Big Bang or Dream of God? Two Stories of the Universe Compared
However, if we do discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason − for then we would know the mind of God.
– Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time
A fiery, chaotic explosion of infinite energy, or a great dream of a united mind? A world born in a Big Bang or in the mind of God? Which story better explains our world? Is one science fiction and the other, science fact? If so, which one? How do we tell? Do we count votes? Do we see which story is taught in the most schools or appears in the most textbooks? Or should we pick the story that explains more?
One way to judge the two stories is think them both through with an open mind. And, like a scientist conducting an experiment in a laboratory, we must remove our own beliefs and prejudices from the outcome of the experiment. The reader must try to look at the world purely, like a child. Strive for extreme objectivity; be the perfect neutral judge and make no decisions until the evidence comes in and the arguments weighed against each other.
Why is it important to consider which story is true? Well, for one, the answer tells us how best to advance the true purpose of science, which is to understand the world in order to master it. If the Big Bang model is correct, then the universe is essentially a machine and we control machines by manipulating their parts, like a car mechanic scraping rust from an old spark plug. If, on the other hand, the world is a dream, then we should be seeking to control the world by first improving the internal, or spiritual, states of the dreamers.
In a machine world high thoughts and a vibrant spirit may make us feel better, but these internal states will not change the course of the locomotive universe. Conversely, if the world is really a dream, all of our efforts to control the world by treating it as a machine will ultimately prove futile. The powers of thought, emotion, and willpower fuel dreams; they are not manipulated by physical force.
Our current culture accepts the storyline of the Big Bang almost without question, as if it were handed down from the sky. But does the Big Bang explain more than considering the universe as a great dream of God? Let’s compare the two storylines.
Storyline One: The Big Bang
This story is based upon the notion that the physical world— the sky, trees, grass, and all living things — exists independently of the mind and operates beyond its control. Scientists call this viewpoint the “principle of objectivity,” which assumes that there is a “real world independent of human perception.” (E. Mayr, This is Biology.) Everyone wants there to be a “real world independent of human perception,” and by all accounts there is a real world out there. The question though is whether this world we experience came from the Big Bang or the dream of God.
The principle of objectivity leads to the Big Bang theory. If a mind-independent world exists, then it is a world of stuff, of matter, and the question would be where the stuff came from. Extrapolating from observations that the universe is expanding outward, scientists have concluded that what they see through their powerful telescopes is the continuing saga of a primordial explosion — the Big Bang. Present at the Big Bang was a point of infinite density, a singularity, that held the contents of what was to be the universe of stars. (See S. Hawking, A Brief History of Time.)
From this explosive beginning, Big Bang scientists believe the universe formed. And gradually, through processes no one understands, life and then something we call the mind, emerged from the lifeless residue of the Big Bang. At this initial stage, one might notice that there are at least two major mysteries emerging from the Big Bang storyline: First, where exactly did this infinitely condensed universal seed come from? And, second, how did this wild, chaotic explosion manage to arrange itself into the mathematical harmonies of nature?
The answer to the first question, according to Nobel laureate, Leon Lederman, is that science has no clue what happened at the Very Beginning. (See L. Lederman, The God Particle). The answer scientists typically give to the second question —where order came from — is that it came from the laws of nature. That seems like a fine answer, except it leads to another question: where did the laws of nature come from? When we reach this stage of the inquiry, we reach another barrier: scientists assume the laws of nature as given. (R. Jones, Physics for the Rest of Us.) In other words, scientists don’t know the origin of scientific laws, though they are beginning to speculate on the question. So, in essence, the objective-world model carries with it the two key assumptions of the Big Bang storyline: matter and the laws of nature.
While the Big Bang storyline is today standard scientific orthodoxy, it possesses a number of features that make it appear closer to science fiction than science fact. Here are some of them:
- The Big Bang (the universe appeared from a point of infinite density but no one knows where the point came from).
- The inflationary Big Bang (the universe inflated by a factor of 1050 (10 with 50 zeros) in 10-35 seconds).
- Most of the matter in the universe is invisible. Scientists cannot see this “dark matter” but believe it is out there somewhere because there is not enough visible mass to account for the gravitational effects measured across the cosmos. In the Big Bang worldview, there is at least five times as much invisible matter as normal matter. Scientists do not know what dark matter actually is.
