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On the origin of universes by means of natural selection—or, blinded by big bang blackness


Published: 9 October 2014 (GMT+10)

The origin of our universe is a vexing problem for atheists. The very state of the observable universe today presents serious problems for them, as it demands a Creator. Why did the universe begin in such an organised state, where laws are finely tuned for life to exist, and where irreversible processes occur producing the forward march of time?

Physicist Lee Smolin

In thinking on the nature of the universe and our existence within it, the Greeks developed the philosophies of rationalism1 and empiricism2, two different approaches they believed could determine truth from the world. The former involved deduction3, and the latter, induction4. No reference to a Creator God was considered relevant.

The modern cosmologist, one who attempts to explain the origin of a rational universe with laws derived from observation, is one who believes he can, by inductive reasoning alone, discover its origin without the Creator.

Atheists say the rational mind concludes that there is no God, therefore the universe is the outcome of pure materialism.5 Then how do we explain how the universe came to be? How do we, by induction alone, explain the origin of the laws of physics? And how do we test if our explanations are correct? These are fundamental epistemological6 questions that need to be answered.

The Bible has the answers and quite succinctly says …

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1).

No induction or deduction, just revelation alone.

If you look carefully at the development of science you will see that the underlying assumption that there are universal unchanging laws of nature has been the result of Judeo-Christian thinking. This allowed for the development of modern science and its methodology (including the ‘Scientific Method’)—involving the notion that an experiment can be repeated and the results will be the same if the conditions are identical, regardless of when or where.

The modern rational scientist uses this basis in his approach to science but denies its origin. He starts with unchanging laws as his primary assumption. They call these the laws of nature as if they have arisen by themselves. Everything else is an outworking of those laws on the evolving state of the universe.

According to the physicist Lee Smolin7 the understanding of their immutability has its origins in the atomistic thinking of some of the ancient Greek philosophers. But not all Greeks thought that way. Yet he sees the immutability of these laws, and their application to what we observe, via the Scientific Method, as a problem.

Three big unanswered questions

He cites8 three big questions about the universe that we will never be able to answer by applying the above approach (i.e. unchanging laws with the Scientific Method) to the universe as a whole. However, when properly understood, the universe presents some specialised problems for the Scientific Method because we cannot use it as a laboratory in which to do repeatable experiments, simply because we cannot interact with the universe as we might do in a local laboratory experiment.9

Smolin’s question 1:How did nature choose the specific laws which control the universe, as deduced from observation?” The Standard Model of particle physics is the most successful theory ever developed by mankind, yet the model’s parameters are extremely fine-tuned. These fine-tunings in fundamental constants, etc., permit the very existence of life in this universe. But why should that be so? In other words, he objects to the inference of Design.

His question 2:How did the universe start off with an initial state in such a high degree of homogeneity?” This is the initial condition required for the big bang to produce the currently observable universe. Its growth out of the alleged singularity was so finely balanced that immediately after the big bang it produced very few black holes and relatively little radiation. If it had produced many black holes, then it would have collapsed back into the singularity. Smolin says these “extraordinary initial conditions are a given”. They simply cannot be arrived at by the Scientific Method. They are some of the a priori assumptions one must make.

His question 3:Why, after 13.8 billion years since the big bang, is not the universe in thermal equilibrium?” In fact, why is it so far from equilibrium? Smolin says, “That out-of-equilibrium state is evidenced by the dominance of irreversible processes on a vast range of scales.”

In physics we describe processes that exhibit the arrow of time. For example, in isolated systems entropy always increases. This means such a system runs down in usable energy and becomes more randomized. That process is described by the thermodynamic arrow of time. Then there is the electromagnetic arrow of time: information carried by light comes to us from the past and not the future. The biological arrow says we age rather than grow young and the informational arrow describes the fact that we remember the past and not the future. We naturally accept these as part of our normal experience, but for physicists it is not obvious why these arrows should be so.

Why is that? The conventional explanation, first proposed by well-known physicist Ludwig Boltzmann (1844–1906), is the ‘past hypothesis’. That hypothesis postulates that the universe began in a highly-improbable low-entropy state. It started that way, far from equilibrium.

But the simplest answer is the Creator. The Creator God is the eternally existent One, the great I AM, YHWH, who is also the Creator God of Israel. He created the universe in such a low entropy condition that it would naturally proceed with irreversible processes, like life itself. The Creator imposed His Intelligent Design on biomolecules when He created life.

