Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Big Bang – Common Misconceptions

Update: Due to the popularity of this post I’ve made a few changes. The first was to remove an undeveloped definition of “explosion” which excluded some events I had not previously considered. I also added a bit more information on the CMB and the WMAP results.

Update 2: Since a few people have commented regarding my strange headings in which I switched between stating the misconception and the correct representation, I have revised all the headings so that they all state the misconception.


Recently, I’ve been hanging out on some message boards and realized that, just like with evolution, there’s a lot of really uneducated people that are being very vocal about their strawman version of the Big Bang. I began to notice that their entire argument was founded on these common misconceptions and thus, I figured it was about time to make a list of the really big ones and attempt to clear them up.

This is in no way a comprehensive list, nor is it meant to present all the evidence supporting the Big Bang, but instead, only to hit the highlights.

1) The Big Bang was an explosion
This seems to be a really big one. I’ve been told that I contradict myself because I point out that the Big Bang wasn’t an explosion so I obviously don’t know what I’m talking about. The term “Big Bang” was originally given to the theory (originally called “primeval atom”) by Fred Hoyle on a radio program in which he was mocking the theory. However, the misnomer stuck and has been causing confusion ever since.

Let’s first look at what the Big Bang theory really states: “Our universe began in a hot dense state which began, and still is expanding. In this initial event, all the matter in our universe was created with approximately 80% hydrogen and 20% helium.”

That’s my personal paraphrase, but after reviewing a great number of sources, it seems to be the most comprehensive one I can come up with. So let’s analyze it. You’ll notice that nowhere do we find the word “explosion.” Instead we find the term “expansion.”

The frequent picture people seem to have is matter flying outwards from a single point (like an explosion). However, the matter is all actually standing still while space itself expands dragging the matter with it.

The general analogy for this is having a series of paperclips on a rubber band. As the rubber band is stretched, the paperclips appear to move away from one another even though they are in fact holding still with regard to the rubber band. Similarly, galaxies hold still more or less (there are small movements due to gravitational interactions) while they are carried by the expanding universe.

So again, there was no “explosion” but instead, an expansion which is carrying all the rest of the universe away from us.

2) The Big Bang theory doesn’t explain what caused it

This is another big one I see a lot. If the Big Bang was the beginning, then what could have caused the Big Bang? You’ll notice my paraphrase above didn’t include anything about this. Pretty big hole eh?

Not really. The Big Bang theory doesn’t say anything about what caused it because, well, it doesn’t need to. Theories don’t try to explain everything, just what evidence is available and pertinent. Asking the Big Bang (and Evolution) to do more than this is a double standard. After all, the theory of Gravity doesn’t explain where mass came from. The Germ theory of disease transmission doesn’t explain where germs came from. Electro-magnetic theories don’t explain where charge comes from. Atomic theory doesn’t state where atoms come from.

So while it might seem like a piece of the puzzle is missing, as far as this single theory is concerned, it’s not really important. The origin of all these other pieces requires separate theories, with their own evidence, which are being worked on, but often times, are still in their infancy (ie, brane theory to explain the precursors to the Big Bang, Abiogenesis to explain the first life…)

Additionally, the Big Bang doesn’t go all the way back because it really can’t. As I pointed out earlier, when you start going back to far, things become fuzzy. The physical laws we’re all familiar with start to break down under such high energy densities. Really weird stuff starts to happen, like different fundamental forces ceasing to exist and merging with one another.

Thanks to work in particle accelerators, which can recreate such high energy densities for brief fractions of a second, we’re starting to get a feel for how physical laws operate under these conditions, and thus, are slowly working our way backwards. But there comes a point where we just don’t have a good enough handle on things to be able to say how things work back to pretty early (10-35 seconds), but things were happening so fast and furiously, there’s still a long ways to go before we can uncover what happened to cause the whole mess.

Perhaps as better particle accelerators come on line, we’ll be able to work back even further, but this will require new theories about how matter and energy behave when shoved that close together, including a theory which has proved difficult for nearly a century, describing how gravity fits in with the other three fundamental forces into something known as the Grand Unified Theory (GUT).

3) There’s no evidence for the Big Bang

Sadly, yes, I have actually seen this one fairly often. I have no idea where people get the idea that scientists make things up without having good evidence behind it (oh wait… we’re out to disprove God because all scientists hate God or some crap like that).

The Big Bang theory does have a good amount of evidence behind it. So we’ll take a look at the three biggies.

a) Cosmological Redshift: As I explained in my earlier post, we can use spectroscopy to determine the rate at which galaxies are moving away from us. Additionally, since it takes light time to travel, the further away we look, the further back in time we are looking.

What we find, is that all galaxies in the universe are moving away from us. The further they are, the faster they’re moving away. So if we play the whole thing in reverse, all the galaxies will come back together at a single point in time. This point in time is what we call the Big Bang.

b) The Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB): Figuring that if you played everything back in time like this that all that energy would be crammed into a smaller space, that means the temperature would go up. And also since galaxies couldn’t have formed yet, we’d expect a gaseous sort of universe early on. As I discussed earlier, hot dense gasses emit photons at a peak wavelength corresponding to their temperature. Unfortunately, since things were so dense, photons couldn’t get very far.

However, with the available information, astronomers were able to determine at what density and time, photons would finally be able to get far enough that we could observe them. This is called the “surface of last scattering” and has a very specific temperature. So we should be able to look for photons with energy (wavelength) corresponding to that temperature.

But due to redshift, they will appear at a different wavelength. This radiation should appear from every direction. This was a prediction made by the Big Bang theory that was later confirmed by Penzias and Wilson who stumbled on it accidentally!

No other theory of the universe has ever been able to make such a profound prediction to the degree of accuracy the Big Bang did in this instance. Making such amazing predictions is one of the highlights of a good theory. None before or since have ever been able to pull off such a feat.

But the successes of the CMB prediction don’t stop there. Another important piece of the puzzle lies in that the CMB couldn’t be completely even. If it were, then galaxies couldn’t form since there would be no “seeds” with higher mass and thus a stronger gravitational pull to form around.

Thus, the Big Bang theory had to predict that the CMB would not be completely homogeneous. It should have some variations to it, and those variations would have to be of a specific size in order to get the universe we see today.

Early results for the Big Bang didn’t look too good for this prediction and threatened to sink the whole ship. However, the devices used were not actually sensitive enough to pick up these minute variations. But recently, with the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), these perturbations have been discovered precisely as predicted.

Score two strong predictions for the Big Bang. Zero for any others.

c) Distribution of Elements: With the conceptual framework intact thanks to the first point, it was also possible to calculate how much of each element should be formed in the initial event. It should be obvious that, given a bunch of protons, electrons, and neutrons, hydrogen should be the easiest to form. Indeed, stick a proton and an electron in a room together and they’ll automatically hook up due to their magnetic attractions.

Additionally, with such high energies, it would be possible to fuse some of this hydrogen into helium and even a little bit of heavier elements. Since astronomers had a good handle on the energies, it was possible to calculate how much of each there should be. If that number didn’t match up with observations, the Big Bang theory would be shot.

Fortunately, the predictions do match up pretty closely. I stated a value earlier of 80% hydrogen, 20% helium, and neglected the rest since it would be statistically insignificant. In the universe today, we observe 75% hydrogen, 24% helium, and 1% everything else. This discrepancy is easily accounted for by nearly 14 billion years of stars cooking hydrogen into helium and other heavier elements.

So there’s three major pieces of evidence for the Big Bang, any one of which, if it had turned out any other way, would completely discredit the theory. Fortunately for the Big Bang, it has passed all of those tests, and not a single other theory has yet been able to adequately explain such things, or many anywhere near as profound of predictions (or any successful predictions for that matter). This is why the Big Bang stands alone as the premiere theory in cosmology today.

4) The Big Bang doesn’t leave room for God

This isn’t a scientific argument, but rather a philosophical one which is completely beside the point. However, since I see it used frequently, I’ll go ahead and address it.

The Big Bang, like all science, doesn’t have any implications either for or against God. What it may do, it place constraints on how God did things and these may run contrary to scripture. However, there’s two important questions here:

First off, is the scripture right in the first place? And, second, assuming it is, are you interpreting it correctly?

The first one is really beside the point given that it would be folly to approach such a topic, but the second is worth addressing. Many Christians have absolutely no problem interpreting scripture in a manner that’s completely compatible with scientific observations like the Big Bang and Evolution. In regards to the Big Bang, many people choose to interpret the “7 days” as a rather metaphorical statement in which days are better understood as “phases” and could have, in reality, been billions of years. Such people also note that Genesis’ account (roughly) follows the order in which science says things happened (although the order does differ on some points).

I think it’s also important to note that the Catholic Church has affirmed the Big Bang and finds no problem reconciling the theological and scientific perspectives on this point. Both Pope John Paul II and the Vatican’s official astronomer, George Coyne, have given strong support for the Big Bang theory. Additionally, the theory itself was originated by a Belgian priest named Georges LemaĆ®tre.

So we see, the Big Bang can fit well with scripture so long as one is willing to look at things from the right point of view.


