The Big Bang: The scientific establishment strikes back

Confronted by obvious, measurable, and specific flaws in the theory, proponents in the scientific establishment revert to the usual tactics of appealing to authority, misdirection, and smearing those who disagree.  We might call this the “Dr. Fauci Dodge,” reserved for real card carrying experts.

It’s a story that has become all too common in recent years.  The experts make predictions about some future event or the outcome of some experiment, but the real-world results do not match their expectations.  Rather than directly acknowledging the failure of reality to conform to their prevailing theories, they misdirect, attack the messenger, and inform us in Ivory Tower tones that only a crank would disagree with their beliefs. Therefore, it wasn’t the least bit surprising to see these same techniques play out in real time after images from the James Webb Space Telescope look nothing like the Big Bang Theory predicts, showing a universe both older and more mature than expected.  The scientific method requires one of two things at this point.  The proponents of the theory either clearly explain how it accounts for these discrepancies, more on that below, or the theory itself is wrong.  There is no other option, but sure enough, the pushback began within a few days when the technology and lifestyle website, CNET, dutifully stepped into the breach, claiming “No, James Webb Space Telescope Images Do Not Debunk the Big Bang.” The author, Jackson Ryan, begins his argument with the necessary appeal to a higher authority, the tried and true logical fallacy perhaps older than the universe itself.  “The Big Bang theory is currently the best model we have for the birth of our universe. Astrophysicists have shown the theory explains, fairly comprehensively, phenomena we’ve observed in space over decades, like lingering background radiation and elemental abundances. It’s a robust framework that gives us a pretty good idea of how the cosmos came into being some 13.8 billion years ago.”

Alas, the “flurry of preprint papers and popular science articles about the James Webb Space Telescope’s first images” are prompting the renewal of “old, erroneous claims that the Big Bang never happened at all.”  These “have been circulating on social media and in the press in recent weeks. One scientist has claimed that the JWST images are inspiring ‘panic among cosmologists’ — that is, the scientists who study the origins of the universe.  This is simply not true. The JWST has not provided evidence disproving the Big Bang theory, and cosmologists aren’t panicking. Why, then, are we seeing viral social media posts and funky headlines that suggest the Big Bang didn’t happen at all?  To answer that question, and show why we should be skeptical of claims like this, we need to understand where the idea came from.”  Rarely does an article supposedly in support of science take such an unscientific turn so quickly.  The origin of the claim, along with its age, is completely irrelevant to its accuracy.  The idea could date back to an ancient Babylonian manuscript and it would not matter.  The scientific method doesn’t care who makes a claim or where it comes from.  The only thing relevant is whether the claim can be supported by the evidence, but rather than actually discuss the merits, Mr. Ryan much prefers to attack the source:  Eric Lerner, a long detractor of the Big Bang, who took to The Institute for Art and Ideas website to share his views.  This Dr. Lerner, you see, “misconstrues early data to suggest that astronomers and cosmologists are worried the well-established theory is incorrect.”  Mr. Ryan identifies two instances of this misconstruction, none of which are related to the actual data.  One is a reference to the use of the word “Panic!” in the headline of a research paper.  The other is a quote from an astronomer, Allison Kirkpatrick, who specifically said she lies awake at night wondering if she’s been wrong about everything.  From there, Mr. Ryan proceeds to impugn Mr. Lerner’s character, suggesting a financial motive by claiming it’s “no coincidence the same paragraph links to LPPFusion, a company run by Lerner aimed at developing clean energy technologies.”

