Exposing PseudoAstronomy

October 18, 2017

Podcast Episode 166: Stellar Evolution, Age of the Universe, and Young-Earth Creationism


Star evolution,
Age of the universe, and
Creationism.

Young-Earth Creationism strikes again and this time misuses error bars to argue that GodDidIt. The episode covers a science paper that discussed the age of a very old star which was derived to be a bit older than the universe. But, add in the appropriate error bars, and potentially a correction to its color, and there’s absolutely no issue whatsoever. But, try telling that to a creationist with an agenda. There’s only a very brief singular additional segment in this episode.

M15 from HST

The dazzling stars in Messier 15 look fresh and new in this image from the NASA/Hubble Space Telescope, but they are actually all roughly 13 billion years old, making them some of the most ancient objects in the Universe. Unlike another recent Hubble Picture of the Week, which featured the unusually sparse cluster Palomar 1, Messier 15 is rich and bright despite its age. Messier 15 is a globular cluster — a spherical conglomeration of old stars that formed together from the same cloud of gas, found in the outer reaches of the Milky Way in a region known as the halo and orbiting the Galactic Centre. This globular lies about 35 000 light-years from the Earth, in the constellation of Pegasus (The Flying Horse). Messier 15 is one of the densest globulars known, with the vast majority of the cluster’s mass concentrated in the core. Astronomers think that particularly dense globulars, like this one, underwent a process called core collapse, in which gravitational interactions between stars led to many members of the cluster migrating towards the centre. Messier 15 is also the first globular cluster known to harbour a planetary nebula, and it is still one of only four globulars known to do so. The planetary nebula, called Pease 1, can be seen in this image as a small blue blob to the lower left of the globular’s core. This picture was put together from images taken with the Wide Field Channel of Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys. Images through yellow/orange (F606W, coloured blue) and near-infrared (F814W, coloured red) filters were combined. The total exposure times were 535 s and 615 s respectively and the field of view is 3.4 arcminutes across.

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June 23, 2015

Podcast Episode 134: Big Bang Denial


The Big Bang theory:
Tot’ly explains the cosmos?
Or, is it a dud?

This episode follows a big from the Black Hole Denial episode, but this time with another aspect of cosmology: The Big Bang. I was able to use a few old blog posts, too, that I wrote practically 7 years ago.

As mentioned, I’m now on a weird – though backdating – release schedule due to the piling on of work as the New Horizons craft nears Pluto. But I’m still trying to do 2 episodes/month, at least.

December 5, 2014

How to Not Understand Science and Use that to Say Science Is Wrong


Introduction

Given the large amount of work I spent on my two-part 1.75-hr podcast episodes on James McCanney’s “science,” I thought it appropriate to get a Swift blog post out of the effort. This post was geared more towards a general audience and so I used one of McCanney’s quotes to discuss a common problem that we face as scientists, we face as science communicators, and we face as skeptics (where “we” is a different group in those three instances, and I consider myself a member of each).

This is reproduced from what I originally sent the editor on the JREF Swift blog.

Swift Blog Post #3

As a scientist and attempted science communicator (and skeptic in my copious free time), one of the difficulties I face is that science is not other-people-friendly. In fact, most of us work on tasks so specific that we often face difficulties explaining what we do to colleagues, much less people who are not scientists, so it’s rarely even other-scientists-slightly-outside-our-field-friendly.

Since I also play a skeptic on the internet, I have the added issue that terms, phrases, and analogies I may try to use to explain a concept could very easily be misconstrued by a pseudoscientist to support their pet idea. For example, if I talk about an “image anomaly,” to other scientists, this means something like a spot of dust on the lens (usually appears as a darker doughnut shape on the image) or a cosmic ray that makes a bright spot or streak. To a pseudoscientist, it could mean an apartment complex on Mars or an alien space ship near the sun.

This especially becomes an issue when people use those misconceptions to turn around and say that some well established model in science is wrong, and spread those views.

