Current Cosmology, Philosophy and Religion

Author: Carlos Alberto Marmelada Sebastián
Enlargement of article Latest news: The universe is expanding at an accelerating rate. Theories about the Big Bang with God in the background
Published in: Aceprensa; Service 154/00
date of on-line publication : 15 November 2000

1.- The expanding universe.

The Universe and its stars have always held a fascination that has captivated the human spirit. Since time immemorial, man has longed to know the origin and structure of the Universe; today, moreover, we would like to know what its final destiny will be. Thanks to new scientific theories and the spectacular progress of instruments and observational techniques in the 20th century, we have succeeded in developing a worldview capable of providing plausible scientific answers to these questions. What is the historical genesis of our present worldview? What are its foundations? What are its limitations?

For millennia mankind believed that the Universe was eternal, spherical and of a very small size compared to the currently known dimensions. At the beginning of the 20th century, a qualitative change in the field of cosmological conceptions took place. From the work published in 1917, Einstein proposed an image of the Universe that was characterised by being spherical and in equilibrium. Theoretically the force of gravitational attraction, after billions of years of existence, should have collapsed the Universe. But it is clear that this has not happened. According to the German physicist, the Universe does not collapse because there is a repulsive force that counteracts the effects of gravitational attraction and causes it to remain in equilibrium. Einstein called this force balancing the Universe: cosmological constant, and represented it with the term Lambda. The Dutchman Wilhelm De Sitter, building on Einstein's work, claimed that the Universe was expanding in a spiral fashion. For his part, the Russian physicist Alexander Friedmann, basing himself on the programs of study of the two aforementioned authors, argued that Einstein's Universe was not stable, but that it varied over time, either expanding or contracting, in any case Lambda was a useless parameter.

In 1927, a Belgian Catholic priest, Georges Edward Lemaître (1894-1966), based on Friedmann's theories, proposed the hypothesis that the galaxies came from an initial nucleus that he called the "cosmic egg" or "primordial atom". Indeed, if Friedmann was right and the universe was expanding, then by moving backwards in time, i.e. from the present to the past, we should arrive at an instant when t (time) equals zero (t=0). At that moment all the subject of the Universe would be concentrated at a point in space-time called the cosmic singularity or Big-bang singularity. In a minimum volume, all the mass of the Universe would be concentrated, which means that both its density and temperature would be enormous.

Until the early 1930s all this was pure theory, there was no experimental evidence to support these hypotheses. But it was around this time that the American astronomer Edwin Hubble (1889-1953) began to publish the results of his experimental work from the previous decade. Hubble analysed the light coming from galaxies and came to the conclusion that those that were further away from us underwent a more accelerated "redshift" in the spectroscope than those that were closer to us. This meant that the more distant a galaxy was from us, the faster it was moving away. For the first time there was an experimental sample in favour of the expansion of the Universe.1.

In 1948 George Gamow, Ralph Alpher and Robert Hermann published a reformulation of Lemaître's theory, highlighting the fact that they theoretically predicted the existence of a cosmic background radiation (CBA) resulting from the initial explosion, something like the echo of the big bang. But the Big Bang theory was still too hypothetical and failed to resolve serious difficulties, such as the dating of the age of the Universe, whose calculations were clearly impossible, since they gave the Universe an age lower than the age of the solar system .2 Moreover, a correct explanation was found only for the training of hydrogen and helium, but not for the other chemical elements known at the time.

2.- The stable Universe.

In 1948 Hermann Bondi and Thomas Gold, with the later addition of Fred Hoyle3proposed an alternative cosmological theory to the Big Bang theory. According to these authors, the Universe was expanding, but had no origin in time. There was no instant t=0. The Universe was eternal and, although it was expanding, it had always remained the same, whatever region of space we observed. This was because subject was continually being created, so that the newly created subject was occupying the space left by the expanding galaxies. This proposal was called the "Steady State Theory" and affirms the existence of an eisotropic homogeneous Universe, i.e. one that looks the same whatever region of space we observe and whatever the time (momentum) we observe it in. These two characteristics, homogeneity and isotropy, are known as the Perfect Cosmological Principle. The Steady State Theory totally rejected the hypothesis of the existence of an RCF, since, according to them, there had been no initial explosion, which meant that if its existence were discovered, this theory would be seriously compromised.

