Did the Universe Begin with a Big Bang? — part 2, Possibly (Probably?) Not
This article follows on from part 1, and I strongly advise anyone not familiar with the conventional history of Big Bang theory to read that before continuing here.
I’m now going to outline what I believe to be the actual history of the Big Bang theory, the true story. (Obviously as a non-scientist I am relying upon sources — see the bibliography.) Before I do that, it would be interesting to know if any reader knows what I’m going to say. Pause for a moment, and consider whether you know of any other credible alternative to the Big Bang theory, apart from Steady-state.
There are two features of the conventional history especially worthy of comment. I’ll begin with the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (from here on referred to as CMBR).
As noted in part 1, Alpher and Herman predicted the existence of the CMBR in 1948. In 1933, however, the German physicist Erich Regener had predicted the existence of a microwave background produced from the warming of interstellar dust particles by high-energy cosmic rays, thus not a product of a Big Bang¹.
Now, if CMBR is predicted by Big Bang theory, and also by a non-Big Bang theory, then surely its discovery says nothing whatsoever about the truth or otherwise of the Big Bang. This becomes even more interesting when you consider that Alpher and Herman predicted in 1948 a microwave temperature of about 5 degrees Kelvin, which they revised upward to 28 degrees Kelvin in the three years that followed. This turned out to be ten times too high. Regener, however, had predicted a temperature of 2.8 degrees Kelvin, this estimate erring from the actual value by less than 3 percent.
So Regener was not only the first to predict the existence of the CMBR, but also the one who predicted it with the greatest accuracy. According to the scientific method, therefore, this alternative theory should have been considered superior to the Big Bang. So why did Big Bang theorists win? Apparently, they were better organized, and lost no time in claiming the newly discovered CMBR for their own cause. It is even claimed that Gamow was somewhat economical with the truth about his earlier predictions at that time.
Some pretty shoddy science followed. The CMBR was claimed to be proof of the correctness of Big Bang theory. “But as more data on the CMBR were gathered, little evidence appeared of any connection between the alleged big bang fireball and this microwave radiation. The uniform manner in which the CMBR is distributed across the sky implied that the fireball should have been extremely uniform and that matter should also be uniformly distributed in space. Instead, the universe is seen to be very clumpy. Matter is gathered in the form of gas clouds and galaxies, which in turn are gathered into clusters, and so on. Just to account for the existence of galaxies, the big bang theory required that the CMBR intensity vary from one part of the sky to another by at least one part in a thousand. To account for the vast structures discovered in the mid-1980s, the supercluster complexes and immense periodic structures stretching across the universe, even greater nonuniformities would have been needed.
“But such nonuniformities were not found. In 1992, the most accurate observations of the microwave field were made with the COBE satellite (that’s the Cosmic Background Explorer). These indicate that when the Earth’s motion relative to the CMBR is taken account of, there are intensity variations of less than one part in 100,000, a hundred times smaller than the big bang theory’s most modest prediction. When the COBE scientists first announced the discovery of ‘ripples’ in 1992, they proudly asserted that they had finally proven the existence of the Big Bang. The news media blindly echoed their claims, and even theologians were purporting the ripples to be evidence of the biblical act of creation. Yet if anything, the COBE measurements had definitively disproven the big bang theory by showing that the CMBR was far too smooth to account for the universe’s clumpiness”².
In the following year an article appeared in New Scientist³ with the heading, Challenge for the big bang: Results from the COBE probe ruled out key elements in the conventional explanation of how the Universe began. Is it time for an alternative theory? The article did indeed suggest an alternative called quasi-steady state cosmology (echoes of Fred Hoyle there).
So, evidence which disproves, or at least challenges, a theory is claimed to be proof of it. How can this be allowed to happen? How can ‘scientists’ not notice that they are doing this? Why are they so desperate to preserve Big Bang theory?