For example, I recently completed a two-part podcast series (episode part 1, part 2) on the ideas and misconceptions of “Professor” James McCanney (I place “Professor” in quotes because he is introduced as such, but he has not taught for over 30 years after he was fired from two teaching jobs, and he does not have a doctorate). Mr. McCanney has many misconceptions about the universe, but one that struck me was this, stated on the Coast to Coast AM radio program on 30 August, 2007:

“When astronomers take their picture of the universe, and they start looking back, and they say, uh– ‘We’re looking back in time,’ and now scientists say they’ve seen objects that are only 500 million years after the Big Bang. But the only problem is they’re in all directions, when we look out in all directions. So if you actually were seeing objects that were only 500 million years after the Big Bang, they would have to be consolidating in some location in the sky near where the original Big Bang had to be. But that’s not the case, they’re all over the sky.”

This was one of his primary stated reasons for saying the Big Bang was wrong, doesn’t make sense, and observations do not support it.

The problem is that this is a gross misunderstanding of the science, and because of that misunderstanding, he concludes that the science is wrong. This example is, in part, a manifestation of an issue we scientists face: Trying to explain a geometrically and spatially complicated idea that goes against your every-day experience.

The analogy in common culture for the Big Bang is that it’s an explosion. In our every-day experience, explosions happen at a specific place. Therefore, if the Big Bang was an explosion, shouldn’t it have happened in a certain place? Ergo, shouldn’t what Mr. McCanney said – that we should see stuff only get younger towards the original spot of that explosion – be correct? And if the evidence doesn’t show that, doesn’t it mean the Big Bang is wrong?

Herein lies the problem with your every-day experience: The Big Bang model holds that the universe did not “start somewhere,” but rather it “started the somewhere.” You cannot have the event that created the universe – all of space and time as we know it – happen within the universe itself. It’s like saying that you, yourself, started in your big toe, or your ear, and grew out from that. But you didn’t: Your entire physical self started with your entire physical self (a single cell) – you cannot point to a specific part of yourself where you started.

The same is the case with the universe. The reason why there is no center of the universe, or no specific spot where we can look towards where the Big Bang occurred, is that it was an explosion of space, not in space.

Another common analogy that’s used is to think of a balloon. The surface of that balloon is a 2D representation of the 3D universe. That 2D representation is warped in 3D, just as our 3D universe is likely warped in 4D or higher spatial dimensions. If you think of a squished, completely deflated balloon, you could say that it’s just a tiny speck and that surface (our universe) doesn’t yet exist. Now, blow air into the balloon, and the surface exists and expands. If you were on that surface and you looked in any direction, you would see the surface. If light travelled really slowly, then you would see that surface as it appeared further back in time.

And that’s what we see when we look out into the universe: As we look farther and farther away, we look further and further back in time, and we see a much younger universe. In all directions. Including the cosmic microwave background radiation, which if what the universe “looked like” just about 380,000 years after the Big Bang.

This observation is what one should and would predict if the Big Bang is the correct model for the initial stages of the universe’s existence.

To bring this full-circle, this kind of observation – the very one Mr. McCanney says contradicts the Big Bang and that’s one reason why he doesn’t believe it – is actually an observation that supports the Big Bang.

But, trying to grasp why this is what you should predict from the Big Bang model is not easy. It goes against what you normally think of when you think “explosion.” Or of really anything happening in the universe, which, by definition, is everything we’ve ever observed or experienced. It is a common misunderstanding, but it’s one that comes from an attempt to simplify the science in a way to easily explain it to non-scientists.

That’s why, as skeptics, we always need to be aware of simplifications and analogies used by science communicators: While it may be done with the best of intentions to try to convey a complex concept, it can introduce further misunderstandings. And, given the right person (or wrong person, depending on your point of view), that misunderstanding can be used to promote pseudoscience.

December 1, 2014

Podcast Episode 121: James McCanney’s Views on Other Stuff in the Universe, Part 2


Some random claims based on
Electric Universe thinking
By James McCanney.

The long-awaited sequel to the critically-acclaimed (ha!) first part on James McCanney’s ideas about stuff. As I said last time, I’ve wanted to talk about James McCanney’s ideas ever since I heard him on Coast to Coast AM, and doing so isn’t hard — he’s been on the show dozens of times over the last two decades. I’ve heard him talk about a lot of things, but I mostly remembered him sounding like a broken record talking about how comets “discharge the solar capacitor.” This episode gets at many of his other ideas, though there are still many others and I reserve the right to do a Part 3 in the future.