It is very important to underline that ideological motives were not absent in the formulation of this theory. Indeed, the Big Bang hypothesis seemed to imply the existence of a Creator who should be the author of the primordial atom that would explode and give rise to our Universe. The steady-state theory dispensed with a Creator because there was no initial instant from which everything came into being. The Universe was simply eternal; or to use Stephen Hawking's expression: it would have no edge in time.

3.- The big-bang of the "Big-Bang Theory".

After more than a decade of severe crisis, the Big Bang theory received an unexpected boost in 1964. Two American engineers, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson found, by chance, the famous cosmic background radiation. This dealt a fatal blow to the steady-state theory and was the final blow to the Big Bang theory. In 1992 the COBE satellite confirmed this finding with the detection of more background radiation.

Of course, all the difficulties did not suddenly disappear because the RCF was found. The question of what was there before the Big Bang became more pressing. Now, this is an absurd question by definition, for the simple reason that the Big-bang theory states precisely that both space and time were created at the very moment of the big bang, in other words: space and time were born with the Universe, they are properties of it and, therefore, they cannot exist apart from it. Therefore, it makes no sense to ask what there was before time, since the question, formulated in this way, implies the affirmation of the existence of time before time existed, which is contradictory.

We could also ask what happened to bring about the Big Bang? The question is also scientifically absurd. Anything that asks about the conditions prior to t=0 is meaningless, from the point of view of the methods of research of positive science, both in its experimental branch and in its purely theoretical side. Moreover, scientists claim that we cannot even ask ourselves what the first instants of the existence of the Universe were like, understanding by "first instants" the time elapsed between t=0and t=10-43 seconds. This is due to a very simple reason: our scientific knowledge about the material reality is only valid from a higher instant at=10-43 seconds (the so-called Planck Time) after the big explosion. What happened between t=0 and t=10-43 seconds? J.S. Trefill says it is the "Dragon Realm". What does this mean? Quite simply, it's a nice and funny way of acknowledging that we haven't got a clue. At the moment Planck Time represents an insurmountable threshold for the experimental scientific knowledge . Some speculative forays can be made, but it is still a realm of research beyond our current capabilities; because at this stage in the history of the Universe the temperature, density and pressure are so high that the laws of physics collapse and lose their meaning. In the future will we have theoretical elements that will allow us to know with certainty something of this epoch? Maybe. But it could also be a definitively impassable horizon, an absolute physical limit of the human knowledge .

4.- The Pulsating Universe.

In order to overcome the difficulties posed by the affirmation of the temporal origin of the Universe, but trying to overcome the discredit into which the Steady State theory had fallen, in the 1970s a new cosmological hypothesis was proposed which would accept the existence of a big explosion but would rule out any reference letter to a Creator (this was a very important ideological motivation in the affirmation and acceptance of this cosmological theory). This is the big-crunch theory. The Universe would expand as a result of a big explosion, but with a quantity of subject above a certain value, called the "critical density of subject" and represented by the Greek letter Omega, the pull of gravity would first stop the expansion and then contract the Universe until it collapsed in on itself. The decrease in the volume of the Universe would cause an increase in its temperature, density and pressure, producing a new cosmic explosion that would give rise to another Universe, but which would again see its expansion slowed down by the action of gravity, to contract and start a new cycle again. This process would be repeated an infinite number of times. The result: a Universe without origin or end.

