how is the universe explained without reference to god—i.e. a first cause?
ANIL MITRA © May 2015
The following is from a piece I wrote on Quora. The question was ‘How do atheists explain the universe if God does not exist?’
1. If the universe is all that there is, was, and will be (exist) then God (a first cause) is part of the universe. It might be argued that God created the rest of the universe but the question concerns what created the whole universe including God. God is not an explanation.
2. There is another reason that God is not a satisfactory explanation. A good explanation is transparent--that is the remote and the complex should be explained, as far as possible, in terms of the immediate and the simple. The ‘God’ explanation explains the complex (rest of the) universe in terms of an even more complex (or deeper) being. As other answers suggest the God explanation is a non-explanation explanation--i.e. code for “I don’t know.”
3. Here is a stab at an explanation of the universe that does not depend on God. The explanation ‘evolves’ in a number of ‘rounds’:
Round 1. Since the dawn of modern science we have become so used to explaining things we often think that everything must have an explanation. Perhaps, however, not all things have an explanation--e.g., perhaps the universe as all things has no explanation.
Round 2. Perhaps what we need to look for is a different kind or basis of explanation. Science explains in terms of fundamental entities--e.g., the particles and fields of physics but science does not so far explain the origin of its must fundamental entities. If science did explain its fundamental entities it would probably be in terms of further fundamental entities and so the problem of explanation would be taken deeper but remain unresolved. As an example the physicist Lawrence Krauss says that quantum mechanics explains ‘something from nothing’ but admits that that explanation does assume something--it assumes quantum mechanics which is something.
Round 3. The ultimately satisfying explanation would be an explanation of the universe from no assumptions at all--i.e., it would explain something from nothing or, more precisely, it would show that the manifest universe and the void (true nothingness and not the proxy quantum mechanical nothingness) are on par. But widely, the philosophical problem of ‘something from nothing’, that is, ‘why there is being at all rather than nothingness’ is regarded as a deep and unresolved problem. So we are back at the place where the explanation is (a) this unsolved problem is solvable or (b) there is no explanation of the universe.