An eternal big bang universe
Published: 26 February 2015 (GMT+10)
As a high school student, at a time when I was an atheist, I co-authored a book reviewing the various cosmological models that were discussed in the scientific literature in 1968. That was three years after the discovery of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation, and the Big Bang Theory had just made a big leap forward in front of its competitor at the time, the Steady State Theory.
In our book—which by the way won us second prize in a Western Australian state-wide science competition—we outlined the two competing models. The Big Bang Theory at that time had three distinct forms:
- the cycloidal model, which would collapse back into a big crunch (and bounce out of the singularity cyclically) because the matter density of the universe was too great to resist the inevitable re-collapse (a finite closed universe);
- the coasting model, which had just the right amount of matter for an infinite universe that is neither accelerating nor decelerating in its expansion, continually expanding but never collapsing (an open infinite universe); and
- the hyperbolic model, an accelerating expanding universe, low matter density but driven apart by a cosmological constant term (an open and infinite universe).
The most favoured of the three was the closed cycloidal model with a matter density greater than critical so it had to collapse back in a big crunch. Nowadays it is the accelerating infinite (open) universe, which is spatially flat due to dark matter and dark energy content.
On reviewing these models, and even knowing that the CMB discovery favoured these as a prediction of the big bang theorists, particularly George Gamow, I personally favoured the Steady State Theory. The Steady State Theory really had only one model, which was an infinite universe that was eternal both into the past and into the future. It had no beginning and no ending.
The Steady State Theory accepted an expanding universe, but that as it expanded hydrogen atoms were ‘created’ from the vacuum at a rate to just balance the decrease in density of matter caused by the expansion. The new matter forms new stars and galaxies and the universe remains in a steady state. The idea, promoted by such notables as Herman Bondi, Thomas Gold and Sir Fred Hoyle, needed no Creator because the universe had always been. It never had an origin. For a student like me, who wanted a simple answer to the question of the origin of the universe and to avoid the God question, the Steady State Theory was ‘it’. Why look elsewhere?
At that time I was an atheist and I satisfied myself this way by writing God out of the equation. But the evidence of the Hubble expansion and the CMB radiation was rapidly changing the views of the scientific community.
However, as the Big Bang Theory developed, its lead proponents in the 1950s (when Fred Hoyle coined the phrase in derision, being one of its most ardent opponents) were often called ‘evangelicals’. This could have been because they—Gamow, (Robert) Dicke, etc—were largely Americans, but not Ryle, an Englishman. But they were mostly atheists.
One prominent theist big bang believer back then was the Jesuit Roman Catholic Priest Georges Lemaître, who, along with Alexander Friedmann (a Russian atheist), had solved the Einstein field equations for the standard big bang solution that underlies the eponymous models.1
When Pope Pius XII declared, at the opening meeting of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, November 22, 1951, that the Big Bang Theory does not conflict with the Catholic concept of creation, he gave a big boost to its acceptance in the wider community. But those who opposed it did so largely on the grounds that it involved an origin in time.
Many of the atheist Steady State Theory believers were from the UK, who vehemently opposed the Big Bang Theory on the grounds that it was irrational. One was Sir Fred Hoyle, who once famously wrote,
“[The Big Bang] is an irrational process that cannot be described in scientific terms … [nor] challenged by an appeal to observation.”2
There was much rivalry in the 1950s and 1960s as these theories competed. George Gamow, famously responded to Fred Hoyle, after the discovery of the CMB, purporting to be the afterglow of the big bang, ‘the death knell’ for the Steady State Theory, with:
“I am glad to say that it isn’t necessary any more to pour Hoil on the troubled waters of cosmogony.”
From 1965 on the Big Bang Theory rapidly gained ground over the Steady State Theory, and though most of its proponents have now died, there still remains a small devoted following. They follow a revived version, the Quasi-Steady State Creation theory. This was largely the creation of Fred Hoyle—even it needed a creator (Ha!). It incorporated a quasi-steady state universe with many cycles of expansion and contraction, but not with a big crunch into a singularity. We are apparently now in one of the expansion cycles, according to that theory, and the creation was not by a Creator, but a property of the universe itself.