There are three things to say about this theory:

a) The most recent programs of study in this field indicate that the amount of subject (visible, dark and antimatter) is less than the critical density of subject, which means that the force of gravity will not be able to stop the cosmic expansion, so the Universe will not collapse, giving rise to a new Big-bang and, with it, to another Universe.

b) Secondly, the objection formulated by the prestigious award Nobel Prize in Physics Steven Weinberg should be highlighted. According to this author, each of the explosion-implosion cycles experienced by the Universe should begin with a greater quantity of photons (light) than that of the previous cycle. Having produced an infinite issue of cycles (remember that the Big-crunch theory postulates that there is no subject beginning in time, there is no initial cycle), there should currently be an infinite amount of light, which means that, if Weinberg's argument is true, there would be no "darkness of the night ".4.

c) Finally, the ideological reasons for which this theory is appreciated must be emphasised. Indeed, as Weinberg acknowledges: "some cosmologists are attracted to the model of oscillations because, like the model of the steady state, it avoids the problem of Genesis well".5. However, neither the model of the Big-crunch (oscillations) nor the model of the Steady state (stable) avoid, either well or badly, the "Genesis problem" (the non-necessity of a Creator), since these two physical theories are based on the philosophical error of supposing that creation can only occur if what is created comes into existence from a given instant, without understanding that it would not be irrational to admit the hypothesis of a creation that is eternal. Indeed, an omnipotent and eternal God could create the Universe either at a given moment, or he could make it exist from all eternity, so that the Universe would be eternal but created, or in other words: it could be co-eternal with its creator if that were his will. The latter would be metaphysically possible for the simple reason that creation does not consist in the simple position of the entity in time, but in the donation of being to the entity, or what amounts to the same thing: in the participation that the entity has in being; and this, the Creator, could do from a given instant (t=0) or from all eternity (t=infinity). In final, it would be something that would be part of its free choice.

5.- The self-creation of the Universe.

To overcome the pitfall of both theories, from the 1980s onwards, and without completely abandoning the realm of ideological motivations, some scientists, most notably Stephen Hawking, proposed the notion of the Self-Creation of the Universe. The Universe would have had a beginning in time (thus discarding the Steady State theory), but would not be subject to a continuous ebb and flow of cycles of expansion and contraction (thus rejecting the Big-Crunch theory). However, there would be no Creator, since the Universe would have created itself.

Already the Greek Parmenides, more than two and a half thousand years ago, had warned that the entity could not arise from the absolute nonentity. What would have driven it into existence? the Elean metaphysician wondered. Moreover, why would the universe begin to exist from a certain moment and not before or after if it was eternal? At final how would it be possible for the Universe to create itself? According to these authors, the Universe could have originated from topological defluctuations of quantum gravity, carried out without any cause, and which would have given rise to Structures space-time created from quantum nothingness, this process is called "topological transition". From empty space-time, particles would be produced Materials by fluctuations of the quantum vacuum; finally, the Universe would be created from these particles from agreement with the physical laws that would produce the Big-bang. This cosmological conception is based on highly hypothetical theories, even some of them do not yet have a clearly defined epistemological status (this is the case, for example, of the Theory of Quantum Gravity, a theory that attempts to unify general relativity and quantum mechanics), which is admitted even by its own supporters.

The self-creation of the Universe is based on two extrapolations that are hardly justifiable from a scientific point of view. Firstly, it should be pointed out that theories can only be considered scientific if their hypotheses can be subjected to the control of an experiment, whether real or imaginary (Galileo and Einstein, for example, made much use of this experiment subject ). Well, absolute nothingness, i.e. metaphysical nothingness, is, by definition, not something that can be related to any subject of experiment, neither real nor possible, therefore it is an idea that falls totally outside the field of science. The method of scientific research relates one physical state to another, so that the absolute origin of the Universe, understood as absolute creation from nothing, would fall outside the realm of science, since absolute nothingness is not a physical state that can be experimentally analysed. Thus, when some scientists say that the Universe could have created itself from nothing, they are not referring to the concept of nothingness used by metaphysics or creationist theology. Thus, the nothingness from which the Universe would emerge would somehow be not an absolute void, but "something". This conceptual confusion also occurs with other terms (e.g. space, time, subject, vacuum, etc. ....) which have different meanings if we consider them from a philosophical or scientific perspective. Therefore, we must be very clear about the conceptual meaning of a term when we are working in one field of human knowledge (e.g. scientific) or in another (e.g. philosophical or theological). Clearly specifying the meaning of the concepts used in our reasoning by delimiting the semantic field in which we are going to use them could avoid many misunderstandings by ensuring that each area of human knowledge remains on the plane that is appropriate to it.

