All religions seem a rather unsatisfying starting point for religion: before I wonder if I need a god for salvation, I’d like to know if I need a god for existence.
But, instead of starting at the Big Bang, I’d like to start with a humble apple pie.
You’re walking. Minding your own business — the business of listening to the birds sing and the leaves whisper to the wind as it hurries by.
And you come across a delicious looking apple pie.
And you wonder: “Wow! Imagine that! Atoms randomly aggregated together into an apple pie!”
No, you don’t wonder that. That would be ridiculous. An apple pie appears to be made, so we assume that it was made, and we would likely wonder at its creator.
Even with infinite universes and infinite time, I’m not sure any apple pie has ever come into existence on its own. Maybe it has. But, if you believe that it has, then you’ve become untethered from Science and you are floating in the ether of Belief. There is no reason — none at all — to believe that an apple pie has ever come into existence on its own.
Which brings us to our own existence.
Our Own Existence
Scientists have no explanation for how life originated on Earth. Don’t believe me? (Why would you?) Look it up.
You’ll find the “primordial soup hypothesis,” the “hydrothermal vent hypothesis,” “RNA world hypothesis,” and others that posit the equivalent of coming across an apple pie made by no one. Yes, there is evidence that organic molecules could have existed 4 billion years ago on Earth. But it makes as much sense to assume that these organic molecules aggregated together into a living organism as it does to assume that these organic molecules aggregated together into an apple pie.
What’s more: 4 billion years ago, the Earth was not a hospitable place — no atmosphere to shield from UV rays, just a scorched, barren wasteland.
If organic molecules did have the good fortune to aggregate into the first living thing, they would very quickly have the bad fortune of being the first dead thing — they would not be adapted to the environment, be able to metabolize nutrients, get rid of waste, reproduce, etc.
Just with respect to reproduction, organic molecules thrown together into a living thing would stand as much chance of reproducing as an apple pie does. If you believe organic molecules randomly came together into a living organism that could reproduce, that’s fine: most of the world, like you, is religious.
“But consider how old the universe is! You simply cannot think on such a cosmic scale!”
Yes, and neither can you. But let’s consider a few facts on which there is considerable scientific consensus:
- The Universe is about 14 billion years old
- The Earth is about 4.5 billion years old
- Life came to exist on Earth about 4 billion years ago (so .5 billion years after the Earth formed)
So it took .5 billion years for life to randomly form on Earth. That is indeed an incomprehensible amount of time. But an incomprehensible amount of time does not necessarily make other incomprehensible phenomena any more comprehensible.
Let’s assume that organic molecules did randomly form into a living organism, that this living organism didn’t almost immediately die, that it continued to reproduce, and that its descendants populated the entirety of the Earth.
Where are all the new living things that have formed in the last 4 billion years?
According to the theories surrounding “abiogenesis” (life beginning from non-living matter), this process successfully occurred… once. Happened 4 billion years ago. Never happened again. There is no evidence that any living things (not even elsewhere in the Universe) evolved except from one initial living thing from which we all evolved.
So why, in an additional 4 billion years, has no new life come into existence on Earth? Just to make abiogenesis theoretically possible, scientists have struggled to explain even how organic molecules existed 4.5 billion years ago. The belief that organic molecules on an unhospitable planet spontaneously came to life after .5 billion years should be almost totally disregarded by the fact that virtually infinitely more organic molecules on an incredibly hospitable planet have not spontaneously come to life in the 4 billion years since then.
The probability of such an occurrence happening just once and never again falls between infinitely unlikely and about the same probability as finding a spontaneously existing apple pie in the woods.
The Big Bang(s)
Now that we have squeezed the conundrum of the emergence of life into a ball, let’s roll it toward the overwhelming question: the Big Bang.
Maybe the stuff of the Universe — space, time, and matter — has always existed. But there is no evidence that any one of these has existed for eternity. “But it had to,” says the chorus of non-believing believers. I admire your faith.
The Universe creates another apple pie problem: it too looks created. Now, maybe you try to “solve” this conundrum with the belief (dang, we just can’t escape this thing) that there are infinite universes, so, sure, even if the Universe looks finely tuned, then wasn’t a universe in the infinity of universes bound to appear to be created and finely tuned? (For more info on how the universe looks created and finely tuned, look up how if gravity, the cosmological constant, or the strong nuclear force were greater or less, then life could not exist).
Unfortunately, our infinite universe solution has created new problems: 1) We are so far from science that you may wonder if you ever started from a scientific starting point, and 2) Infinite universes create the potential for, well, basically anything — including a “god.”
In an infinity of universes, I agree that what can happen (which could be basically anything) will happen eventually — even an apple pie appearing on its own in the woods (again, we left scientific inquiry a long time ago because now we have apple pies appearing). What would that infinity of universes then potentially include? A supremely powerful being.
So, in the pursuit of a non-metaphysical explanation for our existence, we: 1) Had the equivalent of an apple pie appear once 4 billion years ago — and never again — and reproduce into all living organisms today, 2) Took on the completely faith-based belief that something has always existed (but not a god!), and 3) Created infinite universes that make a god equivalent almost a certainty in some of them.
This gives new meaning to the classic line: “God is dead. We killed him.” So, by trying to kill the possibility of a god in our own universe with an infinity of universes, we have also created infinitely many gods in infinitely many universes. This multiverse theory thing kind of (absolutely) had the opposite effect of explaining away the existence of a god…
God is dead/alive
Belief (whatever you believe) is inescapable. And yet for many, the belief in apple pies appearing randomly and an infinity of universes existing for eternity seems more satisfying than the belief in a powerful being outside of our control (especially one that has us under its control — what a ghastly idea).
Belief in the metaphysical seems beneath such highly intelligent life forms such as ourselves.
And yet, do you believe that you have free will? Do you believe you have ever made a decision, even one, in the entirety of your life? If you do, then you believe in the metaphysical (something beyond the natural world, i.e. the supernatural).
Put another way, if you believe you have free will, then you already believe in supernatural beings and gods: yourself and other human beings.
If there is nothing metaphysical, then your every “decision” has simply been the outcome of your nature, nurture, and circumstances. In reality, then, you are a robot — you make no decisions; you simply respond to stimuli according to your organic programming.
And, if there are no decisions, then there is no purpose. You might as well do anything or nothing — you can’t decide anyway. Your life has no meaning at all.
And maybe that’s reality.
But, if you don’t believe that’s reality, then you already believe in the metaphysical and that you essentially are a god (or at least have the godlike supernatural ability to act outside of the constraints of nature). And, if you have already decided to believe in the metaphysical, then I would look for some metaphysical answers to an apple pie (our universe and living organisms) popping into existence. Again, in any other circumstance, we would seek out the creator of something that looks created, and the universe certainly looks fine-tuned and created.
Existence and purpose start to make a lot more sense when you realize you already believe in the metaphysical and see how a much more powerful god than yourself sparked the Big Bang, sparked life itself, and created you. Essentially everyone, even the vast majority of atheists, believes in the existence of gods (even if their belief in free will only means that they believe they themselves are essentially a type of god, but many prominent atheists also believe it is a credible possibility that our universe might be a simulation created by some vastly more developed life form — so, relative to us, a supremely powerful god then). Instead, atheism is better defined as a belief that there is not a personal god, especially one that loves them. But maybe most people in the world have it right — maybe we were created with purpose by a god that loves us.