But Smolin calls the ‘past hypothesis’ no explanation all, in fact, to him it is ‘absurd’. Obviously, he would not subscribe to an ‘Intelligent Creator hypothesis’. He says the ‘past hypothesis’,

“ … simply replaces one mystery with another. Doesn’t it seem absurd to explain a dominant feature of our universe by the hypothesis that it started out in an extremely improbable state?”10

He also complains about applying probability at all when one only has one universe. And in that he is correct—but only partially so. (The probability of our universe is a certainty, because we are here. But consider: smallpox has a probability of survival of 10%. Queen Elizabeth 1 survived it, so her probability of survival was 100%. This certainly doesn’t mean that we don’t want an explanation of how she survived a commonly fatal disease. The probability in cosmogony comes from the evolutionary assumption of random chance and comparing our universe to the other possibilities in the theory under consideration.)

Cosmological natural selection

But what is his solution? He proposes cosmological natural selection,11 which operates in a higher-dimensional space, where baby universes are born, and a process, akin to natural selection and Darwinian evolution, operates to achieve a survival of the fittest among universes.

theratchet.ca/cosmic-natural-selection cosmic-natural-selection
Independent baby universes. 

His proposal is that there exists an infinite number of “causally disconnected universes—the multiverse”. That means his universes in no way communicate with each other. They act as independent universes in some higher-dimensional multiverse.

He developed his idea from what he believes to be true in biology. Biology is defined by the presence of self-reproducing organisms, which means he has to postulate a form of cosmic self-reproduction. Smolin takes the observable reality of black holes, and makes the reasonable assumption that they are the remains of supernova explosions of massive stars. However, he then makes a most speculative assumption that when a black hole ‘evaporates’ it spawns a baby universe with slightly different fundamental parameters containing more or fewer black holes than its parent did. The evaporation of the black holes relies on the singularities being removed by quantum defects leaving behind an expanding spacetime.12 The process also applies to cosmological singularities, which describe the initial baby universes.

The black holes formed from stars that became supernovae. The slightly different fundamental parameters in his envisaged ‘offspring’ modify the probabilities of these black holes forming in the universes produced. The more universes formed with parameters that are those of the Standard Model the more universes are produced with lots of black holes, which leads to lots of baby universes. Each universe produces as many baby universes as the number of black holes it contained. Thus supposedly this proposed cosmological natural selection would increase the probability of black-hole generating parameters. Then Smolin asserts that the more black holes a universe has, the more the fundamental parameters, like those in the Standard Model of particle physics, are compatible with the complex chemistry (i.e. life) we observe in our universe. However, it is likely that a stronger gravitational constant would be very good for forming black holes, but very bad at enabling supernovae to form elements with atomic weights greater than helium, as per the current evolutionary idea of stellar nucleosynthesis.

One problem pointed out by Polkinghorne13 is that, because universes with more black holes live longer than those with fewer, one cannot consistently impose the multiverse concept of extremely deep time required to make the evolutionary dynamics work, since short-lived universes with few descendants would then dominate over long-lived universes with many descendants.

Nonetheless, Smolin believes that his proposal is a falsifiable prediction that can test for the origin of the laws of physics of this universe. His cosmological natural selection operates in the multiverse, and explains, with only one prior assumption (see below), why we live in this particular universe. The process of cosmological natural selection favoured this universe over many others where the laws of physics were different and black holes could not form, and thus allegedly did not allow life to evolve.

He uses the expression “chosen by nature” when discussing how one solution of string theory, which represents the laws we observe in this universe, was chosen. Where did he get this idea from, you might ask?

“Where in science do we have an explanation for such fine-tuning for complexity? The answer: Only in biology.”14

So he copied the formal structure of population biology whereby genes evolve on a fitness landscape. In his case though, different vacuum solutions of string theory populate a “theory fitness landscape” and the parameters of the Standard Model of particle physics in the different universes evolve, as do genes in biology. He implicitly believes that an increase of complex coded information has been established in biology, because he believes that life evolved. And that information, he postulates, is analogous to the fine-tuned parameters of the laws of particle physics he envisages in his baby universes. He implicitly assumes Darwinian evolution with mutations acted on by natural selection to add new complex information. But it has been shown that, as far as actual observations are concerned, this is not actually the case. One has to assume an evolutionary history of life to accept such a statement.

