God's dirt

 There’s an old joke about human arrogance.  One day a group of scientists got together and decided that humanity had come a long way and no longer needed God.  So they picked one scientist to go and tell Him that they were done with Him.  The scientist walked up to God and said, “God, we've decided that we no longer need you.  We’re to the point where we can clone people, manipulate atoms, build molecules, fly through space, and do many other miraculous things.   So why don’t you just go away and mind your own business from now on?”

            God listened very patiently and kindly to the man.  After the scientist was done talking, God said, “Very well.  How about this?  Before I go, let’s say we have a human-making contest.”  To which the scientist replied, “Okay, we can handle that!”

            “But,” God added, “we’re going to do this just like I did back in the old days with Adam.”

            The scientist nodded, “Sure, no problem” and bent down and picked up a handful of dirt. God wagged a finger at him and said, “Uh, uh, uh.  Put that down.  You go find your own dirt.”

            Carl Sagan is quoted as saying, “To really make an apple pie from scratch, you must begin by inventing the universe.”

            Well, interestingly enough, there was a report a few years ago from the journal New Scientist that it may be possible now for scientists to actually “invent” a universe in a laboratory. The physicists involved believe that they can distort the space-time around a tiny point in our universe in such a way that it will begin to form a new superfluid in space that would eventually break off and become a separate universe. 

The create-a-universe project’s success depends upon two assumptions: first, that the universe began in a Big Bang, and second, that it underwent rapid inflation shortly thereafter. 

The first assumption, the Big Bang theory, is predicated on the observation that all objects in the universe appear to be moving away from one another.  Edwin Hubble, after whom the Space Telescope is named, noted this odd fact back in 1929.  The obvious implication of Hubble’s discovery was that the universe would have had to have a beginning point, when it was incredibly small, from which it then expanded over time.  In 1915 Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity had indicated that the universe must be either expanding or contracting. But since such an idea was at odds with the universally held theory that the universe was static, Einstein added a fudge into his equations called the cosmological constant to get rid of the universe’s ballooning.  Therefore few were looking for what Hubble had found by chance.  Interestingly, Hubble’s findings matched Einstein’s predictions (minus the fudge factor) exactly.  Nevertheless, Hubble’s observations and ideas were criticized and resisted.  In fact, the designation of the theory as “the Big Bang” was at first a derogatory put down of the theory by the astronomer and science fiction author Dr. Fred Hoyle.  It made scientists very uncomfortable to be faced with the fact that the universe had a beginning. 

Why?  One of the oldest arguments for the existence of God is what is called the First Cause Argument.  It goes like this: “All effects have a cause.  The universe is an effect.  Therefore the universe has a cause.” And so what was the cause of the universe?  Most people would say that cause was God.  The refutation of this argument for God’s existence went as follows:  “If the universe had a cause which we call ‘God’ then what caused ‘God?’”  The traditional answer is “God is uncaused, he has always existed.”  The obvious response then is, “Why do we have to assume the universe is an effect at all?  Why don’t we simply assume that the universe has always existed?  Why add the extra complication of ‘God?’” 

The reality of an expanding universe and the Big Bang Theory blew that simple refutation out of the water.   And so the theory made a lot of scientists very uncomfortable because of its obvious theological implications. Though the Big Bang Theory was resisted for decades, today, because of the overwhelming evidence, it is almost universally accepted. 

The second assumption needed to make possible the creation of a universe is called “inflation theory.” The theory was developed in 1981 by MIT physicist Alan Guth.  He noticed that there appeared to have been a period immediately following the Big Bang when the universe “inflated” rapidly, separating regions of space-time far enough apart that they functioned entirely independently of each other.  

Given these two assumptions of Big Bang and Inflation, the universe “creation” project is not theoretical physics. Rather, it is applied physics, on the order of building the first MRI machine.  It is simply a physical application of observed phenomena, in combination with the aim of achieving an as yet untested physical effect. Inflation theory helps provide the means of understanding how that effect might be brought about.

As reported a few years ago by the journal New Scientist: “Inflation theory…relies on the fact that the ‘vacuum’ of empty space-time is not a boring, static place. Instead, it is subject to quantum fluctuations that cause strange bubbles to appear at random times. These bubbles of ‘false vacuum’ contain space-time with different—and very curious— properties.”  How curious?  The space-time inside the “false vacuum” is organized in ways that can be different than the organization in the rest of the universe.  That different organization in the “false vacuum” happens thanks to a phenomenon known as the “Higgs field.”  And with the constant provided by this “Higgs field,” the bubbles of “false vacuum” can withstand contact with the higher pressure external vacuum in our universe, making them expand through a kind of cosmic inflation just like what followed the Big Bang of our universe.  The key to making this happen, however, is something known as a monopole, a spherical particle that, unlike a magnet which has two poles, has only one.  By adding mass to this already extremely dense particle, scientists think that they could use it as a trigger to make the bubble of false vacuum grow into a new universe entirely separate from ours, a universe that would then go on to develop its own physical laws and properties.

            The Japanese physicist Nobuyuki Sakai, as quoted by that New Scientist article, says that the “baby universe has its own space-time and, as this inflates, the pressure from the true vacuum outside its walls continues to constrain it. As these forces compete, the growing baby universe is forced to bubble out from our space-time until its only connection to us is through a narrow space-time tunnel called a wormhole.”

            This wormhole between our space-time and the newly created universe would quickly snap.  The new universe would then continue to grow and expand in ways that we could neither predict nor affect.  In fact, from our perspective, it would appear as a microscopic black hole that evaporated almost instantly.  This then becomes the problem with the whole experiment: everything would likely happen so fast that it might be impossible to know if anything had actually happened at all.

And in any case, this is hardly the creation from nothing that God did.  As remarkable as such an experiment would be, like the joke, humanity would not actually be starting from scratch. We’d still be using God’s dirt.