Perhaps needless to say, whether or not Mr. Lerner “misconstrued” these items is entirely irrelevant to his argument that the Big Bang never happened.  The validity of his claims do not hinge on the perception of what other scientists might have meant when they chose “Panic!” for a headline or another scientist fears she might be wrong.   Mr. Lerner cites these points merely for background and doesn’t appeal to authority in that way.  He could well be wrong about what these other scientists think, but it wouldn’t affect his argument at all because the opinion of other scientists isn’t relevant to who is wrong or right.  The only important question is whether the evidence Mr. Lerner presents, backed up by data from both the James Webb telescope and the Hubble Space Telescope, disproves, or at least greatly calls into question, the theory.  The concerns he expressed are numerous and varied, covering everything from the Big Bang’s failure to make accurate predictions, having 16 wrong and only one right.  The observation that galaxies in the early universe appear to be 150 times smaller than our own, but 600 times brighter than any near us, something for which there is no obvious explanation.  The fact that smooth spiral galaxies like the Milky Way are 10 times more common than anticipated, and that there are some 100,000 times more galaxies overall than predicted by the Big Bang.  The galaxies we are observing at the distant edge of the universe also appear to be about twice as old as they should be.  In short, Mr. Lerner believes the outer edge of the universe is too old and there are far too many well-formed stars and galaxies to support the Big Bang.  As he put it, “Too old and too many galaxies mean the same thing…Yet already some of the galaxies have shown stellar populations that are over a billion years old. Since nothing could have originated before the Big Bang, the existence of these galaxies demonstrates that the Big Bang did not occur.”

These are all measurable, substantive claims counter to the prevailing theory.  It is possible that these issues can be explained somehow, but the burden is now on the Big Bang proponents to clearly identify how this could be the case if the theory was accurate.  Tellingly in my mind, Mr. Ryan doesn’t engage with any of these observations, nor dispute these underlying data points, even though he spoke with Dr. Kirkpatrick directly and could well have presented a counter opinion based on the facts.  Instead, he quotes her as duly informing us that everything is awesome with the theory despite the obvious.  There is nothing to see here:  Dr. Kirkpatrick has even updated her Twitter handle to make sure everyone knows she’s a Big Bang believer.  “We as scientists have a responsibility to educate the public, and I take that responsibility very seriously,” she told CNET. “Deliberately misleading the public makes it difficult for them to trust real scientists and to know fact from fiction.”  We might call this the Dr. Fauci Dodge:  Only a real-card carrying expert can understand that scientific theories require confirmation by experiment, and that experiments that produce results counter to the theory need to be directly addressed.  Dr. Kirkpatrick then goes one step further than even Dr. Fauci might in claiming the mantle of science for himself.  She puts forward a completely circular and specious argument, one that wouldn’t be allowed in a high school physics class, to suggest the images from the James Webb telescope actually support the Big Bang.  As she put it, these images “support the Big Bang model because they show us that early galaxies were different than the galaxies we see today — they were much smaller!”

There are two tremendous problems with this statement, even if you set aside the issue that they are somehow both much smaller and much brighter than any nearby galaxy, and that Dr. Lerner uses this same piece of evidence in his own objections.  First, the galaxies are only “much smaller” if you assume the Big Bang is true.  Dr. Lerner and others believe they are actually average size because the Big Bang predicts a distinct optical illusion when observing objects in the early universe:  They should appear larger than they are because the light we are seeing was emitted when they were closer due to the proposed expansion of the universe.  The snapshot we observe was taken when a galaxy was X distance away, but because the universe is expanding the galaxy is now X + Y distance removed.  There is a broader, structural implication as well:  Since everything we observe is affected by this illusion, all of distant space should appear much larger.  A universe that exists in a steady, or close to steady state, however, would not have such an effect.  The galaxy in question would remain the same distance away and would appear its normal size, along with everything else.  We would still be looking back in time, but without any changes in distance, the galaxies would all remain a constant relative size.

The images from the James Webb Space Telescope and others captured in recent years, however, show these galaxies at the outer edge of the universe as ridiculously small if you apply the Big Bang theory.  So small, they are referred to as “Mighty Mouse” galaxies, and they simply get smaller and smaller as far as we can tell, as you would expect from increasing distance alone instead of the Big Bang.  “Even galaxies with greater luminosity and mass than our own Milky Way galaxy appear in these images to be two to three times smaller than in similar images observed with the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), and the new galaxies have redshifts which are also two to three times greater,” Dr. Lerner explained.  In other words, Dr. Kirkpatrick’s claim that they are actually smaller in real life is based on the belief that Big Bang is correct.  Moreover, bringing us to the second problem, proponents of the Big Bang have proposed no mechanism by which these smaller galaxies obtain their normal size.  The best they can do is suggest that they collide with other, smaller galaxies, and grow like raindrops in puddles of water.  The problem is:  We have not observed any evidence of these collisions.  Presumably, these images of the distant universe should show the colliding process in action.  Instead, they show that smooth galaxies are some ten times more common than predicted, which necessarily calls into question the idea that galaxies grow by collision.

