email - December 2017

Causality, Time and the Big Bang

Does cause and effect prove the Big Bang?

Josh was unable to answer this question posed to him by his friend.

Hi this is Josh

So recently I struck up a conversation with a self-proclaimed atheist about how science and religion aren't opposing ideas because they are unrelated subjects (just like how math and history aren't opposed to each other because they are unrelated), and naturally the conversation turned to the origin of the universe. When I asked him what could have caused the Big Bang, he responded with this (side note: english is his second language):

The two answers I will make are very linked to each other. First, the universe also exists since forever. I know, it is actually 13,7 billions of year, but here is the thing to understand, so pay REALLY attention: the beginning of universe doesn’t only mean the beginning of space, but the beginning of space-time, since we know now that time is just another dimension. Time was created with the universe, so there can’t be a notion of « before the universe » because it has no meaning, « before time » has no meaning. That’s why universe exist since forever, it exist since time exist.

Which lead to my second point (you see very linked). You can’t talk about time without talking about causality. Causality makes time, time is nothing but causality (I’m pretty sure this point is from Étienne Klein), the only reason we can say time pass is because a cause give an effect and not the opposite.

Without time, no causality, without causality, no time. So since time started with the universe, started with the Big-Bang, since causality began with the Big-Bang, there couldn’t be causality « before the Big-Bang »; and that’s why we can say there is no need of god as primal cause to create the universe.

So my questions are: Can causality exist without time? I know time cannot exist without causality, but is the opposite true?

Would the Big Bang be defined as a cause or an effect, or neither? And if it’s neither, that would mean that there would have to be some timeless, spaceless, matter-less entity existing for the Big Bang to be possible, and wouldnt that fit the description of a god?

I feel like I'm in a bit over my head here.


Accepting the Premise

The first mistake is that you can’t argue about how the Big Bang works without accepting the premise that the Big Bang actually happened.

Imagine a formal debate about how Santa can deliver toys to all the children in a single evening. One side claims that classical physics proves Santa can do it, and the other side says that Santa makes use of quantum physics. It is purely scientific debate.

The classical physicist argues that Santa starts at the International Date Line (180 degrees East Longitude) at 12:01 AM on December 25 and proceeds west. By 1:01 AM he arrives at 165 degrees East Longitude, so he changes time zones, and it becomes 12:01 AM again. He keeps moving 15 degrees west every hour, and 23 hours later arrives back at the International Date Line at 1:01 AM, December 25, at which time it becomes 1:01 AM, December 26. Since Santa is keeping up with the rotation of the Earth, he can do it.

The quantum physicist argues that Santa is like Schrödinger’s Cat (who, according to accepted quantum theory, is alive and dead at the same time as long as he is not being observed). In the same way, Schrödinger Claus is everywhere, and is nowhere, at the same time, as long as he is not observed. (That’s why he is so careful not to be seen.) To put it more eloquently, through quantum superposition of all possible locations by entanglement and quantum interference Santa achieves prolonged coherence which allows him to deliver presents everywhere simultaneously.

It doesn’t matter who wins the debate because the debate is predicated on the assumption that Santa exists and delivers toys all over the world. They may disagree on the details of how he does it; but everyone agrees he does it.

In this case, one can easily see the fallacy in the classical physics argument. Santa just can’t keep up with the Sun. Quantum physics, on the other hand, is so difficult to understand, that people accept strange quantum ideas like “spooky action at a distance,” multidimensional strings, entanglement, and so on, even if they don’t understand them because questioning quantum physics would make the questioner appear unsophisticated and stupid.

This mythical Santa debate is just like the debates scientists have about how evolution works, and what happened just after the Big Bang. Scientists don’t agree on the exact details about the Big Bang, but they agree it happened even if they don’t understand it. Scientists don’t agree on the details of how evolution created all the various species, but they all have to accept the premise it happened in order to debate how it happened.

[Spoiler Alert] Santa doesn’t really exist—but debating about how he manifests his generosity is necessarily based upon accepting the premise that Santa exists. When discussing evolution or the Big Bang, it is important to point out the flaws in the premise without accepting the premise.

