Exposing PseudoAstronomy

November 12, 2008

Misconception: Big Bang Describes the Formation of the Universe


Introduction

One argument that many creationists use to say that God exists is that something must have started the Big Bang (if they even accept that the Big Bang occurred). Or, they claim that the Big Bang is too unlikely to have occurred.

But, besides creationists, many people have the misconception that the Big Bang is what astronomers and physicists say started the Universe, forming it and bringing it to what it is today.

Most of that is a misconception.

What’s The Deal?

What’s really going on is that the Big Bang is a theory (theory in the same sense that gravity is a theory) that mathematically describes what happened almost immediately after the Universe came into existence. It is the best theory that fits with observational evidence.

That “almost immediately” is known as the “Planck Time,” which is equivalent to about 5×10-44 seconds. This is the time it takes light to travel a “Planck Length,” which is equivalent to about 2×10-35 meters. In other words, this is a very small amount of time, but due to some very complicated mathematics that gives me a headache, our current understanding of physics says that we cannot know what happened before the universe was 1 Planck Time old.

And, the Big Bang does not try to describe that. What the Big Bang describes is how the the Universe grew and changed after 1 Planck Time, such as the separation of the four fundamental forces of nature, the creation of matter, and so-forth — you know, the little things.

It is generally believed that, based on what we can describe after 1 Planck Time, that the Universe was, at time=0, an infinitesimal point of infinite density that was an explosion of space and time into our present-day Universe. But, that extrapolation is not a formal part of the Big Bang Theory.

So What?

You may ask why I’ve decided to devote a post to this – admittedly – seemingly minor point. The reason is that, first off, it’s a misconception that’s out there and I want to set the record straight.

But the second reason is that it means that creationist arguments that say the Big Bang doesn’t say what started the Universe, or how it started the Universe means that scientists just don’t know and they’re afraid to say, “God Did It.” They also attack the Big Bang because it seems to take God out of the picture.

What they’re actually doing is making a Straw Man fallacy – they are setting up a false argument and tearing that down rather than focus on what science really says. This is similar to the following situation: I decide to throw a ball up in the air. It goes up, following a parabolic arc, and comes back down to my hand. Physics has an exact description of the shape of that trajectory and the time it takes. But, physics says nothing about why I decided to throw the ball up in the air.

Creationists, in this analogy, would try to argue that physics doesn’t properly describe how I threw the ball in the air, or why I threw it. They are simply arguing against something that that particular theory never set out to describe.

This is much like evolution: Creationists claim that evolution can’t explain the origin of life. But evolution doesn’t try to explain the origin of life, merely what happened to that life once it formed. Same types of arguments, same fallacy.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully you readers who are at least dedicated to learning about science now have a little more understanding about the nature of the Big Bang Theory, what it actually does describe, and what it does not. The next time you hear someone equate “formation of the Universe” with “Big Bang,” you will know that actually they are not quite the same thing.

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