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Nobel Prize for alleged big bang proof

The recent announcement of the 2006 Nobel Prize for Physics has generated some questions relevant to the idea of a ‘big bang’ and cosmic evolution in general. Dr Jonathan Sarfati responds to these emails taken collectively:

Nobel Prize for supporting the establishment religion

COBE CMB fluctuations

Image: NASA

John Mather and George Smoot won the award for their work with the COBE (Cosmic Background Explorer) satellite on the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) radiation, which is alleged to have ‘turned cosmology into hard science’ according to the Nature report.1

Smoot himself is (in)famous for declaring that his observations were like ‘seeing God’. However he doesn’t believe in any Creator, but means instead that ‘he experiences a feeling of awe analogous to that of religious believers’—see Physicists’ God-talk. But since his discoveries supposedly support the big bang paradigm, that’s the main thing, it seems. This also explains why Dr Raymond Damadian was denied a Nobel despite his pioneering of MRI in medicine—he rejects the establishment religion of evolutionism. The same happened to Hoyle, who rejected the big bang and Darwin—as even Stephen Hawking acknowledged in Stephen Hawking: A Life in Science by Michael White and John Gribbin, 2002):

In one of the strangest decisions ever made by a Nobel committee, one of Hoyle’s colleagues, Willy Fowler, later received a share of the 1983 Nobel Prize for Physics for this work. Fowler is a fine physicist in his own right and was a key member of the team. But he is the first to acknowledge that Hoyle made the key breakthrough on carbon-12 production and was the inspiration for the team’s efforts. Unfortunately, later in his career Hoyle espoused some decidedly unconventional ideas about the possibility that outbreaks of disease on Earth might be caused by viruses from comets. It seems that the Nobel committee, in its wisdom (?), decided not to give him a share of the physics prize with Fowler for fear of seeming to lend credence to what they regarded as his more cranky work. At least the British establishment, for once belying its stuffy image, acknowledged Hoyle’s true worth with a knighthood.


COBE stands for the Cosmic Background Explorer satellite which NASA launched on 18 November 1989, the operations of which were terminated on 23 December 1993. Its function was to search for certain inhomogeneities, predicted in big bang thinking as the ‘seeds of galaxies’, as temperature variations in the background radiation. COBE did detect some variation, so naturally NASA announced, with fanfare, how they were looking right back into the beginning of the universe. However, these minute and dubious variations were only of the order of 1 in 105, actually ≤70 µK,2,3 far less than what would have been required for galaxy formation. See Recent Cosmic Microwave Background data supports creationist cosmologies by Dr Hartnett.

COBE was succeeded by WMAP (Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe), launched on 30 June 2001. (It was originally just MAP, but was rechristened WMAP in February 2003 after David Wilkinson, a pioneer in physics and cosmology, who died in September 2002.) These satellites had/have sensitive equipment to monitor the CMB.

The media have often trumpeted claims that they have mapped the universe as it was seen 380,000 years after the big bang.4 And in the popular reports, the detected anisotropies (unevennesses) are treated as if they are proof of the big bang model, whereas it is more circular reasoning. That is, the evidence (anisotropies) is interpreted assuming the truth of the big bang paradigm, then it is used as support of this paradigm.

Dr Humphreys shows the irony

Starlight and Time book and DVD set

The physicist Dr Russ Humphreys, who pioneered the vital work of integrating general relativity into biblical cosmology, provided the following instructive comments that we were free to use:

’It’s really ironic that Drs Smoot and Mather should receive a Nobel Prize for supporting the Big Bang at the precise time their work is being unravelled as evidence for that theory. Years ago, at the time they presented their discovery, I published an article proposing an alternative interpretation of it that did not support the Big Bang.

‘Over the years since then, subsequent articles in the secular Astrophysics literature have supported my interpretation. Now it looks as if new information overthrows Smoot and Mather’ interpretation completely—the cosmic microwave radiation may be coming from nearby sources, not from the alleged Big Bang fireball.

Dismantling the Big Bang

This is indeed a devastating blow. NASA announced, with fanfare, how they were looking right back into the beginning of the universe. But the lack of the right shadows shows that CMB cannot be from the big bang at all. Thus what had been touted as one of the main glorious predictions of the big bang is falsified. If the CMB has nothing to do with the big bang, then the COBE fluctuations are irrelevant.

