THE origin of Matter, or as the theologian would say, the
Creation, is a fact towards which the materialist can only
adopt the policy of the ostrich. He may hope to make the
theory plausible that our bodies and minds are entirely the
result of the unaided action of Matter on Matter. But he
can never hope to prove that Matter has produced itself. To
say so would be equivalent to saying that a man had raised
himself from the floor by pulling at the collar of his own coat.
The origin of the Material Universe with all its contents is a
mystery for which neither science nor philosophy can provide
an explanation. It constitutes the ontological problem in
philosophy which William James has aptly described as the
skeleton in the philosopher's cupboard.
But though it would be idle to speculate on the why and
the how of the Creation, the where and the when are beginning
to appear just above the physicist's horizon. Jeans, for instance,
as we shall show in a moment, has some interesting speculations
on this subject.
It is true that the arguments which we have been using in
refutation of materialism are not affected by any answer which
could conceivably be given to the question: "When and where
did Matter make its first appearance?" So we cannot really
justify inclusion of the present chapter in this book. But,
nevertheless, the concept "Cosmic Specification" enables us
to show this question in a new light and to present a new
theory which seems to us to be sufficiently plausible to merit
the serious consideration of philosophers and physicists.
We believe that here again the dialogue form has advantages. It enables us to define the meaning of our question
most clearly, to keep the points of view of the theologian,
the philosopher and the physicist separate and to present in
the most readable form. all the arguments which we have
been able to think of both for and against the theory. We
hope also that our form of presentation will make it easy for
others to add any further arguments on both sides which, on
account of our limited knowledge of philosophy and physics,
have not occurred to us.
Let us, therefore, return to the committee room of the last
The Secretary turns to the Chairman and says: "The
architect's specification which I am using as a model for my
editorial work contains two further clauses for which we
must now consider suitable equivalents in the Cosmic Specification. The first of these states where the work is to be
executed, the second states the commencement and completion dates."
"Exact equivalents are impossible," the Philosopher points
out. "The architect requires that his building shall be erected
in a stated place in existing space and shall be begun and
completed at stated dates in existing time. But the New
Universe for which the Cosmic Specification is required is
not to be in our space or to pursue its existence in our time.
We are imagining that it will have its own space and its own
time. These are to be created together with the substance
in it. Only thus can the conception of a second Universe
have any meaning, for the theory of relativity proves that
substance, space and time are inseparable."
"In what form, then, should the corresponding clauses be
drafted?" asks the Secretary.
"The clause dealing with location", the Philosopher tells
him, "must say in what parts of the newly created space
things are to make their first appearance; in other words,
how they shall be distributed at the beginning. The clause
dealing with dates must say at what part of the newly created
time things shall begin to appear and at what part their production shall be complete."
"We will consider the clause dealing with location first,"
announces the Chairman.
"I have heard the word 'any' so often", remarks the Secretary, "that I have come to expect it. Would it be correct to
say that Matter may make its first appearance anywhere?"
The Chairman asks the Philosopher to explain what this
"If we say anywhere", is the answer, "there would be no
reason for any given particle to prefer one place to another.
One particle would appear here, another there. Every spot
would stand an equal chance of harbouring one. The result
would be that Matter was distributed almost evenly in the
form of a very tenuous gas. Anywhere would come to mean
practically the same thing as everywhere."
"But that is not the way Matter is distributed in our Universe," remarks the Future Citizen.
"No," replies the Physicist, "but Jeans has shown1 that,
if the whole of Matter originated in an almost even and very
tenuous distribution throughout space, it would, as a result
of gravity, condense in the course of time into discrete conglomerations. He has proved mathematically that each of
these would contain about the quantity in one of the galaxies.
As the process of condensation continued, stars would form,
and these again would have about the size of the stars in our
Universe. So there is good reason to believe that, given time
to develop, the second Universe will be like our own even if
the Cosmic Specification says nothing about location."
"What will happen if we say nothing about commencement and completion dates?" asks the Chairman.
"Then, presumably, particles of Matter may come into
existence at any time," the Philosopher tells him. "There
would be no preference for one moment over another. Each
would stand the same chance of witnessing the birth of a
particle. One particle might appear at the beginning of the
newly created time, another a little later, another still later.
