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There seems to me to be a big trend among scientist, many if not all of the atheist variety, that think that the universe could somehow create itself. Stephen Hawking goes on to say...

Bodies such as stars or black holes cannot just appear out of nothing. But a whole universe can… Because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing… Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.

Is the idea that something can be its own creator logically sound? Would you not have to exist before you existed to create yourself? It seems like nonsense to me. It seems to me that for the same reasons a person cannot be his own father a universe cannot create itself.

So the question remains... Is the idea that a universe can create itself nonsense?

Endnotes 1. Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design (New York: Bantam Books, 2010), p. 5

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    possible duplicate of Is it possible for something to have no cause? – iphigenie Jun 19 '13 at 15:51
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    Is asking if something can create itself not different? – Neil Meyer Jun 19 '13 at 15:53
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    It is asking if a thing can be its own cause. – Neil Meyer Jun 19 '13 at 16:02
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    To those who voted to close as duplicate: this question is strictly different from that linked. As the OP points out, the linked question asks whether something can be uncaused in general, which is entirely different from "can something cause itself." For a concrete example of the difference: "is it possible for a cookie to spontaneously come into exist uncaused" is the linked question, while "can a cookie create itself" is this question. – commando Jun 19 '13 at 18:28
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    How do we know if "created himself" is different from "had no cause"? – Annotations Jun 19 '13 at 19:16

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The New Atheism seems to be promoted by Scientists or Philosophers pursuing a Physicalist agenda.

The actual physics is silent about why or how the universe was created. Its also not generally noticed that the Physics of the very early Big Bang is highly speculative. It's impossible to say what new Physics are possible at such incredible density of both matter & spacetime.

That their arguments are taken seriously is due to the high visibility & success of the Physicalist project in its manifold forms. This does not mean that it is correct.

The argument that the universe created itself is not correct:

a. One explanation put forward is that the universe begun as a quantum fluctuation. But this already posits a void where quantum laws are real. How can then one say it is void? The statement is paradoxical (without further elucidation).

b. That Heisenbergs Uncertainty principle applied to time & energy seems to imply creation of energy is a standard popular interpretation, however I find this problematic given just how important conservation principles are in physics. Its also rife with philosophical interpretational issues. Taking Heisenberg principle seriously as uncertainty (which is how it was originally thought up) means you cannot be certain as to what energy is available in that time-frame. To ask for conservation at all times means that quantum reality has definiteness - and it is not clear exactly how this happens, if at all - at least in traditional frameworks like the Copenhagen explanation or its modern update Consistent Histories.

Only something with creative agency can create - what the universe, at least in a physicalist narrative, is change from one moment to the next in line with Law. Now, what one notices is that the physical laws of conservation of energy & momentum involve time. If there is no time - there are no laws.

Of course, one can posit that there are epochs before the one we are now. For example in Indian Cosmology we are now in the Kala Yug. I suspect it will be (relatively) easy enough to modify the standard Big Bang Cosmology so that there previous epochs to the one we are now in - simply because we have no empirical access to that point in time.

These are actually very old arguments. For example in Christian Theology God created time & space. That is the Sun to regulate time, the earth as the theatre of action. One should understand this symbolically and not literally. As was already understood by the early Christian Fathers.

Plato, in the Timaeus which describes his cosmology has the Demiurge inject order into the formless void. Unlike the New Athiests he is at least lacks the hubris to have:

Timaeus say he will strive to give an account that is “no less likely than anyone else's”

One also notes that Hume gleefully applies the new critical spirit endemic to the then new science to empirical phenomena to deny cause & effect and stall the scientific project. It took Kant to restart it by injecting human consciousness into the world and distinguishing a phenomenal realm where science can happen and the noumenal realm on which we have no purchase.

In fact, a similar argument to Humes was also applied by the Islamic Theologian Al-Ghazali against the rationalists of his time - the Falsafas. He invoked Allah so that cause & effect happened.

In Christian philosophy, say for example as elucidated in Leibnizs Monadology, the infinite substance he identifies as God. It is uncreated & eternal. To prove this is entirely beside the point, which Kant points out. It's a position taken up, in the same way one may say there is a void set. The reasoning here is axiomatic. To then ask - well what created that substance - contradicts that first assertion. It's a stepping outside of that framework. This is rather like reasoning with Set Theory but then deciding to change the meaning of the membership relationship.