I hope that clears up a few of the misconceptions people have been having, and I’m pretty sure that most people reading this blog were already familiar with all that, but perhaps this has given you a bit more detailed information that you can use next time someone throws out their strawman Big Bang.

176 comments:

Brandon said...

This is a great post, which is much needed.

Not only do Catholics not have a problem with the Big Bang, one of the people who first proposed it was a Catholic priest with a degree in astrophysics (Georges LeMaitre), who came up with it while thinking about Einstein's general theory of relativity. LeMaitre was also one of the first explicitly to point out that the red shift was evidence for the proposal. I've found that this often silences the 'Big Bang is anti-God' type of argument, although there are always a few die-hards who aren't going to be changing their minds whatever one says.

Arthur_Vandelay said...

The frequent picture people seem to have is matter flying outwards from a single point (like an explosion). However, The matter is all actually standing still while space itself expands dragging the matter with it.

I've gone crosseyed. But thanks for a wonderful post!

Jon Voisey said...

At which poing people start claiming that Catholics aren't Christian....

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this well written post for the layman. Finally I can explain the Big Bang to my kids in a way that they can get their developing heads around. It may even stop them throwing rocks at the fundamentalists.

jimvj said...

Great post! One nit: aren't fission/fusion bombs explosive devices?

Colst said...

"First off, an explosion is a chemical reaction."

Since when? An explosion certainly *can* be caused by a chemical reaction, but it does not require one.

From Webster's:
"to burst forth with sudden violence or noise from internal energy: as a : to undergo a rapid chemical or nuclear reaction with the production of noise, heat, and violent expansion of gases (dynamite explodes) b : to burst violently as a result of pressure from within"

Otherwise, nice post.

Badaunt said...

I read a book about cosmology a while ago, and the author made a distinction between theories of expansion and of inflation. I didn't understand the difference, except that the inflation theory explained uniformity whereas expansion didn't. (I think it was that way round - I have lent the book to a friend so can't refer back to it.) This was one of those things I kept thinking I understood but then discovered I didn't, and it still nags at me, like this is a simple thing that I should be getting AND WHY AM I NOT GETTING IT, AM I STUPID?

I don't suppose you could supply an explanation, could you? I can see from this post that you are good at making things understandable for non-scientists, and I would really appreciate it.

Julia said...

Thanks! Extremely helpful.

Jon Voisey said...

Ah! So many people went and commented when I wasn't looking. To address things:

The frequent picture people seem to have is matter flying outwards from a single point (like an explosion). However, The matter is all actually standing still while space itself expands dragging the matter with it.

I've gone crosseyed.

Let me see if I can't give an analogy. You're sitting in the passenger seat of a car. In this scenario, you are a galaxy (matter) and the car is a fixed point of reference. You are actually sitting still according to that reference frame. However, when viewed externally, ie, from someone along the road, that reference point is moving, and thus, you are too, even though you're not actually moving under your own devices.

One nit: aren't fission/fusion bombs explosive devices?
Yes they are. However, while these are explosions and there was certainly primordial fusion that resulted in the formation of helium from hydrogen, that wasn't what drove the Big Bang. What was really important was the expansion of the universe. Additionally, not all fusion results in an explosion. Case in point, stars undergo fusion but aren't generally considered to be "exploding" because all the forces are in balance (the outward force of fusion vs the inward one of gravity).

colst
Since when? An explosion certainly *can* be caused by a chemical reaction, but it does not require one.
I'm not sure how correct this is in a semantic sense, but I consider nuclear reactions a chemical process since you have to have some sort of matter. So I'll stick by my original statement on that. So aside from chemical reactions in the classical sense (thermite, gunpowder, etc...) and my lumping in of nuclear ones, I can't think of anything else that would be considered an explosion that would be bursting forth with internal energy.

badaunt
The inflationary bit is an add on to the Big Bang (expansionary) theory. The idea behind it is that because we see the CMB as uniform no matter which direction we look (except for some very small variations which are necessary to form galaxies and the like), they need to have somehow been "synchronized". The very early universe would have been a very dynamic place. If a certain area was a bit hotter and underwent more nuclear reactions than other areas, we wouldn't see this nice uniform CMB. Thus, the inflationary theory was appended in which everything started off nice and close together, but then expanded extremely rapidly, even moreso than the average expansion, before those effects could spread and become pronounced.

While it's currently the best theory out there to explain this, I'm not sure how much I really like it. There's no driving mechanism for it and thus, it seems rather ad hoc in my opinion. But then again, I'm not terribly familiar with anything besides the basics on inflationary cosmology. This site has a decent explanation and even a cute little analogy that might make things a bit clearer for you.

Jon Voisey said...

Oh, and for those of you that enjoyed a nice layman's introduction to these topics and are interested in learning more, make sure to drop by the post index and check out my series on Astronomical Data. There's nearly 50 pages worth of lay person intended posts on a broad number of topics fundamental to astronomy.

Rob Knop said...

Re: the expansion not being galaxies flying apart, but rather space itself expanding, here are a couple of analogies:

* Paperclips on a rubber band. Stretch the rubber band, and all the paperclips get farther apart from each other-- but they aren't moving relative to the rubber band.

See: http://brahms.phy.vanderbilt.edu/~rknop/classes/talkslides/expuniv_activity/

* Pennies pasted on to the surface of a balloon. Blow up the balloon. Again, the pennis aren't moving around on the surface of the balloon, but they are getting farther apart from each other.

* Raisins in raisin bread. As the bread rises, once again, the raisins all get farther apart from each other, but aren't moving through the bread.

I've made a few animations that might help one in visualizing the expansion of the Universe:

http://brahms.phy.vanderbilt.edu/~rknop/astromovies/dots.html
http://brahms.phy.vanderbilt.edu/~rknop/astromovies/expuniv2.html
http://brahms.phy.vanderbilt.edu/~rknop/astromovies/cosmoz2.html

I also had an extensive post on my blog about the Big Bang, and why I think it's a bad name for the theory:

http://brahms.phy.vanderbilt.edu/~rknop/blog/?p=68

Jon Voisey said...

Thanks for the links! Those are some very good visualizations. I'd been considering making something similar on my own for some time, but I suppose you just saved me the effort!

Planeten Paultje said...

> I can't think of anything else that would be considered an explosion that would be bursting forth with internal energy.

An exploding scuba bottle may fit the description. No chemistry involved, just physics.

Can we not define an explosion as a rapid expansion *within an already existing space*?

Jon Voisey said...

I suppose that does fit the bill since it's just pressures and not reactions, and, as the definition earlier says, it is from it's own internal energy.

I suppose I stand corrected. Not the first time and it certainly won't be the last.

However, the Big Bang was certainly not due to pressure in this sense nor an chemical explosion of any type since neither can actually have an effect on space itself in this manner.

Rob Knop said...

In fact, pressure has the opposite effect on space and time from what you'd expect.

Postive pressure -- the kind of thing that makes a gas expand -- has a gravitational effect just like mass. Unless the pressure is so high that the gas particles are moving relativistically, the gravitational effect of the pressure is utterly tiny compared to the gravitational effect of the mass. When the particles are moving relativistically, however, you get an *attraction* due to the energy density in the pressure.

(Then there's negative pressure, which is what defines Dark Energy. It causes things like inflation and the accelerating expansion, becuase the negative pressure leads to negative gravitational effect.)

-Rob

Owlmirror said...

I don't know much about the subject by any means, but there was an article in Scientific American on the topic of misconceptions about the Big Bang, which also included some nice graphics showing what they were trying to describe.

One of the authors, Charles Lineweaver, put the article on his website:

http://www.mso.anu.edu.au/~charley/papers/LineweaverDavisSciAm.pdf

Chris Smyr said...

Much appreciated!

Badaunt said...

Thank you! I gather the main difference between expansion and inflation is the speed, or at least the initial speed. I was imagining a different process altogether, which is probably why I got confused. (Besides my basic ignorance on such matters, I mean.)

Emanuel Goldstein said...

I hope most of you don't think you are getting first rate science here.

Good polemic though.

Anonymous said...

Baudant:

The Big Bang simply proposes that the universe was in a very hot, dense state at some point in the past and expanded from there. It makes no attempt to explain why the universe was in that state. Inflation is a theory that tries to explain part of why the universe was in that particular state. Typically, inflation occurs in the first 1e-34 seconds, while the Big Bang describes the universe only after that time.

For comparison, think abiogenesis vs. evolution.

Colst said...

Well, you skipped the second half of the definition ;), but Planeten Paultje gave an example of it. Just to be clear, I'm not arguing that the Big Bang *was* an explosion.

Jon Voisey said...

I hope most of you don't think you are getting first rate science here.

Of course it's not first rate science. What I'm presenting here is the watered down layman's version. I present about a level comparable to most college level introductory classes.

I try to leave out the math and approach things from an intuative sense. Intuition doesn't work well for research, but it does allow you to start making qualitative assumptions in many cases and realize that astronomy isn't all that scary or that astronomers just make this stuff up.

Meanwhile, if I started tossing in the math to describe the Big Bang, I wouldn't be writing posts, I'd be writings books and people would be scared off by things like the Robertson-Walker Metric.

