In the Beginning

Bible: “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, the Word was God”

Vedas: “There is no beginning. There is no end. There is only the eternal now.”

Science: The universe came into being through the Big Bang

No one knows with certainty how the universe came to be, nor what was there before. The origin of the universe is a mystery. We have scientific theories and religious beliefs about the birth of the universe.

According to science, the universe started with the Big Bang. Interestingly, among the first people to think scientifically about the origin of the universe was a Catholic priest, Georges Lemaitre[1]. In addition to his religious training, Lemaitre was a physicist and he worked out some of the early conditions of the cosmos in the 1920s and 30s. The name Big Bang was coined by the astronomer Fred Hoyle[2].

“In the early 20th century, astronomers Edwin Hubble[3] and Milton Humason[4] (an interesting aside, Humason was a former mule driver and a janitor) discovered that galaxies are moving away from the Milky Way. More to the point, every galaxy is moving away from every other galaxy which means that the whole universe is expanding. In the past, then, the whole cosmos must have been much smaller, hotter and denser. The universe has no center or edge, and every part of the cosmos is expanding. That means if we run the clock backward, we can figure out exactly when everything was packed together—13.8 billion years ago. Because every place we can map in the universe today occupied the same place 13.8 billion years ago, there wasn’t a location for the Big Bang: Instead, it happened everywhere simultaneously. That description known as the Big Bang model has stood up against new and competing theories for the better part of a century…

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…Big Bang broadly refers to the theory of cosmic expansion and the hot early universe. However, sometimes even scientists will use the term to describe a moment in time—when everything was packed into a single point. The problem is that we don’t have either observations or theory that describes that moment, which is properly (if clumsily) called the “initial singularity.” The initial singularity is the starting point for the universe we observe, but there might have been something that came before. The difficulty is that the very hot early cosmos and the rapid expansion called “inflation” that likely happened right after the singularity wiped out most—if not all—of the information about any history that preceded the Big Bang. Physicists keep thinking of new ways to check for signs of an earlier universe, and though we haven’t seen any of them so far, we can’t rule it out yet…

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…The best evidence for the Big Bang is in the form of microwaves. Early on, the whole universe was dense enough to be completely opaque. But at a time roughly 380,000 years after the Big Bang, expansion spread everything out enough to make the universe transparent.

The light released from this transition, known as the cosmic microwave background (CMB), still exists. It was first observed in the 1960s by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson. That discovery cemented the Big Bang theory as the best description of the universe; since then, observatories such WMAP[5] and Planck have used the CMB to tell us a lot about the total structure and content of the cosmos.”[6]

 

Our galaxy, our sun and planet earth were formed by the process of primordial elements coalescing to give rise to the approximately ten billion galaxies in the universe, of which our galaxy is one. Planet earth is estimated by astronomers to be four billion years old. All that exists on earth, including you and me, are formed from elements found in the universe. Hydrogen and helium were there at the time of Big Bang and other heavier elements came about through a process of nucleosynthesis in stars[7].

Just six elements – Hydrogen, Carbon, Oxygen, Sulphur, Nitrogen and Phosphorus – are the building blocks of life on earth. Life on earth started very simply from just a few macromolecules.  Early evidence of life is from fossil records of bacteria found in the rocks of Western Australia that are 3.5 billion years old. Even bacteria are complex biological systems to have emerged spontaneously. Bacteria evolved from earlier building blocks of life. We now know with certainty that the building blocks of life are macromolecules-amino acids, fatty acids, carbohydrates and DNA/RNA. It took hundreds of millions of years for macromolecules to organize into a single cell. It has taken over three billion years for humans to evolve from bacteria.

Source: http://schoolbag.info/biology/concepts/130.html

 

Life evolved through a process of fits and starts, a process described as punctuated evolution. The noted paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould[8] describes the process of punctuated evolution, in an article he wrote for Scientific American magazine, titled “The Evolution of Life on Earth”. He wrote:

“Three billion years of unicellularity, followed by five million years of intense creativity and then capped by more than 500 million years of variation on set anatomical themes can scarcely be read as a predictable, inexorable or continuous trend toward progress or increasing complexity.

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“…. An external explanation based on ecology seems attractive: the Cambrian explosion represents an initial filling of the “ecological barrel” of niches for multicellular organisms, and any experiment found a space. The barrel has never emptied since; even the great mass extinctions left a few species in each principal role, and their occupation of ecological space forecloses opportunity for fundamental novelties. But an “internal” explanation based on genetics and development also seems necessary as a complement: the earliest multicellular animals may have maintained a flexibility for genetic change and embryological transformation that became greatly reduced as organisms “locked in” to a set of stable and successful designs.

In any case, this initial period of both internal and external flexibility yielded a range of invertebrate anatomies that may have exceeded (in just a few million years of production) the full scope of animal form in all the earth’s environments today (after more than 500 million years of additional time for further expansion).”

Four hundred years of scientific inquiry by brilliant theorists and dedicated and equally brilliant experimental physicists has provided us with answers to two existential questions–how did the universe come to be and how you and I are here to ask these questions. Big Bang theory and Darwin’s theory of evolution are the foundational theories explaining the origins of the universe and life on planet earth.

evolution

This pictorial depicts how “from one many emerge”. Thus, all that exists is energy and the many forms that exist are different patterns of energy. All that exists is energy in motion. You and I are different patterns of energy.

For a scientist, like me, there is no mystery as to how we have come to be. Unlike my forefathers, I do not need to invent a God or invoke spirits to understand existence. Science has done the job of explaining the observed world beautifully, and the proof is in the technological advances made by us as a result of these scientific theories. We have electricity, space travel, computers, automobiles, advances in medicine, etc. all as a result of science.

The questions of how the universe came to be and how life evolved are settled, for me. The Big Question[9] or the Hard Problem, as physicists refer to it, is understanding what consciousness is. The Vedic sages arrived at the conclusion that consciousness is the substratum of all of existence. It is the Reality behind all of existence from which all that exists emerges. Perhaps, the mysterious and yet to be discovered, Higgs field[10] of physicists is consciousness itself.

What is consciousness? Is it the same as being self-aware? Is the Universe self-aware? It can’t be that human species is at the end point of evolution. What are we evolving to?

[1] (Profile of Georges Lemaitre n.d.)

[2] (Biography Fred Hoyle n.d.)

[3] (Biography Edwin Hubble n.d.)

[4] (A great biography of Milton Humason n.d.)

[5] (Wilkison Micorscope Anisotropy Probe; NASA n.d.)

[6] (Five Facts of the Big Bang; Symmety Magazine n.d.)

[7] (Stellar Nucleosynthesis n.d.)

[8] (American Museum of Natural History n.d.)

[9] (The Hard Problem of Consciousness n.d.)

[10] (Why particles have mass n.d.)