The more offspring a parent universe has, the ‘fitter’ the universe. He only had to add “ … the notion that due to some unknown microscopic dynamics, whenever a new universe is created, the standard-model parameters change by small random increments”.15 It is not clear, if fundamental parameters really were variable, then why should we expect them to be similar to those of the parent universe? At least we know why DNA copies very accurately in living creatures—that is real science, unlike the speculation about cosmogonic self-replication.

Charles Darwin developed the idea of the general theory of evolution, which Smolin has copied by analogy.

There you have it. Random mutations acted upon by natural selection. In this case, in the universes of the multiverse.

He says it follows then that the big bang was not the beginning of time, and hence the improbable initial conditions of the big bang were a consequence of the previous era of the universe. (Or rather, the multiverse parent from which it evolved. ‘Universe’ is strictly defined, everything that exists, but no longer in this concept.) So all of his three big questions are explained this way.

He admits that his theory may not describe what actually took place, but he believes his model is scientific in that he thinks it is falsifiable. This means he fails to really understand the problem of cosmology and cosmogony16 and its relation to experimental science.

James Gunn of Princeton University, co-founder of the Sloan survey (currently the biggest large-scale survey of millions of galaxies) was not so deluded when he was quoted by Cho in the journal Science,17

“Cosmology may look like a science, but it isn’t a science. … . A basic tenet of science is that you can do repeatable experiments, and you can’t do that in cosmology.” (emphasis added)

Quoted in the same article Michael Turner says,

“The goal of physics is to understand the basic dynamics of the universe. … Cosmology is a little different. The goal is to reconstruct the history of the universe.” (emphasis added)

Which according to Cho means Turner is saying,

“Cosmology is more akin to evolutionary biology or geology … in which researchers must simply accept some facts as given.”

Laws of physics—turtles all the way down

Smolin discusses the problem of the laws of physics evolving. What governs their evolution? Is there some meta-law that governs that? This becomes the infinite regression problem. Because when a person denies the Creator, the only One Who has always been there, he must forever regress (move backwards) with an infinite sequence of previous causes.18

It is like the lady who defended the concept of the earth being supported on the back of a giant turtle in space:

“William James, father of American psychology, tells of meeting an old lady who told him the Earth rested on the back of a huge turtle. “But, my dear lady,” Professor James asked, as politely as possible, “what holds up the turtle?” “Ah,” she said, “that’s easy. He is standing on the back of another turtle.” “Oh, I see,” said Professor James, still being polite. “But would you be so good as to tell me what holds up the second turtle?” “It’s no use, Professor,” said the old lady, realizing he was trying to lead her into a logical trap. “It’s turtles-turtles-turtles, all the way!”19

Smolin’s universe may not be ‘turtles all the way down’, but it assumes some type of laws ‘all the way down’.

Not only that, his multiverse is assumed to operate across time. He assumes the pre-existence of time and that the laws operate in that realm. The fundamental equation of quantum cosmology—the Wheeler-DeWitt equation, which is used to describe the evolution of our universe out of the singularity—does not include the variable of time. It is assumed to evolve out of a timeless quantum world. But how then do the laws evolve without time? Time must exist prior to the law. Smolin again:

“The reality of time represents a fundamental challenge to quantum gravity. For one thing, it means the Wheeler–DeWitt equation cannot be the basis of quantum cosmology.”20

So if you hang your theology on quantum cosmology (and/or the Wheeler-DeWitt equation) for the creation of the universe, you would be sorely wrong as it is deficient and assumes time to exist, among other problems.


בְּרֵאשִׁית (Bereshit, In the beginning … ) the first Words of God brought forth time. Everything else He created and formed followed that.

Don’t be blinded by big bang blackness coming from the modern god of scientism that is enveloping science today. This blackness or darkness is the lack of light of God’s truth, the result of the rejection of the Creator, who created this universe fully formed and functional, with life in it, within six earth-rotation days. What we observe about the universe today is thoroughly consistent with this revealed truth, that He provided all the necessary useful energy, complexity, design, and information, which we now see running down and wearing out (Hebrews 1:10–12, quoting Psalm 102:25–26).

