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

NASA mw7b


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.

Readers’ comments

Rachael O.
I was worried in the first week that many souls would give in to scientism because evolutionists would forget the rules of falsifiability in their excitement. Then my faith reminded me that true science always catches up with God in the end, and evolutionists are once again holding their collective breaths until they are blue in the face.
Richard L.
Dr. Ross may be 'stuck' on Big Bang (BB) not least because of a misplaced sense of gratitude.

In one of his early books, he mentions that he was moving towards atheism when BB 'saved' him from that. (BB's necessary universe-origin requires an adequate-causation creator deity.) Several years later (when 16?) he was born-again spiritually saved.

At a subconscious level in Dr. Ross, there may be a strong signal that an imperiled BB would again threaten the return of atheism. This is one factor in the negative spiritual warfare Dr. Ross is experiencing--false obligation, this time through false gratitude.

For Dr. Ross's liberation, he needs to realize that we have known, thermodynamically, since the latter 1800s, that the universe is moving towards a heat death, and that, therefore, it came into existence a finite time in the past. (The old Steady-State Universe model [SSU] is WRONG!) One doesn't need BB to avoid atheism.

Likewise for a famous theologian--whose work in the 70s promoting biblical inerrancy we can greatly appreciate. He was at college in the early 60s in the last days of anti-God/anti-beginnings SSU promotion. Though SSU was obsolete already, thermodynamically, promotion of it finally caved in--during his college days-- when BB gained ascendancy. He almost certainly has a like but false obligation through gratitude to BB, for forcing a needed acknowledgment of beginnings. A like rescue is needed.
Egil W.
This info should be featured in the last episode of 'Cosmos'

Tracy M.
If the big bang theory were true, it would be the only reaction ever in the last 4 billion or more years where countless objects(planets) resulted in very round smooth spheres during one very big explosion. In my world of reality, when rock is blown up with dynamite, the rocks always come out with very jagged edges but when it comes to evolutionary thinking, smooth planets can come out of an explosion.
Derek L.
While astronomy is my beloved science and I am reasonably knowledgeable (for an amateur) in the subject, some of this nevertheless went over my head. What stuck out to me, however, is the statement that the inflationary Big Bang theory is scientifically unfalsifiable. I remember what that means from high school: If a theory is unfalsifiable, it cannot be accepted as a viable scientific model. You have to be able to prove or disprove a theory in order for it to be acceptable. This, at any rate, is what I remember from my classes. If this is true, then, it means that the inflationary Big Bang theory is, by very nature, unscientific. Yet they are more than willing to push this theory anyway. My personal belief is that this is because Science, which once had the goal of explaining how things work, has the new goal of explaining why God doesn't exist. Any theory that can answer enough of reality without invoking the name of the Most High to do so is welcomed with open arms by the quote unquote "Scientific community". Science today starts with the presumption there is no God, and this is where they go horribly astray.
michael S.
Two scriptures spring to my mind;

Isaiah 51:13 "And you forget the Lord your Maker, Who stretched out the heavens."
1 Corinthians 1:20; "Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?"

I think universes that inflate themselves as part of a multi-universe or some kind of recurring universe shows the desperately silly answers secular science has. It is clear that science can't answer the big questions in any meaningful way, it just pretends to.
John F. K.
When I read this article, it seemed to me that prestige, ego, and “intellectual” pride are huge components in the lives of some, maybe many, of the referenced scientists. I may be wrong about this, but if pride is a key component here, doesn’t the Bible say a few things about that character trait?
R. R.
LOL would seem like an appropriate reaction. The part that still seems interesting is:

"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?"

It seems things like these [where seemingly qualified individuals are so unwilling to reject an unfalsifiable and meaningless hypothesis] actually helps tell apart the better scientists [e.g. those that at least waited for the peer-reviewed re-analysis] from the mediocre [e.g. those going off on the basis of a press conference].

Thanks again for your publication and work, CMI.
Stephon L.
Why hasn't this been all over the media?
Aleksandar K.
Is Steinhardt's cyclical universe more testable than the inflationary model? Does it rely more on laws of physics or does it, like inflation, bypass the laws of physics to preserve the big bang scenario? I didn't find anything on it in your other articles and I don't have access to so much literature.
Don Batten
I understand that these issues will be addressed in an upcoming series of articles that Dr John Hartnett is preparing.
A cyclic model cannot give an eternal universe as every cycle must have less available energy than the previous one and this cannot have been going on forever or the available energy would now be zero (that is, we would not be here discussing this).
There are fundamental problems with testing all models for the origin of the universe as we do not have alternative universes to test the models on. We also cannot repeat the experiment!
Steven T.
Perhaps you left out some of Steinhardt's comments, but from the quotes given, his conclusion does not seem to follow from the facts given. "The predictions cannot be tested until future, more sophisticated observations (e.g. the Keck Array and Planck satellite observations) have been made" is not the same as "the predictions cannot be tested at all (and hence are not really predictions, and hence inflation is untestable)." Note that Steinhardt is arguing that inflation is untestable, not that the Big Bang is untestable (his own cyclic model is, of course, a Big Bang model) -- that tests, at least those currently available, cannot give reasons to prefer inflationary Big Bang models to cyclic Big Bang models. I doubt Ross, at least, is much interested in possible multiple universes.
Alex Williams
Thanks for the comments Steven. Steinhardt's article, and the one it is based on, are both open access if you wish to read them in full. Your points will be addressed in an upcoming series of articles that Dr John Hartnett is preparing. The main point in quoting Steinhardt's critique was the shockingly poor standard of scientific work that went into the original event (a press conference), the huge (unjustified) response that it generated amongst the scientific community, the media, and the general public, and the lessons to be learned for the future.
If Hugh Ross is indeed not much interested in possible multiple universes then he is one of those criticised by Steinhardt for ignoring the consequences of inflation. Once you invoke it, you cannot stop it, and thus you should NOT ignore its consequences. When unknowns (like inflation) are routinely invoked to explain other unknowns (like Big Bangs) the public (and other scientists not familiar with such practices) are fooled into thinking it must be good science. It's not. And that is what John Hartnett will be addressing. Stay tuned.
Chris H.
With this and other information that is coming more frequently and rapidly, the Big Bang appears to be becoming The Fatal Fizz of evolution.
Ryan B.
Good article i remember all the secular evoulutionists in some of the comments you could post on yahoo news saying "ha hows that you christians" when this so called "discovery" was found. Shows how "tolerant" some of these people can be

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