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Big Bang blunder bursts the multiverse bubble

Premature hype over gravitational waves highlights gaping holes in models for the origins and evolution of the Universe

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Published: 12 June 2014 (GMT+10)

The above was the heading and subheading of an opinion piece by Dr Paul Steinhardt, a distinguished Professor of Physics at Princeton University, in the 5 June 2014, edition of the prestigious scientific journal Nature. The article has consequences that go far beyond the scientific establishment.

On 23 April this year a unique event took place in Perth, Western Australia. Dr Hugh Ross, founding president of Reasons to Believe met with Dr Carl Wieland, Managing Director of CMI, at a full-house public meeting to “dialogue” on the subject of young-earth vs old-earth creation. Astronomer Dr Ross is well known for his compromise position in trying to fit Genesis creation into Big Bang cosmology and old-earth fossil record/isotope dating.1

Among a flurry of highly technical evidence and arguments that must surely have gone ‘over the heads’ of the vast majority of the audience, Dr Ross cited the recent discovery of gravity waves as supporting the ‘inflationary Big Bang’ cosmology and emphatically stated that “Only an inflationary universe can sustain life!” With this in mind, read on.

The sudden reversal [of the previous announcement] should make the scientific community contemplate the implications for the future of cosmology experimentation and theory

Professor Steinhardt began: “When a team of cosmologists announced at a press conference in March that they had detected gravitational waves generated in the first instants after the Big Bang, the origins of the Universe were once again major news. The reported discovery created a worldwide sensation in the scientific community, the media and the public at large.”

“According to the team at the BICEP2 South Pole telescope … there is less than one chance in two million of it being a random occurrence. The results were hailed as proof of the Big Bang inflationary theory and its progeny, the multiverse. Nobel prizes were predicted and scores of theoretical models spawned. The announcement also influenced decisions about academic appointments and the rejections of papers and grants. It even had a role in governmental planning of large-scale projects.”

Note that this all happened as the result of a press conference, not the publication of a peer-reviewed scientific article.

Steinhardt continued: “Now a careful re-analysis 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, the Princeton team showed.”2 The authors of this re-analysis concluded that “These results suggest that BICEP1 and BICEP2 data alone cannot distinguish between foregrounds and a primordial gravitational wave signal, and that future Keck Array [ground-based telescope] observations at 100 GHz and Planck [satellite] observations at higher frequencies will be crucial to determine whether the signal is of primordial origin.”

Steinhardt then said: “The sudden reversal [of the previous announcement] should make the scientific community contemplate the implications for the future of cosmology experimentation and theory. …”

It is clear that the inflationary paradigm is fundamentally untestable, and hence scientifically meaningless

“This time, the teams can be assured that the world will be paying close attention. This time, acceptance will require measurements over a range of frequencies to discriminate from foreground effects, as well as tests to rule out other sources of confusion. And this time, the announcements should be made after submission to journals and vetting by expert referees. If there must be a press conference, hopefully the scientific community and the media will demand that it is accompanied by a complete set of documents, including details of the systematic analysis and sufficient data to enable objective verification.”

“The BICEP2 incident has also revealed a truth about inflationary theory. The common view is that it is a highly predictive theory. If that was the case and the detection of gravitational waves was the ‘smoking gun’ proof of inflation, one would think that non-detection means that the theory fails. Such is the nature of normal science. Yet some proponents of inflation who celebrated the BICEP2 announcement already insist that the theory is equally valid whether or not gravitational waves are detected. How is this possible?”

“The answer given by proponents is alarming: the inflationary paradigm is so flexible that it is immune to experimental and observational tests. First, inflation is driven by a hypothetical scalar field, the inflaton, which has properties that can be adjusted to produce effectively any outcome. Second, inflation does not end with a universe with uniform properties, but almost inevitably leads to a multiverse with an infinite number of bubbles, in which the cosmic and physical properties vary from bubble to bubble. The part of the multiverse that we observe corresponds to a piece of just one such bubble. Scanning over all possible bubbles in the multiverse, everything that can physically happen does happen an infinite number of times. No experiment can rule out a theory that allows for all possible outcomes. Hence, the paradigm of inflation is unfalsifiable.”

“This may seem confusing given the hundreds of theoretical papers on the predictions of this or that inflationary model. What these papers typically fail to acknowledge is that they ignore the multiverse and that, even with this unjustified choice, there exists a spectrum of other models which produce all manner of diverse cosmological outcomes. Taking this into account, it is clear that the inflationary paradigm is fundamentally untestable, and hence scientifically meaningless [this emphasis was featured in the centre of the original article].”

We could not have said it better ourselves—thus the extended quotations from the original article. Steinhardt is Director of the Princeton Centre for Theoretical Science, which means he is a powerful voice in the scientific community. He is a well-known critic of inflationary Big Bang cosmology and co-author of the 2007 book Endless Universe in which he proposes an alternative cyclical universe.3 The point that I would like to make from this is that Dr Ross has put his faith in a scientific theory that is demonstrably ‘meaningless’. The inflationary theory leads to the multiverse concept and “in the multiverse, everything that can physically happen does happen an infinite number of times.” How’s that for a God-substitute!

References and notes

  1. Sarfati, J., Refuting Compromise (updated & expanded), Master Books, 2014. Return to text.
  2. Flauger, R., Hill, J. C. and Spergel, D. N.,Toward an Understanding of Foreground Emission in the BICEP2 Region, preprint at http://arxiv.org/abs/1405.7351, 2014. Return to text.
  3. Steinhardt, P.J. and Turok, N., Endless Universe: Beyond the Big Bang––Rewriting Cosmic History, Broadway Books, New York, 2007. Return to text.