Secondly, it should be borne in mind that the theories of the self-creation of the universe are based on the combination of multiple elements from various scientific theories; elements that constitute, precisely, their most controversial points. For example, from quantum mechanics we take the controversial idea that uncaused phenomena exist, and the assertion that they can be created -and annihilated- subject, both statements require qualification and their meaning is, logically, limited to the realm of physics. Extrapolating them beyond that science is a mistake, and this is precisely what happens when we try to use these thesis to affirm the self-creation of the Universe. Another confusion would be to identify the quantum vacuum of physics with the absolute nothingness of ontology. From general relativity, one would extract the idea that space and time can be considered as Structures independent of subject, however, the general theory of relativity affirms that the areas where there are subject are, from the mathematical point of view, regions in which space-time has a greater curvature, which would be the bodies Materials.

In final, the theories that postulate the self-creation of the Universe are based on highly hypothetical statements, on combinations of debatable theoretical elements and, in addition, on the semantic transmutation of some terms used by various branches of science and even of Philosophy or theology, which come to be used with another meaning in other branches of science; In such a way that they are given a certain physical meaning when either their original meaning is philosophical or they are taken from other scientific theories in which they had a different original meaning and function.

6.- "Expel the creator".

To paraphrase Stephen Hawking, we could say that "Expelling the Creator" has been one of the essential priorities of the advocates of "Self-creation" theories. However, if we want to be rationally rigorous (so ideological prejudices must be left aside) we will find that even accepting the hypothesis that the Universe is self-created does not exclude the possibility of making a Creator reference letter , in other words: it is not irrational to affirm its existence. Why? For the simple reason that the Universe has its origin, whatever it may be, and the structure it has thanks to the existence of physical laws that make it what it is. Well, if the Universe creates itself, it will do so because certain physical laws make it originate in this way. Now, what is the origin of these physical laws? They can neither: a) originate with the Universe, since they must in some way be prior to it in order to originate it, nor b) originate themselves, since nothing can be a cause-effect of itself. Thus, even accepting the hypothesis that the Universe had created itself, the acceptance of the existence of a Creator would not be irrational.

At the end of the eighties of the last century Hawking surprised with a book that was a real best-seller: History of time6. Hawking's goal was to answer the question: "what is it that breathes fire into the equations and creates a universe that can be described by them?7In other words: why does the universe exist? And why is it the way it is? The scientistic optimism with which that work was written led Hawking to conclude that: "if we were to find the answer to this, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason, because then we would know the thought of God".8. When he wrote this book his goal was: "a complete understanding of what is going on around us and of our own existence".9. The conclusion Hawking reached in that work was the existence of a self-contained universe, without beginning or end, limited but without boundaries or borders, where there is no place for a creator; in Hawking's universe God has nothing to do, no role left for to play.10. All this would be possible from the moment we formulated a Theory of Everything that would allow us to understand the totality of nature on the basis of fundamental laws. Hawking's optimism was evident in the following statement: "I still believe that there is reason for cautious optimism that we may now be close to the end of the search for the ultimate laws of nature ".11. In The Universe in a Nutshell 12published in 2002, Hawking insists on the idea that the universe is self-contained and has no boundaries.13with the philosophical, anthropological and theological consequences that this entails. However, Hawking's optimism sample oscillates here. On the one hand he insists that: "we have already made remarkable progress in understanding the cosmos, particularly in recent years. Although we don't have a complete picture, it might not be far away."14. But, on the other hand, this explicitly optimistic statement of triumphant promising scientism clashes with the moderation expressed in the Preface, where he declares that: "in 1988, when the History of Time was first published, the final Theory of Everything seemed to be on the horizon (...) we have come a long way since then, but there is still a long way to go and we cannot yet see its end".15 How significant these words are.