I prefer to keep and gain readers. That's why I try to keep things truthful, but simple. Yet even at this college level of writing, that's still far more advanced than most Big Bang deniers will ever see.

ozgur alaz said...

great explaniation
I believe it worth to be home page story of digg
Please add your diggs
http://digg.com/space/Top_4_Common_Misconceptions_About_The_Big_Bang

gordonsowner said...

I've always had a question about the uniform background radiation... If space itself expands with matter,, is there an edge/boundary to the universe? if we were a planet that actually existed at/near the perimeter of space, would we see this uniform radiation? I assume we would still see redshift of all that we see, but we would only see the bulk of the universe in one direction of our field of vision. What would we see in the direction towards the boundary? Or am I totally misunderstanding the qualities of space/time?

Jon Voisey said...

gordonsowner
That's actaully a pretty good question, but notoriously difficult to wrap one's head around, and thus, to answer well. In short, space is assumed to be infinite, thus, there's no "boundary" (which also makes the related question of "What is space expanding into" unsound). Since the big bang happened everywhere in the universe all at once and not just at one point, we expect that no matter where you are in the universe, things will look pretty much the same.

So the CMB isn't at some fixed distance in a universal reference frame. It's only at a fixed distance in your reference frame because distance = time in astronomy. Whatever reference frame you're using, no matter where it is in the universe, the time will be the same (13.7 billion years) and therefore, if you tried to put the distance to the CMB into a universal coordiante system it wouldn't have a fixed location.

I hope that made some sense, although it probably didn't. I'll have to work on coming up with some decent analogies, but analogies using all sorts of different reference frames are hard to come up with.

Anonymous said...

I think you could add, as a fourth powerful line of evidence, the new WMAP,etc. results for the CMB primary anisotropy. The first peak of its power spectrum in theory predicts and nicely matches that observed for the shape of the Universe, nearly flat, and the second peak (which is also the ratio of the odd peaks to the even peaks) exactly matches the predicted baryon density, thus in turn beautifully tying the CMB to your (c) predicted element ratios.

The WMAP result are recent enough that professionals - who all of course accept the BB - haven't bothered to emphasize this, as it's so obvious to them. Instead they're eager to get on with analyzing the higher peaks which will allow them to extract information about darkmatter, etc.

BTW "Emanual Goldstein" is the local Panda's Thumb creationist.

Jon Voisey said...

I'd considered delving deeper into the WMAP results. However, while it is an extremely strong piece of evidence, I prefer to explain why it's such good evidence.

With the WMAP results you're referring to, this is rather difficult as the conceptual basis is not so easy to explain. Additionally, it's not something that I've looked into besides reading the press releases, thus, I don't feel that I necessarily have the proper grasp on it to try to explain it.

And Goldstein hasn't been the first creationist to visit here, nor do I expect him to be the last. At least he had the courtesy to state things without attempting to create strawmen versions of my post and then flaunt them over all sorts of other blogs that linked here like my last one did.

Thus, I have no problem with him and he's more than welcome to come back.

Anonymous said...

As an aside, it might be worth mentioning that the Big Bang terminology was never meant to be a accurate description of the process. The expression was coined by Prof Fred Hoyle as a quick & easy phrase to differentiate the theory from his own Steady State approach; & caught on in the public imagination before it was really tolerated by the scientific community. The name in itself is therefore something of a strawman

Miles said...

Good post. For those interested, a great (non-technical) book on the history and mechanics of the Big Bang should read, "The Big Bang" by Simon Singh.

Adam said...

Fantastic blog, it's refreshing to discover a good read about this topic, and even more welcome the find such good comments. Keep up the good work and thanks.

Adam

Anonymous said...

Fantastic blog, great post.. I got reffered here from Digg.

"since it takes light time to travel, the further away we look, the further back in time we are looking."

..Wow. Something I completely understand now, but never thought of it. It's true! I'm hearing sounds that were made (in some cases) a few seconds ago, and seeing stuff that potencially, could not be there any more.

Amazing.

aswin said...

hi,
That was a really nice post.

But how do you define space ? Not sure I understand the concept of expanding space...I've always thought of space as just a bunch of coords and am not very sure what really is expanding here.

Also whats the evidence for expansion of space against expansion of matter in space ? Does the observed evidence actually contradict a system where space is fixed and the planets , stars etc move away from a common centre ?

Anonymous said...

"Big Bang and what caused it?", is a valid question. Something has to start the "Expansion", which well... according to theorist. ay present is unexplainable.

Rather this statement would be invalid, "The Big Bang theory and where/how the hot dense state was formed"

Berlie said...

IMHO, picking on his explanation of an explosion is a little petty, because it doesn't take away from his explanation as a whole. Especially when you consider the audience he is trying to reach. His explanation of why the universe expanded, not exploded, afterwards was enough to give me an idea of what he was trying to get across. All in all, I don't believe I've read another explanation quite as easy to grasp.

Also, the brief history of where the "Big Bang" name came from is interesting. I can understand why it caught on. "Primeval Atom" just doesn't sound as catchy. ;)

beajerry said...

Terrific post and wonderful blog!

Sue said...

Can't help wondering when that rubber band is going to snap... ;-)

And thank you very much for an interesting and informative article.

Grokodile said...

Of course, the purpose of all the strawman arguments is to provide political spin to allow the right wing fundamentalists to give their flock hard to counter arguments.

I am really annoyed by such politically motivated spin and appreciate it every time someone makes the effort to both show it clearly and to demonstrate it.

Perhaps eventually the public will stop falling for such deceptive practices? Yeah, right!

Blind Zealot said...

I first logged in to see just what sort of anti-Christian drivel would issue forth from your blog.

I now admit that your post seems fair and neutral, while based entirely in Scientific fact.

Not all of us "religious right" folks are blind zealots. =)

Spamiclese said...

Check out The Big Bang Never Happened by Eric Lerner (ISBN: 067974049X). The book takes into account half a century's worth of scientific data and observation to totally refute any evidence or indication that there was any 'Big Bang'. One of the alternative explanations is that many, smaller and localized 'Bangs' occured with a buildup of matter and antimatter, producing 'Big Bang' like observations in our local area of the universe. Other explanations include plasma cosmology and powerful electromagnetic currents that, when simulated in labs, produce results very similar to the formation of new galaxies. VERY interesting read. Check it out.

Vorticularity said...

Great post. I'm a research scientist in the biomedical field (by day at least) and a serious Christian. I fully embrace modern theories of cosmology and evolution and find no inherent problems between them and Christianity. Thank you for bringing awareness to this, it is truly sad that so many well-intentioned people are so misguided about all of this. Anyone interested in exploring Scripture from a PROPER hermeneutical position should read the book "Meaning of Creation" by Conrad Hyers. Regards.

Anonymous said...

Overall this is a nice writeup, but it is marred by inconsistent titling. That is, the first two titles refer to things that are true (e.g. The Big Bang was not an explosion) and the second two refer to things that are false (e.g. There's no evidence for the Big Bang).

If you are debunking four myths, shouldn't all your titles refer to something that is false? Why spread unnecessary confusion?

-- A Former Editor

Jon Voisey said...

"Big Bang and what caused it?", is a valid question.

I agree that it is a valid question. However, that was not my point I was trying to make. The point I was arguing that the "what caused it" part isn't the job of the Big Bang theory any more than explaining mass is the job of gravity. Instead, that part must rely on a different theory. Many different possibilities exist right now (generally involving branes), but they are independant of the BB.

I now admit that your post seems fair and neutral, while based entirely in Scientific fact.

Not all of us "religious right" folks are blind zealots.


I'm glad you find things neutral. I personally consider myself a moderate and am an equal opportunity critisizer. However, with the Republicans in control of every branch at the moment, they get more stuff done and thus tend to get the limelight. They're also the most likely to be anti-science it seems. Thus, if you take my blog in its entirety, it may appear to have a liberal bias, but that's just because I have trouble finding stories about what the Democrats are up to that aren't ridiculously biased.

Check out The Big Bang Never Happened by Eric Lerner

I'm leery of books that go straight into the general public without botering to go through the peer review process (ie, Darwin's Black Box by Behe, or Of Pandas and People). Generally, it means it's laced with half truths and propaganda.

However, I'll put it on my list of things to review. Right off, the concept that there were small and localized "Bangs" would seem to lead to a CMB with extremely different properties, ie, not almost entirely uniform.

Anyone interested in exploring Scripture from a PROPER hermeneutical position should read the book "Meaning of Creation" by Conrad Hyers

I believe the current pope also has a book out regarding creation in which he thoroughly rejects creationism. I haven't read it myself, but I've heard mention from others so I'm not too sure on that through.

If you are debunking four myths, shouldn't all your titles refer to something that is false?

I considered that too. However, I was having trouble putting the section titles into all negative statements without making it sound awkward. I may have to work on that some more. Thanks for the advice.

Britetwin said...

the religious right is rarely right. ironic.

good article. thanks for disabusing me of 2 of the 4 misconceptions.

Anonymous said...