Ultimately, Mr. Ryan’s sole argument for the truth of the Big Bang relies on the existence of the Cosmic Background Radiation, a fact which is not actually in dispute by anyone.  The presence of a uniform temperature throughout all of space has been almost universally acknowledged since the 1960’s.  Even Mr. Lerner notes that the CBR is a point in the Big Bang’s favor, but the question is whether or not it is truly a remnant of the Big Bang or could be accounted for by some other process.  He believes there is another possible explanation for it instead of the Big Bang.  As Mr. Ryan described it for CNET, “One of the chief reasons the Big Bang theory stands up is because of the cosmic microwave background. This was discovered in 1964. In short, the CMB is the radiation leftover from the Big Bang, right when the universe began and scientists have been able to ‘see’ it with satellites that can detect that lingering radiation.”  The more accurate phrasing would be that proponents of the Big Bang believe the CMB is radiation left over.  For obvious reasons, we have no way of knowing with any certainty where trace radiation came from billions of years after the fact.  We can propose ideas. We can speculate.  We can develop theories, and we can test them.  Those who disagree believe it came from somewhere else, perhaps interactions between light and plasma.  This is a classic scientific dispute: What is the right theory to explain what we observe around us? Mr. Ryan uses this misdirection to reach a completely false conclusion, “to bolster evidence the Big Bang theory is incorrect, you’d need to explain the CMB another way.”  Of course, the truth or falsity of the Big Bang is not based on whether there is a workable competing theory.  In an ideal world there would be, but scientific theories must, by necessity, stand entirely on their own regardless of whether an observation can be explained another way.  If a theory fails to match experiments and observations, a scientist does not say this is the best we can do and let’s leave it at that.  Thus, a new theory that fully replaces the Big Bang would need to explain the existence of the CBR, but its mere existence is not definitive proof of the Big Bang itself without an accompanying ability to predict observed phenomena, meaning an explanation of these discrepancies is required independent of the CBR.  Putting this another way, the Big Bang needs to fully account for new observations and discoveries, not merely old ones.

The theory of evolution over the past century and a half is an example of this principle in action.  Charles Darwin had no understanding of how heredity worked, much less how genes are encoded in DNA.  He knew, however, that something must be passing information down through the generations, and he proposed the mechanism of natural selection as a means to ensure successful lineages were built upon.  Throughout, he remained keenly aware that a discovery in the future could invalidate his theory and that he was making what amounts to a major assumption.  For example, if the mechanism of heredity didn’t allow for traits to be passed down in a manner accessible to natural selection, say if each generation possessed only a random set of traits combining multiple previous generations, the entire edifice of evolution would collapse.  It would take almost a hundred years for these specific means to be identified by Watson and Crick with the discovery of DNA.  This breakthrough could easily have upended all of evolution, but instead the specifics of the DNA molecule and its replication process perfectly conformed to the theory.  Darwin himself might as well have designed it for the purposes of his theory.  Strengthening, rather than weakening it.  In the 70 years since, our understanding of DNA has increased a thousand fold, but, once again, everything we learn only serves to better support and illuminate Darwin’s original idea.  Likewise, we have analyzed and compared the specific DNA of thousands of organisms.  The discovery of a single strand that could not be explained by natural selection or was incompatible with the theory of evolution would’ve called the entire thing into question.  This could have occurred a thousand ways.  The identification of a gene shared between humans and lizards with no common ancestor before the species split millions of years ago.  The presence of a “modern” gene, one that arose recently in evolutionary terms, in an ancient animal, or any combination of the two.  Instead, not a single instance like this has ever been found.