New Matter would be coming into existence all the while.
The creation of the "world would be a continuous process,
evenly distributed not through space only, but through space-time."
"If that is true of our own Universe," remarks the Theologian, "Creation would be going on here and now. This
possibility is certainly more consistent with my view of a
living God than the theory which relegates the Creation to
a remote past."
"But is the theory of a continuous origin of Matter compatible with science?" asks the Chairman.
"Perhaps physics proves that the Creation occurred an
infinite time ago," suggests the Philosopher.
"No. There is sufficient authority for the view that Matter
has not existed for ever," the Physicist tells him. "Jeans, for
instance has said:
'All this makes it clear that the present matter of the universe
camiot have existed for ever: indeed we can probably assign an
upper limit to its age of, say, some such round number as 200 million
million years! ' 2
The evidence produced by Jeans suggests that the whole
of the contents of the Material Universe came into existence
at once at the beginning of time."
"We now have to choose between two theories," says the
Chairman. "It will be convenient to have names for distinguishing them. I will call the first the 'At-Any-Time'
theory and the second the 'Once-Upon-A-Time' theory. We
should be grateful if the Physicist would give us arguments
for and against each."
"The most relevant arguments are possibly outside my
domain," is the physicist's reply. "But I will gladly discuss
the bearing of each theory on such subjects as interest me. I
will begin with the shape of space-time."
"Could you explain what that means?"
"The theory of relativity proves that space is finite in the
sense that if one keeps on in one direction for long enough
one will find oneself at the starting-point. A journey through
space is equivalent to a journey round the surface of a cylinder.
It does not appear that the same is true of time. If one waits
long enough one will not find oneself at the moment when
the waiting began. Waiting is equivalent to a journey along
the surface of a cylinder parallel to the axis. Consequently
space-time is described as cylindrical. If time repeated itself
we should call space-time spherical.
"Now the Once-Upon-a-Time theory asserts that time
has a beginning but not an end. The theory implies that
space-time is neither spherical nor strictly cylindrical but that
it has the shape of an infinitely long test-tube. On the At-Any-Time theory the origin of Matter has been going on for
ever. This theory implies that space-time is not closed at
either end, but is truly cylindrical, extending to infinity both
in the past and in the future."
"This appears to be the less arbitrary assumption," comments the Philosopher.
"Perhaps. But in explaining why the contents of the
Universe are finite the Once-Upon-a-Time theory has the
advantage. If Matter is originating all the while and if this
process has been going on for ever we are set the hard task
of explaining why the total quantity of Matter is not infinite.
It is true that we need not expect an infinite number of
material particles, for tangible substance seems to change
occasionally into radiation. If the process of conversion kept
pace with the process of creation the quantity of tangible
substance would be finite, but the quantity of radiation would
have become infinite. We know that this has not happened."
"That appears to me to be an insuperable objection,"
comments the Chairman.
"Not quite insuperable if we adopt the further theory that
some of the contents of the Material Universe occasionally
disappear without leaving a trace behind. If the rate of destruction balanced the rate of creation the contents of the Universe
would be finite. It would not be necessary for an exact balance
to be struck at any moment. One rate might lose on the
other for a while and then catch up and even things out
again. The Universe would expand or contract according to
whether creation or destruction was for the time being more
"But things do not suddenly disappear without leaving a
trace behind," objects the Chairman. "No one could believe
that this ink-stand might vanish at any moment."
"I am suggesting that what might vanish is something very
small, just a minute particle of the inkstand which no one
would notice, or, perhaps, a quantum of radiation called a
photon might get lost occasionally. This might happen now
here, now there. The probability that all the particles forming
the inkstand, or all the light from a candle would vanish at
once is too remote to be contemplated."
"Could you prove this theory by an experiment? Of course
you would need very delicate measuring apparatus."
"Perhaps we could, but that is not certain. Heisenberg's
principle of indeterminacy shows that there is a limit to the
value of a change which can be observed. If Matter originates
and vanishes in quantities below this limit the process could
not be detected by even the most refined methods of observation. When any change in a system announces itself by sending out a signal, called a photon of radiation, the total amount
of Matter in the system is unchanged. But if a particle originated or disappeared without sending out a signal we should
not know that the event had occurred."