I’ll turn now to the redshift phenomenon, which is not itself in dispute although, as Robert Cox says: “Hubble’s explanation of the cosmological red shift is not the only possible explanation; it is simply the most popular. There are a number of complementary explanations that do not require any form of galactic recession.” This sounds like several competing theories. Actually, however, he says that they all come under the general heading of tired-light theories. How many of you thought of that earlier, when I asked for alternative theories? And if not then, now that I’ve mentioned it, how many of you have heard of it?
This was proposed by the German physicist Walther Nernst in 1921⁴. He pointed out that in a universe of unlimited age, whether it be stationary or freely expanding, the temperature of interstellar space should be continually increasing, owing to its accumulation of stellar radiant energy. Noting that the temperature of space has instead remained quite low, he proposed that light photons must lose energy to the ether as they travel through space. He published a further paper on the same theme in 1938, citing Regener’s CMBR prediction⁵.
Also in 1929, only seven months after Hubble had published his redshift results, Fritz Zwicky proposed a quite different interpretation of his findings, suggesting that galaxies and space were cosmologically static and that the redshift was instead due to light photons gradually losing their energy during their long journey through space, thus supporting Nernst’s tired-light hypothesis⁶.
Nernst’s prediction came before Friedmann, Lemaïtre, and Hubble’s discovery of the cosmological redshift-distance relation. Furthermore, and this is really important, in 1935, somewhat alarmed by the velocities involved, Edwin Hubble himself suggested that some mechanism other than expansion might be responsible for producing the cosmological redshifts⁷. And a year later, armed with a much better set of data, Hubble wrote a follow-up paper that came out decidedly in favour of the tired-light model. His data agreed with a stationary Euclidean universe in which the redshifts were due to some unknown effect, which caused photons to lose energy as they travelled through space⁸. He was therefore agreeing with Nernst, Zwicky, and Regener.
So, the man whose discovery led to the theory of the expansion of the universe, and therefore to the Big Bang, contrary to what you are led to believe by TV documentaries and popular science books, himself did not believe in the idea, saying in his paper that the data were incompatible, and that “the expanding models are a forced interpretation of the observational results”⁹.
In 1938 Nernst praised Hubble’s conclusions, noting that his own hypothesis had anticipated the redshift discovery as early as 1921. He said: “It is highly significant that Hubble, one of the discoverers of redshifts, should consider the model of the expanding universe to be unreliable”¹⁰.
This alternative history that I have presented has been merely a summary. I could also have mentioned Charles Guillaume, Sir Arthur Eddington, Andrew McKellar, Gerhard Herzberg, Erwin Finlay-Freundlich, and Max Born. They are significant figures in this story, whether or not you have heard of them.
Despite all the above, Simon Singh, writing a book almost 500 pages long, called Big Bang: The Most Important Scientific Discovery of All Time and Why You Need to Know About It¹¹, finds no room at all to mention Regener, Nernst, nor the relevant work of any of those just mentioned, claiming incorrectly that Zwicky was the inventor “of the flawed theory of tired light”. He attempts briefly to justify this claim, but unconvincingly in my opinion. He says merely that it did not fit in with the then known laws of physics. Laws and theories, of course, sometimes need to be revised in the light of new discoveries.
He further says that:
- Hubble “demonstrated that the universe was expanding” even though, as quoted above, he rejected the idea.
- that the COBE results proved the Big Bang model once and for all.
BBC4 Horizon documentaries continue to churn out the orthodox story (as described in part 1). In two different programmes within the space of two months¹², Jim Al-Khalili went over the same material, failing to mention any of the above, and claiming that the main opposition to Big Bang theory was the Steady-State theory. There was no mention of the tired-light theory, even if only to dismiss it, and explain why it is wrong. I don’t wish to claim conspiracy, even if I sometimes suspect it, but such ignorance, and failure to do proper research is inexcusable.
In passing, let’s note that tired-light theory goes along with a static universe, which is consistent with Einstein’s 1917 theory including the cosmological constant, and with a theory of dynamic equilibrium advanced by Andre Assis and Marcos Neves¹³. It is also at least in name related to Hoyle’s Steady-State theory.
