January 29, 1993

The Big Bang

Our increase in knowledge is comparable to that which a man, interested in learning more about the moon, gets when he climbs upon the roof of his house to get a closer look at that luminary.

Albert Einstein(1879-1955)

Some 30 or 40 years ago, astronomer Edwin Hubble checked out the spectra of the light coming from galaxies. Unlike stars, it's possible to have some idea of how far away galaxies are, by their size. We know that the Andromeda galaxy is close because it looks so big. There are galaxies that can be seen with relatively small telescopes. Others take larger ones, and some can only be seen with the most powerful telescopes. If we assume that all galaxies are roughly the same size, then those that appear the smallest are farthest away. What Hubble found was that the farther away a galaxy appears to be, the more the spectrum of the light is shifted toward the red. Hubble assumed that the red shift was due to the Doppler effect. On that basis, he concluded that all galaxies are moving away from us. This was extrapolated to the idea that the universe is expanding.

We know that the Doppler shift is real. If you look at two sides of the sun with a spectroscope, one side will be red shifted and the other side blue shifted. On that basis, it is possible to deduce that the sun is spinning and how fast it is spinning.

Is the Doppler effect the only possible explanation for the red shift? No one knows. One theory that has been proposed is called the tired light theory. It postulates that light that travels over vast distances loses energy and red shifts as a consequence of that loss of energy. There is no basis for assuming that this theory has any validity at all --nor is there any basis for assuming that it doesn't. It was proposed to show that there might be an alternative explanation to the Doppler effect for what is seen with red-shifted galaxies. At the present time, there is no way to test this theory. Nor is there any way to test the Doppler-shift explanation. In other words, the idea that the universe is expanding cannot now be verified.

The time-honored scientific principle of verification and counter proof seems to have been forgotten. Nowadays if someone develops a theory and tests it a few times, and the tests are compatible with the theory, many people assume that the theory is correct --but it ain't necessarily so. There are more possibilities than we can even imagine. Closed minds don't imagine at all.

The current fad is that the universe was once an immense mass which exploded in a big bang. The other theory is the steady state theory which states that the universe has always been more-or-less the way that it is today.

It seems to me that the idea that the universe had to have a beginning has more to do with the religious traditions of cosmologists than it does with science. Many astronomers are defending their theory in much the same way. No religious fundamentalist is more dogmatic about the origin of the universe than some cosmologists. Books, articles and TV programs on the subject, treat the universe as if the main problem has been solved; the big bang happened and it happened so many years ago and that's that!!! Scientists who believe otherwise find that they may not get grants to do their research. One very reputable astronomer was denied telescope time at a major observatory because he was looking for evidence that contradicted the big bang hypothesis.

We know that stars can explode. It is also possible that galaxies might also explode. If that happens, all of the findings that are now associated with the big bang, other than the red shift, would also hold true.

To the best of my knowledge, which is very limited, we don't even know whether the stars in a spiral galaxy are moving outward or inward toward the center of the galaxy, or are just spinning in place. That marvelous hypothesis, the existence of black holes, has yet to be confirmed.

I find what is happening in astronomy to be very disturbing. I now hear of a new Genesis which is being defended with the same unreasoning zeal as the one in the Old Testament, and which could usher in new Dark Ages during which all contradictory opinion and evidence is suppressed.

A Soviet geneticist named Trofim Lysenko rejected most of conventional genetics and stated dogmatically that everything was determined by the environment. His ideas became part of the official Communist Party line and all other ideas were suppressed. What happened to genetics during the Lysenko era in the U.S.S.R. could happen in cosmology in this country. The Lysenko era basically killed genetics for many decades. The same thing can happen here in astronomy.

In response to an article in Astronomy magazine about the big bang, several readers questioned the gospel according to Hawking. The editor answered the questions with "The big bang didn't start as a point. Rather, it was created everywhere at once." --Mother of God, how irrational and contradictory can you get?

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