Right-wing radio host and Evangelical, Hugh Hewitt, interviewed atheist Richard Dawkins on Tuesday. I thought this part of the exchange was telling:
HH: I’m talking about the whole cosmos. Where did that come from, 13 billion years ago?
RD: It came from the big bang, which is not a complex process. It’s a simple process.
HH: And what preceded the big bang?
RD: Well, physicists won’t answer that question. They will say that time itself began in the big bang, and so the question what preceded it is illegitimate.
HH: What do you think?
RD: I’m not enough of a physicist to understand what I’m saying, but I have to say that that’s what physicists say.
HH: So when you consider before the big bang, what does Richard Dawkins think was there?
RD: I don’t consider the question, because I recognize that it’s an intuitively appealing question. I recognize that I, along with everybody else, wants to ask that question. Then I talk to physicists who say you can no more ask what came before the big bang than you can ask what’s north of the North Pole.
Dawkins answer really doesn’t impress me because, for quite a while now, physicists have speculated that there is indeed something before the big bang: multiverses (and one of them may have spawned our local big bang). But if there are no multiverses prior to our own big bang universe, then you can’t simply say it’s not a meaningful question to ask what is prior to the big bang. Something has to account for the event itself. If you posit, for example, virtual quantum fluctuations in the “nothingness” for why the big bang occurred at all, why should that nothingness “prior” to the big bang have ever quantum fluctuated at all?
The bald assertion of “that’s just the way it is” and “existence exists” is no answer. It’s a statement of the problem. And it’s telling that Dawkins claims that he doesn’t “consider the question” at all—as if it is a mark of intellectual discipline and clarity to bypass the question. What Dawkins said gets very close to Daniel Dennett’s notion of avoiding “deepities.” Dawkins clearly considers the question, “What happened prior to the big bang?”, to be a deepity akin to “What’s north of the North Pole?”