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Universal eternality has been entertained for millenia. However, from my reading and to my understanding, the idea of an infinite universe has met considerable criticism over the past century. The most popular theory justifying an eternal universe is the oscillating universe theory, but it has also met considerable criticism.

Another popular alternative theory being promoted more recently involves quantum vacuum and entails a finite universe (i.e. one that has not existed forever).

What I'm asking is where do both the scientific community and philosophical community stand on this issue? Is there a considerable expert bias toward one theory for nontheists, or even certain theists?

The reason I am asking is because an eternal universe as put forth by the oscillating universe theory would invalidate a number of probabilistic arguments for the existence of a god, many of which are teleological. The verity of the former would have strong implications for atheism, whereas the latter could bolster theistic inclinations.

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    At a glance, this is pretty broad. At a second glance, about as broad as one can get. I do not believe you are correct at all in supposing that an "eternal universe" is somehow an obvious ancestral position. Nor is "eternity" necessarily revoked by the various speculative gridlocks of contemporary physical cosmology. How these impact "probabilstic arguments for God" has, I would say, almost no effect, since such arguments have almost zero "official" relevance in physics to begin with... and vice versa. – Nelson Alexander Dec 19 '15 at 5:49
  • Perhaps I wasn't clear. I'm not concerned with the relevance of probabilistic arguments for God to the subject of physics. Rather, I'm concerned with the theological implications of an eternal universe, or a physics-based concept. If I'm reading your comment correctly, then you're saying there's not much relevance between either. I beg to differ. An infinite past invalidates any sort of probabilistic argument for god's existence. Hence, my question: where does the scientific and philosophical community stand on the two aforementioned models of the universe? – Lanier Freeman Dec 19 '15 at 5:56
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    You might want to reword the first sentence then. I actually was half way through an answer describing just how much more varied historical beliefs have been. – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica Dec 19 '15 at 5:58
  • Done. Hopefully its focus is more apparent. – Lanier Freeman Dec 19 '15 at 6:03
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    Can you please reframe the headline here as a question? – Joseph Weissman Dec 19 '15 at 16:21
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First I would like to state explicitly several cosmological models which relate to your question:

  1. Cyclic model
  2. One-sided infinite linear model with fixed begin and open end
  3. Two-sided infinite linear model with begin and end open
  4. Finite linear model with fixed begin and end.

Model 1 occurs in Hindu mythology and in loop quantum cosmology (Bojowald, Martin: Once Before Time: A Whole Story of the Universe. 2010). Model 2 occurs in the Jewish mythology It is also one of the cosmological standard models. Model 3 is one of the cosmological standard models.

Ad 1. Hindu mythology considers the world as an infinite sequence of creation, existence, and destruction. The model is sometimes illustrated by the cosmic dance of Shiva. Differently, each of the three phases is attributed as a seprate task to the three main gods Brahma (creator), Vishnu (preserver) and Shiva (destroyer). Model 1 has been picked up as a hypothesis by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche under the title „eternal recurrence” in central parts of his philosophy.

Ad 2. In a religious the model is always combined with a personal creator. The model has been packed up by Christian mythology. In cosmology it is one of the favoured models since the investigation of the accelerated cosmological expansion. The latter is ascribed to the “dark energy”.

Ad 3 and 4. I do not know a representative of this type of model.

Is there a considerable expert bias toward one theory for nontheists, or even certain theists?

Both, a-theists like Nietzsche and theists like Hindus adhere to the cyclic model no. 1. But theists from other religions adhere to the linear model no. 2.

All models leave open the question how and why the world is as it is according to the model. A final question from metaphysics therefore asks „Why is there something rather than nothing?“, see http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/nothingness/

Where do both the scientific community and philosophical community stand on this issue?

Both models no. 1 and no. 2 are discussed by the scientific community. They are discussed on scientific grounds like the average mass density or the possible existence of dark energy, e.g., see „Part III Spacetime and Cosmology“ in Greene, Brian: The Fabric of the Cosmos. (2004)

I cannot decide whether the philosophical community takes an indenpendent stance to decide between the different models. Eventually, metaphysical discussions on cosmology terminate with the final question cited above.

