Hubble, hubble, big bang in trouble?
Many of the most favored big bang versions are already having severe problems thanks to the findings of new instruments, such as the Hubble space telescope. For example, some measurements which were used to calculate the rate of the universe’s expansion (if indeed the ‘red shift’ of light means expansion at all) would have meant (if such cosmic evolutionary speculations were factual) that the universe was younger than the alleged ages of some of its stars!
As optical telescopes are improved, enabling astronomers to look ever further out into space, ‘big bangers’ have eagerly expected that there would be a consistent pattern found, such that at greater red shifts (assumed to be bigger distances) there would be ever ‘younger’ (in cosmic evolutionary terms) galaxies. It turns out that most of the galaxies at high red shifts are indeed dominated by blue stars (this is the colour which present theory expects from stars which have not been burning as long as red ones), and there is a ‘striking variety of shapes’. While this is not very specific, it does match the big bangs’ expectations in a general sense. It could also match a number of creationist cosmological scenarios.
However, it only takes one black swan to disprove the notion that all swans are white, and there are in fact several galaxies in the same red-shift zone which are not blue, but red. The ‘most perplexing’ such galaxy to date has an apparent age (again according to evolutionary theories) of 3.5 billion years, which is far too ‘old’ for a galaxy at such an allegedly early stage (red shift 1.5) of the universe’s history.1
The end of the big bang?
In addition, the distant universe is causing a headache by being far too ‘clumpy’ for the popular big bang scenario. About a decade ago, astronomers doing large-scale 3-D ‘mapping’ of positions of galaxies were surprised to find that the universe was incredibly ‘clumpy’, with huge sheets of galaxies, one dubbed the ‘Great Wall’, alternating with massive ‘voids’. Even back then, it was stated that there should not have been enough time for an exploding mass to form such large-scale structures.
Although cosmologists had a hard time learning to live with this reality, they could at least comfort themselves with the knowledge that the ‘early universe’ would turn out to better match their predictions—by looking back (i.e. out) far enough, the universe would get progressively ‘smoother’. Unfortunately for the theory, it is beginning to look as if it is just as lumpy a long way out. Preliminary observations strongly suggest that there are many ‘structures the size and shape of the Great Wall, but dozens of times farther away’.2 In fact, such clustering is turning up in one part of the sky that ‘includes the faintest and most distant galaxies observed’.3
Will this mean the end of the big bang? We suspect not, because this model has long been noted by some to be sufficiently vague to be remarkably flexible. Presumably, if the past is any guide, ‘twiddling a few more knobs’ on the model will probably be able to ‘salvage’ it once more. There are all manner of variables which can be shuffled at will in computer models—changes in the expansion rate, the density of mass in the universe (one can assume almost any amount of invisible ‘dark matter’), the existence of a hypothetical ‘cosmological constant’—there have even been suggestions that the law of gravity may not have been the same in the ‘early universe’. Therefore it is no surprise that the seeming conflict between the age of the universe and the age of some if its stars has ‘almost’ been solved by some frantic adjustments. The calculations giving ‘ages’ of the oldest stars range from 12 to 15 billion years; astronomers now are coming to agreement on an ‘age’ range of the universe of 8 to 12 billion years.4 As close as the overlap is, it is enough to save the day—for the moment.
However, there is another set of awkward, uncomfortable observations which have loomed in the background for around 20 years now, which, if correct, have been said to have awesome implications, even to the extent of being the deathknell for any big bang concept. The observation is the ‘quantization of red shifts’, and has even been said to undermine the very idea that the universe is expanding.
What is it about? Astronomer William Tifft of the University of Arizona was the first to claim that the red shifts (the degree to which the light from stars is shifted to the red end of the spectrum, which is supposed to measure the speed at which the star is moving away, and hence how far away it is) of galaxies fall into distinct packets or quanta, like the rungs of a ladder. This would be like saying that if you measured the speed of particles coming out of an explosion, instead of being evenly distributed across a range of velocities, they fell into groups, for example, 100 kilometers an hour, 200 km/in, 300 km/in and so on.
