The "Prime Mover" question is the classic form of the "second question" - How Did We Get Here?
The common sense view of the world, which implies that all effects have causes, led, quite reasonably, to the conclusion amongst the earliest philosophers, that there must have been a "very first cause". And, because we hold a linear view of time, there must also have been the "very first moment". Only in the last century have we begun to find the mathematical tools to begin to find a way to address this question "meaningfully" - let alone to find the answer.
The absence of an empirically verifiable answer for the 40 or 50 millenia we've been able to contemplate the question has left the field open to the classical religious answers which all boil down to the notion that the universe we live in was created by an intelligent entity which predates our universe and created it for some "purpose" of its own. Even as an atheist, I don't have any problem, in principle with that hypothesis (see below). Providing we treat the hypothesis like all others, I can live with it. But I have never ever been able to understand how, even if the god hypothesis was convincingly validated, it could ever be seen as a final solution to the problem. Even as a small child my first response to that hypothesis was of the form "oh really, and what created god and the universe he came from?"
The fact that those who accept the religious explanation don't seem to understand that it isn't an explanation at all reveals a deep epistemological problem which forestalls rational discussion of the issue. Which is a shame, because, if they only knew it, it's a fascinating avenue to explore.
I've never had any fundamental objection to the notion that our's might be a manufactured universe. Part 1 of my play, for example, is entitled "" and that name reflects the discussion on precisely the possibility that we may be living in a simulated universe. As the play - and its title - suggests, I don't believe it (that we live in a simulated (or manufactured) universe) but I still concede that it is a possibility. And, with that possibility comes the logical inevitability that there would have had to be a "creator" with godlike powers which could provide a complete justification for the religious world view (at least in regard to "second question" issues).
What does not follow, however, from the existence of a creator, is the possibility that the questions end there. If a creator exists or existed, there is no reason whatsoever to imagine that there is no explanation for its existence. EVEN IF that reason turns out to be something as nebulous as "it wanted to exist". The mere fact that this was "enough" would itself tell us something quite profound about the universe.
Although I continue to insist on batting away "Why" questions as in my reply to mikalman above, it must be understood that this is only because I am trying to get people to understand that "Why" questions are only reformulated versions of "How" questions. With that caveat in mind, the favourite childhood game of asking an infinite series of Why questions is actually entirely valid and must always lead back to a point of origin where first causes must be contemplated.
God was never and could never be a satisfactory first cause because it is perfectly permissible for our child to ask "but why did god create the universe?" or even "why did god exist?". Even a religious believer ought to be able to face the question, for example: "Does God know why he exists?". If they say "No" - they're denying omniscience and if they say "Yes" then they're admitting there must be another set of explanations beyond their first cause. In fact the ultimate question in that direction is way beyond "does god exist" but must be "why does ANYTHING exist?" (Which examination must, of course, begin with my "First Question" - Do we exist? or perhaps the even tighter "What exists?")
The cop-out answer to that is that such questions cannot be asked or answered. And both religious thinkers and some of our greatest secular philosophers have been guilty of abandoning the search at that point. All that tells us it that some people give up too easily! The cop-out certainly has no logical or empirical validity. There will be an answer to that ultimate question and I wouldn't be surprised it we have a fairly clear grasp of the answer by the end of this century. (Mind you, nor will I be surprised if we're still groping for an answer in a thousand years from now)
The chase is currently being led by Paul Davies in his new book "The Goldilocks Enigma". Newsnight covered it on Monday 9 October and you can still find the interview on line . However, they don't seem to like holding stuff online for long, so I've also cached it
The gist of the current scientific thinking is that there are three possibilities. Davies considers two in detail.
One:- that the precise and apparently "fine tuned " which make life possible will prove to be inevitable consequences of mathematical laws we have yet to discover.
In other words, no other combination is possible in our universe, which is why things are as they are. Get used to it.
Two:- that all values and combinations of those values are possible and exist, but each combination exists in a different universe. In this view, what we think of as "our universe" is just one tiny insignificant sliver of the . A small percentage of life supporting combinations are inevitable and intelligent life arising within any such universe will eventually get around to asking questions like "why are conditions in our universe optimised for life?". (It is worth observing that String Theorists seem to be pretty united in their opinion that the multiverse is an inevitable consequence of such theories and that String Theories are beginning to change our current cosmological paradigm. The multiverse is becoming a major contender)
In other words, like lotteries, there are bound to be winners; on this occasion we're the lucky ones and it's no more surprising than someone somewhere winning the lottery. Like the lottery, it is, of course, of far more significance to the winner than the non-winner. The winner might well be so awestruck by the stroke of good fortune which has befallen him or her that they might be tempted to attribute their good fortune to an intelligent purposeful entity.
Three:- that we exist in a manufactured or simulated universe which may or may not have the values we attribute and may or may not exist as one in a multiverse or a variation on a single universe controlled by an advanced intelligent entity which may or may not be aware of our existence within its experiment.
Obviously the religious view is closest to the third option but the third option isn't inherently religious. That's the point of "". It is also consistent with .
None of the three, however, provide an answer to the ultimate question: why does ANYTHING exist? Though I suspect that once we understand exactly which set of rules we're operating under, that question will be somewhat easier to address.
Paul Davies is edging towards a hypothesis which sees intelligence as integral to the universe not in the sense of self-aware godlike entities but more fundamentally built into the system at quantum level. I find this very exciting because what he seems to be saying would validate my own ramblings on the deeply embedded nature of intelligence which I wrote about in "" back in 2000.
For my own part, my money is on a hybrid between a single and a multiverse; a four dimensional sphere of space time in which all possibilities exist but the reality we perceive is our personal path through the sphere. Consciousness will turn out to be our awareness of our position on the path and "experience" will prove to be our awareness of constant movement along the path, even if we are physically stationary. At the very least we perceive entropy increasing at a constant rate and we appear unable ever to witness it decreasing (in absolute terms). We experience this as the passage of time.
Though we can change direction in three of the dimensions within the sphere, we all know we have a problem with choosing an alternative direction in the fourth. This, I think, will turn out to be a limitation of consciousness rather than a real physical limitation. At its simplest, it's common sense. Creating a memory obviously requires an increase in entropy - to rearrange a few neurons, forge some new links etc which encapsulate the memory. Even if we could somehow "witness" decreasing entropy, we'd never be able to store any memory of it. Hence, it may well be that, "in real life" we are routinely oscillating back and forward along the timeline, but our brains can only ever remember the movements in one direction.
However, if we can reach the state of being able to simulate our own universe, we will overcome that hurdle because we'll be able to navigate - within the simulation at least - in any direction regardless of the change in entropy it records. (Think: Playing a video backwards - but at lifelike resolution) It will be as though we can look in our own universe from the "outside" and then travel to any point within the sphere.
I also suspect that we're going to have to become that far advanced before we'll be able to validate any hypotheses which attempt to provide a definitive answer to the ultimate question.