The conclusion was that the universe must have always existed, that all its component parts have always been present, and, since these contents have always been, they must always be. What is, is. This isn't too far removed from our current understanding that matter can become energy and energy matter. The whole sum of matter and energy is the whole sum of everything: there's no creation of matter without loss of energy nor creation of energy without loss of matter.
What Parmenides didn't say, but can't be escaped, is that it doesn't make sense that matter and its potential have always existed. We simply can't imagine what it means to say there was no beginning and will be no end. It's the same as saying there was something before time came into being and will be another something after time ceases to be.
To him this "something" of before and after is the concept "nothing."
Parmenides' contemporaries, particularly Democritus, tried to come to terms with this "nothing." He, Democritus -- known as the laughing philosopher from Abder, is famous for pointing out that nothing has to be. Something, anything, all things, everything -- none can exist without nothing. This sounds like wordplay of a sort dear to the Elizabethan wits, and indeed Samuel Beckett made sardonic jokes about it; as when he has Murphy contemplate "when the somethings give way, or perhaps simply add up, to the Nothing, than which in the guffaw of the Abderite naught is more real."
Parmenides also didn't say that the idea of this nothing (no thing, no time, no place) makes very us uncomfortable. Thus Beckett has Malone say "I know those little phrases that seem so innocuous and, once you let them in, pollute the whole of speech. Nothing is more real than nothing. They rise up out of the pit and know no rest until they drag you down into its dark. But I am on my guard now."
There's much that you can drag out of this navel-gazing, but I only want to draw one simple conclusion. The current state of our knowledge requires that we have faith.
We must take on faith that there an unknowable nothing that preceded all that exists and will succeed it. Faith is required to grasp that there can't be an "is" without an "is not."
I think this is why so many scientists profess belief in God. We need something -- an organizing principle -- to help us come to terms with what we know to exist (this "nothing") but recognize to be unknowable.
This is my way of saying atheism may not be provably wrong but it's unpragmatic; there's no sense in denying a first cause, an organizing principle, a focus for an explanation by faith of that for which there is no other explanation.
A current article in the National Post (Can.) deals with this subject. It's on faith in the virgin birth, an improbability that's easy for atheists to doubt, but it's also about faith in general. The author quotes the Catholic writer Romano Guardini: faith, he says, is the point "where the mind has stopped short at some intellectual impasse." And that point, he wrote, is "this journey of God from the everlasting into the transitory, this stride across the border into history ... something no human intellect can altogether grasp."
The author also says it's tempting to ignore this intellectual impasse, but doing so is against our nature. The author quotes a psychologist -- Prof. Peterson, Univ of Toronto:
[Peterson says] belief is not optional. And regardless of the specific belief, he maintains it is as necessary as air and water.Pretty good stuff.
At its most basic level, belief acts like a set of headlights to guide us through a foggy universe that "is far more complicated than we are smart." So belief is eradicable, he said, because there will never be a time when we know everything.
"Ignorance is a condition of human existence and belief is a necessary means of coping with ignorance," he said. "The assumptions we make about the world directly regulate our emotions and they provide hope and inhibit anxiety."
But at a deeper level, belief represents patterns of a deeper reality that go beyond the physical world. They function like mathematical formulas that seem abstract but actually define an underlying physical reality.
"Our religious sense is grounded in biology," said Prof. Peterson. "It's not a simple cultural overlay. Religious belief and ritual are universal. It's as specifically human as language.
"What's repeated in profound systems of belief are the patterns of life. That's why they're so memorable," he said. "There is something about them that contains the essence of life. These stories can't be forgotten. That's why they last thousands of years."