On March 17th, researchers announced the potential discovery of a long-predicted twist in light from the big bang that represents the first image of ripples in the universe called primordial gravitational waves. The finding is considered to be direct proof of the theory of inflation – the idea that the universe expanded extremely quickly in the first fraction of a nanosecond after it was born.
Some will consider this as a progressive step in the role science has played to explain the origins of the universe without the need of a Creator.
“This is huge,” says Marc Kamionkowski, professor of physics and astronomy at John Hopkins University, who was not involved in the discovery but who predicted back in 1997 how it could be found. “It’s not every day that you wake up and find out something completely new about the early universe. To me this is as Nobel Prize–worthy as it gets.”
What is Inflation?
The big bang was originally hypothesised by Belgian priest and physicist Georges Lemaître. He called it “the day without yesterday” because it was the moment when time and space began.
But the big bang did not fit all astronomers’ observations. The distribution of matter across space is too uniform to have come from the big bang as originally conceived. So in the 1970s, cosmologists postulated a sudden enlargement of the universe, called inflation that occurred in the first minuscule fraction of a second after the big bang. But confirming the idea proved to be difficult – that is until the discovery of primordial gravitational waves. Only inflation can amplify the primordial gravitational wave signal enough to make it detectable.
What Does This Mean?
Einstein’s theory of general relativity talks about gravity and the universe as a whole. Quantum mechanics talks about the small scale of particles and the other forces of nature, the strong and weak nuclear forces, and electromagnetism.
Despite almost a century of effort, the world’s physicists have not been able to show how these theories work together. The discovered primordial gravitational waves were generated when gravity and the universe were working on the same scale as particles and the other forces of nature i.e. where both theories meet. It is hoped that this detection and subsequent analysis will lead to what physicists wistfully call a “theory of everything”.
“Evidence of Absence”
Naturally this has led to a heightened state of excitement within research and academic circles. As with every major scientific revelation, eager physicists hope it can unlock further mysteries of the universe and its origins.
Renowned neo-atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Laurence Krauss will attempt to claim that science explains away the need for a Creator. They often suggest that science is the only way knowledge is ascertained. The predominant discourse on how the universe came into existence does not include a Creator, implying therefore He SWT does not exist. This technique intends to imbed a subtle message, “absence of evidence is an evidence of absence”. But do empirical methods challenge the question of belief in a Creator?
‘Why does anything exist?’
Humans have always sought to find direction and meaning in life. In the quest for enlightenment, the central question people focus on is the question ‘why do things happen’. This is innate in human beings for the mind is capable of distinguishing between correct and false information.
As Western civilisation developed it placed humans as their own legislators and as their own guides. It began to chart a new course – from determining ‘why’ things exist towards ‘how’. This was a result of its secular creed which sought to relegate the Creator out of the political and empirical spheres. Atheists were now shackled to seeking naturalistic explanations exclusively. Consequently, they evaded more fundamental questions.
For instance if it is asked, ‘why does gravity exist?’ one can respond that it is a distortion of space itself caused by the presence of any mass — star, planet, person, tree – resulting in a ‘bending’ of space thereby attracting objects to it. While explaining the existence of gravity, the question can be further reduced to ‘why does mass distort space?’ Again, the questions can be reduced further still to laws of the universe, properties of sub-atomic particles until scientists grudgingly admit ‘it just does’.
Clearly the function of science is limited to explaining how properties exist in a universe preordained by a particular set of laws. It is impossible for science to determine why there are laws and consistent patterns (at least on a macro level) as opposed to not with specific properties. For example, why does water boil at a 100 degrees Celsius as opposed to 110 degrees Celsius?
Science also fails to distinguish between contingency and the necessary. It cannot account for contingency i.e. possible beings. For example, a circle is necessarily 2.pi.r but it’s not necessary for a circle to be red, blue or black. It could have a number of possible colours, science then wouldn’t explain why it has that possible colour it would only describe the circle and its particular colour.
Similarly, the universe could have a completely different set of parameters and variables instead of the ones we already have. Scientists try to account for the particular laws we see in this universe with baseless multi-verse theories; the idea an infinite number of alternate universes exist, all subject to completely different laws and properties thus accounting for the particular laws we see in this universe. However such a conclusion of a infinite number of universes, is both a leap of faith in science and a logical contradiction (the sum of limited will always be limited).
Therefore the universe is a possible existence, having a beginning, with a particular set of laws preordained for it which can only be accounted for by recourse to a power outside of nature and beyond the scope of scientific testing.
How Do Muslims View This?
Islam is built upon an intellectual proof, the belief that a limited dependent universe requires an eternal Creator, Allah (swt) and that the Qu’ran is the Word of Allah (swt). This satisfies the heart and the mind and the Qu’ran states:
“It is He Who shows you the lightning, by way both of fear and of hope; It is He Who raises up the clouds, heavy with rain.” [TMQ Ar-Ra’d: 12]
Rather than simply observing processes, Muslims are required to reflect on the causes and motives behind them.
Therefore, every phenomena indicates preordained systems created by Allah (swt). If we observe the world rationally it should surely increase our conviction in Islam. Discoveries alone will never explain the causes behind them but will actually perpetuate the problem if the correct attitude is not adopted. Indeed the correct attitude is taken directly from the Qur’an:
“So, also did We show Ibrahim the power and the laws of the heavens and the earth, that he might (with understanding) have certitude. When the night grew dark upon him he beheld a star. He said, ‘This is my Lord’. But when it set, he said, ‘I love not things that set.’ And when he saw the moon rising, he exclaimed, ‘This my Lord.’ But when it set, he said, ‘Unless my Lord guides me, I surely shall become one of the folk who are astray.’ And when he saw the sun rising, he cried, ‘This is my Lord! This is greater!’ And when it set, he exclaimed, ‘O my people! Lo! I am free from all that you associate (with Him) Lo! I have set my face, firmly and truly, towards Him Who created the heavens and the earth, and never shall I give partners to Allah.’” [TMQ Al-An’am: 75-79]
A Muslim would see no contradiction between studying the processes and descriptions of the universe, it’s possible expansion, what laws exist in nature and how to utilise such a preordained system which is the application of the scientific method. The science, therefore, has a role and doesn’t negate the rational question of why this process occured in the first place. A question that naturally leads one to the rational conclusion of an unlimited and eternal Creator, Allah SWT, that created the universe preordaining it with a particular system.
“Most surely in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day there are signs for men who understand.” [TMQ Aali Imran: 190]