Because this episode runs nearly 55 minutes, the only additional segment is two New News items (one sent in by Graham and the other by Callum (@ApproxPurified). Also, I plan on the next episode to be about conspiracies surrounding the Rosetta mission and its now host comet, so if you happen to see something relevant, please let me know before December 12, 2014.

P.S. My internet connection is being flaky — please let me know if you have issues downloading this episode or getting it to show up in iTunes or another RSS reader.

September 4, 2010

Stephen Hawking, God, and Design, and the Universe


Introduction

I know I haven’t written for awhile, and unfortunately, you can expect more of the same sporadic posts probably for the next several months. I apologize. Just keep this in your RSS reader and you’ll get ’em when they come out. Blog’s not dead, just me. 🙂

Anyway, if you had to pick one topic this week that’s in the news other than politics, it would probably be Stephen Hawking and the conjecture that the universe does not need a god to have come about or be as it is. I know folks are probably tired about this, but I thought I would give a few brief observations, hopefully ones that aren’t actually in most news outlets.

My Thoughts

First, I agree. I do not think there’s any hard, scientific evidence that you need a god to create the universe or to have it turn out as it is. You’ll note I wrote “think,” not “believe.” This particular word choice is one that I’ll hopefully address in another short, future post.

Anyway, what really brought on this post was I was yet again listening to an episode of Coast to Coast AM where the host, George Noory, brought on a theologian to react. Only, in a very C2C twist, this particular theologian, Dr. Barry Downing, thinks that the Bible is the inspired word of space aliens who talked to Moses through maybe some sort of hologram of the burning bush.

Moving on … George stated effectively, “I don’t see how you can look at the universe and all that it contains and think that there wasn’t some sort of designer or planner or plan.”

That got me thinking: Well, what would a universe look like if it hadn’t been planned? How would we know? What would the difference(s) be?

I think what George and many people forget is that we have a sample size of 1. If you think the universe did not have a creator nor planner nor plan, then this is what it looks like without one and hence we don’t need one to explain it. If you believe that the universe did have a creator or planner or plan, then this is what it looks like with one and hence we do need one to explain it.

Very circular reasoning here. Perhaps an argument from ignorance, perhaps a tautology. Or begging the question / unstated major premise. So many logical fallacies to choose from!

Final Thoughts

I the end, I think this debate is a bit silly. I think the reactions of condemnation from world religious leaders was a “necessary” response to a statement by someone as famous as Stephen Hawking. And Hawking does have a book he’s trying to sell.

I think this is a fairly futile argument because neither side is going to be able to convince the other for the simple reasons I stated above: Those who believe this universe’s form could only arise from a guiding hand or noodly appendage are always going to cling to that design argument. Those who think this arises from random chance or underlying physical laws that we do not yet know will continue to think that.

But it does make for headlines and gives people something to talk about other than the latest Paris Hilton snafu.

November 9, 2009

Logical Fallacies: God of the Gaps


Introduction

I’ve wanted to do a series on logical fallacies for quite awhile. In general, I am going to use young-Earth creationist (YEC) arguments because, well, they commit a lot of them, despite Jason Lisle’s recent series on the Answers in Genesis website about fallacious arguing.

What is “God of the Gaps?”

The “God of the Gaps” argument is really just what it sounds like: It is a way to fill a gap in our knowledge with God.

Young-Earth Creationist Astronomy Example

Probably the most prolific use of the God of the Gaps fallacy in YEC arguments is that of the universe’s “first cause.” The YEC claim goes as follows: “Something must have caused the Big Bang. Astronomers don’t know what that was. It was God.” Or, substitute for that last sentence, “Why couldn’t it have been God?”

The answer is simple — it could have been. But it also may not have been. We now know what causes lightning. Three thousand years ago, the ancient Greeks did not, and they created an elaborate pantheon of gods where the King of the Gods, Zeus, was the one who threw lightning bolts to earth after they were made by his son, the god Hephaestus. They literally stuck not one, but two gods into that gap. Now that we know what causes lightning, I don’t think I’ve met any modern religious person who still claims that it is caused by a god.

