Did the Universe Begin with a Big Bang? Possibly (Probably?) Not
This is a theme that I’ve written about in the past. However, I’ve just come across some new material which has reawoken my interest, and which I thought would be worth bringing to the attention of Medium readers. Before I do that, I’ll summarise my relevant material on this theme. (Anyone who has been following me for some time will be familiar with much of this, so it’s mainly for the benefit of new readers.)
I think and write from a spiritual perspective, so my starting point is that Big Bang theory, superficially at least, is in conflict with spiritual and religious teachings down the ages. However, given that I have no training or qualifications in physics or cosmology, I am obviously hesitant about challenging the accepted wisdom of the modern professionals, and have to accept that I might well be wrong. I am therefore willing to contemplate the possibility that the material universe may have begun with a Big Bang. It is therefore merely very irritating when I find its advocates spouting misinformation in support of their belief, so that I feel compelled to challenge their claims. The two most obvious examples of this are:
1) that Edwin Hubble’s discovery of the cosmological redshift-distance relationship is evidence that the universe is expanding, and therefore must have begun as a singularity, an infinitely small point.
2) that the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (CMBR) is evidence or proof that the universe began with a Big Bang.
I’ve discussed these two points in detail earlier¹. Here I’ll just briefly repeat that Hubble himself did not believe in this idea, suggesting firstly that some mechanism other than expansion might be responsible for producing the cosmological redshifts². He then wrote a follow-up paper which came out in favour of a theory known as tired-light. 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 space. He further said that “the expanding models are a forced interpretation of the observational results”³. He was therefore agreeing with earlier proposals by physicists Walther Nernst, Fritz Zwicky, and Erich Regener. Nernst then praised Hubble’s conclusions: “It is highly significant that Hubble, one of the discoverers of redshifts, should consider the model of the expanding universe to be unreliable”⁴.
Turning now to the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation, Big Bang advocates Ralph Alpher and Robert Herman predicted its existence 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 Bang⁵. His prediction of the temperature of this radiation was way more accurate than that of Alpher and Herman. Regener was therefore not only the first to predict the existence of the CMBR, but also the one who predicted it with the greater 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, after the CMBR was discovered in 1964 they were better organised, and lost no time in claiming it for their own cause. (I am aware that the Wikipedia entry on this theme is not completely consistent with what I’ve just written. However, Wikipedia itself says that the article remains “largely unverified”. Any thoughtful response would be welcome.)
So do the redshift phenomenon and the CMBR prove the Big Bang? Arguably not. It’s therefore worth noting that in 2005 there was a conference of scientific Big Bang dissenters in Portugal. New Scientist magazine reported on it⁶, describing it 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, is also quoted: “Big bang predictions are consistently wrong and are being fixed after the event”.
Further evidence contradicting Big Bang theory is the discovery that the hypothesised expansion of the universe is accelerating. If there were an original Big Bang then, according to the assumed laws of physics, we would expect the expansion to be slowing down with the passage of time. Cosmologists have therefore, as noted by the dissenters in Portugal, had to scramble for the fix of a hypothetical but as yet undetected Dark Energy in order to account for this mysterious acceleration.
In a nutshell, those are the scientific arguments against the Big Bang hypothesis. I’ll now outline what various spiritual traditions have to say. The uniting theme is that the universe consists of a hierarchy of levels, and that the material universe, which is the lowest, emerges from a non-material level. I’ll begin with Judaism and its offspring Christianity.
Christians sometimes cite Genesis 1 as evidence for the Big Bang. The text obviously confirms their belief in a Creator God, and they are therefore keen to think that God saying “let there be light” is suggestive of something like the Big Bang, a creation ex nihilo, thus a further confirmation of their beliefs. This seems to contradict, to me at least, what Genesis 1 actually says.
The text says that God (let’s put to one side the fact that the word used Elohim is plural) brought light into existence. This occurs before a dome is also brought into existence separating two types of water, higher and lower. The dry land (the material universe in the symbolic language being used) is then made to appear from the lower waters. Interesting though this Genesis account is, it is obviously something of an oversimplification. Nevertheless it can clearly be seen that the universe is considered to be a hierarchy of levels. The initial creation event is a wind from God which swept over the face of the waters, and light is considered to be the basic building block of these lower levels.
