The Big Bang Theory is today generally accepted by scientists and in fact people in general, and there certainly seems to be a lot of evidence for it. However, I personally don’t happen to believe in it. Before I explain why, I want to go into why people do.
The astronomer Slipher noticed in 1912 that the further away a galaxy was from us, the redder its light seemed to have become. This was explained by the Doppler Effect, which is the way sound, for example, goes up in pitch as a fire engine approaches and goes down as it recedes. Galaxies therefore get redder the further away they are, which is weird because it makes it seem like we’re the centre of the Universe when that’s most unlikely. The way this problem was resolved was to suppose that in fact galaxies in general are receding from each other rather than just all getting further away from here. This is because space is expanding. This also resolves something called Olber’s Paradox, which is that the night sky is black when if the Universe is infinite one might expect it to have starlight coming towards us from all directions, meaning that every point in the Universe should be at about the temperature of the hottest stars and there should in fact be no solid matter in the Universe at all. The reason this can’t happen is that the further two objects are apart, the faster they’re moving apart, and once they’re more than around 13 billion light years apart, they are doing so faster than light, which means the light emitted by stars further away than that can never reach us. Also, space is not infinite, though it is endless.
A rather misleading analogy used at this point is of a balloon being inflated with dots on its surface representing galaxies. This tends to lead people to the question of what the Universe is expanding into. Two possible answers to it are offered respectively by so-called “‘brane theory” and a philosophical idea about the nature of space and time. ‘Brane theory holds that space is a three-dimensional surface of a hyperspatial “membrane”, so the answer in that case is that it’s expanding into hyperspace, and there may be many other universes around it doing the same thing which could even collide with this one. I don’t think this is what’s happening though.
My take on it is that space and time are relations rather than particulars. There’s distance and direction, both of which are relationships between locations. In terms of time, some events seem to take place before, after or at the same time as others, although this may be illusory. Space is more relevant to this. It’s not a container for locations or objects, but a combination of direction and distance, neither of which are real “things”. It’s more similar to a temperature scale, and it makes no sense to imagine a temperature below absolute zero or think of negative fahrenheit or centigrade scales as kind of “subterranean” or underwater, because it’s merely a measurement. Direction is the same. It’s an angle between two objects in three dimensions. What the idea of space being endless but finite communicates is that there is at any one time a maximum distance between any two points and that travel in that direction will eventually lead to the distance between those two points starting to reduce and the direction suddenly reversing. The idea of an expanding Universe is the claim that the point at which direction reverses increases as time goes by. In other words, the maximum possible distance between any two places is increasing. There need not be any “outside” to space for this to be true, nor need there be any edge to space. Only objects have edges.
If the Universe is not infinitely large and points in it tend to move away from each other, if you rewind the film as it were, there seems to have been a point where everything was in the same place. This is the basis of the Big Bang Theory. Also, the further back you go, the hotter the Universe was on average because the same amount of energy was present in a smaller space, meaning that at the very start everything was infinitely hot. The traces of this are said to exist still in the form of what’s known as “3K radiation” or the cosmic microwave background. Just as a hot object glows red and a hotter one glows orange, the whole of space is filled with a slight glow in the redder-than-red microwave range, indicating a temperature of -270°C, just above the coldest possible temperature at -273.15°C. This is pretty good evidence for the Big Bang theory. So why don’t I believe in it?
Before the Big Bang theory the most popular cosmological view was the Steady State theory. This already included the idea that space was constantly expanding but it rejected the idea that it was finite. The problem then became how to account for the fact that it wasn’t empty, because after a while the only visible galaxy would be the one we are in, and since this theory also holds that there was no beginning to the Universe at all, that’s quite a while. The answer to that was that tiny amounts of matter spring into existence all the time here and there and eventually there’s enough of it to start forming into new galaxies.
