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The authors of the claimed biggest astrophysics discovery of the century admit they may have been wrong

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Published: 3 July 2014 (GMT+10)

In March 2014 a team of astrophysicists announced to the world, through a public press release, that they had made the biggest discovery of the 21st century.

Cosmology is really historical science and as such there could be a plethora of possible explanations for the same evidence

Using the BICEP2, a telescope located at the South Pole, they claimed that they had discovered evidence of the early inflation epoch of the big bang universe. This was in part identified through what they claimed was the signature of primordial gravitational waves generated by distortions in spacetime during the first quintillionth of a quintillionth of a second after the alleged big bang and the effect of gravitational lensing on the B-mode polarization of the CMB photons1 that have travelled for allegedly the past 13.4 billion years since they left the big bang fireball. The discovery was celebrated worldwide and some even spoke of a Nobel Prize for the work.

BICEP2-telescope

Figure 1: BICEP2 telescope, in Antarctica, used to make the disputed discovery.
Credit: Steffen Richter, Harvard University

Scientists dispute claims

Soon after the announcement on 17 March 2014, I pointed out the logical fallacy of this sort of thing. Cosmology is not science in the usual sense of experimentally repeatable tests. Cosmology is really historical science and as such there could be a plethora of possible explanations for the same evidence. Then a short while after the champagne corks had been popped, leading cosmologists, including Lawrence Krauss, also questioned the premature announcement stating,

“ … it is important to demonstrate that other possible sources cannot account for the current BICEP2 data before definitely claiming Inflation has been proved.”2

But then instead of this discovery being further hailed as the claimed ‘smoking gun’ evidence of the big bang, a significant controversy developed among scientists who had had time to analyse the results in more detail. It was reported in Science,

“The biggest discovery in cosmology in a decade could turn out to be an experimental artifact—at least according to an Internet rumor. The team that reported the discovery is sticking by its work, however.”3

And I wrote,

Some experts have suggested that the polarized emission from dust in our galaxy can account for most of the swirls in the BICEP2 data and that the BICEP team made a mistake,4 making it more likely that the signal came from a source other than gravitational waves.

There have since been many articles written on this in a media storm from even the very first day of their media release.5,6,7,8 In the 5 June 2014 edition of the prestigious scientific journal Nature, Dr Paul Steinhardt, a distinguished Professor of Physics at Princeton University, under the headline ‘Big Bang blunder bursts the multiverse bubble’ wrote,

“Now a careful reanalysis by scientists at Princeton University and the Institute for Advanced Study, also in Princeton, has concluded that the BICEP2 B-mode pattern could be the result mostly or entirely of foreground effects without any contribution from gravitational waves. Other dust models considered by the BICEP2 team do not change this negative conclusion…”

For this observation Steinhardt has come under personal attack. One blogger wrote that this,

The BICEP2 B-mode pattern could be the result mostly or entirely of foreground effects without any contribution from gravitational waves—Paul Steinhardt
“… puts him almost in the same category with hardcore cranks…”9

But that same blogger admits the problem here,

“What actually follows from the facts is that cosmic inflation as a paradigm doesn’t make unambiguous predictions about (at least) one physical quantity, namely the strength of the primordial gravitational waves.”

Which is just what I have been saying all along.

BICEP2 publish

Finally on 20 June 2014, the BICEP2 Collaboration had their paper published in the prestigious Physical Review Letters.10 Their paper comprises 25 pages in a journal that has a normal strict limit of four pages (actually 3500 words11) and, in special cases, extension to six pages is sometimes seen. This gives you some idea of the ‘impact’ to the scientific community that the editors have attributed to the discovery.

However, in those 25 pages there appears a one-half page “Note added” during the review process (prior to publication) wherein they admit that galactic dust contamination “… may well be higher than any of the models considered… ”12 [emphasis added] by them in their analysis.

swirling-B-mode

Figure 2: A graphic showing the swirling B-mode polarization detected in the CMB radiation.
Credit: BICEP2 Collaboration

Since their paper was submitted for peer-review and publication, new information on polarized dust emission from the Galaxy has become available from the Planck satellite, a space-borne telescope, which measures the CMB radiation with higher resolution than any previous telescope. This new data indicates that the polarized dust emission may be stronger than any of the models considered and hence they admit there is doubt about the B-mode polarization signal they claimed to be primordial from the big bang inflation epoch. They now admit the possibility of foreground dust contamination,