Inflation does have a mechanism, it's the higgs field, which as it turns out may also be responsible for the negative pressure, or dark energy.
Apparently the higgs field is different from others in its lowest potential energy state. For most fields the lowest state is zero, for higgs it's slightly above zero. Together with the fact that fields occupy all of space, and that space is expanding, neatly explains why dark energy is accelerating the expansion of the universe: The more space, the more non-zero higgs particels/field lines, the more expansion... viola acceleration.
The other thing the higgs field potentially explains is that, perhaps, if during its 'roll' toward its lowest energy potential (non-zero remember) it got stuck on some plateau fairly early on, for a short time. This would leave a huge negative pressure, driving inflation. This with the high energies jostling all fields toward their respective lowest potentials caused rapid expansion for a short duration, until the field value got jostled off its precipice, finally settling in its present, non-zero value.

I hope I didn't confuse people, but as I too didn't know till recently what could have driven expansion I thought it would be neat to share my take on this. I'm sure I missed a few important points, but I hit the hilights!

Thanks AA! Great breakdown of the Big Bang misconceptions.

Jon Voisey said...

I've heard of the Higgs field being used to explain dark energy, but wasn't aware that it was considered a great candidate for inflationary models. It may be something I have to look into more.

However, your explanation, while intriguing, still seems like it's asking for a few too many "miracles" in saying things like "perhaps" it got stuck.

Again, I'm not going to cast any judgements on such things right now. I'm not too familiar with the current proposals for mechanism candidates for such things.

Pete said...

Good work, good sir.

Anonymous said...

small nitpick:
The article states:

What we find, is that all galaxies in the universe are moving away from us


but should instead state that most galaxies in the universe are moving away from us. See here.

Jon Voisey said...

Oops! You're right! I thought I had mentioned that. Yes. Galaxies in our local group whose recessional velocity is overwhelmed by gravitational attracting move towards us. But once you get past the local group, you're pretty hard pressed to find any (although there are a few, but they're still relatively nearby).

Thanks for pointing that out though. I've written variations on this so many times for the message boards I referred to that I have trouble remember what I mentioned where. It all blurs together.

Gel said...

Excellent blog, thanks. Will be back with a flask of tea and some sarnies to read up.

elimisteve said...

Although it is true that science does not directly imply the existence or non-existence of a god, I think there is enough physical evidence that is incompatible with every monotheistic religion I've ever heard of to rationally conclude that the god described by any and all such religions does not exist. It is technically possible that some god may exist, yes, but it is irrational to believe so. There is no rational reason to believe in such things; there are merely misunderstandings about phenomena (consciousness, the existence of the universe, etc) that cause many to posit the existence of a god(s).

Jon Voisey said...

elimisteve: While I personally agree that science contradicts all religions, as my post mentioned, scriptures are often vague enough to allow some wiggle room and, if interpreted loosely enough, can be brought in line with observation.

If religion wants to play that game, in making their religion fit the facts, I commend them dispite the fact that I find no reaons to keep assuming that there is truth there and tossed the whole religious hypothesis out long ago instead of trying to constantly ammend it in the face of greater and greater constradictions.

But again, that's me, and one of the great things about this country is that we have a freedom of religion. My position is a philosophical belief and is no more "right" than theirs. However, it is certainly no less wrong either.

But again, these positions are philosophical and aren't actually scientific in nature, and thus, neither have a place in the science realm, including the classroom.

tk said...

Jon, ", scriptures are often vague enough to allow some wiggle room and, if interpreted loosely enough, can be brought in line with observation." , but that aspect is true of science actually. One develops models based on observations and see how well it predicts unknowns and agrees with the known/understood . When you have other new observations come in that undermine any big theory , you modify the theory (wiggle room as you say ..talk about limited validity in macroscopic or microscopic scales ..modify/introduce constants etc). But that is fine because theories are made to fit understandings and as we find out more we refine our models.

Scriptures otoh have to be taken in their cultural context. The vagueness might just be due to what is known , assumed or inherently implied at that point of time . Scriptures by itself were never meant to get meaning across to the reader across time / cultures.

Science is limited to what we observe and comprehend at that point of time. Based on their very nature / definition it would be irrational to use science to discredit religion. That exercise would just imply a lack of understanding of what science and religion are supposed to be.

Jon Voisey said...

I wholeheartedly agree that it's folly to try to use science to discredit religion. Fortunately, I don't know of many people that try to do this. There's a few out there to be sure. But not nearly so many as the theists would like to have us believe so they can claim that their religion is under attack.

But if people want to interpret scripture in funny ways so they can bring things in line with whatever they want, that's their busisness. It's their religion and I'm not going to tell them how to view it, only offer ways I've seen others interpret it as was my intention here.

MartinM said...

However, the matter is all actually standing still while space itself expands dragging the matter with it.

I wasn't aware GR contained two different types of motion. What's the qualitative difference between this and all matter simply moving apart?

cwillu said...

If point A is moving away from point B, and C from B, etc, at some point, A will be moving away from some other point (X, Y, Z, AA, AB...) faster than the speed of light, which is impossible if they're simply moving apart, but not if its an effect of space itself. Such is my faulty understanding of it :)

MartinM said...

If one could simply take the speed of B relative to A, and the speed of C relative to B, and add them together to get the speed of C relative to A, that would make sense.

But one can't, of course. So the question remains, I think.

Anonymous said...

Logically, rationally, it makes sense to believe in god.

If god does exist, and you believe in god, then come 'judgement day' you'll be quids in. If you believe and it turns out god doesn't exist, then you've lost nothing by believing (except innumerable lie-ins on Sunday morning). Similarly if you don't believe and god doesn't exist, you've still lost nothing, just slept a little more during your life.

If however, you don't believe and god does exist, then you're very probably screwed for the rest of eternity.

Personally I count myself as a non-believer, proving (maybe) that Man is not a rational animal.

Anonymous said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_bang
You could have saved a lot of time with a simple link.

Stephen said...

Your argument that the Big Bang isn't an explosion is good. A good argument on the other side is that the enthalpy of the Universe is quite high, like that of an explosion. A really big and vigorous explosion. It is possible to hold both points of view, without contradiction. The evidence for and against is the same evidence - the expansion of the Universe. It is important to avoid drawing the wrong conclusions of the 'explosion-ness' of the Big Bang. It's easy to let it take us to where there is no evidence.

On the Christian front, consider this: The model of choice before the Big Bang was Steady State. In this model, the Universe did not expand or contract, and was thought to have existed forever. Unlike the Big Bang, the Steady State model completely contradicted the Genesis account. For one, the Universe had no start, so no need for a Creator. It fit with the evidence at the time.

All analogies eventually break down on closer inspection. If an analogy doesn't break down, then it is the thing you are talking about, and not something else, and therefore isn't an analogy.

For a deeper dive, but still at the laymen level, check out this Scientific American article:

Scientific American article

gordonsowner said...

thanks for your response jon... i just checked back in.

gordonsowner

Jon Voisey said...

If god does exist, and you believe in god, then come 'judgement day' you'll be quids in

I'm not interested in Pascal's Wager thanks. It's full of enough logical holes on its own.

Jon Voisey said...

You could have saved a lot of time with a simple link

I used to do that, but a lot of people think Wikipedia is a worthless source (although studies have shown that it's on part with Encyclopedia Briticanna) and it's far more technical than most people can handle.

traui said...

Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, I've never seen much value in Pascal's Wager. If God exists, and he's everything the Christians make him out to be, do you really think he won't see through the charade of someone believing only as a contingency? And on the other other hand (to remind us there are usually more than TWO sides to an issue), what if the Hindus are right, or the Buddhists, or any of the other dozens of religions worldwide? If any of them is right, then the Christians are just as screwed as the atheists.

Leon

Philip said...

And the universe is expanding inside of....WHAT?

Anonymous said...

I disagree with you about nuclear reactions being a chemical process. (It's difficult to resist being a wag and saying that a nuclear reaction is actually an alchemical process, and as you see, I've given up that fight.) In my understanding chemistry relates to electromagnetic processes and electrons are only periphrally involved in nuclear reactions. Certainly, matter is involved, but then would you say that the creation of a neutron star is also a chemical process?

Jon Voisey said...

And the universe is expanding inside of....WHAT?

The Big Bang theory doesn't presume to say. It may be that our universe is all there is. Or perhaps there is something greater which we cannot yet understand.

While the question is interesting, it is completely irrelevant to the understanding that our universe is expanding.

Anonymous said...

Who said anything about a Christian God? The use of the lower case letter for god was intentional, as was the lack of reference to any particular religion. I was simply responding to elimisteve's opinion that there was no rational reason to believe in god.

Whatever your opinion on Pascal is, i'm glad this didn't turn into a theological discussion. Excellent article, it even cleared up a few things i wasn't sure about.

Cheers.

The beekeeper said...

Thanks. My kids and I enjoyed this article. Although my own college education fell by the wayside years ago, I try to quench my thirst for scientific knowledge by learning with, and from, my children as the make their way through school. Finding a site like this is a gem. I look back at my own school years, at a time, not so long ago, when we could talk about science in science class, and the Christian zealots didn't interfere. Oh, for the good old days!

BTW, I really wish your comments were in reverse chronological order ;)

Anonymous said...