The virtue of the Steady State theory is its simplicity. There’s no need for peculiar geometry like the thing about direction reversing and the past, future and the whole of space are all seen as similar to each other, which is most unlike the somewhat messier Big Bang theory. The problems were finding a mechanism for matter to spring spontaneously into existence and accounting for the cosmic microwave background, and as a result the Big Bang theory won through. However, a few scientists carried on believing in it, including Trevor Hoyle, who believed the reddening observed at a distance is due to space being filled with micro-organisms. It’s also notable that Terry Pratchett, although he didn’t believe in the Steady State theory itself, did use it in his work, for instance ‘The Dark Side Of The Sun’ and ‘Eric’. Another difficulty with the Steady State theory is that distant galaxies look similar to each other, i.e. they are at an earlier stage in their history, in other words they are quasars, although at first it wasn’t realised that quasars were outside this galaxy. There’s a relic of the idea that quasars are inside this galaxy in the Star Trek episode ‘The Galileo Seven‘, but in order for that to be possible they would be phenomenally bright. The fact that we are surrounded by a great distance by quasars suggests that again, we aren’t special but that that’s just what galaxies used to be like.
One of the things which bothers me about the Big Bang theory is that it was thought up by a Roman Catholic priest, Georges Lemaître, who was unable to reconcile the idea that the Universe was not created with his faith in God. Whereas this may be the motivation, that in itself doesn’t mean the Big Bang theory isn’t true. However, I don’t believe in a “God of the Gaps”, that is, a God who is used to explain things we don’t yet have a scientific explanation for, because such a God would constantly recede from plausibility as new discoveries and better theories are made. Consequently, although I believe in a creator God, the kind of creation I imagine is at every instant of and every point in the Universe, i.e. God holds the Universe in existence. This is another form of continuous creation, but it’s still compatible with the idea that there was a Big Bang.
A Marxist cosmologist, Eric J Lerner, happens to agree with me on this point. He feels that the motivation behind the idea that the Universe had any beginning at all is theistic or deistic, and more to do with the idea that we find it hard to cope psychologically with the idea that there is no creator than anything scientific. I like this idea for two reasons. One is that it throws the idea of a God of the Gaps out of the window. The other is that it’s Marxist, and Marxism is basically true. Like other theories, it approaches truth without quite getting there and it needs updating in various ways, but the principles are sound.
Lerner points to several problems which the Big Bang theory seems not to be able to explain. Firstly, science has somehow got to the point where in order for the Universe to have expanded from the point it did so recently, it has to have a lot of extra matter in it which can’t be detected, in other words dark matter. I’ve said this before (but I can’t find it because I don’t use tags): dark matter is a myth, and it’s a nasty bit of science too because something has just been posited to exist to explain stuff which can’t, however, be detected. Modified Newtonian Dynamics is a better theory than dark matter by far, as it explains things much more neatly. There are a few other problems too. The large scale structure of the Universe is kind of frothy. There are large empty bubbles in space surrounded by “membranes” (again) consisting of galaxies fairly close together. However, there hasn’t been time according to the Big Bang theory for this frothiness to form because the size of the bubbles is too big. Also, there seem to be stars older than the Universe.
Lerner’s solution to all this is plasma cosmology. The Big Bang theory places a lot of emphasis on gravity, but gravity is in fact a very weak force compared to electromagnetism. Plasma is ionised matter behaving as a fluid, and in fact virtually all visible matter in the Universe is plasma. Gases and solids are minor impurities, and liquids are even scarcer because they can only exist under pressure in a small temperature range. It seems reasonable therefore to expect electromagnetism to be more important to the Universe than gravity. If gravity were to be “turned off” for some reason, plenty of matter would continue to exist, but if electromagnetism were to cease to be, everything in the Universe would basically disintegrate instantly into subatomic particles, many of which would themselves fall apart and disappear. Plasma cosmology can explain why spiral galaxies are that shape without having to pretend there’s this thing called dark matter, for example. That said, I can’t say for sure that I personally actually believe in plasma cosmology.
My personal argument against the Big Bang theory is rather different, although it may be compatible with plasma cosmology as I also reject the existence of dark matter. It starts with the idea of Boltzmann Brains. This is a rather disturbing idea which starts from the perspective of an eternal Universe.
