One can routinely hear–say, at physics colloquia–casual references to “The Beginnings of the Universe.” This is most commonly heard these days in connection with the events and consequences of “the Big Bang” (of some fourteen billions years ago).
But are there not serious qualifications (or at least questions) that need to be taken into account here? It is understandable that it might be believed that the Big Bang was so cataclysmic that it wiped out completely all traces of whatever had happened theretofore (and hence it can be necessary, or at least convenient, to treat it as the beginning of all that we now have to work with and to extrapolate from). But Big Bang talk does seem to depend on an awareness of gigantic forces at work theretofore which somehow brought “everything” together in a universally cataclysmic fashion. (It does not seem to be imagined that “everything” came into being so that there could be the Big Bang. Rather, it seems to be believed that the Big Bang was the culmination of billions of years of “development” [and that there had been many (indeed, an infinite number of)] such cycles theretofore?)
That is, is there any reason to believe that whatever may have existed prior to the Big Bang itself ever had a beginning? And, it can also be wondered, is there any reason to believe that what is evident now will ever have an ending (however many forms it may hereafter exhibit)? May such questions be answered “Yes” only by those who believe that there is a Divinity which accounts both for the original emergence and existence and for the ultimate disappearance of the universe as we now observe it?
But is it not usually assumed that such a Divinity is itself “forever”–that is, with no beginning and no ending, whatever “worlds” It may choose to summon forth and to eliminate from time to time?
Either way, then–whether there is a sovereign creating Divinity or a perpetual (uncreated) material universe–, it need not be assumed either that there has been a beginning of “everything” or that “everything” will ever come to an end.
Indeed, do we ourselves somehow participate in “the eternity of the world” when we recognize (in the fashion just suggested) that there is neither a beginning nor an ending either for the overall arrangement of things or for the overall Arranger of things?
Even so, what does the remarkable range of “revelations” long available to the human race about the Divine suggest about the reliability of any particular account of the Divine? May there even be in such accounts a kind of wishful thinking–if, not also evidence perhaps that there must be “Something There” to account for so many determined (often quite varied) suppositions? However all this may be, cannot it be suspected that we may have compelling evidence that something essentially is indeed “forever”? What, it can be wondered, can truly be known about that by transient beings (themselves subject to all kinds of chance influences)?
These speculations draw on an adult education seminar at the University of Chicago, June 10, 2013. See, as bearing on these matters, the following books by George Anastaplo: But Not Philosophy: Seven Introductions to Non-Western Thought (Rowman & Littlefield, 2002); The Bible: Respectful Readings (Lexington Books, 2008), The Christian Heritage: Problems and Prospects (Lexington Books, 2010), and Reflections on Religion, the Divine, and the Constitution (Lexington Books, 2013).