Similarly, Apollo was once thought to draw the sun across the sky each day, since the ancient Greeks could not explain naturally why the sun seemed to cross the sky every day, only to return back where it was for the next. Today, we know why – because Earth rotates on its axis. That gap in human knowledge is no longer there.

The same could happen for the origin of the universe. Right now, we don’t know what happened to originate it. Many Christians – if not people from most religions around the world – use the God of the Gaps to fill that void in our knowledge with a divine creation. But we may in the future know what natural means caused the Big Bang. We may not. Regardless, to jump to the conclusion that God did it and we cannot know the mind of god or find a natural cause is to invoke this logical fallacy.

God of the Gaps: The Science-Stopper

Scientists, rational thinkers, and skeptics will often argue that the God of the Gaps fallacy is a “science-stopper.” I have seen Intelligent Design proponents and YECers argue that it is not, though I remain fairly unconvinced by their arguments.

The reason that this fallacy is a science-stopper is that once you say “God Did It,” you don’t have to go any further. If Benjamin Franklin followed the Greek pantheon and believed that lightning was simply Zeus throwing things ’cause he was mad, then what impetus would he have had to find out its true nature?

Using God as an answer simply gives you a supernatural answer. It doesn’t cause you to look for a deeper, natural explanation, but leaves you satisfied that it is beyond our understanding ’cause God Did It.

The Shrinking Role of God

Philosophically, if I were a believer in the divine, I don’t think I would care to use this fallacy, and that’s because of the ever-shrinking role of God. Each time someone uses the fallacy – that God is used to explain something – and then we are able to explain it in a purely naturalistic method, then God’s role has suddenly diminished, shrinking away from that claim.

Final Thoughts

The God of the Gaps fallacy is usually a pretty easy one to spot.

April 27, 2009

Defending the Big Bang: Young-Earth Creationist Claims


Introduction

After a long, work-related hiatus, I’m getting back to my 4-part series on the Big Bang. The purpose of this post is to look at the problems that Young-Earth Creationists (YECs) have with it, and the ways they try to get around it. I’ll give a quick hint as to the main reason: It’s not what the Bible literally says happened.

What Does the Bible Say?

In the Christian Bible, in Genesis 1, there is a clear progression of how we were formed:

  1. God created heaven and earth.
  2. God created light.
  3. God separated water from land
  4. God created plants.
  5. God created stars.
  6. God created the sun and moon.
  7. God created ocean life, then birds. God continued to make animals.
  8. God created humans. Well, he created man first, then woman. Then awhile later on in the bible they make more humans.

This all happened in the first 6 literal 24-hr days of existence. So yes, I am referring to biblical literalists for this post — it is my understanding that most who are not biblical literalists are more able to are generally able to reconcile more easily with the science.

Now, to be fair, Genesis 2 does imply a slightly different progression. However, my understanding is that most YECs tend to ignore that part, and so I will, too, for purposes of explaining their problems with the Big Bang.

What Do the Big Bang Theory … and Star-Formation Theory … and Solar System Formation Theory … and Evolutionary Theory Say?

The reason I didn’t leave this section heading at just the “Big Bang Theory” is because there is no one massive THEORY that explains how we get from the formation of the cosmos to people. However, for purposes of laying out a similar progression as elucidated in the bible, I will provide a synthesis to cover the comparable points:

  1. After the universe began, atomic nuclei were the first thing to form that most people would recognize. This happened in the first few minutes.
  2. Light was not able to stream freely until the universe had cooled sufficiently, about 370,000 years after the Big Bang.
  3. Possibly as early as several tens to hundreds of millions of years after the Big Bang, the first stars formed from gravitationally collapsed clouds of hydrogen and helium.
  4. It took to at least the second generation of stars before planets could form because heavier atoms did not exist (they are formed in the violent supernovae events that massive stars undergo when they run out of fuel).
  5. Planets formed much like stars, by collapsing clouds of atoms and molecules. Moons either formed around them just as planets formed around stars, or they were captured.
  6. After the planet formed, life formed.
  7. The first life on Earth can be traced back nearly to its formation, with about a 400 million-year gap (to about 4.1 billion years ago).
  8. The first life was single-celled and they were the only form for about 2 billion years.
  9. After multi-cellular life arose, it was able to become more complex more quickly because of the amount of variation that could arise.
  10. Sea animals were likely the first, then land, then air.
  11. Sometime around 1-4 million years ago, the first human-like ancestors evolved from a common ancestor of modern chips.