References and notes

  1. The view that reason is the primary source of knowledge. Return to text.
  2. The view that sensory experience is the primary source of knowledge. Return to text.
  3. A type of reasoning in which one starts with specific premises or statements to reach a logically certain conclusion (provided the premises are true); also known as ‘top-down’ logic. This enables one, for instance to start with the general statements of natural law and draw conclusions from them which are certain. Return to text.
  4. A type of reasoning in which, broadly speaking, particular instances are used to give rise to general principles, such as deriving natural laws from experimental observations. Also known as ‘bottom-up’ logic, the conclusions of inductive reasoning may be highly probable but do not have the certainty ascribed to deduction (e.g. one can observe many particular examples of black crows, but concluding from this that ‘all crows are black’ only requires observing one white crow to disprove it.) Note that in mathematics, induction means something else, and actually uses deductive logic. Return to text.
  5. Materialism is the belief that all that exists is matter and that the universe is derived solely from that matter. Return to text.
  6. Epistemology = the philosophical theory of knowledge, involving e.g. ‘how do we know that we know?’. Return to text.
  7. Lee Smolin, theoretical physicist and faculty member of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. Return to text.
  8. Smolin, L., Time, laws, and the future of cosmology, Physics Today 67(3):38–43, March 2014. Return to text.
  9. “Cosmology is not even astrophysics: all the principal assumptions in this field are unverified (or unverifiable) in the laboratory … Hence the promise of using the Universe as a laboratory from which new incorruptible physical laws may be established without the support of laboratory experiments is preposterous … .” Richard Lieu, LCDM cosmology: how much suppression of credible evidence, and does the model really lead its competitors, using all evidence?, 17 May 2007; available at http://arxiv.org/pdf/0705.2462v1.pdf. Return to text.
  10. Ref. 8., p. 40. Return to text.
  11. Cosmological natural selection (fecund universes), evodevouniverse.com, accessed September 2014. Return to text.
  12. It is indeed believed that black holes are not forever, because they likely emit ‘Hawking radiation’, although the estimated lifespan for a (small) solar-mass black hole would be 2 × 1067 years, humongously longer than the big bang age of 13.8 billion years. But this evaporation should simply lead to energy, not another universe. Return to text.
  13. Polkinghorne, J., and Beale, N., Questions of Truth, Westminster John Knox, pp 106-111, 2009. Return to text.
  14. Ref. 8., p. 41. Return to text.
  15. Ref. 8., p. 41 (emphasis added). Return to text.
  16. Cosmogony is the study of the origin of the universe. Cosmology is the study of its structure but that necessarily involves its history also. Return to text.
  17. Cho, A., A singular conundrum: How odd is our universe?, Science 317:1848–1850, 28 Sept 2007. Return to text.
  18. Batten, D., Who created God? It’s an illogical question, Creation 32(4):18–20, October 2010, creation.com/whocreatedgod. Return to text.
  19. Wilson, R.A., Prometheus Rising, New Falcon Publishers, Phoenix, 1983; quoted from cosmology.carnegiescience.edu, accessed September 2014. Return to text.
  20. Ref. 8., p. 42. Return to text.

Readers’ comments

Ryan W.
I immediately thought of the "turtles all the way down" line when he mentioned Cosmological Selection, but not because he assumed laws which were themselves specific and consistent (without explanation, of course). Rather, I noticed that not only is there a regression of causes in the atheistic worldview, there is a regression of processes.

From the word go, we have selection to explain the diversity of life, and selection to explain the instructions for life, and selection to explain the origin of life itself from nonliving chemicals. That they use evolutionary storytelling to "explain" yet another example of complexity from randomness is not surprising in the least, because wherever a naturalist sees complexity and fitness, he uses probability and selection to justify it materialistically, and they will most certainly find not only complexity and fitness in all things, but design, all the way to the ends (and beginnings) of the earth.
Dean Y.
The theory still begs the question: Why something rather than nothing? Why not countless spawning and branching hostile universes without any biological life at all ad-infinitum? The theory presupposes that life from non-life is inevitable over enough time with enough diversity in the cosmological pot. This is not a given. Why would a "couldn't care less" cosmos ultimately generate conditions for life and stabilize? Either there is a transcendent, life-giving and creative God or there is an uncaring multiverse that somehow selects for life! The latter is completely illogical. It's nonsense.
Daniel J.
C.K. Your reasoning only works if there actually are an infinite number of universes. You haven't provided any sort of evidence that an infinite amount of other universes actually exists.
C. K.
Well, the universe would be fine tuned and perfect in every way (which it isn't, there are a few things we cant explain, and God is not the answer automatically). The universe is fine tuned TO US because all the laws of it are the only laws we know.

We could not think of a universe with different logic, and where 1+1=5, it wouldn't work in our brains.