  • There you go again trying to pin polytheism on Hinduism. Hinduism is not polytheistic. Swami Vivekananda says: "The Hindu trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva is merely an embodiment of God the creator, the preserver and the destroyer. That the three are considered three instead of one is simply a corruption due to the fact general humanity must have its ethics made tangible. So likewise the material images of Hindu gods are simply symbols of divine qualities." – Swami Vishwananda Dec 20 '15 at 4:04
  • @Swami Vishwananda What is your opinion concerning the concept of henotheism? In the academic domain Max Mueller introduced this concept to characterize Hindu religion and their different gods. – Jo Wehler Dec 20 '15 at 7:58
  • Vivekananda did not agree with Max Mueller on this taxonomy. He refers to this twice in his Complete Works. Ekam Sat Vipra Bahudha Vadanti - That which exists is One, men call It variously (RIg Veda 1.164.46). A rose by any other name smells still as sweet. It is not adherence to one god out of several, it is adherence to the One God in a particular form. A man may be a judge by profession, and seen as such by a criminal in a courtroom; but his wife does not look at him as a judge, she looks at him as her husband. The same judge is looked at by his children as a father, not as a judge. – Swami Vishwananda Dec 22 '15 at 4:44
  • Vivekananda met Max Mueller when the latter was an old man and actually has glowing words for him. I think that the term henotheism that Mueller introduced might have been done in his early days. Mueller was a great admirer of Vivekananda and wrote as such. He even wrote a book on Vivekananda's guru Ramakrishna. "Ramakrishna: His Life and Sayings" is still available. You should read Mueller's "India: What can it teach us?: A Course Lectures Delivered Before the University of Cambridge" It is a free download from different sites. In it Mueller directly says: – Swami Vishwananda Dec 22 '15 at 5:15
  • "So it is with these names of the Vedic gods. They were all meant to express the BEYOND, the Invisible behind the Visible, the Infinite within the Finite, the Supernatural above the Natural, the Divine, omnipresent, and omnipotent." – Swami Vishwananda Dec 22 '15 at 5:24
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A partial answer. As far as I know, which ain't far, the experimental evidence of background radiation produced substantial consensus on "big bang" and subsequent "inflation" theories.

Beyond this, I believe physical cosmology remains in a state of speculative flux. It is unclear, I believe, even whether theories like oscillation can be framed in a way subject to predictions and experimental confirmation. And I'm not sure that concepts like "eternity" or "infinity" can find a proper place in physics.

So the ball is in philosophy's court, yet largely "out of play" if we accept some sort of naturalistic, historical materialist, or Kantian constraints on "useless" speculation, such as the cosmological arguments for God, which end in the deadlock of antinomies.

However, the question has been reopen by so-called "speculative realists" and you may want to look at the very interesting arguments posed in "After Finitude" by Quentin Meillassoux. He looks at the status of evidential claims concerning "ancestral" events prior to even the possibility of consciousness, such as the "fossil" evidence of particle decay.

He does, in fact, turn his argument to the existence of God, though not as a primal cause but as a future possibility. The arguments are not fresh in my mind, so I won't attempt to summarize. But the book is interesting, brief, and accessible, if a bit hard to grasp. And it has made a splash.

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I have just finished an introductory course in the philosophy of science, so this question gives me an opportunity to see if I understood the course material.

The problem of underdetermination of theory by data means that philosophy plays a critical role in scientific theory choice. Scientific theories are chosen primarily according to our notion of rational theory choice and Bayesean considerations. Rational theory choice considers issues such as accuracy, consistency, broad scope, simplicity, and fruitfulness. Bayesean arguments use probabilistic methods resulting from the application of Bayes' Theorem

Philosophical considerations have led us to choose the so-called Concordance Model (or ΛCDM) and this model does indeed incorporate eternal inflation. As the name suggests, this is an eternal universe model though not an oscillating model in the sense you describe.

It is not known if "the" big bang preceded the inflationary epoch or if the inflationary epoch preceded "our" big bang. In the eternal inflation version, inflation continues somewhere today. In either case, what we think of as our universe can be considered as just one of infinitely many universes.


TL;DR

The Concordance Model is a recent formulation, coming to be the theory of choice as recently as the late 1990s following the unexpected observations of the accelerating rate of expansion of the universe and the "rotational flat curve" features of galaxies. It is an extension of the existing big bang model obtained by adding two auxiliary hypotheses - dark energy (Λ) and cold dark matter (CDM), hence the designation ΛCDM. The observation of an accelerating expansion rate led to the dark energy hypothesis, while the unexpected galactic rotational characteristics observed led us to the dark matter hypothesis. The philosophical considerations of rational choice and Bayesean arguments led us to adding two auxiliary hypotheses to our existing, well supported model (up until then) rather than adopting a radical new model or making ad hoc modifications to our existing model.

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