In The Secret History of the World, which he claims describes the longstanding worldview of esoteric secret societies, including many famous figures in history, Jonathan Black says: “From the priests of the Egyptian temples to today’s secret societies, from Pythagoras to Rudolf Steiner… this model has always been conceived of as a series of thoughts emanating from the cosmic mind. Pure mind to begin with, these thought-emanations later became a sort of proto-matter, energy that became increasingly dense, then became matter so ethereal that it was finer than gas, without particles of any kind. Eventually the emanations became gas, then liquid and finally solids”.
Again we have a hierarchy of levels. This sounds similar to Genesis 1, so that ‘gas’ might be the ‘higher waters’, the liquid is almost certainly the lower waters, and the solids the dry land. Black also says that these “emanations from the cosmic mind should be understood in the same way, as working downwards in a hierarchy from the higher and more powerful and pervasive principles to the narrower and more particular, each level creating and directing the one below it”⁷.
There are strong correspondences between Black’s account, and this one by Raynor Johnson, whom I consider to be an important authority in spiritual matters. He says that a human participates in at least six levels — a soul which has acquired and uses a hierarchy of five bodies, or vehicles, or instruments, to serve its purpose. He calls these other five levels causal, mental, astral, etheric, physical. “These bodies are relatively real, but the degree of reality each one possesses diminishes as we move downward. Each body may be regarded as created by, or precipitated from, the one higher above it”.
He is talking about the various levels of a human being, but it is clear that he associates each of these levels with a level of reality in the greater universe — a human is after all a microcosm of the macrocosm: “the original act of creation (i.e. of souls) was on the level of Spirit. From this was precipitated the causal universe or divine mind, and from this, the mental levels. This is turn created the astral levels, and so on. Each level is therefore a partial reflection or imperfect representation of the level above it”⁸. This sounds remarkably similar to the second Jonathan Black quote.
We find the same idea in the leading Neoplatonic philosopher Plotinus, for whom “reality is a hierarchy of levels of being, an eternal descent from the transcendent ‘One’ down through a succession of stages to the material world of the senses and physical manifestation”⁹. In modern times we call Plotinus a Neoplatonist, a term he would not himself have recognised. He claimed that he was restoring Plato’s own doctrine, and would therefore have described himself merely as a Platonist. We therefore find this same idea of a hierarchy of levels going back in ancient Greece at least as far as to Plato. As we know, he studied and was initiated in Egypt, so the idea can possibly be traced even further back to there.
I could go on and bring Theosophy, Hinduism, Kabbalah, Gnosticism, and Taoism into the debate, but that would be merely to repeat similar material. Instead I’ll note that the latest development in science, quantum physics, is coming to the same conclusion or, at the very least, various quantum physicists are coming to very similar conclusions. The most obvious example is David Bohm’s theory of explicate and implicate orders emerging from an ultimate Ground of Being that he calls the holomovement. Also interesting are statements by:
1) Fred Alan Wolf: “We only know that there is something other than space-time, but we don’t know what it is. Because Beyond Space-Time is non physical, unmeasurable. But what is beyond space-time is within everything”¹⁰.
2) Henry Stapp: “Everything we know about nature is in accord with the idea that the fundamental processes of nature lie outside space-time but generate events that can be located in space-time”¹¹.
I assume that all spiritually oriented people would agree. These traditions that I have mentioned are all idealist, in that they consider the ultimate reality to be mind or consciousness, and that the material universe is an illusion, or less real, in some sense. Many quantum physicists are also tending in that direction. Influenced by such ideas, some modern philosophers are also in agreement, the most outstanding example and untiring advocate being Bernardo Kastrup, who here sounds remarkably similar to Jonathan Black’s description of the material universe as the consequence of “a series of thoughts emanating from the cosmic mind”:
- “the ground of existence is phenomenal consciousness”
- “everything else is reducible to configurations and patterns of excitation of consciousness”
- the “transpersonal mental activity… merely presents itself to us as the inanimate universe”¹².
The question therefore arises, if the worldview of spiritual traditions, quantum physics, and idealist philosophy is correct, which I believe it is, can Big Bang theory as it stands be accommodated within it? In the language of Genesis 1, was there any need for the dry land (of the potential material universe) to emerge spontaneously in a vast explosion from the waters under the sky, or is it more likely that this was a slower process? Is the state of the universe that cosmologists believe immediately followed the Big Bang even consistent with the idea of dry land emerging? It would perhaps be more accurately described as a chaotic potential for dry land.