I remember a debate I watched in the 1980s with William Lane Craig (an evangelical Christian apologist, who started the Reasonable Faith apologetics ministry) and a prominent atheist. Craig used the argument that the universe had to have an origin in time because we observe an expanding universe and that was his proof that the biblical creation account was true.
Essentially it is the Kalam cosmological argument, which argues that because the universe exists, and had a beginning, it had to have a cause to its existence, and God is invoked as the first cause, the uncreated first cause. That argument, in itself, is valid, but Craig used the Big Bang Theory to argue for the creation of the universe in a past moment of time.
By basing his primary argument on the idea that the universe is expanding, Craig said that the standard Big Bang Theory of Friedmann and Lemaître, a solution of Einstein’s field equations applied to the universe with the assumption of the cosmological principle, meant that the universe arose out of a universal singularity.
This singularity thus constituted a past boundary to spacetime, from which it follows that the universe had an absolute origin in the finite past. According to the Big Bang Theory nothing existed prior to the initial cosmological singularity, and everything that constitutes the universe now came into being from that event.3
Do you see it? It illogically elevates man’s theories to facts, and then uses those so-called facts as evidence to prove the thesis. This is the argument. But cosmology is just not that simple. The universe is not a lab in which arbitrary tests can be carried out. Cosmology, in fact, is not really even science. It is more philosophy, a belief system, and it requires the adherents of any particular cosmogony to believe in their story.
But here you have the Big Bang Theory used to ‘prove’ the creation account of Genesis in the Bible. The atheist followers of the Big Bang Theory really hate this aspect of its origin in time and have worked hard to overcome it.
Stephen Hawking, a real atheopath, has come up with the notion of the universal quantum singularity, where there was no origin in time. His idea is as if the universe passed through some quantum singularity created in a prior universe. This might lead to the notion of the multiverse, or, as Hawking promotes, the idea that the universe has many histories and we sample only some of them when we make observations. This is his claim from a theory he has developed using some quantum gravity formulation. In regard to the question, “How did the universe begin?” it has been reported that,
Many scientists would regard this as one of the most profound questions of all. But to Stephen Hawking, …, the question doesn’t … even exist. [He is] claiming that the Universe had no unique beginning. Instead, it began in just about every way imaginable (and maybe some that aren’t). If we start from where we are now, it is obvious that the current Universe must ‘select’ those histories that lead to these conditions. Otherwise we simply wouldn’t be here.4 (emphasis added)
Now this brings me back to the main point of writing this. My main reason back in 1968 to believe in the Steady State Theory over the Big Bang Theory was because it didn’t need a beginning. Because of that I believed it didn’t need a Creator, and because if I believed it did need a Creator then I would have had to acknowledge Him. I believe many scientists who call themselves atheists believe the same. I was running away from God as fast as I could, and they are doing the same.
Now the problem does not end there. I would still have had a problem if I believed in the big bang cosmogony after I became a Christian. I know this because I did believe in the Big Bang Theory by the time I became a believer in Jesus Christ. It was only after I read the Genesis account of the Creation and believed that the Scriptures were authoritative, that I became a biblical creationist.
Nevertheless there are many Christians who believe in the William Lane Craig argument and use it. They believe the Big Bang Theory is a fair description of the creation of the universe. They also believe the first cause argument applies to the big bang out of the singularity, because it was an origin in time.
Hugh Ross, with his Reasons to Believe ministry team, claims something similar, even states that the Bible literally describes the big bang origin and he accepts it as proven science. Ross puts this so-called science on the same par as the books of the Bible. It would seem to me, in fact, that he puts science before the Bible and uses it to re-interpret it, where it plainly says something else.
However, recent theoretical work,5 published 4 February 2015, using a new quantum gravity theory, has an extra term in that theory so that in the early universe it eliminates the big bang singularity and predicts an infinite age for the universe. According to the theory the big bang did not start with a singularity. It is no longer needed.