Scientists who do believe in the Big Bang theory usually also believe that the Universe will always exist and that time will never end. A few of them believe that the Universe will collapse in on itself or that there is an endless cycle of the Universe expanding and contracting, perhaps repeating itself in exactly the same way every time, but on the whole the belief is reflected by the illustration at the start of this blog post. The Universe began very bright and hot, then stars formed, then more stars plus planets, getting us to the present day. After us, the stars will all burn out, leading to a very dark, cold future punctuated occasionally by smaller dead stars colliding and flaring into life again for a while. Later still, all stars will have collided and black holes will form from them. After that, those black holes will gradually evaporate due to a process called Hawking Radiation, which again I’ve mentioned somewhere on this blog but lost. This Flanders and Swann song becomes relevant, and they do a better job at explaining it than me.
The Universe after that point becomes very cold and dark, and very quiet. However, this is not the end. There are tiny fluctuations in space which cause subatomic particles to pop into existence spontaneously, and in fact if this happens often enough it would be an adequate mechanism for continuous creation to happen, although that’s not quite where I’m going with this. Sometimes this will cause a hydrogen atom to appear from nowhere. Less often, it will, by pure chance because this is operating by pure chance rather than any supposed chain of cause and effect, create a hydrogen molecule. Even more seldom than this, a water molecule will appear, and so on, going down the range of less and less frequent events involving the spontaneous appearance of more and more complex objects. This will happen unimaginably rarely, but since we’re looking at eternity it will happen an infinite number of times. This means that there will also be infinite occurrences of your brain at a state it was in at every moment of your life. In fact, and to me this is where it gets really vertiginous and frightening, compared to the real me, who existed when the Universe was busy and young, the infinite number of points at which my brain pops into existence believing wrongly that it isn’t a disembodied brain floating in an empty Universe about to freeze out of existence in a few seconds is infinitely more common, and this basically means that the probability of me being right about living on the planet Earth in a human body in the twenty-first century is zero. This is Boltzmann’s Paradox.
If the Universe is both eternal and the Big Bang theory is true, this is the reality of our situation. However, disturbing though this is, I don’t believe it is so. Here’s why.
Complexity in the Universe has arisen from much simpler situations. For instance, snowflakes and salt crystals form from random assemblages of molecules, atoms and ions with no real structure, Earth formed from a cloud of gas and chunks of rock and dust billions of years ago and complex life evolved from simpler forms over a period of many aeons. One of these simpler situations is the apparent early Universe. Go back far enough and the entire Universe was a single subatomic particle containing all the potential matter that would ever exist, and although this was a remarkable situation it was also a very simple one. Now, we are able to look back into the past and work out that everything seems to have exploded from a single point billions of years ago. However, there is a big problem with that. Just as Boltzmann Brains would be called into existence spontaneously an infinite number of times throughout eternity in a mostly uneventful and quiet Universe, if time is eternal, the same situation could create an infinite number of situations where the Big Bang would seem to have happened only a few billion years ago, and this too would happen an infinite number of times. Consequently, the probability of us being this close to the beginning of time is zero. The genuine Big Bang could be the one we think we’re able to see evidence for but it almost certainly isn’t. However, it could be something else quite similar.
If the Big Bang happened, it would happen an infinite number of times like everything else. Also, since a subatomic particle with the mass of the entire Universe is much, much simpler than a human brain, the chances of that coming into existence are inconceivably greater than a Boltzmann Brain doing the same thing, and these other “universes” will often contain versions of our own brain actually in proper universes and correct about things. These would, in any finite sample of time sufficient to include these spotaneous universes, be much more common than the other versions of us, and therefore the Boltzmann Brain paradox is incorrect.
This also means that it’s unlikely that this is the “first” Big Bang, or that the Big Bang happened at all. The same kind of illusion which would lead us to think we aren’t disembodied brains floating in space is more likely to occur with reference to what we think of as the afterglow of creation. Therefore, I don’t believe the Big Bang ever happened, or at least if it did, it was only one of many. Otherwise we would be confronted that we are in a state of affairs with zero probability – living within measurable distance of the Big Bang. And that could be, and if there was one there would’ve been people living back then, but we aren’t them.