learn more. I don’t want to discuss myths and Noah and angels in this thread. I like @gasman‘s answer. This way our discussion can make some progress.

Except the “the we can’t prove a negative” part. We can’t prove the non-existence of God, yes. But we can certainly prove the non-existence of even prime numbers greater than 2. We can also prove the non-existence of a computer program that solves the halting problem.

mattbrowne's avatar

@roundsquare – Nothing is wrong with the answer “I don’t know”. But it’s the nature of humans to be curious. And some answers to the deep questions might not be answerable by mathematicians.

Seek's avatar

The “if this therefore that” argument has never, and will never hold water. You’re right – we have no idea what happened before the Big Bang (if such a statement even makes any logical sense, what with the lack of space and time “before” the BB). The simple fact of not knowing, and not knowing how to find out, does not justify belief in an intelligent creator. As others have said before me, that position doesn’t solve a problem – it simply creates another one. Where did this creator come from? Where did it gain intelligence? Whence does his power come? Why did he create the universe? Are there others like it (for how illogical it would be for only one powerful cosmic intellect to exist!)? What is it made of? Where does it live? What does it take in for nourishment? How does it breed? Is there a society somewhere of intelligent superbeings simply creating universes like the Disney channel churns out teen pop stars? The list could go on and on forever.

Fyrius's avatar

You can name more stereotypical and more intuitively wrong-seeming god-of-the-gaps fallacies, and note how the present subject looks different from those silly things, but that doesn’t mean that you are not talking about a gap.
Yes, you are talking about a gap. Is this not something mankind does not know?

And are you not trying to fill it up with god?

gasman's avatar

@mattbrowne The principle that “you can’t prove a negative” applies to empirical science, which seeks to explain the observable world. Mathematical theorems are of a different character, making them exempt from the constraints of physical reality and the demand for evidence. Certainly you can prove that, say, the number of primes is not finite, and be secure that no new discovery will falsify the result. We don’t even have to agree on whether mathematical truths are discovered or invented—another endless debate…

A favorite canard of creationists / intelligent design proponents is to set up a false dichotomy: Science can’t explain X, so therefore X must be the work of deity—the weakest of all possible arguments. I agree with those who simply accept that ”we don’t know” is a satisfactory answer to some questions, though perhaps some day we will.

roundsquare's avatar

Okay… I’m willing to bet we’re reading the wrong thing into @mattbrowne‘s question. Because of the way the question was asked, it sounds a bit like an attack on science, which explains the reaction. However, it if thats not what it is, @mattbrowne I have a question for you:

What kind of answer are you looking for? Can you give an example of an answer that would make sense for this question (even if you know the answer is false)? Clearly we’re not getting what your’re asking.

Rarebear's avatar

@roundsquare No, we’re not. Matt asked this question because on a completely off topic thread we started discussing it and I suggested we do it on a more relevant question. Matt’s view, unless I’ve entirely misread him is essentially deist.

roundsquare's avatar

@Rarebear Sure, that much I’ve guessed before. But my point is that this thread seems to be “what are the scientific explanations for the origins of the universe.” The fact that he calls it the “atheists view” is causing us to argue about gods of gaps and so on. I’m fine with topic drift, but I had the feeling we’re not really answering his question.

If I’m wrong though, oh well, the thread is interesting as is.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr – My question isn’t about the “time” before the big bang. We all know about the trouble with this frequently asked question (although the big bounce scenario does exist in cosmology). And I totally agree with you that a deity creates a new problem and I made this clear in this very threat:

Atheists can’t explain the origin of the natural laws.
Theists can explain the origin of the natural laws, but can’t explain the uncreated creator.

One attribute of the uncreated creator is omniscience. It’s a belief in a higher power beyond natural laws. So some of your questions do not apply, such as the type of nourishment this deity might require. But because you seem to be a follower of the philosophy of naturalism you might picture a potential deity as a Q-like character from the Q-continuum (which is very different from the Christian or Jewish notion of God).

mattbrowne's avatar

@Fyrius – No, you are a talking about a gap, i.e. the self-explaining meta law.

The phrase God of the gaps refers to a view of God as existing in the “gaps” or aspects of reality that are currently unexplained by scientific knowledge.

I’m talking about the inexplicable part.

mattbrowne's avatar

@gasman – I’m not a creationists / intelligent design proponent. @roundsquare – my question is not an attack on science. How could it? I’m an activist fighting to end this ignorant war on science raging in the US fueled by nutcases like Sarah Palin and others.

What kind of answer am I looking for? An explanation for a self-explanatory universe or multiverse. Something like ‘this uncreated eternal multiverse must exist with precisely the laws that are in effect because…’ or ‘there is only one universe and the laws for vacuum energy and quantum mechanics exist because… and the logical consequence are the four elementary forces plus…’ (showing somehow a self reference in this this explanation i.e. a law capable of creating itself because…).

roundsquare's avatar

@mattbrowne Sorry, I think I was unclear. I wasn’t trying to indicate that you were attacking science, I was just pointing out that the phrasing of the question made it seem that way (or so I thought from the responses).

That aside, I’m not sure I agree with your distinction between “what science currently can’t explain” and “inexplicable.” Surely the ancients would have thought rain was inexplicable. While I agree that there might be things that are inexplicable, I’m not sure why “the origins of the universe” would necessarily fall in that category.

mattbrowne's avatar

@roundsquare – Dark energy is unexplained. Scientists today don’t think it’s inexplicable.