Once upon a time, scientists believed only what they could demonstrate in the laboratory. Now, sadly, scientists believe an unbelievable explanation when there is no other explanation consistent with the premise instead of rejecting the premise.

Causality and Time

That being said, we don’t want to appear to be completely ducking the question. Josh’s friend does bring up a legitimate issue about the relationship between causality and time that does not have anything to do with the Big Bang, and does have application to Darwinian Evolution.

Of course, there is a connection between causality and time.  Causality says, “If Condition A happens, then Result B will necessarily happen some time later.”  Time is involved in the definition of cause and effect.

If I accidentally hit my thumb with a hammer, my thumb will hurt almost immediately after I hit it. My thumb won’t start hurting before I hit it. The impact of the hammer is the cause, and the pain in my thumb is the effect. The timing is so obvious the example pains me to point it out.

There is more to causality than simple timing. Suppose I am at a hockey game, and I need to leave my seat to visit the restroom. Immediately after I enter the restroom, the L.A. Kings score a goal, and I missed it! There are superstitious people who are so self-centered that they think their actions (like going to the restroom) cause goals to be scored. I am not one of them. Just because a goal was scored after a fan did something unrelated to the game, it is not an example of causality.

When evolutionists find a fossil of a three-toed horse-like animal that they think is older than a fossil of a two-toed animal, they immediately jump to the conclusion that evolution caused the three-toed animal to have two-toed descendants without any other evidence of a biological linkage.

Causality as Proof

The argument Josh’s friend makes is that the Big Bang caused space and time. The fact that space and time exist is (in his mind) proof that the Big Bang happened because space and time were caused by the Big Bang. His circular reasoning is consistent—but consistency alone does not prove a premise is true. (Unlike inconsistency, which can prove it false.)

In the same way, a creationist might argue, “God said, ‘Let there be light!’ and there was (immediately following) light.” Light exists. Therefore it had to be caused by God, so God must exist. The circular reasoning is consistent, but consistency alone doesn’t prove that it is true, even if it is true.

Causality doesn’t prove the existence of God any more than it proves the Big Bang.  You would have to accept the premise that God created light, just like you would have to accept the premise that the Big Bang created space-time.

Uncertain Knowledge

Josh’s friend “knows” a lot of things he doesn’t really know. He knows “the universe also exists since forever. I know, it is actually 13,7 billions of year.” Ignoring for the moment the fact that his statement contradicts itself, he can believe that the universe exists forever, but he can’t know that. He can believe it is 13.7 billion years old, but he can’t know that. Furthermore, as soon as some respected scientist says the universe is 20 billion years old, we suspect Josh’s friend will “know” that to be true, too.

He knows “Causality makes time, time is nothing but causality (I’m pretty sure this point is from Étienne Klein), the only reason we can say time pass is because a cause give an effect and not the opposite.” If Étienne Klein says it, it must be true!

It is tempting to explain that he seems to be confusing causality with differential calculus, and I will yield to that temptation because the article is almost over, and if people stop reading here because it gets too deep, not much harm will be done because we have already made the important points. (Specifically: it is foolish to argue details of the Big Bang because it didn’t happen; a sequence of events is not necessarily the result of cause and effect; a consistent argument isn’t necessarily true.)

Optional Math

Symbolically, velocity (V) is computed from distance (D) and time (T). V=D/T. Simple algebra can be used to rearrange V=D/T to T=D/V. Time is distance divided by velocity. (For example, dividing 120 miles by 60 miles per hour tells you it will take 2 hours to get there.)

Because velocity is the rate of change of distance, time is actually distance divided by the rate of change of distance. Josh’s friend is trying to say that time only happens when something changes. If nothing changes, time does not pass. Since things always change, time is always proceeding. This is true. Time really exists.

The fact that time exists doesn’t prove that the Big Bang happened. His reasoning is based on the unverifiable assumption that things started moving with the Big Bang.

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