Why Is Modern Cosmology So Weird?
by Jake Hebert, Ph.D. *
Cosmology is the study of the origin and structure of the universe. Because the Big Bang is the dominant cosmological model, most astronomers interpret all their observations to fit this paradigm.
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.
The Big Bang starts with the assumption that there are no special places in the cosmos.1 Since an edge or center would be a “special” place, then this implies that the universe has no edge or center.2
The assumption that there are no special places in the cosmos leads to three possibilities for the “curvature” of the universe, which would imply that space can be “flat,” “spherical,” or “hyperbolic.”3,4 A “flat” space would have a 3-D geometry analogous to the 2-D geometry of a flat sheet of paper. Likewise, the geometries of “spherical” and “hyperbolic” spaces would correspond to the geometries of the surface of a sphere and the surface of a saddle, respectively. In a flat space, parallel light rays never intersect, but they eventually converge or diverge in spherical and hyperbolic spaces, respectively. When you look at an object, that object is characterized by an angular size (for example, the angular size of the moon is about half a degree). If space were spherical or hyperbolic, this would cause an object located at a very great (cosmological) distance from us to have a different angular size than it would in a flat space at the same distance. In other words, the object would appear larger or smaller than it really is. In a flat universe, the angular size of a very distant object would be undistorted.
Long wavelength, nearly uniform electromagnetic radiation (microwave radiation) comes to us from all directions in space. Within the Big Bang model, this cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation is interpreted to be “relic” radiation from a time about 390,000 years after the Big Bang. Within the CMB are hotspots, regions characterized by slightly higher than average temperatures. If you could see one of these hotspots with the naked eye, it would have an angular size in the sky. The Big Bang predicts that the dominant CMB hotspots should have an angular size of about 1° if the universe is flat. Since the dominant hotspots typically do have an angular size of about 1°, Big Bang cosmologists have concluded that we live in a flat universe.5 But this prediction is based squarely on Big Bang assumptions. In other words, if the Big Bang is not true, then we could still have 1° hotspots in a universe that is not flat.
Cosmologists estimate the current value of the mass density ρo of the universe, the average amount of mass within a given volume of space. When determining ρo, cosmologists must take into account both matter and energy. This is because energy has mass, according to Einstein’s famous equation E=mc2. Within Big Bang cosmology, there is a special “critical” density of the universe, ρc. A flat universe would imply that ρo must equal today’s value of ρc.
Observations suggest that ρo is much less than this critical density ρc.6 Since secular cosmologists have already concluded that the universe is flat, they have also concluded that ρo must equal ρc, which implies that some undetected energy making up this apparent deficit must exist. Thus, “dark energy” is invoked, which is said to account for about 70 percent of the universe’s total energy.7
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.8, 9 However, George Ellis, one of the world’s leading cosmological theorists (and co-author with Stephen Hawking of a classic relativity and cosmology text10), has noted that effects caused by spatial inhomogeneities could be causing cosmologists to “see” an acceleration that doesn’t really exist.11
A flat universe presents a problem for the Big Bang, since this requires ρo, today’s value of the average mass density ρ, to equal the current value of the critical density ρc. Within the Big Bang, if ρ = ρc today, these quantities must also have been equal shortly after the Big Bang, despite the fact that ρ would have decreased over time in an expanding universe. This is because even tiny deviations of ρ from ρc would have quickly been amplified. If the early universe’s ρ had been smaller than that epoch’s value of ρc, the universe would have expanded too quickly to have even a hope of galaxy formation, but if ρ had been larger than ρc, the universe would have quickly collapsed in a “Big Crunch.” Avoiding these extremes requires ridiculous fine-tuning—immediately after the Big Bang, ρ and ρc had to agree to more than 50 decimal places!12 This is obviously problematic for those seeking to explain our existence apart from our Creator!
This problem is accompanied by the “horizon” or “isotropy” problem: The CMB coming from one part of the sky is nearly the same as the CMB coming from another part of the sky. This implies that widely separated parts of the alleged “primeval fireball” were at essentially the same temperature. However, because of the presumed random conditions in the early universe, widely separated regions of the fireball should have been at different temperatures. These widely separated regions could end up at the same temperature if electromagnetic radiation had travelled from warmer to cooler parts of the fireball (much in the same way that you can be warmed by the radiant energy from a fire). However, because all electromagnetic radiation travels at the speed of light, even 13.7 billion years (the alleged age of the universe) is insufficient time for electromagnetic radiation to travel between such widely separated regions of the universe.13 Skeptics often use the apparent difficulty of seeing distant starlight in a 6,000-year-old universe as an argument against biblical creation, but the Big Bang has its own version of this light-travel and time problem!14
Another difficulty is the “magnetic monopole” problem. Certain theories in particle physics, called grand unified theories (GUTs), propose that three of the fundamental interactions merge at a very high energy. Together, the Big Bang and GUTs predict that the universe should be filled with magnetic monopoles—magnets each having only one magnetic pole.15 But no one has ever observed even a single magnetic monopole. One does not need to understand all the details of GUTs to realize that this is potentially a very embarrassing problem for the Big Bang!
