Q: Can one truly create something from nothing? If matter formed from energy (as in the Big Bang expansion), where did the energy come from?

Physicist: That right there is one of the great unsolved questions.  Every experiment that’s ever been done (on this subject) verifies the conservation of mass and energy.  While the amount of mass or the amount of energy may change (they can be interchanged), the sum of the two is absolutely invariant.

This naturally leads to the question above.  There are plenty of theories bouncing around, but without a couple more big bangs to do tests on, it’s unlikely we’ll ever know for sure.  As we learn, many of the theories will be ruled out, but we’ll probably never be for sure sure.  Here are some examples that almost certainly won’t pan out:

Spectacular Uncertainty: Energy and time cannot both be exactly known.  Over any time scale there is always a little energy error, but the larger the time scale the smaller the energy error.  Generally, this takes the form of one or two extra particles that last effectively no time.  For example; gluons (the carrier of the nuclear strong force) usually don’t even exist long enough to cross an atomic nucleus at the speed of light.  But maybe, just maybe, the unimaginable amount of matter in the universe is some kind of amazing quantum clerical error.  You could tie in the anthropic principle (if there weren’t lots of matter there would be no one around to see it, so since we can see it…) if you want, but still.  That shouldn’t explain there being any more matter than the absolute minimum amount needed to have observers.

It is what it is: Maybe mass/energy conservation only works for T>0, but doesn’t mean bupkis for T=0.  In other words, there’s an unexplainable asterisk on the law.

God/Goddess/Gods/Higher Power: Sure.

All this has happened before, and all this will happen again: Maybe the big bang wasn’t the beginning, but in fact the universe just goes through expansion, collapse, and re-expansion cycles.  This has the advantage of explaining the big bang, and also eliminates the question about conservation of mass/energy, but it does leave lots of other questions.  Maybe worse questions.  Also, the universe gives every sign of wanting to expand forever, making it less likely that a previous iteration would have collapsed.

Bubbles: It could be that our universe “bubbled” off of an even larger universe, that had plenty of mass and energy to spare.  This theory don’t answer the question, but it does push it back far enough that it’s hopeless to try and answer rigorously.

Keep in mind that none of these theories are technically scientific.  Scientific knowledge is nothing more than what we can learn from observation, inference, and experiment.  Beyond inference, we’ve got very little to work with as far as the big bang goes.

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59 Responses to Q: Can one truly create something from nothing? If matter formed from energy (as in the Big Bang expansion), where did the energy come from?

  1. nearly 42 says:

    Wow, just have to say have really enjoyed reading all the comments. I don’t really understand the notion that enengy and matter can not be created or destroyed, only changed. I’ve never liked the big bang theory, if anything it appears to me that galaxies come from much largparticleer objects rather than a magic particle, that created everything. Time is a measurement, like distance and weight. We have concepts we can only related to our own experiences in this reality. Though I’ve had dreams that felt real while in them, it’s only when I awoke could I then use logic to understand that was a dream that I just experienced. God and the metaphysical realms work differently to the physical universe. I’ve met ppl whom say that time isn’t linear. I personally dislike the this, I like the cause and effect nature we are growing to understand of how things work. I enjoy the learning curve we experience. To say a god or gods or goddess did it, opens just as many questions, if not more. Why would a god do it, how and what does that mean for us??? Science have proved that bad ppl have undeveloped brains, nice ppl have active empathy and emotional guides, such as rewards of pride or punishmentshould like guilt. So it’s unfair to judge a baby on how it is made, same as it’s unfair to punish any disability. When I had a spiritual experience I saw all kinds of stuff I still struggle to believe in, it changed my ideas of what I thought seemed like logic. Though I’ve always been curious, I’ve never felt the pull of any of the thousands of religions, I always saw them like stories to try to teach and understand nature. Even when ppl chat of their god and beliefs I’ve always seeno it as an insight into their nature. Is their god all knowing and loving or judgemental and punishing, what is good and bad in their eyes. I see god as a metaphor for ‘nature of’ even after my own personal experience of spiritual beings. Though my experience gave me way more questions than answers, and I don’t have the evidence that points out if what I was experiencing was seeing spirits or my incredible imagination, though both answers raise more questions than answers. If spirits then what was that all about, and the same questions if it was my imagination. The beauty of science isn’t to disprove, but to try to gather data and then understand it. Before my experience I wasn’t very interested in the universe, being outside my body and the thought of being eternal sparked my interest in the universe, now it looks like something to really explore, rather than wondering how it was created, I wonder about all the possibilities of the future. This I do realise is a product of how I’ve grown up in a world that knows the existence of the universe. In all my studies of religions throughout history they only write about the spirit realms being like the dream realms, not about the trillions of other planets, billions of other galaxies and nebulae. There is no mention in any of the religions I’ve studied that explain how to explore the universe, only how to experience the divine or nightmare realms or reincarnation theories. So the God created it just raises way more questions than it answers. Science also struggles because how do we gather data of the spiritual realms when they don’t seem to abide themail same laws of nature as the physical realm?

