The popular chide from just about every quarter, no matter what magic book the individual might happen to read from on a Sabbath, and regurgitate at we non-believers whenever they get a chance, is that when it comes to origins—not just of life but the existence of the universe itself—is that “it takes more faith to be an atheist than it does to be a believer” because, while the religious believe the universe was created by a god, those heathen so-called rationalists believe the universe leapt into existence from nothing at all in a tiny big bang, billions of years before Moses was but a glint in his father’s eye.
The argument which we’ve all endured on various on-going and some defunct threads, both on this blog and others, a million times before, goes something along the lines that everything which exists has to have a designer except the designer Himself, because while we are physical beings, He is supernatural and therefore outside of our ability to comprehend and that this somehow makes magic bread and infallible celibate pedophiles not only a foregone conclusion but a moral imperative—or words to that effect.
Where the religious’ authority to speak with such certainty about such matters as our cosmological origins comes from, however, is something I would like to expand upon here, in what I hope will become one of the more popular long-slow-cook debates which this blog has, over the years, done rather well at playing host.
It’s been some time since we last had a group hug on a grand new topic—and while the Catholics among you don’t need a second invitation to a mass-debate, perhaps this time the readers out there who’ve traditionally been rather shy to dip their toe into an open conversation about, literally, everything might be finally encouraged to put up or shut up. It is, afterall, with no less a sense of occasion than the state opening of the Queen’s legs, that I hereby declare, ladies and gentlemen, boys, girls, Sunni and Shia, rising apes, fallen angels and all those who aren’t sure what they are, that I say with absolute certainty, (drum roll please) there is no such thing as God and I can prove it!
OK, now the disclaimer. Do I mean god (with a lower case g) is dead, as-in the awe and wonder of the universe around us which we carry in our hearts when we look into the night sky and simply boggle as to what, if anything, it could all possibly mean? No. Einstein’s god is alive and well and frankly would prefer it if we’d all just calm down a bit, call him by his first name and treat him like an ordinary bloke for once.
So, do we mean the magic baby Jesus god is dead then? The bundle of swaddling clothes who stole Santa’s thunder from under the ruddy red noses of Hasbro’s beleaguered marketing department and started foisting his hippy nonsense about peace and love for your fellow human credit cards on us, sometime in 4th century, Byzantine Turkey? Well, like it or not, this god too is alive and well in all of us who care about each other just enough to cherish the democracy, free speech and relative wealth that stems a from a free market economy driven inexorably towards the once yearly season of aspirational greed. And while we are still just human enough, despite the evil shadow of consumerist Jesus, to show a fair degree of antagonism towards people who believe that to be Christ-like, one must exalt the ridiculous, neither are we so short sighted as to kill off this one god who, empty fools and credulous pigs aside, at least symbolically marks the beginning of the Winter solstice and that inevitable if all-too prolonged assent of Ra, into Summer.
Which god is it that is dead, then? Pat Robertson’s vengeful god, perhaps? We could all do so much better without hearing another word from the lips of that stupid old queen ever again. Or perhaps it is Sarah Palin’s confused Jesus that has breathed his last breath of fresh, dewy Alaskan air, tinged with a faint aroma of a nearby destroyed coastline full of rotting rare seabirds, covered head to beak in sticky black gold, put under the ocean about 6,000 years ago, by a home-schooled, pro-life, monobrow, sandals and socks, beard but no moustache god? No, no friends. Sorry to disappoint, but this god too is also alive and well. In fact business is booming in everything from Genuine Holy Father Vatican approved tea-towels to three litre cancerous limb regrowth Lourdes water presentation box-sets. Order now.
Well then which god is it who has finally left us? Be not afraid, my dark minions. The one who has gone before us, is the one god above all others you really want to have vanished, almost as if he were never here in the first place.
Answer me this. How many times have you personally held a conversation, or read about, overheard someone else having, twittered, facebooked or otherwise encountered the phrase, “why something, rather than nothing”, as if this is supposed to leave any atheistic / agnostic argument against cosmological constants or so-called anthropic reasoning dead in the water?