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    Very Good Answer (-; – Neil Meyer Jun 20 '13 at 16:59
  • I think you are overemphasizing both a "new atheism" and religion. I agree with you on most of the physics, but these are just issues that hopefully will be resolved at some point in time. In this observable part of the universe there doesn't seem to be much room for god, after millenia of man thinking about causes and effects whilst observing nature. – jjack Feb 24 '18 at 11:02
  • @jjack: I think the new athiesm tends to be more anti-thiesm than developing a notion of itself for itself. For example, take a muslim and an hindu, if the muslim spent all his time being anti-hindu then I would find that really strange. I also find it strange that athiests seem to think the sciences are their own exclusive property - whereas the historical record shows that many more thiests were involved in the creation of the modern sciences. – Mozibur Ullah Feb 26 '18 at 10:28
  • @MoziburUllah: Yes, Neil deGrasse Tyson and others have said that Jesuits have played a very important role in the sciences historically. And they only go for Christianity, excluding people of other faiths. – jjack Feb 26 '18 at 10:46
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Reality is a very strange place. Energy is created from nothing all the time and then disappears again. The reason is the uncertainty principle:

ΔE Δt >= ℏ / 2

and this isn't imaginary energy; you can actually use it to e.g. catalyze some reaction (overcome some energy barrier, whatever) as long as you give it back within the appropriate time window.

So if you ask: isn't it strange to create something from nothing? I answer: happens all the time; the universe just lasts way too long. Does this mean that the universe in some sense creates itself? Maybe.

The main lesson to take from relativity and quantum mechanics is that everyday intuition which can be rock-solid on our size and time scales can be utterly bafflingly wrong on the scale of universes or subatomic particles. So while you shouldn't place too much faith in "scientific" results that aren't able to be heavily tested (how many universes can your average experimental cosmologist create?), raising philosophical objections on the basis of how apples and walls behave also begins to look rather foolish.

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    The 'creation of energy' is one way of putting it. But I'm not sure that this is the full story. Its reminiscent of how Heisenberg derived his principle which was through 'measurements create disturbances', which although leads to the right equation - the explanation isn't the mainstream ontology, it presupposes that 'quantum reality' has definite values, which in Bohmian Mechanics (which is non-mainstream) it does, but its also non-local. – Mozibur Ullah Jun 21 '13 at 2:08
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    -1: It's simply not even remotely true that energy is created from nothing. Fluctuations of quantum fields and states are anything but nothing. You're making the same philosophical error as Krauss which is to label something as nothing. – Alfred Centauri Jun 22 '13 at 17:31
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    @AlfredCentauri - Sure, you can interpret it as fluctuations of quantum fields instead, weird as that is with zero-point energy. And you can postulate that the universe is embedded in something that supports universe-creation. You can always play the "that isn't as nothing as you think it is" game. – Rex Kerr Jun 22 '13 at 18:06
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    @RexKerr, if one understands "Universe" as all there is, it is a conceptual error to imagine the universe "embedded" in something. And besides, were we to redefine universe to not include "all there is" such that "universes" are created in this meta-universe, we've only kicked the can down the road. For someone is bound to wonder, "Did the meta-universe create itself?" – Alfred Centauri Jun 22 '13 at 18:11
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    @AlfredCentauri - That's irrelevant. I'm merely pointing out that saying "Oh, the universe is around so it's not really from nothing" is not a particularly helpful game. If you draw evidence from the universe that things can't "just appear", you can also draw evidence that they can. If you look at more context, well, there is more, but you can always postulate more context. – Rex Kerr Jun 22 '13 at 18:20
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1) Yes, it is: But then, a selfcreating God is as nonsense as selfcreating universes. Therefore, you'd have to assume some kind of Infinitism. Either the universe or God could be infinite, but the universe being infinite requires one less entity.

2) No, it is not: Then why assume a selfcreating God if there can be a selfcreating universe. Both theories have the same explanatory strength, but the theory of a selfcreating universe does need an entity less (namely, no god).

Therefore: Selfcreating universe.

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    Gods are usually thought of as being eternal. Not sure why you would think they create themselves. – Neil Meyer Jun 19 '13 at 16:35
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    I might not understand what 'eternal' means. And i might not sense the irony in your comment, if there is some ;). The idea of my answer was that we still can ask 'why' if someone comes up with god. Now, if the answer is 'just because' I would skip the god and my answer to the question: 'why is there a universe' would then similarily be:'just because' – Lukas Jun 19 '13 at 17:22
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Not necessarily.

Insofar as I understood physicist Lawrence Krauss' arguments for the hypothesis that a universe could come from nothing, it may very well be the case that the nothingness that preceded our space-time was timeless but intrinsically unstable (though I'm still not entirely sure whether Krauss argues that this is due to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, that was also mentioned earlier by Rex Kerr. I haven't read Krauss' book, and the lectures I've seen of him haven't clarified this enough for me).

In other words, space and time exist because of the configuration of energy after the Big Bang. And so, when there is no time, the notions eternal as well as causation become meaningless.

The way I like to think of it, is imagining a reality, that is devoid of anything, that only "experiences" a timeless now, so to speak (and not an eternity).