  2. satwik pani says:

    @nearly 42 The first thing you have to remember is that every thing you feel and dream is caused by chemical reactions. That being said, if there is a spiritual realm, which i find unlikely, its also unlikely to be able to access it through chemical reactions. If it were, we would be able to manipulate that and see into it. I almost completely never consider the idea of a god, since it is less likely that unicorns that fart rainbows exist. A dream is only the chemical reactions/electrical signals in your brain doing things based on nothing. Keep that in mind and everything may seem clearer.

  3. Humble&Just says:

    @satwik pani:
    “That being said, if there is a spiritual realm, which i find unlikely, its also unlikely to be able to access it through chemical reactions. If it were, we would be able to manipulate that and see into it”

    This is true. It is all chemical reactions but we do have a way of manipulate and replicate this effect. In fact that is the purpose of all psychedelic drugs. I suspect this is how @nearly 42 have seen his spirits, unless he -like me – have some kind of mental illness.
    The important thing is to never believe what you are experiencing without first consulting logic. Always be objective, and try your hardest not to let your feelings get involved. This is the difference with someone coping with mental illness and your typical “nut case”.

    In regard to how the universe started, I’m surprised no one have mentioned the “simulated universe theory”. In short, we are nothing but a virtual reality created by some more advanced life form/technology (and they may very well be in a virtual reality created by some higher life form/technology etc.).
    That would explain a lot about the world we live in. Like why we have constants like the speed of light (which could be the highest processing power of the machine we are in), electron constant, Planck constant or gravity relatives.
    Although it begs the question, is there a “real” physical world at the end of the chain.
    The moment we can simulate a complete universe should be the moment this theory goes from just a theory to the “new Big bang”.
    Until then, keep looking up

  4. akosipatriot says:

    Humble&Just:

    You have a logical idea by watching Matrix many times over?

    “In short, we are nothing but a virtual reality created by some more advanced life form/technology (and they may very well be in a virtual reality created by some higher life form/technology etc.).”

    This idea does not answer the basic question of how can “one” truly create something out from nothing? Your idea will fall into infinite regressions after the word etc., thus making your idea the most illogical.

  5. Angel says:

    I am heavily annoyed by the comments. First of all, the Big Bang Theory does not even claim the Universe was created from nothingness! That is the first mistake almost every single one of you is making! What the Big Bang Theory actually says is that, at some point, there was a singularity, and due to quanta fluctuations, this singularity went through a rapid and exponential inflation during which there was rupture in gauge, causing the forces to be torn into different fields. These fields then acted on energy, forming quark-gluon plasma, which later evolved into forming hadrons. Hadrons were combined to form atomic nuclei, and these atomic nuclei evolved into atoms, which later interacted with forces, creating the pathway for the evolution of the Universe.

    Another big mistake you’re making is confusing theory with mere speculation. Theories are actually supported by overwhelming amounts of evidence, they can solve problems that are posed, and they can make predictions about certain phenomena, predictions which are testable. Most current theories have passed every test so far. Theories are not facts, but it is the closest thing we have to a fact.

    Another mistake you people are making is trying to disprove scientific arguments with theological arguments, and vice versa. Do not bring God to the discussion! There is nothing wrong with believing in God, but do not use him in an argument. That is absolutely wrong. In fact, that itself is almost a sin, as it makes unnecessary use of his name, violating one of the Ten Commandments.. It is not of religious concerns to overthrow science, so stop trying!

    Another mistake you’re making is to assume souls immediately exist. We don’t even know they exist, so we can’t bring them into the argument either. We know for sure consciousness is a cerebral phenomenon, but we can’t even claim souls exist. In fact, it is more likely they don’t exist.

    Another mistake you’re making is to assume time exists. Time is a mere concept we use as a tool in science and in our daily lives. Time doesn’t really exist, at least not the way you guys think it does, neither does any dimension or measurement you make. They’re concepts different from reality.

  6. SeekerOfTruth says:

    The problem with believing in God as the first cause is simply this: Which God? The Bible’s God? Islam’s God? Hindu’s God? Zoroastra’s God? Greek’s Gods? Whose God? See the problem here?

    I believe theists don’t need to bother expending energy proving that God exists. Rather, they need to prove which God is the true God. Now naturally, Christians would say Bible’s God it the true God. Muslims would say Allah is the true God, Hindu’s would say Hindu’s God, etc.

    But how in the world do you prove that YOUR God is the true God? With what science, with what logic, with what experiment or observation do you prove the existence of your version of God while disproving other possible versions, and do so with definite accuracy?

    If we think a bit about this important question AND if we press ourselves to be truly sincere and honest with ourselves, then we’d realize that ultimately we insist in believing in our own version of God for one and only one reason: Comfort. Spiritual comfort that is. If we could eliminate our need for this “must-have comfort”, and instead dare to live with the unknown (not as easy as you think), then we’d begin to realize that maybe, just maybe, God could be quite different that what we think.