Now, you can see that this progression is quite different from that presented in the bible. Besides just the timescales involved, the progression is completely different from a literal reading of Genesis. For example, Genesis states that the sun and moon were (a) made at the same time, and (b) made well after Earth. The scientific consensus says something very different.

An Example of YEC Problems with the Big Bang Theory

There are so many places on the internet that I could draw material for this section of quotes or articles where YECs espouse their problems with the Big Bang. Answers in Genesis is an obvious one, as is the Institute for Creation Research.

For my examples, I will be using an episode of ICR’s radio show, narrated by Chris O’Brian, that originally aired on June 7, 2003, entitled, “Progressive Creationism #2 – The Big Bang.” I’m addressing this one instead of their, “Myth that the Big Bang Has Been Proven” episode because I have already addressed it in my post last year, “What Does it Mean to “Prove” the Big Bang? – De-Mything the “Myth” that It Has Not Been “Proven.”

1. Ross Humphreys: (4:30 into episode) ~ “There’s absolutely no biblical case for the big bang. The order of events is all wrong. For example, you have in Genesis ch. 1 v. 1 you have ‘darkness,’ the Big Bang starts off with light. The first element that’s formed in the Big Bang is hydrogen, the first material that’s mentioned in Genesis 1:2 is water. … So the order is all wrong, not to mention the time scale.”

2. Henry Morris: (6:00 into episode) ~ “Cosmologists don’t all hold to the Big Bang theory. … Maybe the most prominent cosmologists and astronomers don’t believe it; not only Fred Hoyle, who’s well known, but many many others. I listed, if I recall, about 15 prominent astronomers who rejected the Big Bang theory.”

3. Morris: (7:00 into the episode) ~ “Most [astronomers] go to the evolution of something out of nothing – a quantum fluctuation of nothing into something. Alan Guth who invented that theory of inflation and the big Bang theory just ‘happened.’ In fact, a couple of authors have written something to the effect that you don’t have to have a cause to have the big bang, it just ‘happened.’ Nothing caused it at all.”

4. Humphreys: (9:00 into the episode) ~ “One of the things wrong with the big bang is that the Hubble Space Telescope is showing lots of facts that are discordant with it. And one of those facts is the fact that the Hubble Space Telescope is showing evidence of elements, atoms, of oxygen, carbon, nitrogen – such things like that – very far out, and the problem is that the Big Bang cannot explain those elements that far away. And that’s only one of many problems. In other words, as we’re finding out more and more data, we’re finding the Big Bang theory is not capable of explaining these data.”

5. Humphreys: (11:30 into the episode) ~ “Scripture’s quite clear about the fact that the universe has a center and we’re fairly close to it on a cosmological scale of things is good evidence that the Big Bang is wrong.”

6. John Morris: (12:00 into the episode) ~ “We can’t see this thing [the Big Bang] happenin’, we didn’t see it happen in the past — we’re trying to explain the past with what we see in the present. This whole idea is all mathematics, the Big Bang is really a mathematical solution to Einstein’s equations and … that’s what evolutionists have come up with.”

Responding to those YEC Claims

1. This illustrates one of the main lines of attack of YECs – it doesn’t agree with the bible. This is a simple argument from authority, where the authority is a book that was compiled over decades to hundreds of years, by many different people, and has many internal inconsistencies. It is also a book that refuses to be updated based upon new information — very different from science.