- Most of the energy in the universe is also invisible. Scientists discovered this “dark energy” in the late 1990’s when they found that the expansion of the universe is actually accelerating. Since they do not know what force entered the picture to give the universe a turbo-boost, they labeled it dark energy. Dark energy makes up 73% of the universe, almost 20 times the visible matter in all the stars in the heavens. Like dark matter, scientists do not know what dark energy is.
- Quantum physics holds that at the base of reality are not tiny particles or waves of energy but something called a wave function. This wave function, according to a leading interpretation of quantum theory, collapses into discrete particles when it is observed. Since the entire physical world is made up of wave functions, human consciousness effectively creates what we call the objective world. (See B. Rosenblum & F. Kuttner, Quantum Enigma; http://www.quantumenigma.com/).
- In the many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics, an observation does not “collapse” the wave function; rather, each of the uncountable states of the wave function represents another complete reality. There is not just one world, but an infinite number, each branching out from a state of the wave function.
- Reaching a similar result but in a different way, Big Bang scientists imagine that there is not one universe, but instead a multiverseconsisting of roughly 10500 other universes that sprang from quantum bubbles (what scientists call “vacuum energy”) billions of years ago under a theory known as chaotic eternal inflation. (see M. Tegmark, Parallel Universes, Scientific American (May 2003)). Some scientists, most notably Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow in The Grand Design, make use of the multiverse concept to explain why the laws of nature are perfectly tuned to support life; we got lucky and live in the one universe that happens to have just the right conditions (the “goldilocks” universe) to support life.
- Because two fundamental theories of the Big Bang worldview —quantum theory and gravity —are in hopeless conflict, some scientists have adopted superstring theory. (See Brian Greene, The Elegant Universe). This theory holds that what we may believe to be tiny particles at matter’s core are actually vibrating strings hidden in seven or so extra dimensions.
These features of the Big Bang worldview —with its eternal inflation, dark matter, dark energy, wave functions, and multiple universes —have inspired a procession of magazine covers attesting to the science-fiction like qualities of the Big Bang worldview. Here is a sampling:
- Are you a Hologram? (Quantum physics says the entire universe might be). Scientific American (August 2003)
- Infinite Earths in Parallel Universes Really Exist, Scientific American (May 2003)
- Is the Universe Out of Tune? – Bad Harmonies in the Microwave Music Defy Theory, Scientific American (August 2005)
- The Illusion of Gravity – Holographic physics might explain nature’s most baffling force, Scientific American (Nov. 2005)
- Quark Soup – Physicists Re-Create the Liquid Stuff of the Earliest Universe, Scientific American (May 2006)
- Are we Living with Alien Cells? – Did life on Earth arise more than once? Strange forms may still survive, Scientific American (Dec. 2007)
- Rise of the Quantum Machines – They’re on a mission to the edge of reality, New Scientist (June 2010)
- The Universe is Leaking – Light seems to lose energy as it crosses the cosmos, apparently breaking the laws of physics, Scientific American (July 2010)
- Hidden Worlds of Dark Matter – An entire universe may be interwoven silently with our own, Scientific American (Nov. 2010)
- Quantum Time Travel – Who needs a black hole to go back to the future? New Scientist (Nov. 2010);
Remember, these come not from Science Fiction Monthly, but from two leading science magazines.
Since the Big Bang worldview builds the universe from impersonal forces and mindless particles, it has no need to resort to supernatural forces, spirits, minds or God. Thus, according to this storyline, God is either dead or unnecessary since the Big Bang and its related theories explain everything that needs explaining. (The Grand Design; S. Hawking & L. Mlodinow, Why God Did Not Create the Universe, Wall St. Journal (Sept. 4-5, 2010)). From this it follows that there is no purpose to life or goal to the universe. The particles and forces of the Big Bang care nothing for humankind.
Science and religion occupy different worlds in the Big Bang storyline. Religion becomes the world of the inner spirit; science the world of outer matter. Religion orbits the Big Bang worldview like a lonely moon, detached from the true reality accessible only through science.