Tifft was ignored at first, but continued to amass data for many years, most showing the same effect. Now, in a major study of more than 200 galaxies, using very sensitive equipment, two UK astronomers, Oxford’s Bill Napier and Bruce Guthrie from Edinburgh, claim to have ‘the best evidence yet’ that the phenomenon is real.5
This time, even some former skeptics of the claim are taking it seriously enough to warrant getting involved in the debate, suggesting proposals to test it further, and so on.
Mike Disney of Cardiff’s University of Wales says that if it keeps on holding up, it might turn standard cosmology ‘on its ear’. He says, ‘it would mean abandoning a great deal of present research’. All attempts to try to explain it within conventional models are, to put it mildly, ‘highly unorthodox’, and it is stated that if it does survive the next round of tests, ‘theorists will have a sticky problem trying to explain it’.
James Peebles of Princeton, whose pet big bang cosmology is the big loser if this is right, says he treats the claims with ‘extreme caution’ for this very reason, saying that he is ‘not being dogmatic and saying it can’t happen, but if it does, it‘s a real shocker’.
However, the data are already very impressive. According to Bill Napier they tried hard to avoid concluding that the red shifts were quantized, but failed.
There seems little doubt that if these observations did not conflict with the big bang, they would have been taken much more seriously a long time ago. The problem seems to be, as prominent astronomer Geoffrey Burbidge put it (Burbidge is Professor of Physics at the University of California, San Diego):
‘Big bang cosmology is probably as widely believed as has been any theory of the universe in the history of Western civilization. It rests, however, on many untested, and [in] many cases, untestable assumptions. Indeed, big bang cosmology has become a bandwagon of thought that reflects faith as much as objective truth.’6
Unfortunately, some of those who promote the alleged big bang as an article of faith are Christians. They claim it is a fact of nature, which must therefore be accepted, and Genesis must be reinterpreted to suit this and other concepts held by evolutionists.
Such ‘facts of nature’, in their view, are a source of revelation on a par with the Bible. For example, Dr Hugh Ross writes, ‘The facts of nature may be likened to a sixty-seventh book of the Bible’.7
The problem with this idea, now being enthusiastically embraced by many leading evangelicals, comes when one has to face up to the reality that all such ‘facts’ can only ever be the interpretations and conclusions of fallible, finite people, biased by nature against their Maker.
Many who have been swayed by such attempts to harmonize the Bible with evolutionism will have to hunt around for a new ‘interpretation’ of Genesis if (or perhaps one should say when) the big bang is discarded by the secular world in their lifetime. Of course, such abandonment would only be undertaken once an alternative concept had been thought up, one which fitted the data at least well enough to continue to assist an unbelieving world in its vain attempt to try to explain the origin of the world without God.8
References and notes
- An old galaxy in a young Universe, Nature Vol. 381, pp. 555-556, 13 June 1996.
- Science, Vol. 272, p. 1590, 14 June 1996.
- See Age of the Cosmos: A First Consensus, Science News 49 (19), p. 292, for an example of how changing assumptions on matter density adjusts the resultant ‘age’.
- Science, Vol. 271, p. 759, 9 February 1996.
- Scientific American, p. 96, February 1992.
- H. Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, p. 55.
- Many Christians who have desperately tried to keep in step with the opinions of secular scientists, have often ended up by reducing God’s role to merely ‘lighting the fuse’ on the big bang, which is almost the same as defining Him out of existence. Even that is not enough for the consistent secularist Paul Davies (the physicist who ironically won the Templeton Prize for religion). He has the universe (not just matter, but space and time also) creating itself out of nothing; the only ‘eternal given’ for him is the laws of physics themselves, which he euphemistically labels ‘God’.