"Then do you believe in the continuous destruction of
"I do not. But then I am not sure that I believe in its
permanence either. I believe only what I can observe and
"Would the condensation of Matter into stars which Jeans
has described be possible if there were continuous creation
"That is a question which the Mathematician might be
able to answer," is the Physicist's reply.
"How do the two theories stand the test of the principle
of conservation of energy?" the Chairman asks.
"Neither of them can stand this test," is the Physicist's
reply. "This principle asserts that energy can neither be
created nor destroyed. Matter and radiation are both forms
of energy. So whenever Matter originates the principle of
conservation of energy is broken. On the Once-Upon-a-Time theory this principle was broken once in the world's
history and has been faithfully obeyed ever since. On the
At-Any-Time theory the principle is being broken all the
while, and doubly broken; both by the creation and the
destruction of energy"
"Then the latter theory is worse," suggests the Chairman.
"It makes out that Matter is a habitual law breaker."
"It is rather the other way about," replies the Physicist.
"The At-Any-Time theory makes out that there is no law
to be broken. If this theory is true we must regard the principle
of conservation of energy not as a law of nature but as a statement formulated by physicists as the most appropriate way
of describing what they observe. The Once-Upon-a-Time
theory cannot meet the same objection so well. It can only
claim that the principle of conservation of energy was created
at the same time as everything else, so that there was nothing
to break until the Universe was complete."
"That suggests a peculiar state of affairs during the Creation,
right up to the moment when the last particle of Matter had
come into being," comments the Philosopher.
"Or perhaps the whole process of creation took no time at
all," suggests the Physicist. "However, both the view that
laws were suspended during the Creation and that the whole
process occurred in one blinding flash of infinitely short
duration bristles with absurdities, from which the At-Any-Time theory is free."
"Finally", the Physicist continues, "the Once-Upon-a-Time theory makes an arbitrary distinction between space
and time while the At-Any-Time theory puts both on the
same footing. If the origin of Matter is evenly distributed in
space, we are bound to ask the question: 'Why not also in
time?' If other things go on happening in the same way
all the while, why should the origin of Matter alone be an
event which happened once and is never repeated? On the
whole the At-Any-Time theory appears the less arbitrary
"I have been considering how each of the two theories
ought to be worded in the Cosmic Specification," remarks
the Secretary. "The wording for the At-Any-Time theory is
simple. The clauses stating when the creation of Matter is to
start and when it is to be completed both say: 'At any time.'
The clause which says for how long any particle of Matter
or radiation is to last also says: 'Any time.' But for the
Once-Upon-a-Time theory the clauses dealing with the
commencement and completion dates will have to read: 'The
work is to be started at the beginning of time and is to be
completed at the same moment. No period is allowed for
construction.' The clause dealing with the duration of Matter
will have to be worded: 'Matter, or its equivalent energy, is
to last for ever.' "
At this the Philosopher says: "The At-Any-Time theory
seems to involve the fewer assumptions. For this reason I
consider it the more attractive."
"But attractiveness is not necessarily the justification for
adopting one theory in preference to another," the Physicist
reminds him. "And we may be mistaken about the number
of assumptions made by each. At one time a theory of
Euclidean space-time would have seemed more attractive and
to make fewer assumptions than the view that space-time has
the unrestricted geometry since proved. But we know now
that this geometry involves the minimum of assumptions.
The Once-Upon-a-Time theory may really be more attractive than it appears now. Above all I would remind you
that both theories deal with time, and neither the Philosopher
nor I know much about time. We cannot explain it or even
understand it properly. If we could, one of us might be able
to prove the superiority of one of the two theories over the
other. Till then I do not think we ought to form an opinion
"Nevertheless, no one can form an opinion unless it be
the Physicist," remarks the Chairman suavely. "I hope at
least that in this discussion various aspects of our problem
have been stated clearly and cogently enough to induce, or
may I say even provoke, you to attempt an answer."
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1 Jeans, The Universe Around Us, p. 202
2 ibid p. 336