Nice article, except for the part where an electron and a proton would hook up via their "magnetic field." There are no magnetic monopoles, so a stationary electron WOULD hook up with a stationary proton, but via their electrostatic fields.

Stephen said...

There have been lots of ideas on what, exactly, makes up dark energy. I'm not even sure that there are good ideas on what causes the stretching of space. Here's an idea that might work. As the Universe expands, less and less of the Universe can be seen. That is, matter at the edge of the Visible Universe is moving away from us at the speed of light, and accelerating. Soon, this matter is beyond the edge of the Visible Universe, and we'll never see it again. Gravity is currently thought to propagate at the speed of light. That means matter that has passed the edge of the Visible Universe no longer has any effect on us. That means that there is less total gravity holding any bits of the Universe together.

Now, I haven't heard any really good discussions on this particular idea. I like it because it seems to predict an Accelerating Universe, like we see, it should be testable, it doesn't introduce new physics, and it is pretty simple, that is, there is an elegance to it. That doesn't make it right. Or wrong.

Jon Voisey said...

Lots of big fancy words have been tossed around to explain DE, but to my knowledge, none of them stands out as a particularly strong candidate.

There's things like Quintessence, string theory, brane cosmology, and more. I don't think I'm particularly qualfied to explain any of them because I'm sure my understanding is only slightly less fuzzy than the layperson's at this point.

For a nice introduction to string theory, I'd recommend "Elegant Universe" by Brian Greene.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for a very nice, clean and surprisingly comprehensive explanation of a very complicated subject. I believe that a major reason for the disbelief in the Big 'Expansion' is that people find it hard to believe what they don't understand. But of course, the simple truth is that we never totally understand anything. Fortunately, people like yourself make it easier for us to convince ourselves that we may in fact understand ... well, a piece of it anyway. Thanks again! I have to send your link to my friends in the hopes that they'll read it.

John

Anonymous said...

Instead of The Big Bang,how about calling it The Grand Transition.Thanks for the post.

KeaponLaffin said...

Maybe a simple question you should add to your list. I havn't seen it posted before.
If the Universe is expanding, why arn't I, or the Earth or the Sun or whatever expanding with it? Or to use the balloon/rubber band analogy, why arn't my atoms being pulled apart since the 'fabric' of space is stretching?
I know it has to do with gravity and the nuclear forces and whatnot, but I'm sure you could answer that better.
As to, 'What is the universe expanding into'? I am certainly no expert, but I guess the short answer would be 'Nothing' To offer a better explanation would proly require advanced knowledge of N-Dimentional mathematics, while I can barely do Algebra, and my spelling it's much better.
I've heard it described, in layman terms, by some like Hawking that: As the math describes it. Our Universe could, theoretically, be inside a Black Hole (tho he proly said singularity). So, according to that, I guess it could be said the Universe isn't actually 'Expanding' in the traditional intuitive sense (that means it's getting bigger, right?. So it has to be getting bigger into some other existing medium) but the parts inside it are just getting further apart while the Universe stays the same size.
I didn't say it'd make any sense. I didn't understand the 'Inflation' thing either, but what I got off my casual readings is..Our Universe is still a singularity-type point we happen to be inside of. It's not actually 'bigger' than it was during the moment of the Big Bang, it just looks that way.
Sure you real Cosmologists will correct me on multiple points, but it's hard to find easy ways to explain the weird stuff yall find in this field.
Could be worse, try to explain that whole Vacuum Energy thing and it's possible (imminent, maybe) Collapse to some people. I heard that was one of the reasons why it took awhile to approve the construction of the newest particle collider (The LHC?).
They were worried we might accidently destroy the Universe.

If I can give a word of advise to laymen like myself. Read 'Hard-SciFi'. It's still fiction, but (check the back) if it's written by a Professor teaching at CalTech, it'll probably have as much real science and newest theories as the author can cram in and still make it a good FICTION space/biology/ect related story. I've rambled long enough, I'll let wiser heads recommend authors. ;)

Astroprof said...

Good post!

I often find that my students come with these same misconceptions. Part of the problem seems to be that they are still often taught in the schools about the primeval atom as the big bang (if they even mention the big bang).

And, yes, most of the arguments that people raise against the big bang come from their not even knowing what the model really says.

Anonymous said...

Are you familiar the tired light cosmology? This is gaining acceptance in internet forums and discussion groups. It claims that there is no big bang nor expansion. The frequency shift is due to photons interaction with interstellar medium and got "tire".

Anonymous said...

Are you familiar with a recent "paper" in the internet saying that motion of Earth, Io and Jupiter data from NASA proves that the speed of light depends on the motion of the source, overthrowing relativity theory?
Ref:
http://home.netcom.com/~sbyers11/litespd_vs_sr.htm

Anonymous said...

The Tired Light cosmology can be found in :
http://www.lyndonashmore.com/

ThinkDeep said...

This website sheds a great deal of light on the complementary relationship between religion and science.

http://harunyahya.com/html/m_book_index.htm

Anonymous said...

You mention that no theory other than the big bang theory is capable of making predictions about what we observe in the universe. I contend that (a) the big bang has failed in many of its predictions, and (b) other theories demonstrate superior abilities to predict astronomical phenomenon.

For example, you mention redshift as evidence for an expanding universe. While this is one possible explanation for this particular phenomenon, it encounters difficulties when one considers that there are many cases of physical association between high redshift objects and low redshift galaxies. The evidence for such associations is copious, and has been circulating for decades, and contradicts big bang predictions. In the absence of a credible explanation of this phenomenon from big bang theory, alternative theories must be considered. One such theory is the Narlikar-Das model, which predicts the quasar-galaxy associations to a high precision.

Your claim that no theory can predict the microwave "background" radiation is incorrect. The temperature of this radiation was expected to be around 50 K, according to big bang predictions, whereas the actual value turned out to be 2.7 K. One alternative theory is based on the prediction that there will be a minimum temperature of space, owing to the heating effects of starlight. According to this model, the temperature of space should be 2.8 K. Not only is the theory much simpler, but its predictive ability is superior to the standard theory.

You did not mention the ability of big bang theory to predict the value of the famous "cosmological constant". Einstein introduced it into his equations, to avoid the idea of an expanding universe. After Hubble made his famous diagram, the Cosmological Constant was re-introduced, and its value predicted. The observed value was no less than 120 orders of magnitude lower than the predicted value, the greatest prediction error in modern physics. And this is not some obscure constant. The Cosmological Constant is what is supposed to drive the expansion of the universe, and ultimately hold it on its course. The failure of big bang theory to explain its own fundamentals such as the Cosmological Constant is a major shortcoming, and cannot be overlooked.

I could go on, but I believe that I have made my point - that the Big Bang is incapable of predicting many phenomena, and that alternatives must be sought which better account for what we observe. It is necessary to find an alternative to the sad attempt to fit the entire universe into a set of equations.

Philip Rodrigues said...

So I really shouldn't respond to anonymous trolls on blog comments, but let's pretend that you're presenting a genuine argument.

there are many cases of physical association between high redshift objects and low redshift galaxies.

Examples?

the prediction that there will be a minimum temperature of space, owing to the heating effects of starlight.

Papers? (At first glance, this sounds a bit fishy, to mix metaphors: does this model predict that the CMB should be a perfect blackbody, as is observed? Does it predict the incredible uniformity of the CMB?)

After Hubble made his famous diagram, the Cosmological Constant was re-introduced, and its value predicted....The failure of big bang theory to explain its own fundamentals such as the Cosmological Constant is a major shortcoming, and cannot be overlooked.


The 120-orders-of-magnitude-out cosmological constant is predicted by the Standard Model of Particle Physics (AIUI), and so tells us more about problems with the Standard Model (SM) than the big bang. I should of course mention that there are plenty of theoretical attempts to solve this and other problems of the SM.

It is necessary to find an alternative to the sad attempt to fit the entire universe into a set of equations.

Hrm, seems IHBT. Oh well, I'll HAND.

Eric said...

The idea that the universe is expanding into infinite spatial extent and that this infinite spatial extent does not have to be inside of something greater, is classic, but not logically consistent.

Spatial extent is a component of the phenomenon of the univrese, not necessarily its ultimate container. There is spatial extent inside of mass as well as outside. No mass have ever been shown to not contain spatial extent. No spatial extent has been shown to not contain mass.

Either all phenomenon is infinite or it is finite. Either there is a beginning and end to all, or there isn't. In either case, there must be a greater container.

Anonymous said...

I am the director of a very local observatory in the southern hemisphere, and I don't wish my name to be known.

The anonymous posting above made some interesting points which deserve elaboration, not ridicule. Don't criticize this person (or me!) for remaining anonymous. You only have to be vaguely familiar with the career of Halton Arp to know what can happen to you if you question the big bang.

With regard to specific examples of high and low redshift object associations, I am familiar with many. One of the most famous is Markarian 205 - and no, I'm not referring to its luminous bridge to NGC4319, I am referring to its X-ray connecting filament to at least two known quasars (and there are a few more candidates). Please don't preach to me about point spread functions and measurement noise. These are old arguments which don't stand up to close scrutiny.

