The “First Cause”–the question of who or what made our present universe–is cherished by religionists as the ultimate putdown argument against those whose paradigm does not include an all-knowing, all-powerful Deity. Here we offer an alternate way of thinking about that alleged First Cause. To some people it may sound as if we are only examining an age-old fallacy and criticizing fundamentalist religionists who take their paradigm as “gospel” fact; but clearly it’s time for an objective look at a cultural assumption.
We are not fundamentalists, not even Wiccan fundamentalists.*1 We believe in letting the inquiring mind fly free, and we look for explanations that satisfy a rational paradigm without insulting human intelligence.
Several years ago we came across a felicitous construct in Free Inquiry magazine. For our present purpose we have expanded it :
Let’s think about the rail line that runs across Australia’s Nullarbor Plain, perfectly flat and perfectly straight from Watson to Coonana for over 500 miles. Let’s imagine that at the western end there stands a very large domino, beautifully and intricately carved and painted. Let’s imagine that this exquisite domino represents the universe*2 in all its complexity as we know it today. As we move eastward the dominos standing on the line get gradually smaller and less complex until, millions of dominos later, we arrive at the eastern end of the line with the tiniest domino imaginable. The progression from the eastern start point to the big western domino represents the passage of time and the evolution of everything from time before the questionable Big Bang to the present.
The infinitely tiny first domino, perhaps a sub-sub-atomic particle or waveform, is such a weightless speck that the merest presence of a thought will knock it down. It is so small that even if it had tried to interfere with the later dominos, it would have had no discernible or perceptible effect. It could therefore not intervene to make positive or negative changes in the later larger dominos. Yet it causes a domino cascade. Thus the First Cause may have been something so amazingly insignificant as to be immaterial to our present thoughts and life. Many may say that this is just another manifestation of the Infinite Mind that created that universe. Alternatively mathematical philosophers, noting the vagaries of time, are wondering about its cyclical nature and proposing a never-ending cycle of existence. Regrettably, that only puts the First Cause back in time.
We can see that as everything evolves, so the dominos get larger. Each domino gets more complex moving westward toward today, which is an almost infinite time after the beginning.
There are many side branches along the rail line. Some have other dominos coming in to augment the evolution of the main line; at others, dominos have branched off to go their own way. Those moved into the adjacent-possible solutions and petered out. At still others, dominos lived on and devolved back into forms less advanced. Still others went around a loop, developed, and rejoined the main line. The possibilities are endless.
What if the junctions also allowed other lines of dominos from different start points and with slightly different characteristics to join the main line? Many possible–nay, probable–solutions could have been tried until the right combination occurred.
“Aha!” the fundamentalist pounces in that triumphhant “gotcha” tone. “But you forget : the First Cause was not all that long ago! And besides that, a train coming along the line could smash all your dominos down!”
Indeed, we have seen times when many of the dominos were smashed. Haiti is just a recent small-scale example. This might explain how our particular universe–the one some call a Goldilocks universe–to come to its present fruition. We live on a Goldilocks planet, they say : not too hot, not too cold, so far just right.
Scientists tell us that six critical numbers define our whole of the universe;*3 that if any one of those numbers were different, the Universe as we know it could not exist. Of course that is not to claim that other universes do not exist where the numbers are slightly different.
Thus, although we may need a First Cause, it has certain (possibly overlooked) characteristics:
1. It could be infinitely tiny, a slight discontinuity in the void.
2. There could be several first causes.
3. There could have been many attempts that failed.
4. It has no power to change the present universe in any way. Indeed, it must surely be indifferent if it is anything.
In her girlish way Yvonne tells the story of Mother Jehovah doing the supper dishes in her kitchen while loud banging and an occasional small explosion are audible through the open basement door, along with the customary noises and smells that accompany woodwork, metalwork, and chemistry. She sniffs the air, dries her hands, and advances to the basement door to call, “Will you stop already with all your precious trial universes, for pity’s sake?! You’re smoking up my clean curtains! And the cat’s spooked! hiding under the bed again!”
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*1. Fundamentalism is synonymous with the dominator mind-set : “Believe this or else!”
*2. We should more correctly say multiverse, for we know there are many universes. But today we’ll stick with the conventional jargon.
*3. Rees, Martin, “Six Sacred Numbers”