“Accounting for the contribution of foreground, dust will shift this value [of their claimed confidence interval of detection] downward by an amount which will be better constrained with upcoming data sets.”13

This is code for ‘we may be totally wrong’, because if the confidence limit is shifted down below 4 σ then, statistically, there is no detection. That is, it would be the result of foreground contamination from dust in the Galaxy. But they live in hope,

“More data are clearly required to resolve the situation.”14

But they can’t

“…exclude the possibility of dust emission bright enough to explain the entire excess signal,”15 [emphasis added]

which they had attributed to the primordial gravitational waves in that putative big bang inflation era.

Conclusion

Cosmology is a weak form of science, at best. It relies heavily on statistical arguments and on observations that have many possible interpretations. In that sense it is not on the same footing as repeatable operational science. It cannot make predictions on that basis, because even if you do make a prediction and discover the effect you predicted, you cannot rule out many other possibilities. And some of them you may not have even thought of.

Another problem here is that the big bang is now a paradigm. It is believed to be true—that the universe started that way—so evidence found that contradicts it is woven into the established fabric by use of additional ad hoc hypotheses and new parameters. These result in unknowns that are used to explain the unknown.

Inflation itself is one of these unknowns used to explain the unknowns like the horizon problem, the flatness problem, the monopole problem, etc.16 So, even if you find evidence to support your unknown, what if the unknown is purely fiction? It would not be the first time in science that such a situation has developed. Phlogiston is one such example,17 which was eventually eliminated. But that did not have a bearing on our origins and carried less philosophical and theological weight as to the verity of a Creator.

The big bang is claimed to be the uncaused cause, the beginning of the universe without God. Cosmic inflation is used to support that conjecture, and because of the conflicting evidence, it is necessarily supported by unknowns. This is a deep hole that those believers in scientism have dug and they must blithely continue else they will have to admit the Creator.

Unwisely there are those, like Hugh Ross and his ‘Reasons to Believe’ ministry, who have hung their Christian theology on the unstable ‘sand’ of big bang cosmology.18 They claim BICEP2 and other lines of evidence to support the Genesis 1 creation, via a supposedly ‘literal’ reading of the text. But no such reading is possible and to use this weak form of science to support your theology is so dangerous because the science continually changes. Only the solid ‘rock’ foundation of the biblical account, taken as straightforward history, is appropriate for this—meaning that there was no big bang, but a big God Who created the universe that we can see out to the limits of our telescopes. And He is worth putting your trust in.

[Note added 24 September 2014: In their published research paper, the authors making the original ‘discovery of inflation’ claim said they would await the outcome of the data analysis of the Planck satellite team looking at the same region of the sky and the same frequencies. Well, that has now been published, and it’s not good news for the BICEP2 team. See this brief article.]

Related Articles

Further Reading

References and notes

  1. CMB = Cosmic Microwave Background. This is believed by most to be left-over radiation from the big bang fireball, measured at wavelengths of microwaves, or more correctly at millimetre-wavelengths with frequencies of the order of 100 GHz. Return to text.
  2. Dent, J.B., Krauss, L.M. and Mathur, H., Killing the Straw Man: Does BICEP Prove Inflation?, arxiv.org/pdf/1403.5166v1.pdf. Return to text.
  3. Cho, A., Blockbuster Big Bang Result May Fizzle, Rumor Suggests, 12 May 2014, news.sciencemag.org. Return to text.
  4. Grossman, L., Rumours swirl over credibility of big bang ripple find, 13 May 2014, newscientist.com. Return to text.
  5. Bull, P., How solid is the BICEP2 B-mode result?, 17 March 2014, philbull.wordpress.com. Return to text.
  6. Strassler, M., BICEP2’s Cosmic Polarization: Published, Reduced in Strength, 20 June 2014, profmattstrassler.com. Return to text.
  7. Santini, J-L., Experts cast doubt on Big Bang bolstering discovery, 14 June 2014, phys.org/news. Return to text.
  8. Duffy, A., Has dust clouded the discovery of gravitational waves?, 4 June 2014, phys.org/news. Return to text.
  9. Pilsen, L.M., Inflation and BICEP2: Steinhardt is missing the whole point, 7 June 2014, motls.blogspot.com.au. Return to text.
  10. Ade, P.A.R., et al. (BICEP2 Collaboration), Detection of B-Mode Polarization at Degree Angular Scales by BICEP2, Phys. Rev. Lett., 112: 241101 (2014). Return to text.
  11. http://journals.aps.org/authors/length-guide. Return to text.
  12. Ref. 10. Return to text.
  13. Ref. 10. Return to text.
  14. Ref. 10. Return to text.
  15. Ref. 10. Return to text.
  16. Hartnett, J.G., The big bang is not a Reason to Believe!, 20 May 2014, creation.com/big-bang-not-a-reason. Return to text.
  17. http://encyclopedia2.thefreedictionary.com/Phlogistin. Return to text.
  18. Ref. 16. Return to text.

