Our Weird Universe

Better instruments have gotten us better data, but it's still not enoughPerhaps the most hypocritical of the arguments used by the Institute for Creation Research that we’ve encountered recently is the claim that the use of what Brian Thomas called “rescuing devices” mean that an argument can be dismissed apparently out of hand. That is to say, should a scientific theory commit the heinous crime of adjusting itself to fit the evidence, it must be flawed.

What makes this hypocritical, of course, is that that kind of thing describes young Earth creationism in a nutshell – we saw an example of that in the very next article. But Thomas did have a point: the classic example of Ptolemy’s model of the solar system shows that modifications to a theory can be a sign of a failed paradigm, but in the same way that not all people who have their ideas dismissed are Galileo, if a theory changes to fit the evidence that doesn’t meant that it’s broken and does not describe reality.

It’s a question of balance between dogma and unfalsifiable pseudoscience, though it’s not properly a spectrum as creationism tends to manage both simultaneously. In his August Acts & Facts article (yes, there’s a point to this post), Jake Hebert asks “Why Is Modern Cosmology So Weird?” The answer, according to him, is that it’s the fault of “ad-hoc” additions to the Big Bang to make it work. And you can probably guess his conclusions from there.

Big Bang cosmology is filled with a number of strange concepts, including inflation, dark energy, exotic forms of dark matter, and a multiverse. While valid scientific concepts such as quantum mechanics and relativity can indeed seem strange or counterintuitive, strange notions can also result from attempts to prop up a dying theory. Much of the weirdness of modern cosmology stems from an attempt to force the data to fit the Big Bang. Cosmology can be somewhat intimidating to non-specialists, but when one considers the reasons that Big Bang cosmologists invoke strange concepts like inflation, it quickly becomes apparent that the Big Bang is in trouble.

He never provides evidence to differentiate between the “valid scientific concepts” and the “dying” Big bang. In reality, if the workings of the universe are counter-intuitive, why should it’s origins not be?

The Big Bang starts with the assumption that there are no special places in the cosmos. Since an edge or center would be a “special” place, then this implies that the universe has no edge or center.

That’s a fairly reasonable “assumption” that fits with the observed reality: while creationists insist that the Earth is somehow ‘special,’ all of the characteristics they have left are ones we would not be able to observe in the rest of the universe. We used to think extrasolar planets were rare, if not nonexistent – nolonger. Ditto rocky planets in the goldilocks zone at the right size etc etc etc. But Earth is the only planet known to have life – it’s just that we couldn’t tell if another planet does or does not yet.

What’s more, this “special places” idea isn’t even talking about the same thing as a ‘special Earth,’ and is more to do with the overall distribution of matter in the universe and similar.

Hebert spends the next few paragraphs explaining a number of problems for Big Bang cosmology. The solution to one of them is dark energy:

This dark energy is thought to be the cause of an acceleration or speeding up of the universe’s apparent expansion rate, as determined by observations of distant supernovas. However, George Ellis, one of the world’s leading cosmological theorists (and co-author with Stephen Hawking of a classic relativity and cosmology text), has noted that effects caused by spatial inhomogeneities could be causing cosmologists to “see” an acceleration that doesn’t really exist.

Ironically, this alternative explanation – delivered with an argument from authority, no less – looks very much like one of the ad-hoc explanations that Hebert is attacking and would attack if it were the mainstream. The solution to the next few of his problems seems to be inflation:

To solve these problems, theorists proposed inflation—an extremely rapid, short-lived increase in the expansion rate of the very early universe. Inflation seems to drastically reduce the need for extreme fine-tuning of ρ. Supposedly, inflation expanded space so much that it appears flat to us, even though it may not be, much in the same way that even a sphere seems flat when viewed from up close. Likewise, inflation appears to solve the “horizon” problem. Inflation is thought to have caused space to expand so rapidly (faster than the speed of light) that regions of space that could “talk” to one another in the very early universe became so widely separated that such “communication” is no longer possible today. Finally, inflation’s dramatic expansion in the size of the universe supposedly diluted the magnetic monopole density so that we (conveniently) do not observe any of the “missing” magnetic monopoles predicted by GUTs and the Big Bang.

It apparently solves everything at a stroke – you can see why creationists would hate it. Their standard attack is to claim that there is no evidence in favour of inflation (beyond the existence of the things it is posited to explain, of course):

Big Bang proponents acknowledge that they do not have direct evidence for inflation, although they are looking for it. This is not surprising, given that inflation was not a prediction of the original Big Bang model, but was rather an ad hoc idea that was required to solve these serious (and even fatal) difficulties in the Big Bang.