Don't forget the famous quasar 3C273, which is also connected via X-ray filaments to the galaxies of the Virgo cluster. It's extremely well documented. You only have to look at the ROSAT pictures published in an earlier version of Sky and Telescope.

These are just two examples, there are many thousands more. You would all be well advised to consider the empirical evidence, not just the dogmatic assumptions of a theory which is on shaky empirical ground.

As an amateur astronomer, I believe in the idea of establishing theories based on what you see, not on twisting the observations to suit whatever dogma is currently fashionable. Wake up the lot of you and consider the evidence!

DaimyoMateo said...

Thank you for making this webpage. Before I saw this I was beginning to think my astronomy professor was just making things up. I kept hearing people attack it saying there really is no evidence and I kept thinking to myself how can this be? Wish there was one of these for evolution. That is worth defending too :)

Jon Voisey said...

Wish there was one of these for evolution.

Try checking out "Talk Origins"

Obscurely Diverse said...

Unscripted Existence.....
We can assume, prove & theorize all we want, but our current plane of existence is just that. A Kindergarden student can assume the property of 'unity' when contemplating infinity. Even though, scientific theories like the "Big Bang Theory" claims to have highly detailed reasons; I can't get over the narrow minded viewpoints of the "scientific mind" that seems to always be fighting itself with things that 'have to be proven'. Most likely, there are parallel universes, invisible universes, multiple universes, ect. One must realize the simple fact, the more you learn, the more you realize that you don't know. If it is meant for us to unravel the property of eternity, it most likely won't be on this current plane of existence. You can bet on that. Think with a holy curiosity, not a scientific formula........things will flow much easier this way. Plus,....Imagination is way more important than current knowledge and it has been proven over and over again.
Oh, by the way....this is an excellent web page/debate.

Astutely Observant said...

Who ever this Obscurely Diverse is, they seem to have a good insight into one big problem with scientist. I agree with what was said in that post and think some really good points were made. Far too many scientist refuse to consider even the possibility of anything beyond what they believe.

Anonymous said...

Where you are coming off the beam here angry astronomer is you are appraising one hypothesis in terms of itself.

What you want to do is have about half a dozen hypotheses in parallel and to be ranking them and re-ranking them as the new data comes in.

The next thing I would point out that is all wrong with your approach is that you are relying on evidence but not CONVERGENT evidence.

The whole thesis is akin to an elephant balancing on its trunk since it rests too much on red shift.

The results coming out from this are getting to be ridiculous. Like the idea that the universe is accelerating in its expansion.

Pretty silly and reliant on red shift and not much more of anything else.

We can only get rightful certitude from CONVERGENCE and not from anything else. Not from mathematical exactitude or from the elegance of mathematical models.

http://graemebird.wordpress.com/2006/05/03/deductive-bivalent-exactitude-versus-rightful-certitude/

"The frequent picture people seem to have is matter flying outwards from a single point (like an explosion). However, the matter is all actually standing still while space itself expands dragging the matter with it."

RRRRRRIIIIIIIIIIGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHTTTTTT

says Dr Evil.

This idea is actually just Voodoo. Totally fucking ridiculous.

"Yes your worship. You see we weren't running away from eachother. We were facing away and standing still and it was the space between us that was being created"

What has happened here is that a bunch of mathematicians have taken over a field that ought to be the province of natural philosophy.

And they've turned it into a priesthood in which nothing is too ridiculous.

I mean that last ought to be a reductio ad absurdem. But mathematicians who mistake their models for reality just don't get that a lot of the time.

" Not really. The Big Bang theory doesn’t say anything about what caused it because, well, it doesn’t need to...."

Weak man. That is so fucking lame.

"a) Cosmological Redshift: As I explained in my earlier post, we can use spectroscopy to determine the rate at which galaxies are moving away from us. Additionally, since it takes light time to travel, the further away we look, the further back in time we are looking."

Non-convergent evidence. So its not enough. Sure the VOLUME of evidence is high. But the quality is not there because the evidence lacks convergence.

points (b) and (c) don't represent convergence. Rather they represent the fleshing out of the one model.

Which in itself isn't a good test since you want to be fleshing out competing models in parallel.

GMB

Rosie said...

These comments have been invaluable to me as is this whole site. I thank you for your comment.

Anonymous said...

I have a problem with the following: "So we see, the Big Bang can fit well into scripture so long as one is willing to look at things from the right point of view.”
That is ridiculous. Anything can fit into something else if you have the "right" point of view. Hitler and the Nazis thought they had the right point of while killing millions of people who weren't like them. The Bible needs to be viewed and interpreted literally, meaning that the Genesis account of Creation is literal. God created the heavens and earth in six literal, 24-hr days. Trust God's Word.

zeroKnots said...

Shouldn't you say 10^-43 seconds?

That's Hawking's border within which all the cool stuff happens including life. (& presumably the universe & everything)

I KNEW he would at least imply 42.

zeroKnots said...

This is an embarassingly simple-minded question, but whatever:

Isn't accelerating expansion a brand-new idea based on the observation of only a couple galaxies that insulted Newton?

I just had this idea after they discovered a giant void recently:

Couldnt an accelerating galaxy be in free-fall away from a really really gigantic void?

Anonymous said...

mmm - very lay person question reference the balloon and elastic band theories.

Elastic bands and balloons have a habit of contracting VERY SUDDENLY.

Would we see the end of the unverse coming by such a sudden contraction, if that contraction happens at or above the speed of light?


RobAnt

Dawn said...

Just wanted to say thank you. I'm tackling atoms, elements and the birth of the universe with my 9 year old daughter (we're homeschooling) and that post is going to be really helpful, especially the rubber band demonstration.

Thanks again for helping out a homeschooling housewife!

Anonymous said...

I dont want to be rude. in fact i am far from it and unlike some people who post blogs on this site I will not swear. That is just plain wrong. The point is that I believe that some of the points that you touched on the christianty deal were....um...a bit off. I can tell your not Christian. The only thing I will say is that if you try to reword scripture you lose the foundation. If you lose the foundation you lose everything. I think it is wrong to try and twist scripture to fit the norm of todays self-centered crazy world. Otherwise i thought that it was a very educational site. It cleared up alot of hazy points. Kudos to you.

Ben Eng said...

Everyone is using the term "space" as though it is real, but there is no reasonable definition in terms of anything we know. Of course, if you accept that 75% of the universe is dark energy, 23% of the universe is dark matter, and only 2% is ordinary matter and energy, then "space" must be made up of some of that 98% of the universe whose nature we do not yet understand.

Also, with regard to the accelerating expansion of the universe, consider this.

If distance is proportional to time, then wouldn't an accelerating expansion demonstrate higher differences in velocity (red shift) for objects nearer to us. Since they are near, we see them as they were relatively recently as compared to far away objects. If the rate of expansion is accelerating, then observations of more recent events should show higher velocities than observations of events in the more distant past. On the other hand, if the velocity of distant objects is higher than the velocity of nearer objects, then shouldn't it be logical to conclude that expansion is slowing rather than quickening? (Originally posted at http://ben.livejournal.com/2003/07/27/)

Jacob said...

Hi. I found your blog on a link from madsci.com.

My question echos the other questions about what lies "outside" the universe, but I will frame it differently.

Some have asked in what space is expanding. I can appreciate that this seems meaningless, but let us consider that the term "expand" (and its derivatives, expanding, expansion, etc.) is a spatial one, and implies a change in a spatial quality, that of size.

Now, to imply that spacetime (i.e. the universe) is expanding is to imply that it has a spatial quality.

It seems to me strange to speak of spacetime as having spatial qualities in and of itself. Kind of like we would balk at the idea of time getting slower, because to get slower is to have a temporal quality.

I discussed this with another scientist (I mean, other than the blogger- not that I am a scientist) and she said that essentially, the term expansion is being used but really, all we know are several things about light and size and temperature, but that expansion, per se, is not the most meaningful analogy or elaboration.

Could you comment on this?

Jason Failes said...

"What we find, is that all galaxies in the universe are moving away from us. The further they are, the faster they’re moving away. So if we play the whole thing in reverse, all the galaxies will come back together at a single point in time. This point in time is what we call the Big Bang."

Wait. In the last 10 years we've learned that galaxies have been accelerating away from each other. If you run that back in time, you don't get a period of super fast inflation, but rather an asymptotic approach to zero, no?

Indeed, if there's something about the nature of empty space (or spacetime itself) that causes galaxies to repel, there is no need at all for them to all start in a very dense state.

Please note that I am no fundie, and not anti-science at all. Quite the opposite, I am a highly scienced atheist who is used to understanding things when I put my mind to it.

However, in the ten years since we've found the accelerating nature of the red shift, no one has adequately explained how this is even compatable with big bang cosmology, much less supports it.

Unlike evolution, that we can measure in the lab, then apply the observed processes to historical data, the big bang is one off-event. It either happened or it didn't.

Why should the Big Bang be the default, and the burden of proof on the rest of us, when we have an accelerating universe, when the bb is dependent on several fudge factors (dark everything), when the CMB is virtually indistinguishable from black body radiation, when we have yet found no "age of darkness" etc?