So to summarise, once it had been decided that the discovery of the CMBR had proved the Big Bang, even though it had been predicted more accurately by non-Big Bang theory, the Big Bang became a fact. Thereafter, every time that observations, actual data, contradicted the predictions, the rules of the scientific method were ignored, and something fanciful was invented to fix the theory. I have focused on inflation, dark matter, and dark energy.
Interestingly, in 2005 New Scientist reported on a conference of Big Bang dissenters in Portugal¹⁴ described as “doubters thinking the unthinkable”, asking “the question no one is supposed to ask”. One attendee, Riccardo Scarpa was quoted: “Every time the basic big bang model has failed to predict what we see, the solution has been to bolt on something new — inflation, dark matter and dark energy”. The data contradicting the theory at the time of writing were argued to be: the temperature of the universe, the expansion of the cosmos, and even the presence of galaxies. All these were said to have cosmologists “scrambling for fixes”.
The article further said: “For Scarpa and his fellow dissidents, the tinkering has reached an unacceptable level. All for the sake of saving the notion that the universe flickered into being as a hot, dense state”. Eric Lerner, author of Big Bang Never Happened, attended and is also quoted: “Big bang predictions are consistently wrong and are being fixed after the event”.
The author of the article, Marcus Chown, offered the orthodox CMBR story, then asked: “So if there was no big bang, where did the CMBR come from?” As if there were no alternative explanation! He draws a comparison between Lerner’s ideas and Hoyle’s Steady-state theory, but seems to have no knowledge of Regener and Nernst. And he is a physics graduate, professional science writer, and cosmology consultant for New Scientist.
One more detail from the article. Following significant data obtained by the Spitzer telescope “some of the stars in distant galaxies appear older than the universe itself”. This is not the only time this has happened. Down the years there have been occasional articles in New Scientist describing stars which are calculated to be as old, if not older than the universe, at least according to the date of the origin of the universe according to the predictions of Big Bang theory.
So, should we take Big Bang theory seriously or not? Further reflections will follow in part 3.
I hope you have enjoyed this article. I have written in the past about other topics, including spirituality, metaphysics, psychology, science, Christianity, politics, and astrology. All these articles are on Medium, but the simplest way to see a guide to them is to visit my website (click here and here).
- Paul LaViolette, Beyond the Big Bang: Ancient Myth and the Science of Continuous Creation, Park Street Press, 1995, p275f. This was later reissued with the title Genesis of the Cosmos, Bear & Company, 2004.
- A paper by Andre Koch Torres Assis & Marcos Cesar Danhoni Neves http://www.dfi.uem.br/~macedane/history_of_2.7k.html Regrettably, this paper is no longer available online.
The precise details are not always in complete agreement, but the general thrust is the same.
1. ‘Der Energiestrom der Ultrastrahlung’, Zeitschrift für Physik 80, 1933, pp666–69
2. LaViolette, p277
3. Jayant Narlikar, issue 1878, June 19th 1993
4. The Structure of the Universe in Light of Our Research, Berlin: Springer, 1921, p 40, translated by R. Monti in SeaGreen 4, 196: 32–36
5. “Additional test of the assumption of a stationary state in the universe”, Zeitschrift für Physik 106: 633–61
6. “On the red shift of spectral lines through interstellar space”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 15 (1929): 773–79
7. E. Hubble and R. C. Tolman, “Two methods of investigating the nature of the nebular red-shift”, Astrophysical Journal 82 (1935): 302–37
8. “Effects of red shifts on the distribution of nebulae”, Astrophysical Journal 84 (1936): 517
9. ibid. p554
10. as footnote 5, pp. 639–40
11. Fourth Estate 2004, Harper Perennial 2005
12. January 17th 2016, Lost Horizons: the Big Bang, and The Beginning and the End of the Universe, programme 1, March 22nd 2016
13. see bibliography
14. issue 2506, July 2nd 2005