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This question applies to both religion and science.

According to my religion at least, God is subject to natural laws, he did not create all matter in the universe, but instead created the universe by organizing the existing matter in it into planets, stars, galaxies, platypuses, etc, and he himself is composed of the purest matter that had no beginning and therefore will have no end.

Similarly, science currently claims that matter cannot be destroyed, only transformed, and that the smallest particles in the universe cannot be created. Science has never created matter, they've discovered the Higgs bozon, which can give other matter mass, but they've never created a particle out of nothing. Niel DeGrasse Tyson refers to phenomenon like this as "spooky." Everything we can conclude about our universe goes back to the big bang, but the big bang wasn't the origin of matter, some theorize that it was composed of all the matter in the universe that existed previously.

If matter cannot be created, is infinite, and has no starting point, then how does it exist?

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    It seems exceedingly unlikely that anyone will ever be able to answer this for sure, but you essentially have three options that I can think of: 1. There is no matter, 2. Something created matter, or 3. Matter has simply always existed - there is no starting point. – Magus Aug 15 '14 at 19:48
  • @Magus: I accept option 3 as true. Matter has simply always existed - there is no starting point. I'm just trying to understand how that is possible. Perhaps it's just my finite mind's incapability of comprehending the infinite... – ShemSeger Aug 15 '14 at 19:57
  • Then that should probably be your question, rather than leaving the three answers I mentioned and possibly more as valid answers to your question. Clearly, none of them are the answer you want. But I also doubt you'll be able to get an understandable explanation of how to picture an unpicturable situation, which seems to be what you want. – Magus Aug 15 '14 at 20:05
  • Isn't that the whole point of philosophy? To make pictures out of unpicturable situations? – ShemSeger Aug 15 '14 at 20:15
  • The point of philosophy is knowledge. While knowledge may be gained by spending decades looking into a copper bowl, how many digits the largest number has is mu. – Magus Aug 15 '14 at 20:31
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1) Scientists do not know what physical laws apply at the Big Bang (and in particular conservation laws):

"Both general relativity and quantum mechanics break down in describing the Big Bang" - Gravitational singularity

2) Scientists do not know what was before the big bang:

"It is not known what could have caused the singularity to come into existence (if it had a cause), or how and why it originated" - Big Bang

3) I think we wonder at the existence of the universe mainly because we have difficulty grasping our own mortality; but where the universe is concerned why should we suppose non existence makes any sense?

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  • Have you heard of the four-dimensional bulk universe? I recently read an interesting article in Scientific American, some professors at the University of Waterloo claim they may be able to track the start of the universe back to an era before the big bang -- an era with an additional dimension of space. Here's the source: Scientific American. Aug2014, Vol. 311 Issue 2, p36-43. 8p. 6 Color Photographs, 1 Diagram. – ShemSeger Aug 16 '14 at 3:47
  • I posted this question on a site about philosophy because I know there is no consensus on the subject. I came here seeking a rational argument, not facts. – ShemSeger Aug 16 '14 at 3:50
  • @ShemSeger, and do you think you can make a good rational argument about the universe we live in, by using false physical statements? – nir Aug 16 '14 at 6:38
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    If I could then I wouldn't be posing the question would I? Statements are only false if they can be proven to be contrary to the truth. No one knows the truth about this subject, so then how can my statements be false? Besides, my claims are not my own, they are those of scientists who have data to support their claims. I can provide more scholarly sources if you insist, but like I said, this is supposed to be a philosophical discussion, not a scientific debate. – ShemSeger Aug 16 '14 at 18:16
  • @ShemSeger: It actually isn't supposed to be any sort of discussion at all. That belongs in the chat. – Magus Aug 18 '14 at 18:47
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The question presumes that we have epistemic access to objective causality, or at least that we believe we have such access. However, any non-skeptical theory or law of causality presumes that causes and effects exist with the price of avoiding that presumption being utter incoherence.

Philosophically speaking, one must either have their cake or eat it. An argument based on causality can't serve as the rational basis for raising concerns over how anything can exist.

Logically speaking, if one's cosmology already admits the supernatural - perhaps in the form of a beginningless and endless pure being that arranges all things - then requests for evidence are not asked within the spirit of scientific enquiry. Not that there's anything wrong with that, only that one must accept the the character of inputs determines the character of outputs.

That is to say that deducing a contradiction means that at least one of the premises is false. For example, a contradiction derived from the original question means that "There is something which exists that was never created" is false.