Dr Hartnett has also commented that the Nobel award and accompanying fanfare is a ‘beat-up’. He points out that ‘the conclusions depend on the origin of the CMB and that has not yet been established.’

Logical fallacy

Refuting Compromise

More foundational than the misleading science is the fallacious logic. First of all, using a supposedly verified prediction as proof of a theory commits a basic logical fallacy; second, some of the alleged predictions were known before the big bang, so were not predictions at all. As explained in the following extract from Refuting Compromise:

Fallacy of verified prediction

While it is common to cite verified predictions as ‘proof’ of a scientific law, this commits a basic logical fallacy called affirming the consequent (see also Loving God With All Your Mind: Logic and Creation)5 That can be seen if we analyze it (

= therefore):

1) Theory T predicts observation O;
2) O is observed;

T is true.

  To see why this does not follow, consider:

1) If I had just eaten a whole pizza, I would feel very full;
2) I feel very full;

I have just eaten a whole pizza.

But I could feel very full for many different reasons, e.g. eating lots of another type of food. Similarly, there are many possible theories that could predict a given observation.

On the other hand, the famous falsification criterion for a scientific theory devised by the Austrian-British philosopher of science Sir Karl Popper (1902–1994)6 is based on the valid form of argument known as denying the consequent:

1) Theory T predicts O will not be observed;
2) O is observed;

T is false.

However, some philosophers of science regard Popper as somewhat simplistic. The American historian of science Thomas Kuhn (1922–1996) pointed out that, in reality, in periods of ‘normal science’, scientists do not throw out the ruling paradigm readily, but tolerate a large number of ‘anomalies’. It takes many anomalies to build up before there is a scientific revolution.7

The theory of the Hungarian-Jewish Imre Lakatos (1922–1974) has sometimes been regarded as a synthesis of Popper and Kuhn. He retained the falsification criterion in one sense, but also took into account that scientists in practice do not follow this strictly. But instead of Kuhn’s sociological treatment, Lakatos put this in a logical perspective. He pointed out that core theories are not tested in isolation, but are ‘protected’ by auxiliary hypotheses. Denying the consequent only shows that one of the premises needs to be false, and it need not be the core theory. So the auxiliary hypotheses are modified instead.8 In schematic form, the valid argument is as follows:

1) Theory T and auxiliary hypothesis A predict that O will not be observed;
2) O is observed;

Either T or A is false.

For example, Newton’s theory predicted certain motions of Uranus, provided there were no other massive objects interfering. When Uranus didn’t move as predicted, either Newton’s theory was falsified or there was another massive object perturbing the orbit—this turned out to be the planet Neptune.9

These considerations are important in analyzing the alleged support for the big bang. There are three main alleged evidences for the big bang: cosmic microwave background radiation …

Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (CMB)

Probably the most important prediction claimed by big bang proponents, and that credited for destroying the steady state model, was cosmic microwave background radiation. In 1946, the Russian-American physicist Georgi Antonovich Gamow, a.k.a. George Gamow (1904–1968), predicted that the ‘hot’ big bang would have an ‘afterglow’ of radiation that would be highly red shifted.10 (Gamow also formulated the standard theory of radioactive alpha-decay by quantum mechanical tunnelling, and was also the first to propose the idea of the genetic code, i.e. that the nucleotide sequence of DNA was coded information for the synthesis of proteins.)

In 1948, his students Ralph Alpher and Bob Herman predicted that the radiation would correspond to that emitted by a body of a temperature of 5 K.11 In 1964, Russian cosmologists Doroshkevich and Novikov predicted that this would have a spectrum matching that of a black body12 (a black body is a theoretical perfect absorber and emitter of radiation, so is in perfect thermal equilibrium with its surroundings).

The ‘triumph’ came in 1965 when Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, two radio-astronomers at the Bell Labs in New Jersey (US), made a chance discovery. Their radio-telescope, tuned to a wavelength of 7.35 cm, detected a signal that came from everywhere in the sky at the same intensity. It turned out that the radiation had a spectrum matching that of a black body. The corresponding temperature of this radiation was 2.726 K (degrees above absolute zero). This discovery was regarded as a vindication of the big bang. They won the Nobel Prize in 1978.13

Nowadays, this is not regarded as light from the big bang per se. Rather, the light is supposed to come from the time the universe cooled down to 3,000ºC (5,400ºF), about 300,000 years after the big bang. This is cool enough for atoms to form from the plasma of charged subatomic particles. Since light is electromagnetic radiation, plasma is opaque, while once neutral atoms formed, the universe became transparent.

