The New York Times has an ambitious-sounding headline this morning: “A New Clue to Explain Existence.” How disappointing to learn, then, that the article is not about metaphysics, the only branch of philosophy equipped to answer questions related to “existence,” but just plain old physics.
It turns out that physicists have used the particle accelerator at Fermilab to potentially explain why a young universe contained more matter than antimatter.
According to the basic precepts of Einsteinian relativity and quantum mechanics, equal amounts of matter and antimatter should have been created in the Big Bang and then immediately annihilated each other in a blaze of lethal energy, leaving a big fat goose egg with which to make to make stars, galaxies and us.
We learn from the article that the reason this annihilation didn’t happen is related to the matter-antimatter oscillations of a strange particle called a “neutral B-meson.” The details aren’t important to my point. But here’s the potential payoff:
Whether this is enough to explain our existence is a question that cannot be answered until the cause of the still-mysterious behavior of the B-mesons is directly observed, said Dr. Brooijmans, who called the situation “fairly encouraging.”
If Dr. Brooijmans (or the writer of the article) thinks that this discovery has anything to do with the question of existence, he is guilty of a category mistake—which is very common when skeptics and atheists talk about how science disproves God. Why was there a big bang to begin with? Why was there matter (and antimatter) to begin with? Why were there these strange particles known as B-mesons or muons or electrons to begin with?
The question of existence comes down to a question of why something and not nothing. The article purports to say that these physicists are on the verge of answering that question, but they will do no such thing. Even a universe that had annihilated itself (and all matter within it based on the existence of a big bang and all these particles, etc.) and now appears to be nothing (if there were someone to observe it) is something—metaphysically speaking. In other words, even if these physicists are correct, there would only be nothing because there was first something. Again, why?
At its best, this potential new discovery can only answer why this something and not some other something. And even that answer is only a partial explanation. Reality has multiple, mutually non-competitive explanations, as I’ve discussed earlier.