It is often said that orginally there was one force and that then through symmetry-breaking this separated into two forces, then three forces, the electroweak, strong, and gravity, and then finally all four forces, the electromagnetic, weak, strong, and gravity. Thus in the early Universe, and also at short distances, there were fewer forces than we experience. This is not true. There is always one force. That fact is obvious in the early Universe and at short distances and not obvious at the low energies we experience. Similarly, time and space are really one thing and that fact was obvious in the early Universe but not obvious to us. What is the perceived difference between time and space? One way to think of it is like this. Real numbers have order have order while complex numbers do not have order. This is because real numbers are graphed on a numberline while complex numbers are graphed on a Cartesian plane. One a numberline, if two points are different, one point is either on one side or the other of the other point. On a Cartesian plane, one point may have a higher or lower x or y coordinate than another point but it is not "on one side or the other". Thus in one dimension you have order while at greater dimensions you do not have order. We have three dimensions of space and one dimension of time. According to some theories, we have more than three spatial dimensions, all but three of which are "compactified". Thus points in time have order while points in space do not. If you have two points in time, one is before the other. However, time and space are really the same thing, and that fact becomes more and more obvious the farther back in time you go. As this fact becomes more and more obvious, it becomes more and more difficult to say one point is before another point. Eventually you reach a point where you can no longer do that. We call that point "t = 0".
Time and space do not exist at t = 0 itself. At t = 0, there was just mathematical singularity. If you look up the word "before" in the dictionary, or look up every single word in the defintion, eventually you would find the word "time". Time does not exist at t = 0 itself. Therefore the word "before" can not be applied to t = 0. It's like applying the word "south" to the South Pole. If you say "What continents are south of Antartica?", the question has no meaning. It's not that there are no continents south of Antartica, it's that the question has no meaning. Time is a situation where one point can be placed before another point. As you go farther and farther back, it becomes more and more obvious that time and space are really the same thing. It becomes less meaningful to place the one dimension of time in a separate catagory than the three dimensions of space. Eventually, you reach a point where you can no longer do that. We call that point t = 0. Since points can not be placed in order at t = 0, time does not exist at t = 0. Since the defintion of the word "before" includes the concept of time, the word "before" can not be applied to t = 0.
What I am describing is the origin of the Universe or the Big Bang. Often the phrase "Big Bang" is used to refer to a period of hyperinflation in the early Universe. Originally, the phrase was used to refer to the idea of the Universe having a beginning. The alternative was for the Universe to have existed forever without beginning which was called "the steady state" theory. There was a heated debate in the 1950's as to whether the Big Bang or the Steady State Theory was accurate. Many physicists, such as Fred Hoyle, were steady staters while people such as George Gamow were big bangers. The idea of the Big Bang originated in the discovery that the galaxy were red shifted, and thus the Universe was expanding. Therefore if you extraploate backwards, it began as a single point. The expansion of the Universe doesn't necessarily violate steady state since you could say the Universe existed forever and suddenly started expanding. However, the microwave background radiation so closely fit the prediction of nucleosynthesis according to the Big Bang model that the tide began to turn in that direction. Modern physics, based on the Big Bang model, explained what we observed so much better than the steady state model that it became accepted as truth. However, I have to point that we really wouldn't be able to tell the difference between a true Big Bang and a steady state model in which an essential Big Bang followed a Big Crunch of a previous universe, in which the bottleneck between them is very narrow. However, a true Big Bang is the explanation that we currently use.