As an aside, it’s worth noting that, according to Jonathan Black, in the worldview of secret societies, the Sphinx “is a monument to the first time the Four Elements locked into place, with the result that matter finally became solid”, and “has a very special place in history as idealism tells it, when consciousness was fixed in solid matter”¹³. Make of that what you will.
After that long preamble, I’ll now turn to the new material that I’ve come across. This is an article by the late John Gordon. I’m sure the vast majority of Medium readers won’t be familiar with that name, so I’ll introduce him briefly. He was a longstanding member of the Theosophical Society, and a President of Blavatsky Lodge, their London Branch. He was deeply knowledgeable about spiritual and esoteric traditions, and an inspiring speaker — I’ve attended several talks by him, and listened to others on recordings. He was also a longstanding critic of Big Bang theory. Here is an extract from an article of his that I came across recently:
“Given astrophysicists’ almost unquestioning adherence to, and fascination with, Big Bang theory, it is interesting to note how the latest thinking in quantum physics is slowly and silently undermining that same concept. Big Bang is of course a paradigm theory — i.e. one that appears to work (within the limitations set for it by its protagonists) but which actually has no conclusive proof to support it. However, astrophysicists will undoubtedly argue that this is quite wrong because the proof has already been provided in the form of (a) astronomical Red Shift (the perception that galaxies are constantly moving away from each other) and (b) in the form of the background microwave ‘noise’ in the Universe.
The central problem with both those ‘proofs’, however, is that there is just as much evidence of celestial Blue Shift (confirming that some galaxies are actually moving closer together — some even irrationally ‘clumping’ together). In addition the background microwave noise can just as easily be attributed to the electromagnetic fluctuations caused by all the celestial bodies moving through the ‘Dark Matter’ of space… Were astrophysicists to hypothesise that the rest of the Universe circulates in orbit around various centres — just as our Earth does around the Sun — they would immediately realise that Red Shift and Blue Shift merely correspond with the cyclical moving apart and coming nearer together again of the planets in our Solar System”¹³.
This was obviously interesting, because it throws us back into the debate about the red shift and the cosmic microwave background radiation which, as I outlined above, are the two principal and controversial objections to Big Bang theory, despite the claims made about them by Big Bang advocates.
Although it’s fairly obvious that, if there is a red shift, there must also be the possibility of a blue shift, I hadn’t ever seen it mentioned in scientific literature. So I did an internet search, and discovered that there is some evidence of blue shift, therefore implying that some galaxies are moving closer together, although examples are rarer than those of red shift. This would seem to contradict a frequently repeated claim of Big Bang theorists that all galaxies are moving apart.
Big Bang theory says that the ‘material’ with the potential to create the universe as we know it came suddenly into existence out of a kind of nothingness (singularity). Spiritual theories say that the material universe emerged, not necessarily suddenly, as the lowest level of a process of progressive densification of a universal pure consciousness.
It would be interesting to know therefore whether any Medium readers have any thoughts about any of the above, especially any physicists who have knowledge about the blue shift, and what it might mean for our understanding of the universe.
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 of those articles are on Medium, but the simplest way to see a guide to them is to visit my website (click here and here). My most recent articles are only on Medium; for those please check out my profile.
2. E. Hubble and R. C. Tolman, ‘Two methods of investigating the nature of the nebular red-shift’, Astrophysical Journal 82, 1935: 302–37
3. ‘Effects of red shifts on the distribution of mebulae’, Astrophysical Journal 84, 1936: p517, p554
4. Zeitschrift für Physik 106: pp. 639–40
5. ‘Der Energiestrom der Ultrastrahlung’, Zeitschrift für Physik 80, 1933, pp 666–69
6. issue 2506, July 2nd 2005
7. Quercus, 2010, p37, p39
8. The Spiritual Path, Hodder & Stoughton, 1971, p13–14
9. ‘Neoplatonism’, Esoterica magazine, Summer 2012, volume 3, no 2
10. Space-Time and Beyond, 1975, Bantam, p56
11. ‘Are Superluminal Connections Necessary?’, Il Nuovo Cimento, 40B 1977, 191
12. Science Ideated, iff Books, 2021, p93, his italics
13. as 7, p158
14. ‘The Big Bang and Quantum Science’, The Link, no 37, June 2013