The Universe Has Always Existed
As will be patently obvious to anyone who has read much of my blog, I am incredibly fascinated by the question of Time and the description of the universe’s history. The topic is incredibly complex and wonderfully intricate. Unfortunately, these peculiarities can very often lead to very common misconceptions. One of the misconceptions which I encounter most often is the idea that there was once a state in which the universe did not exist.
This misconception has arisen because, over the past century, it has become increasingly plausible that the universe may not extend infinitely into the past. Thanks to Big Bang Cosmology, the previously prevailing view of Aristotle that the universe is static and eternal has been almost entirely abandoned. It is entirely possible– and perhaps even likely, given certain assumptions– that the universe has a finite history. That is to say, there was a first Moment of Time. Given this, people naturally wonder, “Well, what happened before that?” Unfortunately, these people don’t realize that the question which they are asking is entirely nonsensical.
Whether the universe is past-finite or past-infinite, it has always existed.
If the universe extends infinitely into the past, it is trivial to see that it has always existed. However, what if it does not? How can I justify my claim if the universe has a finite past? Consider the following argument.
- The universe is the set of all physical things which really exist.
- Time is a physical thing which really exists.
- If Time exists, then the universe exists. (1,2)
- Time is the set of all moments which exist.
- There exists some moment, t.
- If t exists, then Time exists. (4,5)
- Therefore, if t exists, then the universe exists. (6,3)
- The phrase “always” is defined as meaning “for all moments of time.”
- There are no moments of time in which the universe does not exist. (7)
- Therefore, the universe has always existed. (8,9)
The logic is fairly simple to follow, but it grinds against people’s intuition to think that there may have been a hard boundary to Time. They simply have this intuitive sense that, for any moment of time, there must have been some moment which preceded it. However, this may not necessarily be the case. If Time is past-finite, then there are no moments of time which precede the first moment.
Asking “What happened before the first moment of Time?” is precisely akin to “What place lies north of the North Pole?” There are no places to the north of the North Pole. The North Pole is the northernmost point on the globe. If you were to be standing on the North Pole, and you took one big step in any direction, that step would take you directly south. In exactly the same way, it does not make sense to ask, “What happened before the first moment of Time?” There is no way for a thing to happen before the first moment of Time, because things only happen within Time, and there is no Time which exists before the first moment.
The universe has always existed. Now, the question of whether its history is past-infinite or past-finite is certainly intriguing, and well worth study, but it is ultimately irrelevant to the question, “What happened before the universe?” There very simply is no such thing as “before the universe.”
Great post!! Ok. So can the same be said about God?
It honestly depends on the theology which one espouses. On William Lane Craig’s view, God is temporal along with Creation, so it would be true for God. On St. Augustine’s view, however, the question would be nonsensical, as God is entirely timeless.
Hello sir, I was directed to this post by Travis R. I acknowledge the difficulty with conceiving of anything “before” time began — however, I’m curious if the same difficulty persists if we change our language a little bit. Something like this, perhaps: “What were the initial conditions that existed at the first moment of time?” Do you think this is a more sensible question that we could perhaps have a thing or two to say about?
Assuming that there was a first moment of time, it would be perfectly reasonable to inquire after the state of the universe at that point.
Thoughtful post–I do hope you don’t mind me engaging here while I am between my schedules posting at ACL.
So, if I understand your post, the universe has always existed provided “always” is defined as within the confines of the existence of time. I don’t suppose anyone can disagree with that, but is that truly a good definition of always? To me, always is an infinite word whereas time is a finite word. You briefly touch on the difference here asking if history is past-finite or past-infinite. If (assuming) history is past-infinite, wouldn’t “always” include whenever history existed, even if time did not exist?
Thanks for reading, Roger! Please, feel absolutely free to comment on any of my articles! I love engaging in dialogue, and it is– in fact– the primary reason I started this blog.
I am not sure I understand your question. How could history be past-infinite if Time is not? History is a subset of Time– that is to say, it refers to a range of Time ordinally prior to a given point. If Time does not exist, then neither can History.
You’re absolutely right…and wrong-from the point of my questions, anyway. I’m not really standing firm on my point but asking a clarification point. Let me explain it with two points:
1) history is not a subset of time rather time is an index of history. That is to say anything and everything that existed prior to right now is history, but time can only go back as far as measurable. That is to say that time started at the origin of time but history does not have a beginning.