I would like to address the idea that the Big Bang, meaning the origin of time itself, is counterintuitive. People have a hard time grasping it. Before the rate of expansion of the Universe was known, it was suggested that the Universe might eventually stop expanding, start contracting, and eventually fall back in on itself and end in a Big Crunch. In Carl Sagan's book "Cosmos", he suggests that after the Big Crunch there could be another Big Bang, and that before the Big Bang there was a previous Big Crunch. He paints a picture of an infinite number of universes, or generations of the Universe, stretching infinitely into the past and future. He actually goes on to say that each universe might have different laws of physics, but some laws must remain the same to ensure that the universe will eventually fall back in on itself and produce a new universe. He says that the laws that remain the same are somehow "superlaws" and that the true purpose of physics should be to determine these superlaws. I'm not criticizing the fact he had a wild imagination. What is deserving of criticism is that this explanation would explain nothing that is not otherwise explained. There is no benefit to this explanation. What motivated him to make this up? I believe that the motivation was that he didn't like the idea of a fundamental beginning of time. This explanation explains nothing that is not otherwise explained and does not help explain what we observe, but what it does allow you to do is avoid confronting the concept of a fundamental beginning of time itself.
For some reason, this concept is unpalatable to people. In the physics department of Cal State Long Beach, someone had cut out a "Bloom County" comic strip and taped it to a file cabinet. "Bloom County" was an off-beat comic strip written/drawn by Berke Breathed. In this particular strip, a black kid says, "the universe began in a big bang". One of the other characters says, "what was before that?" Then the black kid says, "a really big bang!" I was appalled by the ignorance of Berke Breathed. It's as if he was wearing a T-shirt or carrying a banner with the words "I'm stupid" printed on it. I hope the person who cut out and put up the strip was laughing at and not with Breathed. This emphasizes my point. The Big Bang Theory, despite its success, is counterintuitive. People would have been happier if the Steady State Theory had turned out to be true.
This seems to be contradicted by the fact that primitive societies usually invent a story of creation. If people are so much more comfortable with steady state, why do primitive societies invent a beginning of the world? Why not just say the world existed forever? The answer is: that is what they say. Their stories explain only how the world got from some simple state to the comnplexity that you observe. In Judaism, Yawi sat around doing nothing for an infinite length of time and then spontaneously for no reason decided to create the rest of the world. In Greek Mythology, in Hesiod's Theogony, it says, "First there was Eros, and then there was Nyx". Eros presumably existed for an infinite length of time. In Ovid's Metamorphoses, first there was chaos and then order came from chaos. Chaos existed for an infinite length of time. In primitive mythology, time extends infinitely backwards. Thus mythologies are really steady state theories. Today the average person professes belief in the Big Bang but envisions it as analogous to a mythological story of creation in which the universe goes from a simple state which existed for an infinite length of time to a complex state. The average person professes belief in the Big Bang but fails to grasp the concept of the beginning of time, and thus is stuck in a steady state view.
I should also mention one other view of the origin of the Universe. According to the Big Bang model, the Universe began in a mathematical singularity. There was no "before" that point, and there is no "outside" of the Universe. Asking what was before that point is like asking what is south of the South Pole. Today, this is the prevailing view. According to the steady state model, the Universe existed for an infinite length of time. This was the common view for millennia from the Ancient Greeks to the 1950's. It's still possible to cling to a variation of this by saying that the Universe went through a Big Bang like phase that was actually a bottleneck that followed a previous Universe. If you like, you could go on to invoke an oscillating Universe. However, these models raise a myriad of questions, and there's no benefit to them beyond some people's inability to comprehend a true Big Bang. A third, more obscure, model invokes closed time-like curves. This is a reference to time travel. Now is not the time to go through an in depth discussion of this subject, but supposedly there are versions of time travel that are allowed, although paradoxes are still not allowed. If you tried to go back in time and kill your former self, something or other would prevent you from doing so. I'm very suspicious of this, but the theories exist. Anyway, when applied to the origin of the Universe, you could imagine a small expanding Universe. Then this Universe casts off a small piece of itself which then travels back in time and becomes the original small expanding Universe. Supposedly, the laws of physics may allow the Universe to be its own mother. Like the steady state view, there is no singularity. There is no point for which there is not a previous point. Like the Big Bang view, the Universe does not extend infinitely backwards in time. You avoid the questions about this infinite previous time. However, you do have to accept closed time-like curves. Also, I do not consider an initial singularity for which there is no "before" as a bad thing you would want to avoid. People are just prejudiced against it because it's so different from what we're used to. Therefore I don't see any advantage of this model over the Big Bang model.