Do Seemingly Unsolvable Science Questions Point to a Supernatural Force?

10/26/2017 01:27 pm ET
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If Science can’t figure out how the universe began, doesn't that confirm that there is a supernatural force behind the creation of the universe? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Viktor T. Toth, IT pro, part-time physicist, on Quora:

If Science can’t figure out how the universe began, doesn't that confirm that there is a supernatural force behind the creation of the universe?

Back in the days of Isaac Newton, electric and magnetic phenomena were complete mysteries. Should Newton and his colleagues have viewed this as proof of the existence of the thunder god Thor or some other supernatural being responsible for thunder and lightning and other electric phenomena?

Albert Einstein published his theory of relativity (now known as the special theory) in 1905. Back in 1905, and for many years afterwards, science could not figure out how the Sun worked. Should Albert Einstein and his contemporaries have worshiped the sun god Ra or one of the other solar deities?

In any case… exactly which part of “how the universe began” have we not yet figured out?

  • We know how the first galaxies and first stars formed, a couple of hundred million years after the Big Bang.
  • We know how neutral matter formed during the recombination era, about 380,000 years after the Big Bang, and how it produced its thermal afterglow that we now detect as the cosmic microwave background radiation.
  • We know how primordial atomic nuclei formed in the very early universe, just seconds or minutes after the Big Bang.
  • We know how quarks formed protons and neutrons within the first second after the Big Bang.
  • We know how the electromagnetic force and the weak nuclear force separated through the same symmetry breaking process that also endowed charged fermions with their masses, within the first trillionth of a second after the Big Bang.
  • We don’t know, but we have some pretty decent ideas how the strong and electroweak forces became separate even earlier, within the first trillionth of a trillionth of a second.
  • We have some tentative ideas about how the universe evolved even earlier, when the quantum nature of gravity still must have played an important role.

And when I say “we know”, I speak of firm knowledge. Knowledge of physical processes that we can replicate experimentally in particle accelerators. Equations that are firmly grounded in solid theory, and yield quantitative predictions about specific properties of the universe, which can then be confirmed through astronomical or astrophysical observations.

Do we know everything about how the universe came to be? Certainly not. But, I feel compelled to ask, exactly which of these answers to the “how” question do you find so lacking that an alternative explanation in the form of a deity is necessary? And how can you be certain that, as our knowledge of the subject improves, your deity does not become unnecessary, the same way we do not need to assume Thor exists when dealing with Maxwell’s equations, or think about the sun god Ra when we consider stellar nuclear fusion?

Just to be clear, I am not suggesting that science leaves no room for deities. For starters, the physical sciences will never answer any “why” questions. Why does the universe exist? Why are we in it? I personally find such questions meaningless, and the idea of imaginary friends such as deities, well, false comfort. But to each their own. Others may find real comfort in the idea that there is a divine plan behind it all, and that our existence has some higher purpose.

But the “how” questions are firmly within the realm of science and, if past experience is of any use, there is no “how” question to which the answer is not discoverable through hard work and persistence.

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