God Is Not A Unicorn Series
Part 1 looked at the reason why the question of God ‘s existence cannot be satisfied by an appeal to the imagination alone.
Part 2 looked at the different approaches to the question of creation by Philosophy, Religion, and Science.
Part 3, below, is a look at some of the scientific weaknesses of The Big Bang Theory, our modern Creation Myth
Photo Description: (Note- I added the “You are here” sign) Timeline of the universe. A representation of the evolution of the universe over 13.77 billion years. The far left depicts the earliest moment we can now probe, when a period of “inflation” produced a burst of exponential growth in the universe. (Size is depicted by the vertical extent of the grid in this graphic.) For the next several billion years, the expansion of the universe gradually slowed down as the matter in the universe pulled on itself via gravity. More recently, the expansion has begun to speed up again as the repulsive effects of dark energy have come to dominate the expansion of the universe. The afterglow light seen by WMAP was emitted about 375,000 years after inflation and has traversed the universe largely unimpeded since then. The conditions of earlier times are imprinted on this light; it also forms a backlight for later developments of the universe. Wikipedia media
Modern Myth Making
Before getting into why The Big Bang Theory has such a hold on the modern imagination, this post will look at the Cosmology as a science and some of the weaknesses of the Big Bang Theory.
Cosmology: A Science in Infancy
When I was in college in the late 1970s, one of my physics professors grew tired of a conversation we were having on some theory on the origins of the Universe. He casually dismissed it by saying that Cosmology was “not even science.” I remember being shocked at this remark because Cosmology was such a hot topic among physics students. The idea that Cosmology was mostly a speculative branch of science or even that it was a new “science” was unknown to me.
Cosmology (the study of the physical universe) is a science that, due to both theoretical and observational developments, has made enormous strides in the past 100 years. It began as a branch of theoretical physics through Einstein’s 1917 static model of the universe (Einstein 1917) and was developed in its early days particularly through the work of Lemaître (1927). As recently as 1960, cosmology was widely regarded as a branch of philosophy. It has transitioned to an extremely active area of mainstream physics and astronomy, particularly due to the application to the early universe of atomic and nuclear physics, on the one hand, and to a flood of data coming in from telescopes operating across the entire electromagnetic spectrum on the other.
I was even more surprised to find that Cosmology used to be considered a branch of philosophy. It seemed to me that all questions regarding Cosmology would be scientific in nature. I had no idea what form philosophical questions about the origins of the Universe could take. At that time, I had no intellectual framework to understand why it was not a science.
It was Stephan Hawking and his book A Brief History of Time, published in 1988, which brought the science of Cosmology to the general public in its current popular form. The Big Bang Theory looms large in the public imagination as a solid theory about the creation of the universe. In the 30+ years since publication, this image of the physical creation of the universe has cemented into a belief that it is an accurate and factual description of Creation. However, this is far from the truth. The Big Bang Theory has several fundamental problems.
If you are not familiar with what it is, here is a short video from National Geographic. This video is both an oversimplified view of the science and an overwhelming visual presentation. There is no separation of fact from speculation in this five minute video, but it does make a sensational story.
Origins of the Universe 101 | National Geographic
Controversies Regarding the Big Bang Theory of Cosmology:
One field of work in which there has been too much speculation is cosmology. There are very few hard facts to go on, but theoretical workers have been busy constructing various models for the universe, based on any assumptions that they fancy. These models are probably all wrong. It is usually assumed that the laws of nature have always been the same as they are now. There is no justification for this. The laws may be changing, and in particular quantities which are considered to be constants of nature may be varying with cosmological time. Such variations would completely upset the model makers.Paul Dirac, “On methods in theoretical physics”, June 1968, Trieste
As I stated above The Big Bang Theory has several problems, but I will only focus on two of them here. The theory rests on two ideas that are generally recognized as facts, but are currently being challenged:
- Einstein’s Relativity Theory: This theory rests on an assumption that the speed of light is a constant.