The Theory of Everything depends on the correct elaboration of a complete theory of quantum gravity (a theory that would reconcile the theory of general relativity with quantum mechanics), something that Hawking himself acknowledges has not yet been achieved .16. agreement In fact, in History of Time, Hawking already warned that his affirmation of the existence of a Universe without frontiers (and, therefore, without a "task" for God) was only a proposal because it was not known how to combine general relativity with quantum mechanics, and because it was not known how to establish predictions that are in line with reality, something consubstantial to all scientific theories that are 17. In his current work he also warns that the absence of contours is also a proposal18.

The Universe in a Nutshell is a much less belligerent book. Both in The History of Time and in the series of lectures he gave around the world over the next three years, Hawking never tired of proclaiming explicitly that God had no place in his universe. Now it is not that he has renounced this thesis , but he does state it less radically and in a much more subtle way. Hawking's ultimate goal is to succeed in demonstrating that: "the origin of the universe should be governed by the same laws that govern it in other instants".19. In other words: the universe must have created itself by the same laws that govern its development. The problem here lies in how to make it logically compatible that the laws of nature, which only exist when there is a universe, are the ones that make the universe exist. In other words, the laws of nature should make themselves at the same time as they make the universe exist. The question is to find out how laws that come into being with the universe, bring the universe into being at the same time. At final, they should becausa sui (cause and effect of themselves), something that turns out to be physically and metaphysically impossible.

Without renouncing his fundamental approaches, today's Hawking is more aware of the limitations of our knowledge, the overflowing optimism of his unrestrained scientism of the 1980s has given way to a certain intellectual caution in setting out his thesis , including the recognition of the possibility that our minds may be overwhelmed by the complexity of reality and so we will never be able to understand everything perfectly: "We must try to understand the beginning of the universe from scientific instructions ," says Hawking. "It may be a task beyond our capabilities, but we should at least try. It may be a task beyond our capabilities, but we should at least try".20How far removed is this statement from the dogmatism with which Hawking expressed himself in History of Time!

7.- Science, Philosophy and Religion.

There have been occasions when these three disciplines have come into conflict with each other. Perhaps there may have been an occasional moment when this happened, but it was not a frequent occurrence, nor is it the case today. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that the vast majority of medieval philosophers and scientists were ordained priests. If one wants to be goal one must also recognise the historical fact that the founders of the experimental method, and thus the fathers of the new science, were deeply religious people. Today, many scientists profess one faith or another, from those who advocate a kind of pantheism (Einstein) to those who are Muslim (Abdus Salam) or Catholic (Sir John Eccles). Some of them have been awarded the award Nobel Prize (this is precisely the case of the three examples cited above). The enumeration of leading scientists, both current and from previous centuries, who profess or have professed some religious faith subject would be extremely copious and it would not be appropriate to include it in a article like this one; especially when there is already an excellent work on this specific point on the market .publishing house21.

What does this prove, that science is the prelude to religion, that science, via Philosophy, is a path that leads clearly to God? Not really. They are autonomous fields that have their own object of study and their own methods of study research. But it is also true that, for the same reasons, science cannot be used to substantiate denials of the metaphysical realities studied by Philosophy and religion. Simply put, Philosophy, Science and Religion constitute three areas of human reality which, in themselves, are not only not mutually exclusive, but complementary, in such a way that all three, together with many other aspects, are necessary for the configuration of an integral human life, since, the human knowledge is not satisfied with the apprehension of the second or instrumental causes (Science), but, by nature, the human being seeks the knowledge of the ultimate causes of the being of the entity (Philosophy, Religion), as has been recognised by numerous philosophers of undeniable prestige. Human beings are not satisfied with just knowing how the being is (Science), but they also want to know why it is (Philosophy, Religion). Why is there being instead of nothing? This is the great question that challenges human intelligence. To find the answer means to understand reality in its most fundamental aspect.

It is now unanimously accepted that science cannot satisfactorily answer the ultimate questions posed by human beings. If we bear in mind that these are precisely the questions that most affect and interest human beings, due to their radical nature and importance, we will understand why human reason, while recognising the very high dignity of the positive scientific knowledge , cannot stop at this horizon, considering it the ultimate limit attainable by rational effort, but will naturally be led to transcend the sphere of sensory reality in order to find the non-empirical foundation of empirical reality.

