THE BIG BANG IN CRISIS
by Trevor J. Major, M.Sc.
"There's no crisis." ---P.J.E. Peebles
"Recent articles saying the big bang is in trouble are wrong."
For over twenty years, most scientists studying the origin of the
Universe have held one truth sacrosanct: that the Cosmos created itself
in an outpouring of energy called the Big Bang. This belief is
preserved by continual refinement and embellishment, and its champions
have been successful in sending usurpers and naysayers into virtual
scientific exile. "Nearly all serious cosmologists operate in the
framework of the Big Bang," declares David N. Schramm, one of the
theory's fiercest supporters (Peterson, 1991b, 139:232).
Yet, in the face of this stalwart front, the Big Bang is being
challenged at every turn. For the most part, this challenge is coming,
not from hostile scientists, but from the fruits of efforts to test,
refine, and quantify the theory's most cherished arguments. In the last
few years, cosmic explorers have launched satellites, built telescopes,
and pointed sophisticated monitoring devices at the sky. Often, they
are overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of data. Citizens, in turn, are
often overwhelmed by the nine and ten figure price tags these gadgets
can carry. Apparently, the cost of uncovering the secret of creation
is not cheap, and governments are willing to spend tax dollars
What have scientists discovered that is so perplexing? First, they
have found that the Universe has the same temperature in every
direction. Second, they have found that matter in the Universe is
distributed very unevenly. How do these findings affect the Big Bang
theory? Before answering these questions, it would be useful to review
the theory, and how it came to dominate the study of evolutionary
THE BIG BANG THEORY
No one said "Eureka" at the birth of the Big Bang idea. It had many
parents, and a long gestation period. As happens so often, it was the
product of theory, speculation, observation, and luck, all converging
at the right time and in the right place.
The story of modern cosmology begins in the early twentieth
century---a time when astronomers viewed the Universe as static,
eternal, and limited in space to our own Milky Way galaxy. Their views
began to change in the 1920s with the work of Edwin Hubble. Using one
of the most powerful telescopes available, Hubble concluded that the
Universe was much bigger than our galaxy. He determined that spiral
nebulae, occurring millions of light-years away, were not part of the
Milky Way at all, but were galaxies in their own right.
Then, in 1929, Hubble found a relationship between his distance
information and some special analyses of light obtained by Vesto
Slipher. These analyses showed that most galaxies (44 of 46 then
studied) were emitting light "shifted" toward the red end of the
optical spectrum; only two were shifted toward the opposite, blue end
of the spectrum. From the very beginning, astronomers have attributed
these shifts to the Doppler effect. Using this interpretation, a
redshifted galaxy is one which is getting further away from its
neighbors. By 1935, Hubble and his colleague, Milton Humason, added
another 150 points to Slipher's data. Today, the idea that redshift is
proportional to distance, also known as Hubble's Law, is a crucial part
of distance measurement in modern astronomy.
So, Hubble and Humason's work gave cosmologists clues to the size
of the Universe, and the movement of objects within it. But while the
astronomers were looking through their telescopes, theorists were
describing the Universe in new ways. The first two models came from
Albert Einstein and Willem de Sitter in 1917. Although arrived at
independently, both ideas were based on Einstein's General Theory of
Relativity, and both scientists made adjustments to prevent expansion,
even though expansion seemed a natural outcome of General Relativity.
However, as redshifts became common knowledge, expansion was introduced
as a matter of fact. This was the case in 1922 with a set of solutions
produced by Alexander Friedman. Five years later, Georges LemaŚtre made
a model incorporating a redshift-distance relation very close to that
found by Hubble. If the Universe is expanding now, Lema tre observed,
then there must have been a time in the past when the Universe was in a
state of contraction. It was in this state that the "primeval atom," as
he called it, exploded to form atoms, stars, and galaxies. LemaŚtre had
described, in its essential form, what is known today as the Big Bang.
Meanwhile, in 1948, Hermann Bondi, Thomas Gold, and Fred Hoyle gave
the static Universe credibility with their Steady State theory. This
model incorporated redshift data by having galaxies move away from each
other and, in a strange twist, allowing matter to be created, out of
nothing, in the gaps left behind. Despite this activity, their Universe
was essentially unchanging through eternity; it was without a
beginning, or an end.
The Steady State theory was widely accepted for the next decade or
more, but 1948 was also a good time for the competing Big Bang theory.
The first boost came from George Gamow and Ralph Alpher. They applied
quantum physics to see how the Big Bang could make hydrogen and
helium---the two elements thought to form 99% of the visible Universe--
-in a process called nucleosynthesis. (Gribbin, 1986, p 154). However,
their theory could not account for elements heavier than helium; these
would have to be made somewhere else. Geoffrey and Margaret Burbidge,
Willy Fowler, and Fred Hoyle obliged by suggesting that the other
elements were made in stars. To cap it all off, Fowler, Hoyle, and
Robert Wagoner showed that the proportions of certain lighter-weight
elements produced by the Big Bang matched almost exactly the
proportions thought to exist in the Solar System. This result,
published in 1967, convinced many astronomers that the Big Bang was the
correct description of creation.
