BY SEAN JEONG
Where does the universe come from?” is an important question. It not only gives us insight into the question “Where are we going?”, but also reflects on the nature and purpose of our existence.
Saint Thomas Aquinas, in his work Summa Theologica, defends the existence of God with five detailed arguments (“Quinque viae”), the first three directly relating to God as the true origin of the universe. In a CliffsNote version of these three arguments, he reasons that the logical need for there to be the first mover and first cause points to God as a possible initiator.
Aquinas’ arguments take for granted that people do not find logically acceptable the ex nihilo argument, that the universe just happened to pop out of nothing one day. I myself also wonder if anyone can genuinely accept the ex nihilo theory of the universe’s origin and of material existence in general. Aside from the blatant violation of the law of conservation of mass-energy, it seems just as nonsensical to believe that material existence “just occurred” than to believe that there is a metaphysical drive behind it, a force greater than we can imagine: isn’t it just plain ignoring the question of the origin of the universe rather than addressing it?
Anyway, from this point on, I will just assume that the answer of the “origin” is one that must be addressed. The main theory opposing the existence of a divine creator is the cosmological theory, which says that the universe (time and space) has always existed in some form or another. This is supposedly backed up by developments in the string theory, the assertion that the Big Bang and the Big Crunch are actually loops connecting one universe to the next in an everlasting cycle.
The problem with the cosmological argument is that it assumes that the universe itself is infinite – that it stretches infinitely into the past and infinitely into the future. To claim that infinity can be in the past, however, is itself a definitional contradiction, just as impossible as the claim that you have counted all the numbers. Why? Precisely because there are infinite numbers: one cannot, therefore, have counted them all already (in the past). Infinity divided by two is still infinity. This is precisely what the cosmological arguments is advancing – that the past is infinite – without acknowledging that by being infinite, it cannot be contained in the past. This problem is also known as the infinite regression, which may sound familiar to those studying mathematics or physics.
One may ask, wouldn’t the same argument apply against the creative force as well? Why does God not need an answer for his origin, if the universe does? Yet, the same problem may not actually apply to the creative divine as it does to the universe, because the divine differs in nature from the created. We, as parts of the universe, understand that the universe is under the limitations of the flow of time. Therefore, for the universe to exist forever, it must contain infinity in the past, which runs into the problem of infinite regression. However, nothing indicates that the creative divine and the metaphysics of the origin are also under the same rules of time flow: thus, to say that the divine is infinite does not necessarily mean that it must contain it in the past.
I do realize that so far this line of thinking has only pointed to some creative force behind the universe, but not to anything about that force’s characteristic or personality traits. Still, it is significant in many ways. It certainly sets up the discussion grounds for metaphysics by pointing out that there is something beyond the mere material and physical universe. It also introduces a fundamental part of Christian apologetics by establishing the existence of something beyond the world we live in. •