    For instance, God could be an impersonal and indifferent God, just like the forces of nature. Or maybe it could be Allah or perhaps Krishna. Or maybe it could be the universe itself, or it maybe it doesn’t even exist…

    When I observe the universe AND I am being honest with myself, then I see a much higher probability for the existence of a God that is totally beyond human concepts (be it physical such as requiring energy to sustain, or be it mental such as getting angry and then punishing, or getting pleased and then rewarding, etc.), and a very low probability for the All Father, Allah, Krishna, Zeus and the likes.

    In my opinion, the path to the truth begins with self-honesty and universal humbleness (i.e., what is important to us Humans might not be important to God), but these are exactly the two qualities that most of us do sacrifice right away, by believing in some sort of fictitious God that could give us the “spiritual comfort” we so badly need.

  7. Angel says:

    That is not so much of a problem. Whenever theists argue in favor of the existence of God, they define this God-entity as a generic God, not attached to any particular religion. All they need to prove is that God exists; that is all that is enough to create the theoretical limits of science. However, there is a much bigger problem with explaining the beginning of the universe using God as a preliminary assumption. If we assume God exists (which he most likely does not), then we can say God created the universe. However, that creates a logical fallacy. If the universe did not exist, that must mean time and space did not exist. It must also mean the laws of physics did not exist either. If that is true, then it does not make sense that there was God before the universe, because the term “before” already presupposes the existence of time. That renders any concept of before and after meaningless in the situation that the universe does not exist. If the concept of before is meaningless, then the cause through which the universe comes into existence is in itself arbitrary and senseless. Hence, it is illogical to ascribe the beginning of the universe to God.

    There is also serious logical problems with attaching the property of transcendence to God; namely, it requires logic to arrive to the conclusion that he is transcendental. But because by definition, a transcendental being is not bound by logic, then that creates a contradiction. Which means that it is impossible, in the inherent sense, to be truly transcendental. Therefore, God can be transcendental, but only to some extent, but not fully transcendental. However, if he is not fully transcendental, all we need is to extend and expand logic to account for its partial transcendence. That will normalize and eliminate any sense of transcendence that God could have. Once you make that possible, God can be reduced down to an arbitrary hypothetical force that can be shown to most likely not exist.

    That makes God’s existence in general unlikely, but not necessarily impossible. However, it isn’t reasonable at all to have faith in unlikely phenomena. With that said, you will argue (because you already have) that there is a spiritual necessity to believe in such a God. But that’s wrong, because I can show you multiple examples of people who have no spirituality whatsoever and yet live comfortably and happily. It also creates the question of whether there truly exists an spiritual component to life. In conclusion, if YOU personally have the need to believe in something that does not make a lot of sense to believe in, that is your personal problem. However, humans do not have the inherent necessity of believing such. Instead, humans have a more inherent need of knowing and believing things that are true with most certainty possible. That’s why science exists. When you put personal faith over truth, you arrive at many problems. It can also allow you to deny logic itself on absolutely no basis. I’m not going to elaborate on that, but hopefully the implications are clear enough.

  8. Ashton says:

    sci·ence
    ˈsīəns/
    noun
    the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.
    So the ultimate beginning of the universe can’t be proven scientifically.
    en·tro·py
    ˈentrəpē/
    noun
    1.
    PHYSICS
    a thermodynamic quantity representing the unavailability of a system’s thermal energy for conversion into mechanical work, often interpreted as the degree of disorder or randomness in the system.
    2.
    lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder.
    “a marketplace where entropy reigns supreme”
    synonyms: deterioration, degeneration, crumbling, decline, degradation, decomposition, breaking down, collapse. Does the Big Bang seem reasonable?

  9. Angel says:

    @Ashton,

    Stating that the ultimate beginning of the universe cannot be proven by science shows that you do not understand what science is. You provided that definition, but it does not describe science at its fullest, it is not exhaustive.

    Science as a system of reasoning is by definition inductive. It means that it allows the person to build assumptions based on the evidence that their senses detect and then generalize. However, it follows that because one can never have all of the data available, one can never truly show that something is correct. Thus, by definition, science cannot prove anything, science can only disprove. The sky is blue, but we cannot prove that, we can only disprove it is any other color. To say that science proves or cannot prove something is invalid because it does not address science for what it is. The correct statement is: ‘Science is not sufficient to help us determine what was the ultimate beginning of the universe is like.’

    That statement is still wrong because it assumes the beginning of the universe is not a natural process, but a supernatural process. That assumption implies the supernatural realm exists, but that is unproven, so to assume that the beginning of the universe is unnatural is absurd. The beginning of the universe is a natural phenomenon and can thus be explained by science.

    Does the Big Bang make sense? Perhaps if you studied and read about it before you started talking about things you have no idea of as you have shown you don’t, then it would make a lot of sense.

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