It was also in 1948 that Alpher and Robert Herman, tying in their
work on nucleosynthesis, estimated that the Universe should have cooled
from the original hot flash to around five degrees Celsius above
absolute zero (i.e., 5<|>K). Other Big Bangers came up with various
figures, but not many higher than 50<|>K. Steady Staters like Hoyle
expected no residual or background temperature, for there was no
similar outpouring of radiation in their model.
These predictions were fulfilled in 1965 by a famous, unplanned
discovery. Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson were working on a former
satellite communications receiver at Bell Labs. They wanted to use the
antenna to detect very weak radio signals from space, but first they
had to eliminate all excess radio noise. However, they got to a point
where they couldn't explain an "annoying" background noise equivalent
to radiation with a temperature of around 3 K. They contacted Robert
Dicke at Princeton University who, with his colleagues, immediately
latched on to this noise as the echo of the Big Bang.
PROBLEMS, PROBLEMS, PROBLEMS
It is easy to see from this story how cosmologists can cling so
strongly to such a seemingly cohesive theory. As Paul J. Steinhardt
comments, "An expanding universe, the microwave background radiation
and nucleosynthesis---these are the three key elements of the Big Bang
model that seem to be very well verified observationally. They set a
standard for any competing model" (Peterson, 1991b, 139:232). However,
none of them is without problems.
For example, not everyone believes that redshifts should be
attributed to the Doppler effect (see Amato, 1986; Bird, 1987, pp 5,8).
Halton Arp, for one, has found "enigmatic and disturbing cases" where
two apparently connected objects show dissimilar redshifts (Sagan,
1980, p 255; also see Cowan, 1990a, 137:181). Many astronomers ignore
Arp's work, and he has been denied telescope time for pursuing this
line of research (Marshall, 1990). If Arp is correct, then the Universe
is not expanding, or at least, it is not acting in a way consistent
with a Big Bang.
Too Good to be True?
Skepticism of nucleosynthesis comes from its requirement to fit a
very special set of conditions. The Big Bang needs to proceed at the
right pace with the right starting conditions, or else the Universe
would be very different. If the early fireball cooled too quickly, the
Universe would be nearly all helium; if it cooled too slowly, the
Universe would have no helium (Gribbin, 1986, p 207). David Wilkinson
(1986) suggests that while calculations and observations seem to agree,
other processes have not been eliminated.
A related problem involves the production of just the right amount
of matter. A fraction too much, and the Universe would have collapsed
on itself in a "big crunch"; a fraction too little, and it would have
flown apart before galaxies and stars could form (Horgan, 1990, p 112).
Actually, this requirement turns out to be one of the biggest snags in
the modern version of the Big Bang theory.
Some scientists "explain" these coincidences by saying that the
Universe is the way it is because if it were not, man wouldn't be here
to observe it (Barrow and Tipler, 1986). For most evolutionists, this
so-called Anthropic Principle smacks too much of theology for comfort
(for a review, see Thompson, 1990). Indeed, physicist John C.
Polkinghorne suggests that these coincidences provide evidence of a
Universe purposefully designed for man by God the Creator (1990,
Most cosmologists would rather avoid the Anthropic Principle.
Instead, they put their faith in Alan Guth's inflationary hypothesis to
solve troublesome details, like having just the right amount of matter
at all times. In this modification of the standard Big Bang theory, the
Universe begins from practically nothing---actually, ten pounds of
"false vacuum" (Peterson, 1990c). A split second later, expansion
speeds, reducing density and thus avoiding collapse. Another fraction
of a second later, expansion slows before the density gets too low for
atoms to form. To quote Schramm again, "A lot of people think inflation
smells too good not to be right in some form" (Horgan, 1990, p 112).
Maybe, but what sounds too good to be true, often is.
Through a Glass, Darkly
The problem is that inflation can only occur when the amount of
newly created matter reaches a certain critical level. Unfortunately,
90-99% of this matter is missing from the Universe. At this point, the
Big Bang starts to bear striking similarities to the fable of the
emperor's invisible new clothes.
Cosmologists suggest that the missing mass consists of cold dark
matter. They say this matter cannot be hot, otherwise galaxies would
take too long to evolve. It must be dark, of course, otherwise it would
be visible and thus readily observed. As yet, no one knows what makes
up this matter, although scientists seem to be having fun making
suggestions. CHAMPs (CHArged Massive Particles), WIMPs (Weakly
Interacting Massive Particles), and MACHOs (MAssive Compact Halo
Objects) are some of the contenders (Glashow, 1989; Palca, 1991; Silk,
So, cold dark matter is an unknown, unseen substance that is,
nonetheless, essential to the process of self-creation. Proving the
existence of this cosmic stuff is going to be difficult enough, but the
accompanying theory is being challenged by new observations. The most
popular version of the theory suggests that invisible matter could help
ordinary matter clump together in tiny fluctuations or "defects" of the
expanding space fabric. These clumps would later form collections of
galaxies, called clusters, on a scale no bigger than about 65 million
light-years. Researchers have found much bigger clusters, however. In
a survey covering one hundred-thousandth of the visible Universe,
Margaret Geller and John Huchra (1989) identified a huge sheet-like
structure, the "Great Wall," containing thousands of galaxies and
extending at least 550 million light-years across the sky. Another
survey, covering one two-thousandth of visible space, shows that the
Universe only begins to look uniform on scales larger than 150 million
light-years (Cowan, 1990b). A recent report based on data from the
Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS) proves, beyond doubt, that the
Universe is structured on very large scales (Saunders, et al., 1991).