- Cosmological Redshift: This theory is based on Hubble’s Law. This is based on the observation that objects at great distances have a wavelength shift towards the red spectrum. Based on this observation, it is speculated that the shift is caused as a result of an expanding universe.
Let us examine these two ideas separately below.
Relativity Theory: Constant C (Speed of Light as a constant)
Einstein’s Relativity Theory hinges on the idea that the speed of light is a constant in all frames of reference. I have discussed this problem before in a previous post (Einstein’s Original Sin).
This was based on the famous Mickelson-Morley experiment that this assumption as a law of nature because it seemed to solve some problems about predicting and understanding some aspects of light propagation at the time it was proposed.
Back in Einstein’s day that there was a lot of pressure to find “natural standards” for measuring things like time, length, temperature, etc. If the speed of light was constant, then a natural standard for length could be established. Later on, careers and budgets depended on it being true – so it became a matter of politics. I highly recommend reading The Physicist and the Philosopher which does a good job of explaining all the various controversies involving Relativity in non-mathematical terms. (Also, see The Unfinished Revolution in Physics). In any event, one hardly ever hears about questions challenging the idea that the speed of light is a constant because it would cause a crisis in the scientific community – as you can see from the quote below.
From a very general point of view, G. Ellis expressed concerns that a varying c would require a rewrite of much of modern physics to replace the current system which depends on a constant c. Ellis claimed that any varying c theory (1) must redefine distance measurements (2) must provide an alternative expression for the metric tensor in general relativity (3) might contradict Lorentz invariance (4) must modify Maxwell’s equations (5) must be done consistently with respect to all other physical theories. Whether these concerns apply to the proposals of Einstein (1911) and Dicke (1957) is a matter of debate, though VSL cosmologies remain out of mainstream physics.Variable speed of light Wikipedia
In short, if the speed of light is not a constant it means that most of Modern Physics collapses and we all have to go back to the drawing board to start again. He is also saying that if you want to believe in VSL, then you must rework everything before anyone is going to listen to you. The message: sit down and shut up.
I have come across many complaints from physicists in various stages of the careers regarding what is generally called “Shut up and Calculate” attitude from their teachers and superiors. I found one paper from a student at Cornell University with the amusing title: The VSL Discussion: What Does Variable Speed of Light Mean and Should we be Allowed to Think About [It]? The author sums up his irritation with the conventional “wisdom” in his conclusion:
To believe or not to believe if VSL is a promising approach in physics is not a scientific question; if one does not, he is free to continue the work he finds interesting to do. Thus it is not necessary to develop toolkits enabling a critique of any VSL paper . We certainly do not need proofs that VSL cannot be an adequate approach, because (1) such a proof does not exist and (2) science has never advanced with such proofs. Neither we do need warnings that anything else that the standard model is dangerous, and statements like ‘if you think about anything else than the standard model, you have to deliver a complete solution immediately’ (, implication 5). Physics needs the close link to experiments and observations and a freedom of ideas and methods.The VSL Discussion: What Does Variable Speed of Light Mean and Should we be Allowed to Think About? Alexander Unzicker Cornell University 2008
The issue of the speed of light as a constant or a variable is far from settled and has profound implications for Modern Physics from the very successful Standard Model of Particle Physics to the Big Bang Theory. So, it is natural that there is a great deal of resistance to it.
To save some space, I am referring you to two good videos about what Cosmological Redshift is and what an expanding universe looks like to Cosmologists. The first one explains Hubble’s Law and why Cosmological Redshift suggests an expanding Universe. Keep in mind that while it is a reasonable interpretation, it may not be correct (as we will see later on).
Hubble’s Law, the Doppler Effect, and an Expanding Universe
This second video helps to visualize what the expanding universe looks like in theory.