However, this nice story is undermined by the fact that later in the 1950s, Gamow and his students made a number of estimates of the background temperature ranging from 3 to 50 K.

More importantly, spectral analysis before Gamow had already found a 2.3 K background temperature. This means that it was known before the big bang, just as the expansion of the universe was, so they were not ‘predictions’ of the big bang at all!

Starting in 1937, Adams and Dunham had found some absorption lines, which were later identified with interstellar molecules CH, CH+ and CN.14 The CN (cyanide) molecule also had an absorption line from what is called the first rotationally excited state. Rotational quantum states have energy spacings corresponding to microwave radiation.15 Also, the higher the temperature, the more highly the higher energy states are populated.16 So, in 1940/1, the Canadian astrophysicist and spectroscopist Andrew McKellar (1910–1960) could analyze the data. From the observed ratios of the populations of these energy states, he calculated that the CN molecules were in thermal equilibrium with a temperature of about 2.3 K.17 The source of this temperature was taken to be black body radiation. The transition between the two rotational states can emit or absorb microwave radiation at 2.64 mm wavelength, near the peak of a 3 K black body spectrum.

References and notes

  1. Knowledgeable cosmologists such as Dr John Hartnett, who has published groundbreaking work in cosmology in secular journals, know that despite the bluster about hard science and unity, Cosmologists Can’t Agree and Are Still In Doubt! Return to text.
  2. de Bernardis, P. et al., A flat universe from high-resolution maps of the cosmic microwave background radiation, Nature 404:955–959, 2000. Return to text.
  3. McGaugh, S.S., Boomerang data suggest a purely baryonic universe, Astrophys. J. 541:L33–L36, 2000. Return to text.
  4. A recent example is MacRobert, A.M., Mapping the Big Bang, Sky and Telescope, 11 February 2003. Return to text.
  5. Clark, G.H., The Philosophy of Science and Belief in God, The Trinity Foundation, POB 68, Unicoi, TN 37692, USA, 2nd ed, 1987. Return to text.
  6. Popper, K., The Logic of Scientific Discovery, 1959; Routledge Classics 2002; translated from his Logik der Forschung, 1934. Return to text.
  7. Kuhn, T., The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1970. Return to text.
  8. Lakatos, I., Falsification and the methodology of scientific research programmes; in: Lakatos I. & Musgrave A., Eds., Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge. Return to text.
  9. For extensive discussion of the views of Popper and Lakatos, and other attempts to define science, see Bird, W.R., The Origin of Species Revisited, Philosophical Library, New York, Vol. II, chapters 9–10, 1991. Return to text.
  10. Gamow, G., Expanding universe and the origin of the elements, Physical Review 70:572–573, 1946; Nature 162:680, 1948; cited in Wilson, Ref. 13. Return to text.
  11. Alpher, R. and Herman, R.C., Evolution of the Universe, Nature 162:774–775, 1948; Physical Review 75:1089, 1949; cited in Wilson, Ref. 13. Return to text.
  12. Doroshkevich, A.G. and Novikov, I.D., Dokl. Akad. Navk. SSR 154:809, 1964; Sov. Phys. Dokl. 9:111, 1964; cited in Wilson, Ref. 13. Return to text.
  13. Wilson, R.W., The Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation, Nobel Lecture, 8 December 1978. Return to text.
  14. Dunham, T., Jr. and Adams, W.S., Publ. Am. Astron. Soc. 9:5, 1937; cited in Wilson, Ref. 13. Return to text.
  15. From the equation E = hν = hc/λ, where E is energy, h is Planck’s Constant, ν = frequency, c = speed of light and λ = wavelength. Return to text.
  16. From the Boltzmann distribution, where for a Kelvin temperature T, the ratio of the population of two states with an energy difference ΔE is given by N2/N1 = exp(-ΔE/kT), where k is Boltzmann’s Constant. Return to text.
  17. McKellar, A., Proc. Ast. Soc. Pac. 52:187, 1940; Publ. Dominion Astrophysical Observatory Victoria B.C. 7(15):251, 1941; cited in Wilson, Ref. 13. Return to text.