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 light16) 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.
Big Bang proponents acknowledge that they do not have direct evidence for inflation, although they are looking for it.17, 18 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.
Theorists eventually concluded that their early ideas about inflation were too simplistic. More recent views of inflation suggest that inflation would not stop all at once, but that different regions of space would stop inflating at different times. This would produce infinitely many “bubble” or “pocket” universes of which our universe is only one in a vast multiverse.19
If this weren’t strange enough, the Big Bang also leads to the conclusion that most of the matter in the universe is not the “normal” atomic matter with which we are familiar. One of the arguments for the Big Bang is that it appears to be able to account for the relative abundance of the “light” chemical elements such as hydrogen, helium, and lithium. However, the nuclear recipe that accounts for the abundance of these light elements also fixes the total number of protons and neutrons (classified as baryons) generated by the Big Bang. Since atoms contain protons and neutrons, atoms are classified as baryonic matter. Observations suggest the possible existence of large amounts of non-luminous dark matter in addition to the luminous matter (stars and luminous gas) that we can observe. The ratio of total matter to visible matter is often claimed to be roughly ten to one,20 which implies that dark matter would account for about 90 percent of the matter in the universe. 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.21, 22
Dark matter presents special problems for the Big Bang, however, because 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.23 About half of this 20 percent would be the luminous baryonic matter that we can see, and the other half would be some form of baryonic dark matter. Thus, Big Bang cosmologists must claim that the remaining 80 percent of all this matter is dark matter that is not made of atoms. Because of the difficulty of accounting for such enormous quantities of non-baryonic matter, Big Bang cosmologists invoke exotic hypothetical (and unobserved) forms of matter such as WIMPs (Weakly Interacting Massive Particles).24
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.”25
- Freedman, R. A. and W. J. Kaufmann III. 2002. Universe: Stars and Galaxies. New York: W. H. Freeman and Co., 643-644.
- Humphreys, D. R. 1994. Starlight and Time. Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 14.
- Bergström, L. and A. Goobar. 2008. Cosmology and Particle Astrophysics, 2nd ed. Chichester, UK: Praxis Publishing Ltd., 48-50.
- Freedman and Kaufmann, Universe, 653.
- Ibid, 653-656.
- Ibid, 656.
- Bergström and Goobar, Cosmology and Particle Astrophysics, 5.
- Freedman and Kaufmann, Universe, 656-659.
- Discovery of Accelerating Universe Wins 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics. Scientific American News. Posted on scientificamerican.com October 4, 2011, accessed June 7, 2012.
- Hawking, S. W. and G. F. R. Ellis. 1973. The Large Scale Structure of Space-time. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
- Ellis, G. F. R. 2009. Dark energy and inhomogeneity. Recent Developments in Gravity (NEB XIII), Journal of Physics: Conference Series 189, IOP Publishing. Posted on iop.org, accessed June 5, 2012.
- Freedman and Kaufmann, Universe, 670-671.
- Ibid, 670.
- Lisle, J. 2003. Light-travel time: a problem for the big bang. Creation. 25 (4): 48-49.
- Rindler, W. 2008. Relativity: Special, General, and Cosmological, 2nd ed. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 414.
- This does not violate relativity, which merely prohibits objects from traveling through space at speeds greater than the speed of light.
- Keesey, L. NASA to Probe the Universe’s First Moments. Goddard Space Flight Center. Posted on nasa.gov, April 29, 2010, accessed June 6, 2012.
- Faulkner, D. Have cosmologists discovered evidence of inflation? Posted on creation.com, March 29, 2006, accessed on June 6, 2012.
- Lemley, B. Guth’s Grand Guess. Discover. Posted on discovermagazine. com, April 1, 2002, accessed June 6, 2012.
- Krauss, L. 2012. A Universe from Nothing. New York: Free Press, 24-25.
- Hartnett, J. 2007. Starlight, Time, and the New Physics. Australia: Creation Book Publishers, 34-54.
- Reich, E. S. Alternate theory poses dark matter challenge. Nature News Blog. Posted on nature.com February 23, 2011, accessed June 8, 2012.
- Krauss, A Universe From Nothing, 24-25.
- Dark Energy, Dark Matter. NASA Science: Astrophysics. Posted on nasa.gov, May 18, 2012, accessed June 8, 2012.
- Scott, W. 1808. Marmion. Edinburgh: J. Ballantyne and Co. Canto VI, XVII.
* Dr. Hebert is Research Associate at the Institute for Creation Research and received his Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Texas at Dallas.
Cite this article: Hebert, J. 2012. Why Is Modern Cosmology So Weird? Acts & Facts. 41 (8): 11-13.