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  • If I read you correctly, you're arguing that causality is a reasonable assumption rather than a known permanent attribute of the universe, and hence you can't make conclusions about existence using causality. But it's easy to shoot down any argument this way: "we can't know X, so you can't rationally deduce Y from it." - in the first two paragraphs you're basically saying "ah, but epistemological nihilism, so you're wrong". Do explain or edit if I've misunderstood you. – AndrewC Aug 18 '14 at 0:41
  • Your second two paragraphs seem to be a slightly obfuscated "don't mix religion with science if you don't want contradictions". It's amusing to hear a contratheistic argument which works by concluding that the universe was wholly created, but in all seriousness, I think it's worth attempting to answer the question as posed at some point, rather than purely criticising it, since the box is marked "Answer" rather than "Respond". – AndrewC Aug 18 '14 at 0:53
  • @AndrewC [a] I am observing that non-skeptical causality (e.g. something other than Hume's skeptical argument that saying 'x causes y' is nothing more than saying 'x happened before y') has to rest on a foundation where the existence of 'x' and 'y' is not in question. I am not claiming that non-skeptical theories of causality are reasonable. [b] Philosophy is getting to the bottom of things and sometimes all that's at the bottom is a muddled mismash of illogic. The importance of distinguishing good from lousy ideas is why one is willing to drink the hemlock. – ben rudgers Aug 18 '14 at 5:15
  • Nevertheless, on Stack Exchange "Your question is nonsense becuse..." is a comment, not an answer. – AndrewC Aug 18 '14 at 8:45
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    Proof by contradiction is fine if it answers the question. You wouldn't answer "How do I use lisp to parse this grammar?" with "Lisp is a toy language only used in academia. Use C.", because it's not an answer, regardless of how passionately you felt about it or how important your mission of convincing people not to use lisp is to you. It's a comment. It doesn't address the question. – AndrewC Aug 18 '14 at 13:05
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To answer your question first, matter does not exist; or rather it exists - but matter is not what we think it is. In Eastern philosophies there is no such thing as creation. It is impossible to create something out of nothing, even for God. The term used is projection. It is said that this universe was projected out of the One that is neither existence nor non-existence [Brahman or God, depending on your belief system]. God is both the material and efficient cause of this universe.

There is but one Infinite Being in the universe and that Being appears as you and I; but this appearance of divisions is after all a delusion. What we think of as the universe is a delusion, it is the One looking at Himself through the lens of time, space, and causation. When looked at through the lens of time, space, and causation it appears as matter.

In eastern philosophy there is no one time creation of the universe. There are cycles. What we see as the present universe is simple a cycle. Think of it as a wave. There have been an infinite number of cycles before and there will be an infinite number to come. The Nasadiya hymn (the hymn of creation) from the Rig Veda says - .....But lo, thereafter, from its darkling state-- Yet undistinguished from its cause--it rose, By the pure will of THAT made manifest. Whence came this will? From out a seed it came Asleep within the heart of THAT--the seed Of vanished worlds that have in order wheeled Their silent courses from eternity:.......Rig Veda, x. 129. 1-7.

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  • From what I read, eastern philosophy is very broad and rich. Besides monotheistic/pantheistic views there are also polytheistic, atheistic and agnostic world views, I've been told. – pandita Aug 19 '14 at 8:06
  • All eastern philosophies, whether monistic, qualified monistic (close to pantheism), or dualistic (monotheism), all agree on projection and all agree on cycles. There is no polytheism in eastern religions. There are atheistic/agnostic traditions in eastern philosophy. – Swami Vishwananda Aug 19 '14 at 10:19
  • In terms of polytheistic systems in eastern philosphy, hinduism comes to mind. Hinduism seems to be extremely rich and to incorporate many different world views in it self. I also believe that an agnostic world view by definition would disagree with your statements about projection and cycles. – pandita Aug 19 '14 at 12:01
  • @pandita There are cosmological theories that propose cycles of big bangs & big crunches ad infinitum. – AndrewC Aug 19 '14 at 12:14
  • @AndrewC I don't dispute that these theories exist in eastern philosphy. I only had issues with presenting eastern philosophies as coherently pointing to cycles and a monistic/pantheistic world view as displayed by Swami. Eastern philosophy from my understanding is much more diverse and includes a variety of believe systems. – pandita Aug 19 '14 at 12:23
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One philosopher with basically the same idea (God as organizer of matter, not as creator) was Al Razi:

God, for him, does not 'create' the world from nothing but rather arranges a universe out of pre-existing principles. His account of the soul features a mythic origin of the world in which God out of pity fashions a physical playground for the soul in response to its own desires; the soul, once fallen into the new realm God has made for it, requires God's further gift of intellect in order to find its way once more to salvation and freedom. In this scheme, intellect does not appear as a separate principle but is rather a later grace of God to the soul; the soul becomes intelligent, possessed of reason and therefore able to discern the relative value of the other four principles. Whereas the five principles are eternal, intellect as such is apparently not.

