The Deepest Mysteries

By James A. Haught | 2 May 2023
Freethought Now


During recent centuries, science has performed magnificently to explain the nature of the universe, the laws of physics, how DNA made all life, and other baffling mysteries.

But there are deeper mysteries, so profound and little-known that it’s difficult even to articulate them.

For example, what made the laws of physics? And what made the astounding energy that exploded in the Big Bang to launch the universe and turn into solid matter? Would different laws produce a radically different cosmos?

Why does gravity exist, with the power to bend space, turn galaxies like pinwheels, and pull cosmic dust into balls so dense they become plasma, where atomic nuclei touch and fuse, making the thermonuclear inferno of stars? (All the heavier atoms of our world were fused inside stars, or in star explosions, so we are made of “star stuff.” Our Unitarian congregation has a wonderful reading that begins: “Out of the stars we have come.”)

What caused the Conservation of Mass, which makes matter eternal (except in nuclear reacations) and the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which says energy always flows to cooler, darker places?

Genesis doesn’t say that God decreed: “Let there be quarks – and three quarks shall make a proton – and three with different “spin” will make a neutron – and three antiprotons shall make an antiproton or antineutron – and if matter and antimatter touch, they’re destroyed in a flash of energy.

Likewise, the supposed Creator didn’t proclaim that protons will capture electrons to form atoms, and the electrons will whirl in high-energy and lower-energy orbits – and each time an electron drops to a lower orbital, it kicks out a photon that travels forever at the speed of light. And the atoms “want” eight electrons in their outermost orbital, so they bond with different atoms to fill the ring of eight, making molecules and compounds – almost everything that exists on Earth.

These ultimate questions are so mind-boggling that I hardly know how to ask them, let alone answer them.

Three centuries ago, German philosopher Liebniz approached the puzzle by asking: Why is there something instead of nothing?” A philosopher’s analysis says:

“Many earlier thinkers had asked why our universe is the way it is, but Leibniz went a step further, wondering why there is a universe at all. The question is a challenging one because it seems perfectly possible that there might have been nothing whatsoever – no Earth, no stars, no galaxies, no universe. Leibniz even thought that nothing would have been ‘simpler and easier.’ If nothing whatsoever had existed, then no explanation would have been needed.”

Finally, in that ultra-religious time, Liebniz proclaimed that God did it all. But I can’t swallow the notion of a cosmic magician saying “Presto” to make quarks, protons, electrons, gravity, photon waves, stars, galaxies, dark matter, black holes and all the rest.

A decade ago, theoretical physicist Laurence Krauss wrote “A Universe from Nothing” to answer Leibniz’s great question. The analysis says: “Krauss claims that our universe arose naturally and inevitably from the operation of gravity on the quantum vacuum, empty space teeming with virtual particles that spontaneously pop into existence before disappearing again. Krauss’s theory implies that there could not have been nothing because there has always been something: first there was gravity and the quantum vacuum, and out of that was born the universe as we know it.”

Well, what made gravity, quantum vacuum and virtual particles to set the stage for the Big Bang? I’m as baffled as ever.

Many thinkers say the ultimate mysteries cannot be answered, and never will be. But that seems like a copout. – like shutting off one’s mind in the face of bewilderment. If anyone knows an understandable answer to these brain-wreckers, please let me know.

Reprinted with permission from the author.

James A. HaughtJames A. Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia’s The Charleston Gazette-Mail and a senior editor of the Free Inquiry magazine. He is also the author of numerous books and articles; his most recent book is Religion is Dying: Soaring Secularism in America and the West (Gustav Broukal Press, 2010). Haught has won 21 national newswriting awards and thirty of his columns have been distributed by national syndicates. He is in Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in the World, Contemporary Authors, and 2000 Outstanding Intellectuals of the 21st Century.

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