Universe Expansion demonstration
But what if the interpretation of Hubble’s Law is incorrect? Consider this recent challenge to our understanding of Cosmological Redshift below:
Contrary to the prediction of the Big Bang theory, they found that the surface brightnesses of the near and far galaxies are identical. These results are consistent with what would be expected from ordinary geometry if the Universe was not expanding, and are in contradiction with the drastic dimming of surface brightness predicted by the expanding Universe hypothesis…
That was not the only startling result of their research. In order to apply the surface brightness test, first proposed in 1930 by physicist Richard C. Tolman, the team had to determine the actual luminosity of the galaxies, so as to match near and far galaxies. To do that, the astrophysicists had to link the distance to the galaxies with their redshift. They hypothesized that the distance is proportional to the redshift at all distances, as is well verified to be the case in the nearby Universe. They checked this relation between redshift and distance with the data on supernova brightness that has been used to measure the hypothesized accelerated expansion of the Universe.
“It is amazing that the predictions of this simple formula are as good as the predictions of the expanding Universe theory, which include complex corrections for hypothetical dark matter and dark energy,” said study co-author Dr Renato Falomo of the Osservatorio Astronomico di Padova, Italy. Dr Riccardo Scarpa from the Instituto de Astrofısica de Canarias, Spain, who is a co-author of the study, added: “again you could take this to be merely coincidental, but it would be a second big coincidence.”
Therefore if the Universe is not expanding, the redshift of light with increasing distance must be caused by some other phenomena – something that happens to the light itself as it travels through space.
“We are not speculating now as to what could cause the redshift of light,” Mr Lerner said. ”However, such a redshift, which is not associated with expansion, could be observed with suitable spacecraft within our own Solar System in the future.”See Eric J. Lerner et al. UV surface brightness of galaxies from the local Universe to z ~ 5. Int. J. Mod. Phys. D, published online May 02, 2014; doi: 10.1142/S0218271814500588
Note that the scientists in the article above did not come up with a new explanation for Cosmological Red Shift. They leave the interpretation open because the implications for The Big Bang Theory are enormous. Also, it has implications for Relativity Theory. It could mean that space is not curved and that something is happening to light on its long travels through space.
If this study holds up, then we have no idea what causes Cosmological Redshift. The expanding universe explanation was an educated guess and it stuck because no one had a better idea. Older theories such as the Steady State Theory which have fallen into disrepute once may have to be resurrected to explain these new findings.
Science: A Detective Story
There are a lot of suspects in any scientific experiment that could possibly have a role to play in any event we observe. When we chose one suspect to the exclusion of others. It has been a tendency in modern physics that one interpretation is favored to such a degree that all other avenues are actively discouraged. There is no doubt that Einstein was a genius, but his interpretation of a constant speed of light envisioned a warping of space and time around large objects. Einstein did think about it – he was a genius after all. However, a different interpretation, one where light interacted with the gravitational field in some way that set a limit on its speed or caused gravitational lensing through a field interaction. When I was in college, we were taught that because photons (light “particles”) had no mass, gravity did not affect it. But, even now we know very little about how gravity works and with new insights in interactions with energy, mass, and fields, I think we may have to rethink the whole Space-time curvature idea. To be fair to Einstein, back in 1905, we did not even have a rudimentary model of the atom. His solution of space-time geometry was the product of creative genius, even if it turns out to be incorrect. But even Einstein had interpretation problems. He confused time with clocks – not too surprising given his family’s interest in wireless technology.
We do not know what time is or what space is – any more than we understand how gravity works. These are still great mysteries of the universe. In school, I was often surprised to hear other students insist that a measurement of a thing was essentially the thing it measured. This was because one could not challenge Einstein. This was a bridge too far for me. Time is not a clock, space is not a ruler. Einstein was wrong about that.
Now that we have looked at some of the scientific problems of the Big Bang Theory, we next look at some of the reasons why Religious Creation Myths and Philosophical treatments of Cosmology, which have been with us for eons, are being replaced by Modern Scientific Myths.
Part 4: Of Gods and Unicorns (link will appear when the post is up.)