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Readers’ comments
Robert S., Australia, 3 July 2014

So in trying to relate the Genesis account with modern anti-God ideas/notions in an attempt to give the Bible more public credibility, those who practice the very unstable heresy of theistic evolution are, in the long run, really doing the very opposite with their big bang and Genesis mix.

One would have thought that they might have woken up to themselves by now and realized how illogical and foolish the doctrine of the Big Bang-Genesis Combination really is, with its rude contradiction of God’s word.

Alan W S., United Kingdom, 3 July 2014

I must confess that I don't fully understand all the arguments regarding Big Bang cosmology but I can follow the general drift quite happily. I do, however understand and heartily endorse the two closing sentences: "Only the solid ‘rock’ foundation of the biblical account, taken as straightforward history, is appropriate for this—meaning that there was no big bang, but a big God Who created the universe that we can see out to the limits of our telescopes. And He is worth putting your trust in."

Keep up the good work and God bless you all.

Robert B., United States, 3 July 2014

"Inflation itself is one of these unknowns used to explain the unknowns like the horizon problem, the flatness problem, the monopole problem, etc. So, even if you find evidence to support your unknown, what if the unknown is purely fiction?"

This bit made me stop and marvel at what a lucid and insightful observation this article is conveying. Bravo!! Applause to CMI for hosting so much quality content.

Carlton R., United States, 3 July 2014

The author's first paragraph of his conclusion makes a valid point that I would argue also applies to operational science as well. My point; operational science relies on the logical fallacy of asserting the consequent. Granted the scientific method (operationally speaking) does make testable predictions but we can never say we are absolutely 100% certain of the cause of any effect. An infinite number of unknown variables can never be ruled out so 'science' will always change. But this is the best we finite beings have to work with so we should be humble about it and admit its' limitations! Anyway, this whole big-bang-multi-verse fiction does nothing for building confidence in the cosmology crowd who cannot tell the difference between real science (operational) and science fiction, it's delusional.

Kenneth L., Canada, 3 July 2014

The treatment received by Dr. Paul Steinhardt for daring to question the latest supposed cosmological 'discovery' demonstrates that the Big Bang theory, like macro-evolutionism, is a religious origins belief based on wishful thinking, as opposed to verifiable scientific evidence.

Now that this 'discovery' supposedly vaildating inflation has been prestigiously published, it will become part of the orthodox belief system of the Big Bang, and any new evidence that refutes it will be shunned and ignored by the secular cosmological (i.e. Big Bang) establishment, just as they have done to the Sloan Deep Sky Survey and the late Halton Arp's quasar observations that scientifically challenge their cosmic religion.

It will be up to Young Earth Creationist scientists and the occasional secular dissident scientist like Halton Arp to doggedly pursue the truth. The secular Big Bang establishment can be expected to just as doggedly suppress any non-conforming evidence and to marginalize scientists who don't conform to their Big Bang religious belief system.

I would like to say Thank you! to the scientists in the modern YEC movement who follow the evidence and pursue the truth, no matter how unpopular that makes them with their secular colleagues. They have greatly enriched my life and I would even go so far as to say that these courageous scientists have made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled Christian in the 20th and 21st Centuries. For that, we should be grateful to them, and above all, to our Father in Heaven and to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Joshua S., United States, 3 July 2014

"The big bang is claimed to be the uncaused cause, the beginning of the universe without God. Cosmic inflation is used to support that conjecture, and because of the conflicting evidence, it is necessarily supported by unknowns."

I see here room for two accusations to be made, which the author of the article graciously refrained from making.