2. This is another argument from authority. “15 prominent astronomers” a consensus does not make. This is very similar to what the Discovery Institute does with their “Dissent from Darwin” list. They claim to have over 500 names on a list of Ph.D. scientists who supposedly “dissent from Darwin.” (I say “supposedly” because I watched a video recently where a person actually examined the list – only a small percentage actually worked in the relevant field of biology, and most of those people had no idea they were on the list or had asked Discovery Institute to take them off.) This is contrasted with the National Center for Science Education and their “Steve” list of over 1000 Ph.D. biologists who “support” Darwinian evolution … and are only allowed on the list if their name is Steve (or Stephanie). There is a big difference between a scientific consensus and being able to claim authority from a few dissenters.

In addition, the name Fred Hoyle is thrown out frequently by ICR. You can read about him here. In particular, Hoyle did reject the notion of the Big Bang. However, he was not in favor of what the YECs propagate … though the YECs leave that part out. Hoyle believed in the “steady-state” cosmology, which holds that the universe has always existed, and forces conspire to always make it look the same throughout time.

3. This is possible. However, it’s unsatisfactory to many, and there are various people working on models to explain how the universe may have been birthed. However, as I point out in another post, the Big Bang does not claim nor try to claim to describe how the universe formed. It just describes what happened AFTER it formed. So this is a straw man.

4. This is wrong. Yes, we find elements and molecules “very far away,” but none farther back than a few hundred million years after the Big Bang. This is entirely consistent with the Big Bang theory, for – as I said earlier in this post – it took the first generation of stars to produce the heavier elements.

5. This is also not correct. There is no “center” to the universe, but that also has nothing to do with the Big Bang. The overall geometry of the universe is a completely separate issue from Big Bang theory. So, this claim is a combination of both incorrect information AND a non sequitur.

6. It always amazes me when YECs make this claim, in the generic form of: “Scientists say this happened, but no one was there to see it or we can’t observe it, therefore it didn’t happen.” Absolutely amazes me. Why? Because no one was there to see God do what they claim he did. But, anyway …

It’s true that we try to discern the past from the present. That’s what science is. Plain and simple in this case. Also, the whole idea may have started with solving Einstein’s equations, but as I explained in the second part of this 3-part series, there is actual observational evidence that backs it up, that fits with the Big Bang theory, and is currently best-explained by the Big Bang Theory over any other model – including Fred Hoyle’s steady-state.

Final Thoughts

I know I haven’t addressed every YEC issue with the Big Bang. That’s because it’s simply not possible. Even if I could address every single one that’s presently out there, they would come up with more, or simply refer back to biblical authority and its infallibility. At that point, it is simply not possible to argue any further. And I don’t try to.

What I try to address – and I have stated this numerous times when dealing with religious matters here – is not any religious faith-based aspect. It’s when the religion makes specific scientific claims that are NOT supported by real science, are distortions of real science, or are just plain wrong based on the science that I will address them.

March 18, 2009

Defending the Big Bang: The Four Pillars of the Modern Big Bang Theory

Filed under: big bang — Stuart Robbins @ 12:30 am

Introduction

This is the second post in my series on “Defending the Big Bang.” The focus of this one is to explain the four main pieces of evidence that support the modern Big Bang theory. You will notice that I am using the prefix, “modern,” to describe this theory, and that is because – like almost any scientific theory – it has been modified over time to address new information. However, the core essence of the idea – the universe started as an infinitesimal point/plane/field/brane of energy that grew to become our universe – has remained the same since it was first proposed.

Other posts in this series:

Pillar #1 – Everybody Hates Us

Okay, not really, but that’s a good way to think about the first piece of evidence that supports the Big Bang – most far-away objects are moving away from us in every direction that we look. Unless we inhabit a very special place in the universe (which modern scientific thought does not allow unless all other explanations are ruled out), then this implies not that everything is moving away from us, but that everything is moving away from everything else.

This supports a Big Bang model because it fits very well with the idea the universe is expanding. The very hackneyed thought experiment is to picture a loaf of raisin bread rising in the oven. The bread is the fabric of space and the raisins are different observers (such as us on Earth in our galaxy). As the bread rises and expands, each raisin will move away from every other raisin. Raisins that are farther away will appear to move away faster. And this is precisely what is observed.