WMAP polarisation results

Two references for that first sentence are given. The first is to a 2006 CMI article Have cosmologists discovered evidence of inflation? That article pooh-poohs a NASA news release that claims that such a thing has in fact been found. They seize upon the fact that “B-mode polarization” (evidence of gravity waves) had not (yet) been found. Also mentioned in the NASA article:

WMAP data support basic predictions of inflation about the size and strength of spacetime fluctuations and how they get weaker on smaller length scales.

The CMI article, by way of a response, claims:

[L]eft unsaid is how extremely model-dependent the conclusions are. That is, if we change the model slightly, the conclusions change as well. […] For instance, how the observed E-mode polarization constrains the amount of inflation energy is model-dependent. The model dependence amounts to a type of circular reasoning—cosmologists interpret the data assuming inflation, and then used the data to support inflation.

You see similar claims on the subject of global warming skepticism as well – they’re generally exaggerated, and we’ve seen creationists track record when it comes to such accusations.

It’s interesting to note how the original prediction of the existence of CMB radiation is being treated. Hebert ignores it entirely, but the CMI article begins:

In 1948, George Gamow, using the big bang model, predicted the existence of the cosmic microwave background (CMB), sometimes referred to as the cosmic background radiation (CBR or CMBR). In 1965, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson discovered what had been predicted, and for their CMB findings, they received the Nobel Prize in physics (1978).

The point is that, if the big bang never happened, there is no reason why such radiation should even exist, let alone exactly where predicted. Any creationist explanation (or even any non-big bang hypothesis) must by necessity include some kind of “ad-hoc” “rescuing device” to desperately explain it away. Even then the only logical conclusion would be that God is screwing with us, for why else would He create the radiation at the same frequency as the anti-biblical big bang demands?

The second reference was another NASA news release, this time from 2010. It is about the ground-based Cosmology Large Angular Scale Surveyor, which was built apparently to find the already-mentioned polarisation. That article mentions “tantalizing clues that inflation did, in fact, happen” that have already been found – however, “other theories explain these dynamics.”

Hebert continues, talking about multiverse theories (which aren’t yet generally accepted from what I hear) and dark matter. A Universe from Nothing is cited as claiming that “the Big Bang can only generate enough protons and neutrons to account for about 20 percent of all the matter that is thought to exist.” (We are not informed as to whether or not Krauss had a solution – page numbers are given as pgs 24-25 if you want to look it up.) WIMPS (a theory now out of favour) are invoked as another rescue, while:

Accounting for this “missing” dark matter is quite difficult, which is why both creationist and evolutionist cosmologists have suggested that what we perceive as large amounts of dark matter may actually result from unknown physics.

That is a textbook ad-hoc explanation there. Can’t explain it? New physics! Sometimes they’re right, I suppose…

Hebert concludes:

In short, a good deal of the weirdness of modern cosmology stems from acceptance of the Big Bang and ad hoc concepts that are required to prop it up. One cannot help be reminded of the words of an old poem—“Oh, what a tangled web we weave.”

Don’t get me started on Lisle’s Anisotropic Synchrony Convention. Or – heaven forbid – flood geology. That quoted line, by the way, serves as a way of outright accusing cosmologists of lying without actually saying it: the next line is “…When first we practise to deceive!” Truly this article is a nest of hypocrisy.


Yet another new theme – is this any better? It’s a serif font!

6 thoughts on “Our Weird Universe

    • I liked how it was self-contained. Whilst I’m not knocking your paragraphs contingent upon having read the ICR article (that’s the point), concise introductions and/or conclusions which can be read on their own are very nice.

      Particularly when edited.

  1. As Carl Sagan said:

    “But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.”

    Thomas is doing a variation on philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn’s idea of “paradigm shifts”. Kuhn had interesting things to say about science but his work became a haven for postmodernist woo meisters and creationists who want to dismiss science as just another metaphysics when it is convenient to save their own unevidenced beliefs.

    • While I doubt that they went so far as to sit around the table on Saturday and say “Oh lord, destroy that satanic craft as it approaches the devil planet,” I do doubt that they have favourable thoughts toward it. This could be interesting, especially if we get as many articles on it as we have about MESSENGER.

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