And so, Krauss argues that this nothingness is so unstable that it is bound to become a universe at some point (although, keep in mind that bound to become and at some point is rather meaningless, because nothingness was timeless before the Big Bang (t = 0)). He also argues that the total energy of the universe may very well be zero (the total positive energy of matter cancelled out by the total negative energy of gravity).

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Is the idea that a universe can create itself nonsense?

Yes. Physicists are, it seems, quite poor philosophers. The physicists nothing is something.

Physical law must apply to something. If the physicist's claim is that physical law demands self-creation, isn't the obvious question: "From whence that physical law?"

Genuine nothingness, the philosopher's nothing, doesn't admit the existence of anything at all including an alleged physical law that somehow governs nothing.

The Universe is, literally all there is. Creation is an act and acts occur within the Universe. The Universe cannot be created, it simply is.

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    Taking a particular stand on controversial topics like whether physical laws or mathematics or whatnot "exists" and failing to adhere to the standard cosmological meaning of the word "Universe" does not give one a position from which to criticize those who are using standard meanings and take different positions on unresolved issues. – Rex Kerr Jun 22 '13 at 18:23
  • @RexKerr, the philosopher's "nothing" is the absence of anything. See, for example, here: Of course, “nothing” is not any kind of thing in the first place but merely the absence of anything. firstthings.com/article/2012/05/not-understanding-nothing – Alfred Centauri Jun 22 '13 at 18:30
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    The SEP entry on nothingness is much more topical and informative regarding nothing: plato.stanford.edu/entries/nothingness When we are talking about the "Universe", we should probably talk about en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universe – Rex Kerr Jun 22 '13 at 18:52
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    Indeed, by "Universe", I mean it in the same way as Wiki: "The Universe is commonly defined as the totality of existence", i.e., all there is. Which is to say, there is no thing that stands apart from or is independent of the Universe. – Alfred Centauri Jun 22 '13 at 19:03
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    It could very well be that the philosopher's nothing is an ontological impossibility. In other words: just because we can imagine the concept, doesn't mean it has actual ground in reality. Perhaps Krauss' proposal of nothingness is the closest to the philosopher's nothing that reality can get. – Decent Dabbler Jun 23 '13 at 0:58
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We have a set that contains everything imaginable, which will swallow everything you try to place outside of it, even empty void. The set itself cannot have external cause, so if it requires a cause, it must an internal one.

If your idea of the universe is not the totality of this set, then there possibly exists something “outside” of the universe in which the universe could have been created.

If reality has infinite content, then you will never, in principle, be able to map all its inner workings. But, everything will still be a part of reality.

  • This answer is on point and helpful, but the very last sentence needs work. I do not understand the contrast between infinite and finite reality. – Mark Andrews Nov 23 '17 at 2:10
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    Although the "set that contains everything imaginable" is problematic because of Russell's paradox. – Tim kinsella Feb 24 '18 at 18:00
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Simply put, no. There is no physical law which prevents us from going back or forward in time. We just don't know how, yet. Simply stating that we can't is an opinion. A very popular opinion, but an opinion none the less. If we can go back in time, then something creating itself is plausible. So the answer is no.

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This is a major rewrite of my previous answer, so if you've read it before you might like to read it again. I'll begin with a definition: "to create" - Bring (something) into existence. (dictionary.reference.com/browse/create).

The question of what it means to exist is one that has been covered at depth by the existentialists. A pre-cursor to the existentialists, Martin Heidegger investigated that bit of reality which has the power to ask "what it means to exist", ie Human Beings. (Heidegger proposes this philosophical investigation in Being and Time, an outline of which can be found here.) The study undertaken by this route (continued by Sartre and the existentialists) seems primarily related to human existence, and not existence per se.

I hope that I can take another approach to begin to answer this question. I would like to propose that, based on the definition of "to create" given above, "to be created" should be defined as "to be brought into existence where previously one did not exist". If in fact to create is to bring into existence, before one is created one has not been brought into existence. Therefore an uncreated thing has either: always existed, or does not exist.

With some agreement on what it means to create and be created we can look at the thing in question, the universe. What exactly is the universe? There are many competing definitions available. For the purpose of this discussion I would like to appeal to scientific defintions.

Accepted scientific definitions of the universe have been and continue to be contested. At this point in time we can consider definitions from two camps within physics: the theory offered by Einstein's theory of general relativity and the theories offered by quantum mechanics. I'll consider each briefly.

"Relativity says space and time are on equal footing - together they are the fabric of reality" (New Scientist). The article this appears in goes on to describe that space and time are part of a single four dimensional fabric that can be modelled mathematically in ways that are very useful for predicting the behaviour of large objects. On this view, space cannot exist where there is not time, nor can time exist without space. Both include each other. If we say the universe consists of this fabric, I would argue that self-creation is not possible. The reason for that is that on this model the laws of physics hold. Effect follows cause. The effect of being created must follow its cause of creation.