Given this status, science is unable to determine whether God exists or not, whether the human soul exists or not, and if it does exist whether it is immortal or not. Nor will we be able to find in the realm of experimental scientific research the ultimate reason for our existence, or the answer that will clarify the meaning of our death or the meaning of pain and moral suffering. Nor will Philosophy be able to give an absolute and complete answer to all these questions, but it can shed much light and contribute to discovering that the human being has, by nature, an openness towards transcendence. The meaning of this openness must be analysed and clarified in order to be able to determine what the inevitable relationship between man and the Transcendent being, the ultimate foundation of the totality of reality, consists of and what implications it has for human life.


(1) In fact, the Big Bang theory holds that it is not the galaxies that are moving away from each other through space, but that it is space-time itself that expands and, by expanding, pushes away the bodies in it, in the same way that points on the surface of a balloon would do when the balloon is inflated.

(2) It is still impossible today to date the exact time of the big bang with any certainty. Traditionally, it was thought to have happened around 15 billion years ago. However, recent research, with the invaluable help of the Hubble Space Telescope financial aid , has brought the date of the event forward, with the more plausible hypothesis that it happened around 12 billion years ago. In any case, this is an open topic and subject to constant revision.

(3) P recisamente este sería el autor que acuiría la célebre expresión "Teoría del Big-bang" para referirse al model cosmológico de expansión explosiva.

(4) Cf. Steven. Weinberg: The First Three Minutes of the Universe; Alianza publishing house, Madrid, 1979, pp. 131-132.

(5) S. Weinberg. Ibid.

(6) Stephen Hawking: Historia del tiempo. Del big bang a los agujeros negros; Crítica, Barcelona, 1989. Despite the degree scroll of the work, this is a book that studies neither the history of time nor its nature.

(7) Ibidem; p. 223.

(8) Ibidem; pp. 223-224.

(9) Ibidem; p. 218.

(10) Ibidem; pp. 186-7 and 15.

(11) Ibidem; p. 202.

(12) Ed. Crítica, Barcelona, 2002, 216 pp.

(13) Ibidem; p. 82.

(14) Ibidem; p. 69.

(15) Ibidem; viii.

(16) Ibidem; p. 147.

(17) History of Time; op. cit., p. 182.

(18) The Universe in a Nutshell; op. cit., p. 195.

(19) Ibidem; p.24.

(20) Ibidem; p. 79.

(21) Antonio Fernández Rañada: "Los científicos y Dios"; Ediciones Nobel, Oviedo, 2000; 390 pp. Starting from the fact that "science and religion have shaped the world and determined the values assumed in such a way that our society would be unimaginably different without them", Antonio Fernández Rañada manages to demolish a cliché that is firmly established among the cultural a prioris of our society. The author stresses that "for part of public opinion, science is necessarily opposed to faith in God and scientists are all atheists", a conviction that "forms part of the well-established popular image". Starting from these premises, what Fernández Rañada intends to demonstrate is that "the assumption that science and religion are incompatible is unfounded", clearly explaining that "the essential thesis of the book (is) the notorious falsity of the stereotype (that) scientists are necessarily and radically opposed to religious experience". So when one claims that scientists are radically opposed to religious transcendentalism by virtue of a scientific materialism that they profess without exception, one is making a totally gratuitous claim. Strictly speaking, this is not the case, for "among scientists the same diversity is reproduced that we observe among other people: there are Christians, agnostics, agnostics, agnostics, agnostics, agnostics, agnostics, agnostics, agnostics. There are Christians, agnostics, atheists, Muslims, fervent, lukewarm, theists with no particular religion, deists...". Science and religion are therefore not incompatible. This is demonstrated by the fact that scientific and religious thought do not contradict each other because they are two different ways of approaching a reality that irresistibly attracts man. In this work Rañada succeeds in demonstrating that it is not true that scientists are basically atheists. It could be objected that the author only quotation scientists who are believers, leaving out atheists and agnostics. This is true. But it should not be forgotten that the aim of this book is precisely to show that there are many leading scientists who are believers. A goal that is more than achieved.