This led the group of ten authors to disavow the standard cold-dark-
matter theory. What has shocked the scientific community is that the
group includes researchers who were once ardent supporters of the
Compounding the problem of scale is a problem which might be termed
"premature aging." Most cosmologists place the Big Bang event around 13
billion years ago, and the beginnings of galaxy formation about one
million years after that. Hence, radiation coming from an object 12
billion light-years away began its journey only a billion years after
the Big Bang, when the object was less than a billion years old. Such
distant objects should show few signs of development, but new
observations threaten these assumptions. For example, the new Roentgen
Satellite may have found giant clusters of quasars up to 12 billion
light-years away (Cowan, 1991a), and astronomers on Earth may have
detected single quasars at a little more than 12 billion light-years
away (Cowan, 1991b). These quasars are mysterious, very bright, super
energetic star-like objects which are thought to form after their
resident galaxies and hypothetical energy sources emerge. Hence, very
distant quasars and quasar clusters represent too much organization too
early in the history of the Universe. The cold-dark-matter theorist
finds himself in the position of a cement supplier who arrives after
the house is already built.
Despite such difficulties, advocates of the cold-dark-matter theory
do not give up easily. Following the IRAS findings, Laurence M. Krauss
was reported to say: "As of now, there is no model that explains why
the universe should be the way it is. Until now, cold dark matter
provided the best possible model that was consistent with all the
observations. It remains the best model that we have" (Peterson,
1991a). Repairs include adding a cosmological constant (a baseless
"fudge factor) to the cold-dark-matter equations (Efstathiou, et al.,
In 1990, Changbon Park and J. Richard Gott reported computer
simulations using cold dark matter which produced large-scale
structures resembling Geller and Huchra's pictures. However, this study
took many liberties with the early Universe (Peterson, 1990a, 137:185),
including questionable assumptions about the formation of galaxies---
questionable because no one really knows how to make galaxies from the
Big Bang. Cosmologists are also excited about laboratory experiments on
liquid crystals---the same type of material used in digital calculator
and watch displays. Producing defects in these liquid crystals is
meant to resemble the process of "seeding" large-scale structure in the
early phases of the Big Bang (Chuang, et al., 1991).
While simulations are useful for visualizing theory, they do not
represent reality necessarily. Both these experiments require early
variation in the distribution of matter which, in turn, requires
distortions, however slight, in background radiation (Lipkin, 1991, p
23). Yet, background radiation seems more pristine with each new look
at the skies. COBE, the 230 million-dollar Cosmic Background Explorer
launched by NASA on November 18, 1989, has finished its first survey
(Peterson, 1990b). It found a perfect 2.735 ñ 0.06 K temperature to an
accuracy of one part in 10,000. If no variations are found when COBE
increases its accuracy to one part in 100,000, cold-dark-matter
theorists may finally admit that something is wrong (Folger, 1991).
The smoothness of background radiation, and the lumpiness of matter
distribution, remove two crucial supports from the Big Bang house of
cards. These findings bury the standard cold-dark-matter theory which,
in turn, cripples the inflationary theory which, in turn, sends the Big
Bangers scurrying for new ideas to patch up their theory. John Maddox
(1989) writes, "The Big Bang itself is the pinnacle of a chain of
inference which provides no explanation at present for quasars and the
source of the known hidden mass in the Universe."
But the Big Bang theory is a survivor: it is never falsified, only
modified. David Lindley (1991) compares the efforts to revive existing
cosmological theories with Ptolemy's work-around and fix-it solutions
to an Earth-centered Solar System. Equations can be manipulated ad
infinitum to make "messy" theories work, but Lindley warns, "skepticism
is bound to arise."
And the skeptics are having a field day. In an article with a
byline that reads like a `Who's Who' of Big Bang dissidents, Arp and
his allies introduce a modified Steady State theory. Not being able to
resist taking a jab at their competitors, they write: "As a general
scientific principle, it is undesirable to depend crucially on what is
unobservable to explain what is observable, as happens frequently in
Big Bang cosmology" (1990, p 812). Elsewhere, Geoffrey Burbidge quips:
"To the zeroth order [at the simplest level], the Big Bang is fine, but
it doesn't account for the existence of us and stars, planets and
galaxies" (Peterson, 1991b, 139:233).
If the prevailing theory doesn't account for much, what is left?
John Horgan suggests that we "forgo attempts at understanding the
universe and simply marvel at its infinite complexity and strangeness"
(1990, p 117). Bible believers will marvel at the Universe alright.
Yet they are convinced, more than ever, that the Creator God is the
only sufficient, necessary Cause of this marvelous effect.
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(C) 1991 Apologetics Press, Inc All Rights Reserved
230 Landmark Drive
Montgomery, AL 36117-2752
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