The Origin of the Physical World

Nash Popovic profile image

Written by Dr. Nash Popovic

In a quest to find a rational answer to the perennial question whether there is a meaning of life and what it might be, we start by examining the origin and properties of the physical world. If they all can be satisfactorily explained by random, chance events, we can be content with the conclusion that there is no meaning inherent to life and the universe. On the other hand, if this appears not to be plausible, we need to consider if the hypothesis that life is meaningful can provide an explanation that is at least as valid or better than pure chance. Before we examine empirical evidence in this respect, we will have a brief look at existing views on the origin of the physical world.

Existing Views

Religious – the origin of the world in most religious texts is described in essentially teleological terms, which means that this subject is intertwined with the issue of meaning or purpose, and usually implies the involvement of an agency. Such views may be based on genuine spiritual insights, but they are deeply embedded within historical and culturally specific constructs. So it is not surprising that religious explanations often appear to be in conflict with facts and reasoning; to give just one example, in Genesis, it is claimed that the Sun was created after the planet Earth, contrary to the fact that stars appeared before planets. Nor does the image of an anthropomorphised creator and his actions seem to be helpful. Of course, such creation myths can be taken as merely metaphorical expressions, but it is not clear what these metaphors stand for, beyond acknowledging that an agency may be necessary for the formation of the physical world.

Philosophical – philosophy seems at a loss regarding the question of origins. Aristotle and other Greek philosophers believed that the universe is infinite and does not therefore have a beginning: it has existed and will exist forever, but this standpoint has been heavily criticised from both rational and empirical standpoints[1]. The philosopher Kant called the question of origin an antinomy because according to him, both possibilities, that time and the universe have a beginning and that they do not, can be rationally proven even though they contradict each other. He therefore declared this question meaningless, but his arguments are based on somewhat limited assumptions, so such a conclusion may be premature.

Materialistic – science has largely avoided the incongruences present in religious interpretations, but some fundamental questions, such as how and why the universe came into existence and why it has certain properties still elude it. Starting from an a priori assumption that the whole of reality can be reduced to its physical aspect (which the materialistic framework requires) may lead to an impossible situation. It is comparable to a chick inside an egg that tries to find out how the egg was created, ignoring

This post is for members only. To keep the site free from ads, we ask for a one-off payment which will give you access to all the Synthesis materials.

Already have an account? Sign in