If you want a more detailed account, you can read his works. If you want a slightly-more-detailed-but-not-too-much, there's an epsiode of the History of Philosophy about Al Razi.

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Something can exist but never be created, until we know what lead to its creation.

We humans have this notion that if there exist something than someone or some phenomena must have created that thing.

When you see something you will always wonder what created this thing? In that case you can choose any of the below path:

  • This thing must have been created by some supreme being.
  • Lets investigate and figure out what process lead to its creation.
  • Our current knowledge and technology have limitations to figure out how the thing was created, so for now, lets take it as that it wasn't created and it existed from the start of time.
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I believe that there are mainstream physical theories which do believe that something can come from nothing and explain how this is possible (drop down the grain of salt right here):

Science doesn't believe that matter cannot be destroyed. Science postulates that the energy within a physical system does not change if you account for everything properly. Matter in this point of view is a subset of energy (as is e.g. light).

There are some important differences for how to interpret this in relativistic and quantum mechanical terms. I'm not an expert in this, but to highlight the beef of the scientific issue as I understand it:

Relativistically speaking a system can have any energy value, i.e. it is continuous. This works really well for describing large systems, such as the earth moving around the sun. It doesn't work well for very small systems such as particles for which quantum mechanics is used.

In terms of quantum mechanics, systems can only have discreet values. In ways that are better explained by someone else this ends up at Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, which introduces probability into the scientific theory.

The most approachable interpretation of this theorem is that position and speed can only be determined with a certain probability. More so, the more precise you are predicting e.g. the position of a particle, the less precise can you predict its speed and vice versa.

The uncertainty principle can also be expressed in terms of energy and time, i.e. if you increase the precision of measuring changes in energy, e.g. if the energy at some spot is zero or not, you loose precision in determining how long these changes took. Vice versa again.

This means that at indefinitely short time frames, pretty much any energy is possible, and remembering that particles are a subset of energy, this means that if the time frame is short enough any particle could exist in this short time frame.

In my understanding this is the train of thought that led scientist to conclude that something can be created from nothing, in fact particles/matter seem to be permanently created out of nothing.

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Your question can be put in some context, like that has been done by H.Bergson in Creative Evolution, beginning of Chapter IV. 'Existence appears to me like a conquest over nought. I say to myself that there might be, that indeed there ought to be, nothing, and I then wonder that there is something. Or I represent all reality extended on nothing as on a carpet: at first was nothing, and being has come by superaddition to it. Or, yet again, if something has always existed, nothing must always have served as its substratum or receptacle, and is therefore eternally prior...I cannot get rid of the idea that the full is an embroidery on the canvas of the void, that being is superimposed on nothing, and that in the idea of "nothing" there is less than in that of "something." Hence all the mystery.'

In other words, the question itself has something that comes from Ethics and it is not pure Ontology. It supposes the next: 'Nothing' has a right 'to be present' there 'by its birth’; it is the owner of the place, while the 'Existence' (or matter) is there only a conqueror and alien stranger, not the proprietor. Therefore, there is a hidden priority in the question.

Now if we see this, we can change the priority - 'the existence (=matter) is here by its own right'. Alternatively, 'the nothing has no more rights to be present than the existence'.

Even if this is not the answer, this helps to see the origin of the question.

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I find most of the OP's statements to be "half truths." By definition, an "Omnipotent Being" is not subject to our natural laws. Although an Omnipotent Being could create the whole universe as it currently is, in a smaller time interval that we could imagine, He chose not to do so. Apparently, He chose to just provide the energy required so that the universe would "form (create)" itself. Matter did not exist, only energy.

As the space around the energy expanded, the energy experienced a "cooling" effect. As a result of this cooling effect, the smallest "particles of matter" were created. As the result of further cooling, larger particles were created, and because of expansion and gravity, the rest of the universe was created.

God is not made from the "purest matter," He is made of pure energy, and he used some of his energy, to create the universe. This is why we can say that we are made in "his image and likeness."

Matter can in fact be "destroyed." It is changed into energy, per the equation, E = m c^2. The old notion of matter not destroyable was based on chemical transformation, not on nuclear transformation.

Science has created matter. The process is called fusion.

As explained above, the big bang, was the release of energy, which through space expansion, "turned into" matter. So, the big bang was the origin of matter.

In conclusion, matter can be (and was) created, it is not infinite, has a starting point, and it exists!

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    -1 scientific inaccuracies, like "smallest 'particles of matter', fusion does not create matter in, etc. – Dave Aug 20 '14 at 13:28

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