The big bang is just a theory

Science, God and the question of what was before the big bang

by Gesa Graser, Verena Smykalla

Scientists are divided on the question “What was before the Big Bang?”. For many, the question is already obsolete, the remaining part has diverse theories. Now researchers at Pennsylvania State University, USA claim to have solved the question mathematically. Is that the last word of wisdom?

The question of what would have been before the beginning of the universe, according to the British physicist Stephen Hawking a few years ago, is as pointless as the question of what is north of the North Pole. Not only space and matter, but also time were only created by the Big Bang, about 13.7 billion years ago, so that the question of a previous one should be superfluous. In spite of the words of the world-famous physicist, scientists are continuously trying to answer this question, and recently it seems to have become socially acceptable to venture beyond the limits of the notion of space and time.

Origin of the universe from itself

Richard Gott III and Li-Xin Li from Princeton University, New Jersey, for example, found an explanation for the time before the Big Bang in the theory of the recurring creation of the universe from itself. The two scientists assume “that the universe arose out of something rather than out of nothing. This something was itself. "

The more we think we know, the more questions we have, and many solutions raise new questions. The riddle “What was before the Big Bang?” Continues to push the boundaries of our understanding of space and time, despite various attempts at solutions. And many cosmologists have stated that they are not responsible for this question. At the edge of the universe, they argue, science ends. At best one can speculate about anything that goes beyond this - or leave the field to the theologians and philosophers.

Meister Eckhart, one of the most important theologians, mystics and philosophers of the Christian Middle Ages, said: “For me as a researcher, however, God is this eternal being, which cannot be influenced by the course of things, which touches the soul in its deepest, timeless basis.” According to Meister Eckhart does not create and maintain God all things in their being, as the church scholars said, but God himself is the being of all things. He does not find anything mysterious in this any more than we do in the passage of matter through a big bang.

Meister Eckhart sees the reason for all things as "a pure stillness that remains immobile in itself and all things are moved by this immobility." According to Meister Eckhart, God has always been there, as has matter. The latter, in particular, would nowadays be contrary to the view of science, since matter is said to have only been created during the Big Bang

So far, however, science has asked many more questions than it can give exact answers. Man, did he create his God in order to be able to explain what cannot be explored? The physicist and Nobel laureate Max Planck (1858-1947) did not get involved in this discussion: "What is real is what can be measured, and God is not measurable".

The universe as a bubble or membrane

So back to science: The Russian cosmologist Andrei Linde from Stanford University, California, developed the following idea: From quantum physical fluctuations in a vacuum, i.e. in nothing, space-time bubbles spontaneously formed and expanded explosively into a universe. Our universe would be just one of many universes.

And the astrophysicist Paul. J. Steinhardt, Princeton University, and Neil Turok, Cambridge University, assume that the Big Bang has been repeating itself cyclically for ages. After them we are in a four-dimensional membrane which, together with its mirror-image counterpart, is in a main universe. If these two components collide, and this is supposed to happen every few trillion years, a big bang occurs.

Did God Create the Universe?

These theories are probably no less fantastic to the average person than views of early cultures on the formation of the earth or the future ideas of some science fiction authors. Today's view of the Catholic Church, on the other hand, is easier to understand. The head of the Vatican observatory, George V. Coyne, studied theologian, mathematician, astronomer and philosopher, said in an interview with DIE ZEIT in February 2006: “God created the universe as it is because he gave his creative power and dynamism wanted to share with the universe. ”God created the Big Bang. "But that wasn't a singular act, it is a continuous creation."

However, according to Coyne, this is a creed and not a science. And so he also said: "The Big Bang does not necessarily need a God." Coyne makes it clear that God is eternal, but that humanity, because of its time dependence, has problems with the interpretation of the term 'eternal' and therefore cannot imagine, " that time and space did not begin until the Big Bang. There is no such thing as 'before the big bang', there was no time. ”However, God is not a boundary condition of the universe. "You cannot refute the existence of God with the help of quantum physics - nor can you prove it," explains Coyne, and so science is absolutely neutral towards religious, philosophical and theological inferences. So God was there when the Big Bang took place. But it does not answer the question of what it would look like without the known universe.

Loop quantum gravity theory: the core of the matter?

The German astrophysicist Martin Bojowald, at that time still at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Golm near Potsdam, now at the Pennsylvania State University, USA, found an answer in 2004 through natural science. Using the loop quantum gravity theory (loop quantum gravity, LQG for short) he came to the result, summarized by him succinctly, that the universe has always existed and has no beginning. He has the theory that before the Big Bang, space was practically turned inside out. One should imagine it as if parts of a balloon envelope penetrate itself and the balloon inflates again, only the previous inside is now outside.

The LQG theory used by Bojowald was first introduced in 1987. Lee Smolin, Abhay Ashtekar, Ted Jacobson and Carlo Rovelli combine the general theory of relativity with quantum physics. The core of the theory is that spacetime itself has an atomic structure. Accordingly, spacetime consists of tiny one-dimensional threads. According to Smolin, there are only lines and knots that make up the space. The type of their connections defines the geometry of the room.

Big bounce instead of big bang?

The latest theory on what was before the Big Bang comes from the USA. It is believed to have taken Bojowald's calculations a step further: Abhay Ashtekar, director of the Institute for Gravitational Physics and Geometry at Pennsylvania State University and co-founder of the LQG theory, explained at the beginning of 2006 that Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity was our universe on a large scale can describe very well, but only until a point in time "... at which the matter becomes so dense that the equations no longer work." There the curvature of space-time becomes infinite and approaches the zero point of the universe, the singularity. "From this point on, we have to use quantum physics tools that Einstein would not have had at one time."

Scientists around Ashtekar were able to develop a model to trace back what was before the Big Bang. The scientists also use the LQG theory for their model calculations and discovered a collapsing universe, very similar to ours, before the Big Bang. Even repetition with changing parameters, drilled over months, led the model calculations to something like quantum repulsion over and over again. So there was a “big bounce” instead of a “big bang”. Our universe did not emerge from nowhere in a bang, but a previous universe contracted tiny and then expanded again like a rubber ball - to a new universe. In any case, that says in the spring of 2006 Physical Review Letters published work by Ashtekar and his colleagues.

But there are also critical voices about this study. Hermann Nicolai, director of the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Potsdam and independent assessor Physical Review LettersSaid to SPIEGEL ONLINE “The model consists of a drastic simplification of the equations.” He personally had “strong doubts that this really can tackle the problem.” However, Nicolai appreciated that the new model was much closer to the time of the Big Bang comes as close as previous models. "But the real nature of the Big Bang remains the big mystery."

There is still a lot of room for further research and speculation. However, Ashtekar has not yet come to the end of his work; because in addition to previous theoretical work he wants to find measurable clues for a universe that existed before today. Ashtekar suspects that the "Big Bounce" did not erase all traces of what our universe used to be, but that measurable relics can still be found in our universe.

All of this may sound unimaginable to many. But that doesn't have to discourage an inquiring mind. Einstein said: "Imagination is more important than knowledge, because knowledge is limited."