Don’t say it didn’t freak you out a little when you first came across this one, by the way, because we both know it did. Indeed, reading back on some of my earlier writing, I can tell that—certainly without knowingly avoiding the subject—I have myself seemed somewhat reticent to approach the subject, either in case I found myself reaching into the well of knowledge and coming up thirsty, or because I naively felt that it was in the interest of balance; of not wanting to seem presumptuous, or arrogant, that the various religious contributors to this blog should be left with at least something resembling an argument of some kind or another to lean back on, once they’ve chewed their way through all the usual theological noise in their tirades against everything from Darwinian evolution by natural selection, to why God would prefer children remained orphaned, than let gay people raise a family.
Then, about 4 or 5 months ago, I was reminded of my failure to address this “something rather than nothing” business, when I read “Why Does E=mc2” by Professor Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw. How, I wondered aloud, do I bridge my recognition of this difficult subject and my hope that those of you out there, on the other side of this membrane we call “my” blog, might meet me in the middle and learn alongside each other about the amazing truth behind why the “fixed constants” or “grand design” argument falls down so spectacularly, when held up to the cold, hard light of scientific reasoning?
The section of the afore mentioned book which convinced me to simply, one day, come clean with you about this and dive right into the facts of the matter (yes it has taken me this long to get around to it—but having nothing to do except sit in bed with a head cold and the occasional lucid fever dream does tend to do force a guy like me into action now an then) was when the subject of particle accelerators arose, fairly early-on in the third or fourth chapter of Cox and Forshaw’s incredibly accessible book.
It spoke of how, from the point of view of a particle—if it were indeed possible to ride on the back of one as it hurtled around in circles, close to the speed of light—that the eventual collision between itself and another particle of similar mass, in the detector, would be an event which would seem to last far longer from the perspective of the world outside, than it would appear from the perspective of the particle looking out. But this isn’t just a clever mind experiment, designed to see if the reader can conceptualise of such incredibly tiny atomic interactions in their mind’s eye. It is an experiment which can be performed, in the real world, repeated and observed. It is an experiment which proves beyond doubt that just as Einstein predicted, space-time itself is flexible; and that it can slow down—from one point of view and yet appear to maintain its original speed from the point of view of another—relatively speaking.
It was at the point in the book at which these kinds of examples of real-world experiments which test various of Einstein’s famous theories, that I finally—after years of being so-close and yet so far from understanding what these famous equation really mean—that it finally began to dawn on me; that physics isn’t just some neat way for eggheads in giant expensive laboratories to feel good about themselves for the sake of feeling cleaver. That E=mc2 really does beautifully demonstrate, most unambiguously, not just that that the speed of light is constant, but that energy and mass are two sides of the same coin.
Fast forward forty or fifty years after Einstein first proved this. Throw in some Nobel prize winners, some cosmic background radiation, the triangulation of stars with the same temperature, a few hundred thousand billion empirically observed predictions of phenomena like black holes, dark energy and dark matter, and—hey fucking presto—not only is it possible to show how the universe came to exist, but more importantly it becomes possible to prove why it is impossible for it not to exist.
As it turns out, quantum fluctuations in a flat universe which contains exactly zero energy (such as our universe just happens to be) will always produce something, rather than nothing and that is exactly why the argument of the same name, so often flung in your face by the very people who understand its implications for their religious credulity the least, in-fact stands as the solid gold proof which is needed, in order to show that the universe did not require a deity—Thor, Zeus, Mithras, Odin, Yahweh or otherwise—for any of it to be magically brought into being. The universe simply is, it is not a question of being either on or off, depending on a divine willing it into existence or not.
Now, fast forward to the below video lecture—which I would be delighted to take questions on and attempt to provide answers for in the comments below, once you’ve watched it with, hopefully, as much fascination as I did. Please don’t skip any bits which might get a bit heavy, or offensive to your religious sensibilities—that is sort of the whole point.
Introduced by Professor Richard Dawkins, at the 2009 RDF conference, Lawrence Krauss presents, ‘A universe from nothing’: