Philosophies and Religions Before The Big Bang Theory
This post is also available in: Turkish
PHILOSOPHIES AND RELIGIONS BEFORE THE BIG BANG THEORY
In order to better grasp the philosophical consequences of the Big Bang theory we should touch on the ideas that flourished before its emergence. In this way we will better understand which of these ideas the theory validated and which it called into question. We intend to let the Big Bang theory judge the history of philosophy in the coming pages. For the moment, however, we shall give a brief outline of what had gone before.
Two interrelated crucial questions in the history of philosophy had to do with the existence of God and whether the universe and matter had always existed or had been created. These two fundamental philosophical issues are the groundwork of the present book; the philosophies that preceded the Big Bang theory will be examined according to the answers provided by the history of philosophy.
DENIAL OF GOD AND ACCEPTANCE OF THE ETERNITY OF MATTER
According to this view on which the materialistic philosophy is based, matter is real and nothing exists outside of it. Matter is not created; therefore, it cannot be destroyed. It is self-existing and the prima materia of the universe. According to materialism God does not exist, and belief in religion based on the existence of God is ipso facto absurd.
Other philosophies have also contended that matter has an eternal existence. For instance, Buddhism (established in the 5th century BC) asserts that everything owes its existence to matter, which follows mechanical laws without any intervention on the part of a deity. Certain branches of Buddhism may profess belief in a deity/deities, but as no mention is made of a deity in any basic sacred texts, and since the universe is believed to have existed from eternity, Buddhism may be approached as one of the atheistic religions (or philosophies) that regard matter as eternal.
Most of the Indian philosophies (whose beginnings extend back to the 20th century BC) accept the universe to have existed from eternity, and try to explain it without reference to God. Taoism (which flourished in China in the 6 century BC) postulates that everything came about by itself and that the universe has an eternal existence. We shall, in the coming pages, refer to these religions and philosophies of the Far East and weigh the consequences that the Big Bang may engender for them.
Democritus (460-370 BC), an ancient Greek philosopher, and Epicurus (341-270 BC), who adopted from him the general outline of his philosophy, are considered to be the ancestors of contemporary materialists. These philosophers also believed that the universe had no beginning and no end; that it had existed eternally and would continue to exist forever without any intervention by God. However, it was Lucretius (99-55 BC) who, for the first time, most clearly declared that God did not exist and that the universe was not created. He is acknowledged by some to be the father of materialism.
D’Alembert, Turgot, Condorcet and Baron d’Holbach all figure in the history of materialism. However, the best known and most influential proponents of materialistic philosophy were Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820-1895). Seventy years after the death of Marx, the Marxists, whose actions accorded with their philosophies, succeeded in attracting one third of the world’s population to their side. We can easily say that there has never been a philosopher who exerted as great an influence as Marx in such a short time. Readers of the materialist philosophers will observe that for the said thinkers, the fundamental question of philosophy is posited as follows:
1. Either matter and the universe are eternal and God does not exist; or
2. God is eternal and is the Creator of everything including matter and the universe.
They opted for the first alternative. The prominent proponents of the materialistic philosophy venerated science, and vehemently militated against agnosticism. A scientific evaluation of the views of these philosophers (who were themselves infatuated with science) within the framework of the Big Bang theory will be interesting. The arbitration of the kind of science they sanctioned was to lead to philosophical consequences. We shall see how the Big Bang theory will pass judgment on their credo.
THE VIEW THAT BOTH MATTER AND GOD HAVE ETERNAL EXISTENCE
There are two alternatives espoused by materialistic thinkers: either both matter and the universe are eternal without beginning or end, and God does not exist; or, God is eternal and is the Creator of everything including matter and the universe. Yet, the fact that Plato (427-347 BC) and Aristotle (384-322 BC), two of the most prominent philosophers in the history of philosophy, are of the opinion that both matter and God are eternal and have a perennial existence, deserves a special chapter.
