Always Existed ? :
The "Big Bang" vs. a "Steady State" Universe
Either the universe arose from and was preceded by absolute nothing or else it, or its creator, always existed and had no beginning, that is its creator was / is infinite. Only those alternatives are available; the positing of anything other than nothing as a beginning immediately requires accounting for that something's existence so that the only alternative to a beginning of nothing is no beginning at all.
Thinkers over at least the past 4,000 years [the old testament Hebrews, the Persian philosophers Zoroaster and the Magi, and the ancient Greeks Plato and Aristotle] have consistently come to that conclusion and, since the universe arising from nothing seemed impossible and ridiculous, they consistently concluded that the universe arose from something that always existed, something that so to speak was the cause of its own existence. Shakespeare makes King Lear say, "Nothing can be made out of nothing," and, the thought of that limitation has made thinkers throughout the ages opt for the infinite.
But, under closer examination the infinite that this line of reasoning requires has problems more severe than does the universe arising from nothing. Furthermore, it has turned out that the universe arising from nothing is not so insuperable a problem as had appeared. [See beginning from nothing .]
The Problem of the Infinite
We can readily grasp the idea of nothing; it is easily within our ken. But, the idea of infinity is much more difficult. We use expressions such as "without limit" and "unending" to convey the idea but we do not really comprehend ["in our gut" so to speak] what "forever", "always", "without limit" really signify. To us the symbol for infinity, ∞ , subtly means a specific quantity standing at the end of a very long list of ever-increasing numbers. But, its true meaning is that that list of numbers goes on and on without ever ending, that if we go out and "stand on" the most distant number we can "see" we will still see a never-ending stream of ever-increasing numbers going on and on, forever.
For the universe to extend in space forever and for it to have existed forever is therefore truly inconceivable. Furthermore something existing forever means that it is its own cause. But, that contradicts the essential requirement that a cause exist independently of what it causes, that the cause "precede" in the causal sense that which it causes.
An infinity cannot exist; it is impossible in material reality. The reason for the impossibility of infinity in a material reality is that any real infinity results in contradictions -- simultaneous contradictory conditions, the simultaneous existence of states and their revocation. The contradictions are impossible therefore infinity is impossible except as a non-material theoretical concept.
To account for existence it is necessary to show why it is as compared to the alternative, it not being. Thus one must begin at the beginning, it not being. The starting point is absolute nothing -- the state before there was anything, before everything. It is the only state that requires no explanation nor accounting for its existence. It is naturally what one would expect before anything started.
Underlying the "Big Bang" vs. "Steady State" question lies the purely metaphysical problem: "Has the universe always existed or did it have a beginning ?" This problem is clearly metaphysical, that is, beyond physics. However, the resulting physics of our present universe in each of the two cases would likely be different in at least some aspects. The successful validation of the physics of our present universe would amount to a physics validation of the successful metaphysical hypothesis.
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