2) I’m not sure we can truly appreciate the separation of time and history inside a physical “box”/universe. Dreams, for example, may go on for minutes or hours with no real way to appreciate time. From this we can understand time is relative. If, as I suppose, the soul exists separate from the body we can definitely formulate a conclusion that history (all things past) can be separate and distinct from time (a unit of measurement within the physical world).
Hope that at lasts clarifies the original question and provides a new perspective for you as you grow in learning (even if the growth leads you to a different conclusion 😀). What do you think?
I honestly don’t understand what you are trying to say, here. I’m not referring simply to measurements of elapsed time (ie, hours or days or years) when I refer to the concept of Time. Rather, I’m talking about Time as the dimension being measured.
Again, I don’t understand how the concept of “history” can be made cogent in the absence of Time.
I don’t see how dreams are at all applicable to the topic. The fact that our dreams can sometimes replicate Time strangely seems no more relevant to the conversation than the fact that we sometimes dream of being able to fly or of having super powers or of being another person.
Now, Time is certainly a Relativistic phenomenon, but I don’t think you are referring to physics when you say that “time is relative.” What do you mean by this phrase?
Just to reiterate, when I referred to Time, in this article, I was not referring simply to measurements of time. I was referring to the totality of past, present, and future. The existence of the soul is another matter, entirely, but I fail to see how invoking it could affect my argument.
Ok. I think i need to start with a premise to my argument and take it one step at a time. My premise: the universe is not eternal (which I believe is a different starting point than yours). In order to substantiate my premise something like history could include things outside of time and space. This was my first point that history can (not does just can) exist beyond time. If, for example, there is no sun, no universe, no changes to mark any sort of time (referenced as a measurement or dimension) then history is still taking place but time is not (there are no dimensions or measurements to find “Time”. Understandably, this is difficult to articulate and harder to appreciate so I’m writing here to help me grow in writing in addition to offering a different perspective -if neither happen I still thank you for engaging 😃
I think this is kinda best understood in infinites…Something must be infinite (energy, God, gravity, universe, etc). I think everyone agrees nothing is not a cause…the fact that we exist necessitates cause…Therefore something was the uncaused first cause (even if not God). Whatever it is that is infinite is not affected by time (it is not older now than it was moments ago). In this sense, time (whether a dimension or a measurement) is increasing and can only go back until the beginning but history can include before time.
As for the dreams…that was poor comparison on my part. Taken with the idea that the universe is not eternal, using a dream as an idea of the only existence (no dimensions no measurements no time) prior to the origin of the universe – dreams exist outside of time and space. The soul was another (poorly worded) attempt to draw on things that the universe and time have no influence upon.
If I could sum my entire thought (please know im not refuting your premise only offering another idea for the sake of dialog) it would be this: I feel like you changed (limited) definitions to only include tangible data without leaving the possibility for external possibilities (below is only a line of reasoning not meant to be unfalsifiable).
I’m not sure this clears it up anymore and if not I probably won’t try again.
1) if time is limited to an ability to measure it (location and /or duration) then it must be limited to the physical world
2) the soul exists outside the physical world
3) therefore time does not exist in the spiritual world
4) it is possible the spiritual world exists in either the past present or future
5) time, therefore cannot represent the totality of past present and future
P.s. I do consider your thoughts quite well reasoned and I’m not trying to undermine them, just seeing if it’s the only way or just 1 way. I appreciate what you’re doing.
This is what I’m not understanding: how can “history” refer to things outside of time and space? What does “history” mean, in such a case? If there is nothing changing, then what do you mean by saying, “history is still taking place?”
Why must something be infinite? I see no reason for that to be the case.
If nothing is infinite what is the first cause?
This question presumes an Aristotelian/Thomistic view of Causality, which is something I reject. I don’t believe there is a “First Cause,” in the sense you mean.
If the universe has always existed, then wouldn’t that make it infinite?
Can you help me understand the “beginning” as you see it–what does it mean to reject the first cause?
Not at all. That was, in fact, the main point of my article: whether or not Time is past-finite, there was never a time when the universe did not exist.
I reject the A-Theory of Time. Since Aristotelian Causality is predicated upon the A-Theory, and since the First Cause argument is predicated upon Aristotelian Causality, it follows that I reject the First Cause argument.
On my view, “causality” is a description of a particular relationship of localized regions of space-time. That is to say, on the B-Theory, Causality is only descriptive and not ontologically powerful, as on the A-Theory.