Did the Universe have a Beginning?

Scott Smith —  July 9, 2012 — 6 Comments

If you’re a creationist, you presuppose the veracity of the bible.

If you’re a naturalist, you presuppose the nonexistence of the supernatural.

What happens when you set aside presuppositions and merely look at the evidence? When it comes to the topic of the universes’s origin, a number of models have been proposed. For simplicity’s sake, they have historically fallen in two camps. Up until the middle of the twentieth century, most of humanity had assumed that the universe has always existed. It had no beginning, and quite possibly will have no end. For most in the science community, that view crumbled quickly as evidence for the Big Bang mounted.

From the first indications of the reality of the Big Bang, scientists anticipated the theological implications of a “Big Bang”. In short, “a big bang requires a big banger”. (I don’t want to get into that here – that will be the subject of future posts.) Some have undertook to reclaim the notion of an infinite universe. They have attempted to wipe away notions of a Big Bang and explain how the universe has always been. Whether attempting to escape from the “Who did it?” question that the big bang begs, or simply following an instinct, some scientists have pressed on proposing inflation/deflation cycles, bubble universes, a multiverse, and more.

Preeminent physicist and cosmologist Dr. Alexander Vilenkin, along with colleagues Alan Guth and Arvin Borde, analyzed these models for decades until ultimately releasing the “Borde-Guth-Vilenkin Theorem” in 2003. Through their work, they were able to prove that any universe which has, on average, been expanding throughout its history cannot be infinite in the past but must have a past space-time boundary.

Since that time, myths have arisen that Vilenkin was misunderstood, and that in private communications he contradicted this statement. Rather than attempting to lay out the various unsubstantiated positions, I think it is better to listen to the man himself.



From the YouTube description:

Physicist and cosmologist Dr. Alexander Vilenkin refutes some scientific models (like Eternal Inflation, Cyclic Evolution, and Static Seed (Emergent Universe)) that supposedly argue for a universe without a beginning. He then offers his own explanation (via the Borde Guth Vilenkin Theorem) why the universe did have a beginning.


From Dr. William Lane Craig’s Facebook status July 8, 2012

There has been a lot of disinformation on the web about the implications of Alexander Vilenkin’s work, based on out context quotations from private correspondence with Vilenkin and misunderstanding of his answers. To see and hear what the man himself holds, look at this video of his lecture at Cambridge University at a conference celebrating Hawking’s 70th birthday. It’s remarkably straightforward and clear. Nota bene his closing statement: “For all we know, there are no models at this time that provide a satisfactory model for a universe without a beginning.”

Scott Smith

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Scott Smith is a lifelong Christian and an active member of his church. He enjoys blogging and teaching on Christian theology and defense as well as engaging skeptics in debate regarding Christian truth claims. Scott is a co-founder of Etcetera as well as TC Apologetics, and in his spare time he runs his own 3D design company.

6 responses to Did the Universe have a Beginning?

  1. Scott, I’m curious about the purpose of this post. Are there any proponents of the steady state theory left anymore? I was under the impression that the Big Bang was one of the more solidly established theories in cosmology…

    (BTW, a creationist can presuppose the veracity of any number of books, not just the Bible; Christians aren’t the only supernaturalists out there.)

    • Why post it? There are some steady state people out there, but that’s not the only view that rejects a beginning. You’re right that the Big Bang enjoys nearly unanimous acceptance, but there are those who attempt to write it off, and some who attempt to see it as more of a rebirth than a beginning point. The one thing these people all have in common is the belief that the universe is past-eternal. Many of these people have misquoted Vileknin in attempt to strengthen their position. Rather than continually debate people on what Vilenkin said, I figured it would be more effective to hear him actually say it.

      re: the term “creationist”:  That’s true Steve. I’m just going with the common use of the word.

      • OK, that makes sense.

        It’s an interesting experience trying to dig up more information about the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin Theorem; the high ranking search hits are almost all theistic arguments using the theorem as a part of an argument for God, rather than physicists. But there are a few other mentions. Here is an interesting post from Cosmic Variance: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2007/04/27/how-did-the-universe-start/ (some of the comments are very helpful, before the thread degenerates).  I also found a quote from Sean Carroll, the author of that post, quoted by Vic Stenger:

        I think my answer would be fairly concise: no result derived on the basis of classical spacetime can be used to derive anything truly fundamental, since classical general relativity isn’t right. You need to quantize gravity. The BGV [Borde, Guth, Vilenkin] singularity theorem is certainly interesting and important, because it helps us understand where classical GR breaks down, but it doesn’t help us decide what to do when it breaks down. Surely there’s no need to throw up our hands and declare that this puzzle can’t be resolved within a materialist framework.

        That post linked above helped me understand a distinction that I failed to make in my initial comment: there are two concepts which get called the Big Bang theory. The first is the theory of inflation, the idea that the observable universe was once very small and became very large very quickly a long time age; the second is the idea that the entire universe itself arose from a singularity of some kind. The first is well supported, but there apparently isn’t any widely agreed-upon account for the actual origin of the thing-which-inflated. Everything I’ve tried to read about the second concept quickly becomes too weird for me to follow, much less evaluate, but I definitely get the impression that it’s a highly active field of investigation.

        • But the very “thing which inflated” was nonexistent prior to the Big Bang. It was the initial event prior to which there were no events. Space, time, and matter arose at that instant. They did not merely expand at that instant. Prior to the singularity there was nothing, i.e. – no thing. That is the central point of Big Bang cosmology, and of the BGV theorem as well.

          • You may benefit from reading the post I linked to above. There are any number of ideas about what might have been before the inflationary period. It’s not at all certain that what came before was nothing. I would think you would be inclined to agree; after all, if nothing existed before the Big Bang, God didn’t exist then either. 

  2. Having not listened to the video yet, perhaps this thought is premature, however:
         What if the concept of “beginning/end” is only a concept humanity has decided exists, because humans have a beginning and end, or so it seems to the “thinking animal?”
         What if, because we are humans and because this is our concept, we are looking for something that does not and never has existed?  Sometimes “thinking outside the box” becomes confusing, to say the least.  LOL

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