Shouldn't we be looking for processes, such as the effects of virtual particles in empty space accumulating over perhaps hundreds of billions of years? That's just an example, by no means a cosmology, but in general, as scientists, shouldn't we be looking for something that results from a process we can observe rather than a one-off event supported only be theoretical physics?

Colin said...

I'd just like to say the whole explanation about the Big Bang being an expansion of space rather than an explosion of matter and energy was eye opening. I've never really thought of it that way. Actually, one of the comments earlier on really helped me to understand how there is not even a center point to this expansion (it was the whole point A moving away from point B moving away from point C etc...)

One of the greatest things about new knowledge is when you can actually conceptualize a new idea. That's what I really like about learning. I think there's something to be said about being able to understand concepts rather than just admit to certain facts or following something blindly. It's really invigorating in my opinion.

Thanks for the great knowledge!

TV's Mr. Neil said...

"The only thing I will say is that if you try to reword scripture you lose the foundation."

Oh, you mean like translating it into English from Greek and Hebrew?

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Anonymous said...

I am not a physics major or anything like that, but I hope you can comment on my opinion here on the theory that the universe is expanding at an accelerated pace.

It seems to me that regardless if the expansion is the result of an explosion or the result of moving from some type of gaseous state to a less gaseous state or the analogy of galaxies attached to space (paperclips to a rubberband) and the space (or rubberband) is being stretched) that the points furthest away from the central point or origin of the expansion would be moving faster than any points closer to the center.

In any type of expansion or explosion with a center point I can imagine, this would be true because for those points to be further away at a point in time, they would have had to move with a higher velocity. Therefore, as they decelerate, they would still be moving faster than the points closer to the center. Therefore, it seems to be that the theory the universe is expanding at an accelerated pace seems to have a flaw in the logic. It theorizes that because galaxies furthest away seem to be separating from each other at a faster pace than those closer. But it seems to me this would also be the case as the objects decelerate. So I don't see how they can come to this conclusion. I understand part of their reasoning is that the objects furthest away are actually being viewed at an earlier time because of the great distances involved, and that earlier greater speed must mean acceleration. I could just mean that further objects had to be moving faster to get that far away and that they're still moving faster (presumably at a slow speed indicating deceleration).

Thanks.
DJL

Anonymous said...

Here's how everything realy started....God is a LEGOmaniac and he had a universe of LEGOs...God became bored and entertained itself.....problem solved....deal with it :P.......all joking aside, i stumbled upon this page looking for something else entirely and couldnt stop reading...nice investigating for all ever involved...very interesting blog, nice work!

Rain said...

Nice work. The URL of this post will be appearing on my astronomy paper bibliography ;D

PN said...

To go along with your comment that ‘a’ theory does not explain everything: cosmology is the study of the state of the universe at any time after the big bang. Cosmogony is the study of the origin of the universe and there are many theories for this, string theory for example. We should not give the impression that scientists have given up on studying the origin of the universe, we have not, but the theories are very young and need more time to develop and to make testable predictions.

ADieL said...

What I don't understand is how anyone can believe that "In the Beginning Nothing"?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFpUSdkEr7A

"In the Beginning God" is much more logical.

Mariam said...

Hi,

I was doing some quick research for a post I am doing and I thought I could just give you some information re: religion and big bang/big crunch theory. In the Quran (holy book of Islam) there is verses that describe both phenomena (with reference to expansion rather than explosion). Religion and science do not have to be at odds.

George_Tr said...

Hi Jon, Hope you have some time to read or review Dr. Gerald L. Schroeder's books.
1. Genesis & The Big bang
2. The Science Of God
3. The Hidden Face oF God

I have read all three; you may want to adjust some of your comments after reading them. I have studied and read many great writer/Scientist on some mind numbing but necessary Space/Time/Matter subject. You have done a fine job in defining your views here. My contention is when you dismiss God from Creation; all that is left is for chance to make everything in several billion years be exactly right to the pico second or less. If any of them failed we would not be here or anywhere.

Oh yes, String Theory and Oscillating universe or multiverses are interesting new areas too, i was puzzled about branes for a while but starting to grasp it now.

I am fifty six yrs old now, have been reading and learning on the same subjects with a passion since i was about 7 or 8 yrs old. My passion for Science is tempered only by that for God and Jesus Christ now. I'm not one of the starry eyed christian of any church system, but a hearer and doer by Jesus power of the Word. Being a believer was not my choice, but it seems that my life was prepared for this by the voracious appetite for Science.

Been in & out of several church groups, they all are either too good (not) thier claim; or so closed minded, a jack hammer could not open their minds eye. Only God Will in time; same for many athiests and agnostics, not to mention the satanists and witches or warlocks.

Intellegence, Metaphysics and Science need to work hand in glove to make sense of this bizarre system of things. I think we can have an intelligent discourse even if we differ in conclusions.

George Tr.

Anonymous said...

The so called "Big Bang" never happened, it is religion masquerading as science. Dr Rhawn Joseph explains this well in the link below. He poses a number of questions which need scientific replies not religious mantras. The Law of Conservation of Mass completely disproves the "Big Bang" theory , that is why the big bangers invented the non scientific word "singularity" in order to deny the LCM.



http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nl3Uj2UJjPA

Jon Voisey said...

Hey anon.

That video is pretty funny. The things Dr. J says are even stupider than some of the things I've heard from Kent Hovind. I'm about 1/2 way through it and so far, my favorite thing he's said is that Dark Matter can't be mapped..... while he's showing an image depicting the mapping of Dark Matter.

Another good one is him claiming astronomers don't take into account that light can bounce off objects delaying the arrival time. Then he proceeds to give an example of astronomers taking exactly that into account.

Can he really get any dumber?

Imbecilic Repellant said...

Holy shit! This is one hell of a page and debate. It never amazes me how many times religion tries to enter a fucking face-off when something interesting in science is being elaborated upon. It'd be nice if more people didn't have tunnel visions & narrow minded thoughts when it comes to discussing subject matter like this.
Anyway, it was an interesting post, to say the least.

vupper eyelid said...

As the rubber band is stretched, the paperclips appear to move away from one another even though they are in fact holding still with regard to the rubber band

vertigo symptoms said...

for me the big bang is nothing but a waste of time someone with no brain!

Rowan Casey said...

The idea that the big bang theory does not need to explain the cause of the big bang is ridiculous. That is the most important part.

I favor the many worlds theory, which says that a big bang is followed by a big crunch, followed by a big bang.

There is no gain in entropy in each successive big bang, because it is as big a bang as it can be each time, caused by the black holes crashing back into each other in the center.

One major misconception is that we know almost anything about the whole thing. Most of these theories are accepted without any proof.

Please tell me if my article makes sense. I'm pretty sure you can't prove it is wrong. It is on the first page of a Google search on where did the universe come from in Australia.

http://www.bukisa.com/articles/250534_where-did-the-universe-come-from-according-to-science

Anonymous said...

how about if god created the big bang :D

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Anonymous said...

Is there any evidence which contradicts the Big Bang Theory?

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vertigo symptoms said...

for me the big bang is nothing but a waste of time someone with no brain!

Rowan Casey said...

The idea that the big bang theory does not need to explain the cause of the big bang is ridiculous. That is the most important part.

I favor the many worlds theory, which says that a big bang is followed by a big crunch, followed by a big bang.

There is no gain in entropy in each successive big bang, because it is as big a bang as it can be each time, caused by the black holes crashing back into each other in the center.

One major misconception is that we know almost anything about the whole thing. Most of these theories are accepted without any proof.

Please tell me if my article makes sense. I'm pretty sure you can't prove it is wrong. It is on the first page of a Google search on where did the universe come from in Australia.

http://www.bukisa.com/articles/250534_where-did-the-universe-come-from-according-to-science

Mariam said...

Hi,

I was doing some quick research for a post I am doing and I thought I could just give you some information re: religion and big bang/big crunch theory. In the Quran (holy book of Islam) there is verses that describe both phenomena (with reference to expansion rather than explosion). Religion and science do not have to be at odds.

ADieL said...

What I don't understand is how anyone can believe that "In the Beginning Nothing"?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFpUSdkEr7A

"In the Beginning God" is much more logical.

Miles said...

Good post. For those interested, a great (non-technical) book on the history and mechanics of the Big Bang should read, "The Big Bang" by Simon Singh.

Anonymous said...

I think you could add, as a fourth powerful line of evidence, the new WMAP,etc. results for the CMB primary anisotropy. The first peak of its power spectrum in theory predicts and nicely matches that observed for the shape of the Universe, nearly flat, and the second peak (which is also the ratio of the odd peaks to the even peaks) exactly matches the predicted baryon density, thus in turn beautifully tying the CMB to your (c) predicted element ratios.

The WMAP result are recent enough that professionals - who all of course accept the BB - haven't bothered to emphasize this, as it's so obvious to them. Instead they're eager to get on with analyzing the higher peaks which will allow them to extract information about darkmatter, etc.

BTW "Emanual Goldstein" is the local Panda's Thumb creationist.

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Emanuel Goldstein said...

I hope most of you don't think you are getting first rate science here.