The question is whether the origin of the natural laws is unexplained or inexplicable. Unexplained would mean you need some higher-level law capable of explaining the existence of itself i.e. the very same higher-level law (by way of self reference).

roundsquare's avatar

@mattbrowne I understand, I was wondering why you think the origins of the universe should be inexplicable.

Okay, time to talk about something I’m completely unqualified to talk about: Anyway, as for a self-referential rule, I think we’re unlikely to get one that is satisfactory. The reason is that even if we get one that implies the universe as we know it (e.g. with the rules of physics as we know them) one would wonder why that self-referential rule is true and others aren’t. As far as I know, physicists have looked at the possibility of other laws of physics and they are possible.

Of course, we may discover later that they all end up some how impossible (maybe self-contradictory) but for now, thats hard to predict.

Seek's avatar


Of course all of those issues apply. Simply because the people who believe in a deity believe that deity is a self-sufficient nonliving whatever, doesn’t make it so. Even if we presume that deity exists, we still have to question its nature. What about the rest of the universe would make you think the creator is a lone singularity? Is there anything else in all of the universe that is unique unto itself? Of course not. The Judeo-Christian god may be nonliving, lonely, and self-sufficient, but the Greek gods were very plural, and lived on Ambrosia, and mated, and had a physical home. Why would the Judeo-Christian deity belief be automatically assumed as correct, when in the grand scheme of human religion, monotheism is the least practiced?

Rarebear's avatar

@mattbrowne To the crux of your argument: “Atheists can’t explain the origin of the natural laws. Theists can explain the origin of the natural laws, but can’t explain the uncreated creator.”

Theists have been explaining origins for thousands of years. As science has slowly uncovered the previoius mysteries of the universe (evolution, plate techtonics, astronomy, etc.) the theists have been slowly backing off the theistic explanations (God created man, God makes earthquakes, God makes the sun shine, etc.). Now the theists are backed into another corner by saying essentially what you said—science can’t explain the origin of natural laws (which if you take the multiverse theory into account is an incorrect assumption, by the way), so therefore God does it. What will happen to the theists when science does come up with an adequate provable theory for the origins of natural laws? Where will the theists go then?

Fyrius's avatar

“The phrase God of the gaps refers to a view of God as existing in the “gaps” or aspects of reality that are currently unexplained by scientific knowledge.

I’m talking about the inexplicable part.”
Ah, so it only counts if the gap can be expected to be filled later? It’s not a god-of-the-gaps fallacy if the gap that the god retreats to is a perfectly unconquerable stronghold?

Then maybe what you’re doing needs a different term. It doesn’t matter. You’re still making the same rational mistake. You’re still closing off a question with an excuse for an explanation that explains nothing.

For that matter, can you and I even tell the difference between inexplicable and merely unexplained? Inherent Inexplicability has been asserted in the past for plenty of things now well understood.

roundsquare's avatar

“Ah, so it only counts if the gap can be expected to be filled later?”

Thats a good point. If this is the logic we use, then it is a tacit admission that the explanation is merely a temporary stop gap. Surely this isn’t the view of deists.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr – Yes, I agree. Simply because the people who believe in a deity believe that deity is a self-sufficient nonliving whatever, doesn’t make it so. Believers could be wrong. Or they could be right. Simply because atheists believe in a self-explanatory universe based on an ultimate natural law capable of explaining its nature as well as its own existence, doesn’t make it so. Atheists could be wrong. Or they could be right. Implicit atheists seem to acknowledge both possibilities, while explicit atheists know for a fact that a deity doesn’t exist. See

@All: What I learned from this discussion is that atheists believe that the origin of the natural laws are unexplained but not inexplicable. Atheists assume that the origin of the natural laws will be explained in the next few decades (or centuries). Educated believers are convinced that science has the potential to explain any phenomenon, but they assume that the ultimate origin of the natural laws will remain inexplicable scientifically and remain a matter of faith, which means: the meta-phenomenon that there are phenomena for us to observe and explain will remain a mystery i.e. inexplicable.

Seek's avatar



Atheists believe there is always more to learn. Theists need all the answers right now, and in absence of real answers, they reject reality and substitute their own.

roundsquare's avatar

@mattbrowne I’m not sure atheists believe that the natural laws are “not inexplicable.” I once read a physicist (I think it was Feynman) describe questions like “why are the laws of physics like this” as meaningless. I think that would classify the “ultimate law(s)” as inexplicable.

Still, I guess I’d agree with you in general.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr – No, theists don’t need all the answers right now. Educated theists also believe there is always more to learn. Religions evolve. Creationists or other religious fundamentalists don’t speak for all theists.

mattbrowne's avatar

@roundsquare – Exactly. We should classify the “ultimate law(s)” as inexplicable. This doesn’t mean there’s nothing to learn. There’s plenty to learn about our universe.

roundsquare's avatar

@mattbrowne Why should we classify them at all? We have no idea if they are explicable. We may well figure out the UL(s). I don’t see the need to classify them in either category. I was just pointing out that not all atheists believe that there is an ultimate answer.

Though if there isn’t, its turtles all the way down.

tata31's avatar

You should read “The Spirits’ Book” by Allan Kardec.

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