If space and time began with the Big Bang, does it make sense to speak of what came before the Big Bang? Stephen Hawking and other physicists say emphatically “NO!” Everything started with the Big Bang. To speak of what was before the Big Bang is as ludicrous as to ask what is north of the North Pole.
In the sense of cause and effect within the confines of this universe, science may be right. Scientists and lawyers are always looking for the cause of something. Science is concerned with grander things, like what caused the universe to come into being, while lawyers look at mundane events, like who caused the five car pile-up on the freeway. But both look for a prior event or events that conclude in a certain result. The lawyer might say that the cause of the accident was that the defendant was going too fast for conditions, which caused his car to spin out of control, which in turn caused it to crash into another car, which….. You get the picture. In order to reach this conclusion, the lawyer has to work backward in time from the result, the accident, and piece together a chain of events that are causally related to each other.
Science does the same thing most of the time. Working backwards in time involves a bit more than the lawyer’s task because the scientist has to cover billions of years instead of a few seconds. Furthermore, the journey takes the scientist to the beginning of time, the day without a yesterday. Because there was no yesterday at the time of the Big Bang nothing could have happened that would causally relate to the Big Bang. The Big Bang just happened without anything influencing it because not only was there no time before the Big Bang, there was no space in which anything could act.
This is sound logic as long as we accept the view that the universe is all there is. But string theory argues that there could be series or parallel universes, an infinite number of them if we accept the theory that every time an event occurs the universe splits in two, one for each possible outcome. The theory supposes that nothing in any of those other universes can affect what happens in our universe, but what if it ain’t necessarily so?
Imagine a play is the entire universe. The universe begins with the first notes of the overture and the universe ends when the curtain falls. What happens within the universe is unaffected by anything outside the universe. The audience can conceive of time before the universe began and time after the universe ends. The actors, while in their roles, have no concept of time or events outside of their universe. When the play ends the characters “die” and have no concept of anything because their universe has ended. Time is no more for them and space has ceased to exist.
Now put God in the role of the audience and this universe in the place of the stage. God has a conception of both time and space outside the confines of the universe, though we, the actors in the play, do not. In this context it does make sense to ask, what was God doing before He created the universe.
St. Augustine asked this same question in his Confessions, written in the Fourth Century A.D. It is an apocryphal story that this question was asked of Augustine, to which he replied “He was making Hell for people who ask such questions.” Instead, what Augustine wrote was “I answer not as one is said to have done merrily (eluding the pressure of the question) ‘He was preparing hell (saith he) for pryers into mysteries.’ It is one thing to answer enquiries; another to make sport of enquirers.”
Augustine went on to inquire about a time before the creation. If God was not doing anything for innumerable ages before He created earth, why did He stop doing nothing and start creating? Augustine answered his own question by saying that there were not innumerable ages for God because He created time as well as the earth. God’s days do not proceed daily. In other words, there is no succession of days, one after the other, for God. Instead His days are today. Everything is present for God.
Return to the play. While the actors are living out their existence in their universe and while time passes for them in their roles, the audience is in its collective present. True, two or more hours of “real” time may pass for the audience but most people would consider themselves to be at the play “in the present” as opposed to in the past or in the future. Meanwhile, in a play like Les Miserables, decades pass for the actors, yet it all takes place in the audience’s present.
This explains how God can hear the prayers of millions of supplicants. When an airplane is crashing and a hundred souls offer up prayers to God, He has not just the few seconds before their lives are snuffed out to consider those prayers. Instead He has eternity. Another crude example may help. A writer has put his heroine in a predicament. She is hanging by her fingertips from a ledge, dangling 100 feet above a raging river. In fact the predicament is so good that neither the author nor his heroine has any idea how to get out of it. The author can leave her hanging there for hours, weeks, months while he does other things and when he comes back to extricate her, no time has passed in her world.
So the answer to the question what came before the Big Bang depends on the view of the questioner. If the question is posed by one who believes that this universe is all there ever was and all there ever will be, the question is nonsensical. But if the questioner accepts string theory and its conclusions, it follows that there can be something outside this universe and therefore we can answer the question.