Mills invokes the law of the conservation of mass-energy, saying that mass-energy can be neither created nor destroyed. He proceeds to derive from it the conclusion that “the universe, in one form or another, in one density or another, always existed.” (74)
Now it is true that matter and energy are imperishable — once there, they do not corrupt or disappear. But how to account for the existence of the original amount of matter/energy within the pre-Big Bang singularity, as well as for the existence of the singularity itself in the first place? In other words, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” (a question first formulated, contra Mills, by Leibniz and not by Mortimer Adler).
To that our author has a ready response. This question, he says
assumes that there is supposed to be nothing; that the “natural” state of the universe is nonexistence. …
From a scientific perspective, though, the question is: Why shouldn’t there be something rather than nothing? What law of science claims that the universe is not supposed to exist, or that nonexistence is the “natural” condition of the universe?
There is no such law. On the contrary, the law of the conservation of mass-energy leads to a radically different conclusion: that the mass-energy which now constitutes our universe always existed, though the universe, as we observe it today, did indeed have a beginning at the Big Bang. (75-6)
The first part of this reply is unsatisfactory, because it neglects the fact of the contingency of the universe:
The second part is incoherent. Either the mass-energy had existed for an actually infinite number of years within the singularity quite inertly, only to erupt, i.e., mysteriously after an infinitely long sleep, in the Big Bang 14 billion years ago; or it makes no sense to speak this way at all, since time itself arose via and as part of the Big Bang.
But not the former, as has already been proven, since a cause that had existed for an infinite amount time (i.e., the singularity) without ever causing a given effect (i.e., the Big Bang) in fact had no power to cause that effect at all.
And not the latter, because it admits that the universe “had a beginning at the Big Bang,” in which case it cannot be said that the mass-energy “always” existed but only since time itself began ticking upon the Big Bang.
But does not the theistic creation ex nihilo violate the law of the conservation of mass-energy? I don’t see how. Ex nihilo means that only God and no creation existed. And God, being omnipotent and infinite could create the universe and infuse it with energy without losing anything in Himself and while remaining unmoved.
A zero-energy universe hypothesis deserves mention. It “proposes that the total amount of energy in the universe is exactly zero: its amount of positive energy in the form of matter is exactly canceled out by its negative energy in the form of gravity.”
What produced the energy before inflation? … As crazy as it might seem, the energy may have come out of nothing!
Perhaps many quantum fluctuations occurred before the birth of our universe. Most of them quickly disappeared. But one lived sufficiently long and had the right conditions for inflation to have been initiated. Thereafter, the original tiny volume inflated by an enormous factor, and our macroscopic universe was born.
If this admittedly speculative hypothesis is correct, then… the universe is the ultimate free lunch! It came from nothing, and its total energy is zero, but it nevertheless has incredible structure and complexity.
First, quantum fluctuations would still have occurred in some sort of preexisting and non-trivial space-time which was such as to feature this complex phenomenon. This primordial environment itself would then stand in need of an explanation.
Second, we have the perfectly apt statement in Genesis: “Then God said: Let there be light, and there was light. God saw that the light was good. God then separated the light from the darkness.” (1:3-4) St. Thomas interprets this as a reference to the creation and fall of angels: the separation was between moral good and evil.
But it may well point to the separation of the positive and negative energy that constituted the Big Bang, in which God, too, would have played a role.