The idea of the eternity of the universe is more explicit in Aristotle. According to him, the stars burn with an endless fuel and are timeless. Given the fact that Plato says that everything originated from a primeval chaos, one may be inclined to think that his view is somewhat nearer to the idea of creation out of nothingness; however, the majority of Plato’s commentators contend that Plato believed in the eternity of matter. Although Plato and Aristotle were the foremost proponents of this view, other philosophers like Avicenna and Farabi – at whom Ghazzali leveled criticism – were also influenced by their philosophies.
Despite the fact that Plato and Aristotle are considered to be pre-Christians saints by the Christian world, their main difference from the monotheistic religions was in relation to the eternity of matter. What the Big Bang has to say in this respect will shed light on this crucial historic controversy. Who had the right on his side? Plato and Aristotle? Or the monotheistic religions? We shall see how the Big Bang will settle this controversy.
VIEWS OF THE AGNOSTICS
We have seen above that there were two basic views about the existence of God and the eternity of matter, while a third alternative was the view held by Plato and Aristotle. Although one cannot say that there is a fourth one, there is still another approach to the question, namely the body of opinion professed by agnostics. Agnosticism maintains that one cannot possibly know which of the foregoing alternatives is the right one. Beyond this, it offers nothing as an alternative. We can classify agnostics in three categories:
1. Agnostic-Atheists: These philosophers claim that one cannot possibly know whether God exists or not; it therefore follows that atheism is the only conclusion that can be drawn.
2. Agnostic-Fideists: The proponents of this attitude posit that intelligence can neither prove nor disprove God’s existence; however, they make room for faith and belief in God. Kant, the most famous agnostic in history, may be classified among this type.
3. Agnostics who remain agnostics: They choose not to speculate. Their starting is their end point. They accept neither a belief in God nor in atheism.
Agnosticism affirms that we cannot know if God exists or not. The fact of whether matter existed from eternity or was created remains likewise a moot point. The origin of agnosticism dates back to the ancient Greeks, as far back as the Sophists. Protagoras (485-420 BC) and Gorgias (circa 5th century BC), the best known among them, claimed that definite and absolute knowledge was an impossibility.
On the other hand, the word ‘agnosticism’ is associated in the mind with two important names, David Hume (1711-1776) and Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), who, influenced by the former, was to earn an even greater renown. Both confessed that we are not in a position to know whether God exists or not, or whether matter is eternal or not. We shall address this issue later, using the Big Bang theory to judge agnosticism.
The Big Bang theory postulates that we may learn about how the universe began, and purports that this knowledge may be gained-and proven-by observations and empirical data. The Big Bang theory invalidates many agnostic claims that such knowledge is unattainable and inexplicable.
BELIEF IN BOTH GOD AND THE CREATION OF MATTER
The main advocates of this attitude – in fact, the only champions of it – are the monotheistic religions. Monotheistic religions maintain that matter and the universe were created ex nihilo and that God exists. Despite the divergences between Judaism, Christianity and Islam, all of them concur on a crucial point: the eternal existence of God and the creation of the universe. These religions arrive at this conclusion based upon their holy books. The viewpoint of materialistic atheism is challenged by the contention of monotheistic religions regarding the creation of matter out of nothing and the contention that matter had a beginning in time. This is the fundamental creed that sets apart the monotheistic religions from all the other views expressed so far.
In monotheistic religions, the omnipotence and sublimity of God are His essential characteristics. All constructions that are likely to run counter to God’s sublimity and omnipotence are refuted. Any viewpoints attributing failure to God are refuted. Matter considered not created and self-existing becomes independent from God’s power and omnipotence; therefore, the idea advocating that matter was eternal and was not created is a postulate that the monotheistic religions vehemently condemn.
I would like to draw attention to five points on which the monotheistic religions particularly dwell. These five points – as will be seen later in detail – are of special interest in terms of the data provided by the Big Bang theory. All these five arguments were put forward and advocated by the monotheistic religions in human history. The validity of these arguments will be discussed in the light of the Big Bang theory. These arguments are as follows:
1. The universe was created; therefore, it is not eternal. It had a beginning in time.
2. Time is also created.
3. The creation of the universe followed a progressive evolutionary process.
4. The universe is designed.
5. The universe will come to an end.