1. The hypocrisy of the atheists for mocking Christians for believing in a God who is the "uncaused cause".

and

2. Just how badly evolutionists also rely on a "god of the gaps" of their own, or rather "big bang/evolution of the gaps". We don't know many things, so the general tendency of humankind is to fall back on one's basic premise as the solution to the unknown.

Larry B., United States, 3 July 2014

Scientific terms and phrases are way over my head. I can't say that there was or wasn't a Big Bang, all I know is if the Big Bang explains away God, then the Big Bang is nonsense.

John Hartnett responds

The issue is more than that. If the Bible described creation via the big bang then we should believe it. But the Genesis account describes a sequence of events that are contradictory to the big bang sequence of events. See The big bang is not a Reason to Believe.

Brandon P., Canada, 4 July 2014

Hi! First off I would like to say I am a huge fan of the website and how commited you guys are to God's word and Creation. I am entering my first year of university next year and thanks to your guys' website I am very seriously looking at getting into Creation apologetics if I continue with my goal of getting a PhD in physics (God willing). CMI and God has given me the motivation and drive to do so. I was wondering, after reading this article, if it is in line with the Bible to propose that God used inflation or a variation of it to stretch the heavens as CMI seems to support. I have read your YSS model and, although it was a bit over my head, I followed it for the most part. My question then is if God used inflation (although I know it isn't proved and is an unknown used to explain unknowns) then what would the expansion rate or "spewing" of matter out of the white hole been and if it is even feasible?

I'm hoping I didn't severely overlook anything, it isn't a stupid question, and I hope my question actually makes sense as I know the Big Bang itself with it's billions of years is not biblical.

PS I'm almost done Dismantling The Big Bang and it is incredible!

In Christ,

John Hartnett responds

Brandon, OK, let's first define what 'inflation' would mean. In the case of the big bang model it is an exponential expansion brought on by something like a phase change in some scalar field--no one knows how. Nor do they know what the field is, though it is labelled as an 'inflaton field'. In the model the inflaton is the hypothetical particle that decays producing the massive expansion.

In a creationist model, one could easily propose a super-rapid inflation period during the first days of Creation, that rapidly expanded the universe. I have proposed that in my model as described in "Starlight Time and the New Physics" but I hesitate to use the 'l' word because it is not the same thing as in the big bang model, except the final outcome--the visible universe.

Having said that, Prof. Moshe Carmeli when developing his cosmology, from which I borrowed extensively, proposed an inflation period in his first theory called Cosmological Special Relativity. I viewed that more as a toy model, but it introduced an inflation period that was really only a relativistic effect--i.e. it is the result of what the observer would see due to the somewhat strange effects of relativity in his spacevelocity model.

So depending on the form of your model, whether it involves a finite bounded or unbounded universe, one might consider matter moving out from a central point where our galaxy is located somewhere near. This I have discussed in my book though not in much detail. You will find a discussion here on the issues to do with a finite or infinite universe, and whether cosmology allows us to be in the centre of the universe. There you will find a link to a paper on my finite universe model, based on Carmeli's cosmology, which I published last year. That model involves the expanding 'white hole' model that you are imagining. It may be difficult to understand the math, the rest should be ok.

Here I discuss issues in regards to a static or expanding universe. I am also considering a static universe now, in terms of the biblical creationist worldview, as is Dr D.R. Humphreys.

I hope I have answered your question.

Aure T., United States, 4 July 2014

As with any 'photographs', I assume, the length of exposure determines how far apart the events are in time. What are the exposure details of the photograph in question? It is only then that some reasonable conclusions can be made from the photo evidence.

A. I., United States, 5 July 2014

Even though I am not a YEC, Pilsen is actually were Lubos Motl lives. And he is the "crackpot" not Steinhardt, since he claims to be a "Christian atheist".

Matthew T., United States, 6 July 2014

I would agree with the author. The Bible record is our best reference to our beginnings. "God said..." so we would hear. That plus the use of intelligence He blessed us with to search the sky. I recently saw a program with Dr. Hugh Ross who seemed to be saying the laws of physics can not be altered and that our fossil record resulting in fossil fuels must take millions of years. I think between the Biblical record and recent geological discoveries millions of years is not the case or necessary. God is the Creator of time itself and as such He would be capable of modifying physics to create our universe we live in.

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