Good polemic though.

Chris Smyr said...

Much appreciated!

zeroKnots said...

Shouldn't you say 10^-43 seconds?

That's Hawking's border within which all the cool stuff happens including life. (& presumably the universe & everything)

I KNEW he would at least imply 42.

Rob Knop said...

In fact, pressure has the opposite effect on space and time from what you'd expect.

Postive pressure -- the kind of thing that makes a gas expand -- has a gravitational effect just like mass. Unless the pressure is so high that the gas particles are moving relativistically, the gravitational effect of the pressure is utterly tiny compared to the gravitational effect of the mass. When the particles are moving relativistically, however, you get an *attraction* due to the energy density in the pressure.

(Then there's negative pressure, which is what defines Dark Energy. It causes things like inflation and the accelerating expansion, becuase the negative pressure leads to negative gravitational effect.)

-Rob

Julia said...

Thanks! Extremely helpful.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this well written post for the layman. Finally I can explain the Big Bang to my kids in a way that they can get their developing heads around. It may even stop them throwing rocks at the fundamentalists.

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Dedy Oktavianus said...

I think Big Bang theory is only a theory that can not still explain behind the creation of universe.

Galih Gumilang said...

yes it is..
i agree with you, because that old theory people have been misunderstanding about big bang.

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Video To Mp3 said...

Wow! lol I have read your article and realized that I'm really one of those uneducated people that you mentioned above:) Thanks for the detailed clarification on the Big Bang issue!

Chris Victorymountain said...

How can we be sure that this happened. Is there any reliable proof?

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Wesley B said...

The expansion rather than explosion is a much easier way to understand it. I was having trouble understanding higher-level documentation on the Big Bang because I assumed the misconception of an explosion. And expansion makes more sense than a random explosion—that is if I'm right in likening the condensed hot matter of the Big Bang being spread in the way that a fart would be spread through a room.

And the Catholic church affirming the Big Bang, as well as the founder of the theory originated from a priest is, well, great!

Thank you for this article.

mishedew said...

I thought Big Bang is only a theory and it wasn't a science law so I'm not wondering if there is no proof behind it. But I just hope that scientists could already discover how universe started.

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Casey Tucker said...

Awesome job, especially leaving "room" for God at the end and mentioning the Church's position :) It truly saddens me that more scientists out there are not this open-minded.

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mishedew said...

I wouldn't wonder if Bing Bang has misconceptions since it is only a theory and not yet scientific law. Maybe scientists could be able to generate more scientific explanations to correct Bing Bang misconceptions.

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Blake Hansen said...

Just because there is no explanation for the singularity doesn't mean that it doesn't exist.

Take Quantum Theory for example, Quantum Theory has been able to accurately predict nearly all phenomena that are related to quanta. After nearly a century of dealing with Quantum Theory we still have no solid basis of the underlying reality of why it works, but we know that it does.

The singularity is a similar scenario. We have observed black holes and know that there must be a singularity (black holes require them) for them to exist.

In addition, the immense amount of evidence supporting the big bang theory renders your argument void. Even if we had no evidence whatsoever that the singularity existed, the other evidence would still require us to acknowledge its existence as the only plausible explanation for reality.

As a friend of mine once said, "just because you can't explain it doesn't mean that you should name your ignorance god and worship it."

I hope that this clears some thing up for you.

Adam Drabik said...

Holy shit! This is one hell of a page and debate. It never amazes me how many times religion tries to enter a fucking face-off when something interesting in science is being elaborated upon. It'd be nice if more people didn't have tunnel visions & narrow minded thoughts when it comes to discussing subject matter like this.
Anyway, it was an interesting post, to say the least.
tipy . Thanks and wish all the best.

sriyaditha said...

I've never really thought of it that way. Actually, one of the comments earlier on really helped me to understand how there is not even a center point to this expansion.....

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sriyaditha said...

I hope that clears up a few of the misconceptions people have been having, and I’m pretty sure that most people reading this blog were already familiar with all that, but perhaps this has given you a bit more detailed information that you can use next time someone throws out their strawman Big Bang.


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jonas c said...

The real truth abou the universe is that it was created after a BIG BAND event. It does not solve the problem about who or how the BIG BAND was created, or how and why other things began. It also does not explain why the BIG BAND was created, because this kind of facts always lead us to subjective interpretations. All we know is the BIG BAND was there, for all evidence presented. It provides explanation for a lot of unknown sounds and special effects we've been hearing for ages! lol

jonas c said...

As about GOD, that's the nickname of the band-leader. That's all.

Pressed Rat and Warthog said...

Why do religious people get their knickers in such a twist when science figures out how stuff works? I mean you really don't think some account of the universe called the "Bible" cobbled together from other ancient writings 2000+ years ago from other cultures and languages, and superstitious traditions is going to be a more accurate direct description of physical reality than can be determined from modern knowledge, do you?

As far as causality? Well causality implies something happening before something else. The problem is the Big Bang was the beginning of time. You can't 'cause' time to start. The idea can be expressed in English, however a lot of self contradictory ideas can be expressed in English. These ideas don't have any value at all.

The mystery of the big bang's origin will require new ideas and new ways of thinking to describe - and not too surprisingly because the way people think and speak of things originates in daily mundane experiences that are so far from the exotic conditions of the origin of the universe that they simply are not applicable.

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mrbovidar said...

The Hubble redshift is widely accepted as indicating an expanding Universe. This interpretation constitutes the indispensable cornerstone of the Big Bang or BB theory. However, over the years the BB theory has increasingly necessitated the invention of new physical laws and entities in order to avoid the obvious incompatibility between the theory and the astronomical observations. Surprisingly, the astronomers supporting the BB theory claim that these new physical laws and entities are corroborated by the fact that they make the BB theory fit observations. This reasoning manifestly conflicts with the principle of parsimony, economy and succinctness often called Occam's razor. It is a principle urging a scientist to select from among competing hypotheses that which makes the fewest assumptions. But in order to retrospectively fit observations, the BB theory is increasingly craving additional physical laws and entities which, by their nature, allow a steadily increasing array of adjustable parameters, just as the old Earth-centred cosmology of Ptolemy needed layer upon layer of epicycles. Would this indicate that Einstein's field equations of general relativity suffer from an inherent fault? No, they offer a number of mathematical solutions. Some of these solutions may indicate that the cosmological redshift, instead of being linked to an expansion of the Universe, is caused by properties inherent in the 3-dimensional space or in the 4-dimensional spacetime. Why hasn't this obvious basis of a cosmology, compatible with Occam's razor, still not been thoroughly tested? Because such a cosmology would fail to mitigate man's existential anxiety?

Robert Stanley said...

I'm Christian and have no problem accepting the Big Bang and you are singling out a small minority of "religious people." I understand some religious people believe everything word for word, but you will find a lot of religions accept science and link that to God.

powerhone said...

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Mark Robson said...

Can you tell me of an experiment which confirms your statement that ''space itself expands '' ? Can you explain how measure the decreasing apparent size of galaxies. And how do you confirm, without using redshift, that the distance between (all) galaxies increases over time ?

Craigart14 said...

The article clearly states that the Catholic church accepts the Big Bang, and that's about half the world's Christians right there. The fundamentalist/evangelical movement has sort of stolen the word "Christian" out from under mainstream churches. Most of us know this minority does not represent all Christians, but they act as if they do and they have tremendous influence in government. You could speak to them about it . . . .

Haaras Mohammed said...

why was space expanding in the first place????

Jeremy Jeffries said...

OK. The part that I am not getting is that you say all galaxies are moving away from us and since we are completely surrounded by countless galaxies, this would make us the center of the universe. This seems extremely egocentric to me and somehow flawed. Could something else explain the shift. Perhaps since light is a wave then could it not degrade over time and distance.

Jon Voisey said...

This does not make us the center. It just means that all of space is expanding. Consider the "raisin bread" analogy. As bread with embedded raisins expands, the whole loaf gets bigger. No matter which raisin you use as your viewpoint, it looks like all others are moving away.



And while light has wave light properties, it also has particle like properties. The latter of these keeps the wave from spreading out and thus it does not degrade.

Jamie Duncan said...

when you think about it makes sense. matter cannot exist without space, but space exists without matter (hard vacuum). thus matter cannot explode and carry space - space must go first to create a place for the matter. thermodynamics dictates that the matter and energy are increasingly random so naturally matter and energy rush in ie pulled by space. just like the chances of all air molecules rushing into a corner of a room and leaving us without air is highly improbable so is a vast space with all the matter highly organized in one spot. the speeds the galaxies are going plus the distance begins to give us real clues to the age of the universe.there are galaxies billions of lightyears from us.

Jamie Duncan said...

nice post. there is far too much rancour in these 'debates' which are really usually nothing more than people staking out territory instead of debating and learning. at the end of the day these physics theories are exactly that - our best guesses with the tools and knowledge and maths we have. to bet the bank on these things strikes me as rather 'religious'.

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Milky Teltron said...

Space can not expand, it is not a material.

Milky Teltron said...

Creationism and Big Bang are falsified by the very definition of universe. If the universe is everything, it does not have a border or a beginning or end.