Astrophysicist Brian Koberlein explains:6
The catch is that by eliminating the singularity, the model predicts that the universe had no beginning. It existed forever as a kind of quantum potential before ‘collapsing’ into the hot dense state we call the Big Bang. Unfortunately many articles confuse ‘no singularity’ with ‘no big bang.’ (emphasis added)
This new theory has an eternal big bang universe. Like some aspects of the Steady State Theory before it and like Hawking’s quantum theory this new theory has an eternal universe. It eliminates the origin in time. Koberlein again:
While this is an interesting model, it should be noted that it’s very basic. More of a proof of concept than anything else. It should also be noted that replacing the big bang singularity with an eternal history isn’t a new idea. Many inflation models, for example, make similar predictions. But none of these ideas eliminate the big bang, which is an established scientific fact. (emphases added)
Note how he is eager to dispel any notion that this eliminates the big bang. So it is now the big bang minus any beginning. The reports of the death of the big bang then have been greatly exaggerated. Big Bang theory is alive and well, they say.7
It is like merging the eternal history of the Steady State Theory (or histories in Hawking’s model) with the expanding out of an initially hot dense state of the Big Bang Theory (Friedmann and Lemaître’s model) but maintaining the dark-energy-driven dark-matter-filled fantasy that they call modern cosmology. Wow! An eternal big bang universe cosmogony! They sure have a lot of faith to believe that. I don’t.8
And they can’t escape their desire to eliminate the Creator. Now what remains is some eternal quantum potential, a new ‘god of the gaps’. What is that, but a substitute for the eternal uncreated self-existing One, Who created the universe at the beginning of time about 6000 years ago?
And what do those Christian apologists like Craig and Ross do to escape the dilemma, when the standard model turns away from an origin in time? Up until now, they have accepted the equations of the big bang theorists, like Friedmann and Lemaître. Do they accept it when the scientific community changes its cosmogony to an eternal big bang universe? What a quandary!
References and notes
- Note: Lemaître’s universe did not originate in a singularity but he said it began in a ‘cosmic egg’, i.e. of finite dimensions. Return to text.
- Fred Hoyle quoted by Smith, Q., in A Big Bang Cosmological Argument For God’s Nonexistence, Faith and Philosophy 9(2):217–237, April 1992. Return to text.
- Craig , W.L., God and the Initial Cosmological Singularity: A Reply to Quentin Smith, Faith and Philosophy 9:237–247, 1992. Return to text.
- Stephen Hawking quoted in Did Alternative Worlds Exist at the Big Bang, dailygalaxy.com and PDF document http://journals.aps.org/prd/pdf/10.1103/PhysRevD.73.123527. Originally published in Hawking, S.W. & Hertog, T., Phys. Rev. D(73):123527, 2006. Return to text.
- Alia, A.F., and Das, S., Cosmology from quantum potential, Physics Letters B(741): 276–279, 2015. Return to text.
- Koberlein, B., In the Beginning, briankoberlein.com, 10 February 2015. Return to text.
- What if the universe had no beginning?, earthsky.org, 10 February 2015. Return to text.
- For starters, eternal universe ideas, whether the Steady State Theory or the new ‘eternal big bang’ discussed in this article, all fall foul of the implications of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which is thoroughly established by experiment; see World Winding Down. To say this I must make the implicit assumption that the same laws of physics apply when the pre-big-bang quantum potential supposedly eternally existed, and I also make the assumption, which might not be so obvious, that the Second Law actually applies to the universe as a whole. But Paul Davies said, “Yet the laws [of physics] that permit a Universe to create itself are even more impressive than a cosmic magician. If there is a meaning or purpose beneath physical existence, then it is to those laws rather than to the big bang that we should direct our attention”; see The singularity—a ‘Dark’ beginning. Hence we can make that assumption, because it is consistent with that worldview. Return to text.