Storyline Two: The Dream of God
This storyline reaches the opposite conclusion. An objective world — specifically a physical world separated from the mind — does not exist. Rather, the physical world is a three-dimensional reflection of the mind, a great dream. This story begins not with a Big Bang of impersonal forces and things, but with a mind dreaming of something; light, then solidity; a movement towards something better; the best form to enter; two people in a garden; call them Adam and Eve.
Discarding the notion that there is a “real world independent of human perception” may seem a bit extreme, except it happens to be the direction modern science is moving, and with increasing speed. Prompting this movement is the quantum theory, which makes the “real world” dependent upon consciousness, as well as experimental findings showing that separate particles, once thought to have real, independent characteristics, are somehow “entangled,” suggesting world unity. For example, Hawking and Mlodinow themselves raise the question of whether “we really have reason to believe an objective world exists?” (Grand Design, 34). For a sampling of books that question the objective-world assumption of the modern science, see B. Rosenblum & F. Kuttner, Quantum Enigma; E. H. Walker, The Physics of Consciousness, B. Haisch, The Purpose-Guided Universe and The God Theory, (http://www.thegodtheory.com/) and A. Goswami, The Self-Aware Universe (http://www.amitgoswami.org/).
We do not have to conduct a unique scientific experiment to show the world’s dream qualities. Rather, each of us, at one time or another, have had real, personal experiences that show the world may very well be a dream. For example, our individual minds, in night-dreams and occasionally in daydreams or hallucinations, manage to conjure up a real-seeming physical world from nothing. What we call the paranormal or psi is easily explained in this storyline, since we all share the same “cosmic mind,” in the conscious universe. (See D. Radin, The Conscious Universe; http://www.deanradin.com/ ). Perhaps then, what we call “reality” is nothing more than a united dream; a dream where individual dreaming powers unite.
Under this storyline, we see the same sky not because there is one sky out there, but because we all have the same mind. And this perspective is not entirely new. In the 18th century, the British philosopher, Bishop George Berkeley, wrote:
Some truths there are so near and obvious to the mind that a man need only open his eyes to see them. Such I take this important one to be, viz. that all the choir of heaven and furniture of the earth, in a word all those bodies which compose the mighty frame of the world, have not any subsistence without a mind, that their being is to be perceived or known; that consequently so long as they are not actually perceived by me, or do not exist in my mind, or that of any other created spirit, they must either have no existence at all, or else subsist in the mind of some Eternal Spirit: it being perfectly unintelligible, and involving all the absurdity of abstraction, to attribute to any single part of them an existence independent of spirit.
(G. Berkeley, Principles of Human Knowledge). And even some Big Bang theorists have suggested that quantum theory leads to the conclusion that we share a great mind. (Physics of Consciousness).
But the dream storyline has typically run aground on the paradox known as solipsism. Simply put, if the world is a dream, then whose dream is it? Do we all live in our own heads? If the dream is emanating from an Eternal Spirit, then where is it? Is this question any different from asking whether the God of the Bible exists? Or is it the same question?
With idealism unable to prove the existence of any such Eternal Spirit or God, is it any wonder that our modern mind falls back to the common sense notion that the world we see has an independent, real existence outside of our minds? Why bother questioning this assumption if we end up entangled in a paradox?
So here comes the radical part of this storyline. Suppose for a moment that the ultimate source of the dream is none other than — God the father, or the messiah who will one day enter his dream in person. Notice here that the solution to the dream paradox is also the answer to the prayers of religion. And, admittedly, to suggest that we are dreamers waiting for the “father” to appear does sound like a fantasy, doesn’t it? But is this fantasy any more unreal than the Big Bang storyline? In one story, we have hidden dimensions, a multiverse, invisible matter, and a dead God. In the other story, we have dreamers mistaking their true identity until the ultimate dreamer appears and unites the dream. In one world, God is dead; in the other, God is the source of life. One story ignores a good deal of human experience — the paranormal, spiritualism, and miracles — the other story explains them as features of a powerful, united dream.
This dream storyline has a distinct advantage over the Big Bang version because it brings religion into the picture, rather than casting it off as myth or fantasy. Or, if we care to treat the dream of God as fantasy, we may be left with no other conclusion than we are part of the same fantasy. What is another word for a true fantasy? How about the real world? So the dream of God is an alternative storyline to the reason why we are here. Which one makes the most sense? Register your comments here.