This phenomena was first discovered by Edwin Hubble in 1929, and hence we have termed the expansion rate of the universe the “Hubble Constant,” H0.

So if we’re now at a point where the universe is expanding, then logically if you run time backwards, it would be shrinking. And if you follow it back, say, 13.7 billion years, then the entire universe would be compacted into an infinitesimally small “object.”

Pillar #2 – The Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) Radiation

The CMB was discovered in 1965 by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson from Bell Labs (who later received a Nobel Prize for their discovery). In every direction they pointed their microwave receiver, they “heard” a noise. This noise came from the first photons that could stream freely through the universe that have become so stretched out over time (due to the universe’s expansion) that they now exist in the microwave range.

These photons are an “echo” left over from when the universe was approximately 380,000 years old. Before this time, the universe was completely opaque to light. This is because the electrons that existed at the time were too energetic – too hot – to be bound to atomic nuclei, and therefore were able to roam freely about. This means that photons could not move about freely because they kept being absorbed and re-emitted by the electrons.

After the universe had aged to around 380,000 years, it had cooled to approximately 3000 K. Electrons no longer had enough energy to overcome the attractive force of atomic nuclei, and they became bound. Light could now stream forth unimpeded. This process is called “recombination,” and this “first light” is what we now see as the CMB Radiation.

Pillar #3 – Abundance of Light Elements

Before the CMB, when the universe had only been in existence for about 1 second, individual protons and neutrons had already been created (along with all the quarks and leptons and other subatomic particles). It was no longer hot nor dense enough to create protons nor neutrons, and so the ratio of the number of protons to neutrons was frozen in (at about 0.223).

After the universe was a few minutes old, the temperature had dropped more and the era of nucleosynthesis could begin. This is when the light atomic nuclei of deuterium, tritium, and helium could form. But, after about 4 minutes, the universe had again cooled to a point where neutrons and protons could not combine, and so the primordial ratios of these elements were frozen.

Despite the universe having been around for another 13.7 billion years (minus 4 minutes), very little of the primordial material has been used to create stars. So astronomers can go to telescopes and measure these abundances. The Big Bang predicts about 72% of the material out there is hydrogen, and 28% is helium. Astronomers have found that about 24% is helium and 76% is hydrogen, and with error bars, this is in good agreement with the theory.

Pillar #4 – Growth of Structure

The nitty gritty parts of this one require a lot of computer modeling and telescope observations, but the basic idea that the Big Bang – the expansion of the universe from something that was smaller – and the way that it unfolded is the only scientific theory that explains how the large-scale structure that we observe today on the scale of gigantic super clusters of galaxies and the voids between them.

Final Thoughts

Any theory has to explain the available data. If it doesn’t, then it must be modified to account for the data, or it must be abandoned for one that can. I don’t and won’t pretend that the Big Bang theory that exists today has been the exact same one that existed decades ago. That’s not how science works, and that’s not how the history of the theory has played out. But, the Big Bang theory is the only scientific theory that explains all available observations, and propping it up are four fundamental observations.

March 17, 2009

Defending the Big Bang: An Introduction

Filed under: big bang,creationism,intelligent design — Stuart Robbins @ 12:00 pm

Introduction

I’ve been trying to think of another series of posts to do after my fairly successful one on Planet X and 2012. And then it struck me – why not start at the beginning, or, perhaps more precisely, just after the beginning of the universe, the Big Bang.

There are a few main types of arguments (non-scientific) against the Big Bang (and yes, it should be capitalized because it is a singular noun event/theory). First, there are the young-Earth creationists who will generally argue against anything that science comes up with that goes against their sacred book. Second, there are the Intelligent Designers who out of necessity have to say that the Big Bang was put in motion by “an intelligence” because otherwise their arguments against a natural evolution fall apart. Third, there are the self-proclaimed “amateur scientists” who hold “alternatives” to Big Bang cosmology with things you may never have heard of before, like the “plasma theory” or “plasma universe.”

What I plan to do is, over the next few days, write about four posts addressing the issues raised and the scientific rebuttal. The first post will address the pillars of the modern Big Bang theory, and subsequent posts will likely reference it.

Other Posts in This Series

None yet.

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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