Here we come to the nub of the question. Is it necessary to exist in order to create? Or more broadly is it necessary to exist in order to act or have an effect. I believe the answer to this is obvious, and so I will proceed without the support of refernces for this point. Let us say, at least for the sake of argument that to create presupposes to exist. Therefore the thing which creates the universe must exist in the instant prior to creation in order to create. While the universe, to be created, must not exist in the instant prior to creation in order that it may be created. This presents two opposing requirements that cannot be reconciled in the one thing, the creator must exist in the instant prior to creation while the created thing must not exist in the instant prior to creation. Therefore a creator cannot create itself. Thus the universe cannot create itself.

Yet the idea that the universe consists of a single four dimensional space-time fabric is contested on the minute scale of quantum mechanics. Space and time, may, when considered at that level, be separate, or they may both be expresions of a more primal reality (New Scientist as above). If the universe is defined to include this primal reality there may be scope for saying it created itself. However, to avoid an infinite regress you must say either that something always existed (and created other things) or that something came from nothing.

Depending on how much your "nothing" is actually nothing you may be more or less inclined to reject the notion that something comes from nothing, or that things can spontaneously occur without cause. If you do reject that, the evidence before your senses that there is in fact something, suggests that there always was something. The question then becomes what has always existed? Scientists mostly agree that the universe did not always exist (www.big-bang-theory.com). Theologians agree that God always does exist, on the basis of reason and scripture such as the following: "Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God." (Psalm 90:2, English Standard Version).

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    Whose opinion is this? If yours, this site isn't the place to just ventilate it. If another's, please provide references. – user2953 Jun 28 '13 at 6:28
  • OK, just wanted to dive in and have a go. There's at least some reasoning in my response though. I'll look for some references and revise my answer within the next couple of weeks. – user3967 Jun 28 '13 at 7:12
  • I didn't complain about no reasoning. I do complain about 'the next couple of weeks' though. If you don't have enough time to do the aftersales on an answer, please don't write it. – user2953 Jun 28 '13 at 7:34
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    @camil, just revised my answer. Learning the forum etiquette as I go. – user3967 Jun 30 '13 at 5:00
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Why people are so confused is simply because they are mixing two different things. They are trying to explain the universe (which has a non-physical origin) by the laws of physics. Laws in themselves have to have origins. If the universe is a product of random processes, then why is every system full of laws/governed by laws e.g law of gravity, conservation of energy etc.

The argument against the existence of ALMIGHTY GOD is simply rooted in every human's desire for "freedom", where no one is accountable to anyone and we are free to live how we want. In its absolute, this desire in itself is self-destructive. If we are products of random processes, then life in itself is worthless and people's lives amount to nothing. This is the chorus of every political dictator.

Science (originally called "Natural philosophy") does well in explaining natural things - which is its domain. However the origin of the universe and life itself is well beyond the realm of science. Little wonder why a number of scientists are clutching the straws/coming up with all sorts of irrational explanations. I too am a Cambridge scientist/PhD holder ; however as one studies the explanations given by science, they simply do not make sense. Every system (even your computer) is made up of matter and information i.e the hardware and software. Science can explain the origin of the matter, but it cannot explain the source of the information, which must come from an intelligent being (GOD).

  • i think the motivations for arguing against the existence of God is not "simply rooted in every human's desire for 'freedom'...". there can be many, many other motivations, including a motivation only to seek Truth (whatever the hell that is). My speculation is more that atheists want to feel that in their immediate experience, humanity is highest expression of nature and that they belong to that lofty set. No need to be grateful to someone else of a higher status than sentient and sapient human beings. – robert bristow-johnson Apr 16 '17 at 6:13
  • "If we are products of random processes, then life in itself is worthless and people's lives amount to nothing. This is the chorus of every political dictator." That is so obviously wrong I am only confounded why you bother saying it. The origin of life is also obviously in the domain of science. We can aim to replicate it eventually in simulations, and potentially study other occurrences. A multiverse, or brane cosmologies, have real explanatory power, from outside the conventional universe. – CriglCragl Feb 27 '18 at 10:25
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If you abstract yourself from people who do not understand and ask yourself your question in the emptiness and darkness of infinite space "Is something creating itself a nonsense?". Then answer is definite no. It is not nonsense but it is neither a perfect sense. Somewhere in between. How did you create this question? Did it appear from nothing? If information can appear from nothing(you) then matter can also appear from nothing(you).

  • Questions do not arise from nothing. It's a result of our brain having the ability to imagine scenarios. – Zane Scheepers Nov 18 '17 at 18:12

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