It is true that DNA analysis has prompted us to reconsider the relationships between some families of animals.  We have learned that some are closer to one another on the tree of life than we thought based on their physical appearance alone.  This is a natural part of the scientific process, but it’s not remotely what’s happening with the Big Bang despite their protestations to the contrary.  In the minds of Big Bang proponents, the images from the James Webb and Hubble telescopes present only minor issues, a reshuffling of some aspects like the precise history of primates.  In Mr. Ryan’s words, they will “almost certainly reshape our views on the early universe, galaxies and the evolution of the cosmos. But it’s disingenuous to claim the early images and study results have contradicted the Big Bang theory.”  If that is truly the case, why not provide a detailed response to Dr. Lerner’s concerns rather than misdirection and appeals to authority?  After all, science, in their minds, “is about making incremental progress in our understanding, coming to increasingly stronger conclusions based on observations. The observations astrophysicists and cosmologists have made over decades line up with the Big Bang theory.”

Here, Mr. Ryan chooses to end with yet another falsehood.  In truth, the challenges with the Big Bang began in 1998 when scientists observed that the distant parts of the universe were moving away from Earth at an ever increasing rate.  Ever since Newton’s laws of motion described force as mass times acceleration, there has been no known mechanism that could explain how acceleration could increase if the force applied was zero.  In this case, the only proposed force was the Big Bang itself, said to have occurred billions of years ago and long dissipated.  This discovery meant that the preservation of the Big Bang required the existence of some magical new, never observed, never believed to have existed force, contrary to hundreds of years of experiment.  It should’ve been a clue that the theory might be wrong, but what did scientists do?  They proposed an entirely new and novel force:  Dark Energy, claiming this new, never-before-considered force accounted for almost 70% of the energy in the entire universe and they did so purely to support the Big Bang.  It serves no other purpose except to make the theory work.  The same as if the discovery of DNA incompatible with evolution prompted fans of the theory to propose phantom genes.  We cannot see them in the strand, but they must be there, invisible.  Incredibly, the general idea of a phantom force is an old one.  It dates back to the ancient Greeks.  In 425 BC, Plato proposed that motion originates in the infinite and continuous “spiritual” state, and the perpetual motion of the life and the soul is “communicated” to physical objects.  He believed an arrow in flight literally drew energy from the air, which is essentially the same as Dark Energy.  It brings us backward, not forward.

Mr. Ryan is also wrong on a much deeper level.  The greatest achievements in science have not come from “incremental progress in our understanding.”  They have instead sprung from radical and revolutionary ideas that change our fundamental understanding of the world in unexpected ways.  Newton, Einstein, Maxwell, Heisenberg, Schrödinger, and others are not considered brilliant scientists because they supported incremental improvements on the status quo.  Instead, they rejected prevailing ideas and rewrote the status quo entirely.  The philosopher of science, Karl Popper, referred to this as a paradigm shift, one where our entire view of the world changes as a result of some new theory.  The danger of clinging to rickety ideas like the Big Bang, to denying contrary evidence, to appealing to authority and the real card carrying experts, and simply assuming something is true regardless of the facts is that they become a straight jacket, limiting options and imagination.  A world without the Big Bang might be difficult to imagine.  The development of a new theory presents challenges, such as explaining the Cosmic Background Radiation and the red shift, but it also presents new opportunities.  It is the chance to look at the world as we haven’t seen it in generations.  I have no idea what the future holds.  Big Bang proponents might well develop a rational means to account for their current failures, but I do know that failing to acknowledge those failures is the wrong path.  It will not bring us greater knowledge or understanding.  It will stifle creativity and continue to push a physics that fails to address how the world actually works, representing yet another missed opportunity for a real breakthrough in human thought.

2 thoughts on “The Big Bang: The scientific establishment strikes back”

  1. Hahaha! I couldn’t agree with you more. I just love poking at the idea promoted by scientists that they are somehow of a different breed when the history of science and the current state of it says otherwise. 🙂

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s