Add to this the fact that if the universe had had different laws we wouldn't be here due to life probably not being sustainable, and if we were alive somehow, we would think that universe would be 'perfect.'

And please don't reply with some biblical passage, I do not accept that as evidence, as it is not. And no Christian extremist hate, this is for civilized people, atheist or Christian, or whatever you believe.
John Hartnett
Don't you realize the circularity of your reasoning? Because we exist the universe must have selected the conditions and parameters just right for life to evolve in this universe else we would not be here to discuss this. It's the Goldilocks universe. All parameters are just right.

But anyway it is not Christian creationists making up 'fine-tuning.' That comes from the secular cosmologists. Maybe you don't understand the level of fine-tuning they speak of. See Big Bang Fudge Factors particularly Endnote #9.
Mark J.
Great article. A question for Dr Hartnett. Because of your great knowledge of the subject and standing as a professor, do you engage with other (secular- atheist) scientists on a professional level and what is their response to arguments you have presented in this article. Is there any acknowledment of the logical validity of what you argue? I find your arguments both logical and compelling. But then I come from a position of acceptance of the truth of Gods word. Anyway, again, great article. God bless.
John Hartnett
I presented a lecture "8 Reasons Why Evolution is Foolish" at my university a few months back and none of my equal came to debate me. But afterwards I heard that complaints had been made to the highest levels in the university against me. Geologists and biologists complained to the Faculty Dean and higher that I should not be allowed to criticize the big bang, age to the Earth and Darwinian evolution, which is what I did. The local atheist group came out to get a strike against "creationism and the supernatural" (their words) but my colleagues did not.
Ferdinand III S.
Good article. Atheists have their own religion, or more accurately, a cult. The cult of random chance and order from chaos. Smolin et al. have a large problem as the article states. How can order arise from randomness? Why would there be cosmological scientific 'laws' or constants, along with structure and organization? Wouldn't a big bang just produce big chaos? Wouldn't pregnant black holes birthing twins simply emit unstructured randomness? Since when does 'nature' have the 'intelligence' to 'select', or 'develop' order ? What then is this nature or cosmological 'reality' Smolin speaks of? God?
M. K.
Hello from Germany, Sorry for my bad English. I'm only a layman. When I'm thinking about the multiverse idea with infinite universes I have a problem. Because of the speculation of different laws some of the universes should not expand or shrink; others should expand and others should expand nearly infinitely fast. At the end the universes, which expand nearly infinitely fast should dominate the "room" of the mulitiverse. So it is quite likely that the other universes would collide with the fast expanding universes in a very short time period. So why didn't our universe collide with such an universe in the past? God bless you.
John Hartnett
Simply because there is only one universe and the multiverse is a fiction. But I take your point: It does not logically follow that our universe should have survived in such an hypothetical multiverse 'landscape.'
Joseph M.
Does Lee Smolin not realize that natural selection works on “already existing systems”? Mutations alone can’t produce the first “universe”.

It’s a good thing that such people are locked into this type of thinking away from scripture. It’s unimaginable to think how such minds would treat the model of creation in scripture and lead others astray. Those who believe such things are perishing and such belief will condemn them all.

2 Thessalonians 2:10-12 “10 … because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”

Their plan is to do a bad thing to us by getting rid of God, but we are seeing over time that God is planning this for good (i.e. empirical science is conforming to revelation), so that when people’s eyes are open and see how delusional perishing people’s thinking are, then the understanding of those coming to God will be more alive. CMI is part of God’s good plan.

Genesis 50:20 “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”
John Hartnett
I largely agree except that there are 'professing' Christians who teach such nonsense. They are not 'locked ...away from scripture.' Dr Hugh Ross for example, who seems to accept all of the big bang and multiverse story-telling, and teaches that it conforms to a 'literal' reading of Genesis.
rodney A.
I find it interesting that atheists cope with mythology and some cultures explanations for the universe and evolution, however when it comes to biblical teaching they climb and crawl all over it to debunk the Bible with a fervency that is not seen or read over any other belief system. For instance, Australian indigenous cultural belief is true mythology, yet it is applauded by the school system and governments recognize it at most functions, but it is one of the most improbable myths on the planet. I have never heard of atheists going to war over that belief. Wonder why that is?
John Hartnett
I find that what you describe is an accommodation because those myths do not affect the idea that the Bible can be read as history. Yet when examined carefully one finds here in Australia as well as overseas in indigenous cultures many myths that parallel the biblical creation account and the global flood in Noah's day.

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