October 26, 2001 (Ira Pilgrim)

The Big Fizzle

Why then has the big bang become so deeply entrenched in modern thought? Everything evolves as a function of time except for the laws of physics. Hence there are two immutables: the act of creation and the laws of physics, which spring forth fully formed from that act. The big bang ultimately reflects some cosmologists' search for creation and a beginning. That search properly lies in the realm of metaphysics, not science.

Geoffrey Burbidge, 1992

In 1543, the Catholic priest Copernicus published his theory that the Sun, not the Earth, was the center of the universe(Note the use of the term universe in the 1500s) . This contradicted the accepted Catholic dogma enunciated by two Greeks: Aristotle(384-322) BC and Ptolemy(c.100 AD). The publisher of Coppernicus's book added a preface implying that the earth didn't really move, but that astronomical calculations are easier to perform if one assumes that it does move. In 1597 both Galileo and Keppler concluded that Copernicus had to be correct. In 1616 the theory and writings of Copernicus were banned by the church. In 1632 Galileo was sentenced to house arrest for defending the Copernican theory.

One way of doing science is to take a theory and attempt to disprove it. This is called counterproof, where you give a theory the hardest test that can possibly be given in an attempt to disprove it. If it survives that, then, perhaps, it might be tentatively accepted.

Another way, which seems to be favored by cosmologists, is to look for evidence for the theory. This is more fruitful since what is looked for is usually found. Like attempts to explain the Christmas story, one can always find something positive.

Not since Galileo's time has there been such an attempt to establish scientific orthodoxy in astronomy and to stifle dissent. Unlike what happened in Galileo's time, this stifling of dissent is not being done by a church, but by the scientific establishment itself. It would not surprise me to find a new version of Genesis being written, complete with a revelation from God herself to the cosmologists involved. And that is what it would take because there is, at the present time, no way to actually prove the Big Bang cosmology. (See my column on the big bang at http://www.mcn.org/c/irapilgrim/sci08.html)

I fully expect that before too long, like the canals on Mars, the Big Bang will be disproved. Does that mean that we will then know the truth? Of course not. The problems of how stars and galaxies and planets behave or evolve are so complex that it is reasonable to assume that in the next millennium, we will be fortunate to have scratched the surfaces of the problems.

The things that have been learned about astronomy are indeed wonderful. If anyone thinks that we are anywhere near finding the answers to the basic questions, he is living in a make-believe world.

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