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Reason and Revelation Volume 23 #5

The Big Bang Theory—A Scientific Critique [Part I] [Section 1]

by  Branyon May, Ph.D.
Bert Thompson, Ph.D.
Brad Harrub, Ph.D.

Section 1 - Introduction
Section 2 - The Big Bang Theory
Section 3 - References/Acknowledgments

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a three-part series of articles examining the concept of the origin of the Universe known as the Big Bang Theory. With the assistance of a number of credentialed physicists and astronomers, we have been working behind the scenes on this subject for the past several months. We deem it to be of such critical importance that we are devoting three entire issues of Reason & Revelation to it. In addition, as our regular readers no doubt already have noticed, this is a special double issue of 16 pages (not counting the usual 4-page Resources section). The June issue also will be a double issue like this one.

On a separate but related note, regular readers of Reason & Revelation also will notice the addition of a new name—Branyon May—as one of the authors of this series of articles. Branyon, who is one of our extremely talented interns, is a physics major at Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas. As a result of his background in physics, we gave him the assignment of researching and beginning the initial writing phases of this scientific critique of the Big Bang. He did a masterful job, and even after returning to school, continued his work with us to produce a series that we believe will be of immense value in helping people (especially high school and college-age students) understand what the Big Bang Theory advocates, the unbelievably tenuous assumptions upon which it is based, and how and why it is scientifically flawed. Branyon has prepared a “Galactic Glossary” to go with this issue, in order to assist readers with terminology with which they might not be familiar. I hope you enjoy, and profit from, this important series.]

Where are you right now? Are you sitting down with a cup of hot tea, ready to enjoy the few brief moments you can devote just to yourself? Where are you? Are you somewhere other than in your armchair at home? Or are you even at home? And if you are, in what city? In what state? In what country? And on what continent?

Astronomically speaking, you are on the third planet from the Sun, in a solar system of nine other planets, only one of which—the one where you reside—sustains life. How? Why? These are intriguing questions worth pondering. And, most likely, this is not the first time you have considered them.

Throughout the whole of human history, people have contemplated not only their origin, but also their physical place in the Universe. The question of our ultimate origin weighs heavily on the human psyche. Science, to be sure, has brought its theories to bear on the subject. It is some of those theories that we would like to examine here. We invite you to join us, because such an investigation makes for a fascinating study.

Cosmology is the study of the Cosmos in all its aspects. The Cosmos, in simplest terms, is the space/mass/time Universe and all its arrays of complex systems. The cosmologist, whether under this title or not, has been around conceptually for centuries. Specifically, in the realm of science—as long as this term has been defined—we read about those of long ago such as Epicurus, Aristotle, and Copernicus, who sought answers to what they saw in the heavens. More recently in scientific history, we have people like Isaac Newton (1642-1727), Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), Willem de Sitter (1872-1934), Albert Einstein (1879-1955), Edwin Hubble (1889-1953), Georges Lemaître (1894-1966), Aleksandr Friedman (1889-1925), and George Gamow (1904-1968), each of whom made major contributions to understanding various theories and physical laws.

Nowadays, the scientific community includes numerous contributors of varying degrees. Many viewpoints, however, by no means implies correct beliefs. So, let us travel together down this road of cosmological descent—from the long-defunct Cartesian Hypothesis to modern versions of the Big Bang—and examine several of these theories in light of the scientific knowledge now available to us. As we proceed, let us heed the warning of the late, eminent cosmologist, Sir Fred Hoyle (1915-2001), and his colleague, Chandra Wickramasinghe, in their book Evolution from Space: “Be suspicious of a theory if more and more hypotheses are needed to support it as new facts become available, or as new considerations are brought to bear” (1981, p. 135, emp. added).


The science of cosmology, as we know it today, began, not surprisingly, with a look into the nearest and most readily observable astronomical environment—our solar system. Due to the sizable number of theories regarding the origin of our solar system, we will review only those that were of primary importance in the grand historical panorama.

The Cartesian Hypothesis, set down by the seventeenth-century French physician, mathematician, and philosopher René Descartes (1596-1650) in his Principles of Philosophy, postulated that our solar system had formed from a vast system of vortices running spontaneously. Out of these vortices emerged stars, comets, and planets, each decaying into the next subsequent formation of matter, respectively. This particular conjecture did not sit well with some of Descartes’ contemporaries, including Sir Isaac Newton, who made his disdain for Descartes’ theory poignantly clear in a letter (penned on December 10, 1692) to evangelist Richard Bentley when he wrote: “The Cartesian hypothesis...can have no place in my system, and is plainly erroneous” (as quoted in Munitz, 1957, p. 212).

The next few hypotheses that flickered in history evolved their conceptual results from an initial rotating cloud of gas and/or dust known as a nebula. [Originally, the term “nebula” was applied to any distant object that appeared “fuzzy and extended” when viewed through a telescope; eventually, nebulae were identified as galaxies and star clusters.] Pierre S. Laplace (1749-1827), the distinguished French mathematician, presented his Nebular Hypothesis—a variation on the previously held hypotheses by Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) and Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)—to the world in 1796. Laplace believed that, as the nebula rotated, it cooled and contracted, causing a discernible increase in rotational velocity, which eventually forced the matter that was located on the rim of the disc to overcome the gravitational attraction and be ejected from the cloud. The ejected matter then coalesced, forming a planet outside of the contracting nebula. This specific sequence of events continued until it formed a central portion of dense, rotating gases—what we know today as our Sun—and the outlying, orbiting planets (see Mulfinger, 1967, 4[2]:58). However, after failing a battery of mathematical and physical tests, these fanciful views ultimately were abandoned for the Planetesimal Hypothesis.

Heralded by T.C. Chamberlain (1843-1928) and F.R. Moulton (1872-1952), the Planetesimal Hypothesis started out with two initial stars, one of which was our Sun. The secondary star swept a near-collision path by the Sun, close enough to tear off two “arms” of matter on opposite sides. Over time, these arms coalesced to form planetesimals—tiny planets. This hypothesis followed in the footsteps of those that had preceded it (as well as a number of those yet to come) by failing to be scientifically accurate. Lyman Spitzer of Yale University demonstrated these failings: (1) the hot matter ripped from the Sun would not coalesce, but instead would continue to expand; and (2) one could not reconcile the angular momentum distribution of the solar system resulting from the interaction of the two passing stars (see Mulfinger, 4[2]:59-60).

The story of modern cosmology begins in the early parts of the twentieth century—a time when astronomers viewed the Universe as static, eternal, and limited in space to our own Milky Way Galaxy. Those views began to change in the early 1900s with the work of two American astronomers—Edwin Hubble and Vesto M. Slipher (1875-1969). Using one of the largest and most powerful telescopes available at the time, Hubble concluded that the Universe actually was much larger than just our galaxy. He determined that what were then known as “spiral nebulae,” occurring millions of light-years away, were not part of the Milky Way at all, but rather were galaxies in their own right. [A light-year is the distance that light travels in a vacuum in one year—approximately 5.88 trillion miles. Distances expressed in light-years represent the time that light would take to cross that distance. For example, if an object were two million light-years away, it would require two million years, traveling at the speed of light, to traverse that distance.] Then, in 1929, Hubble reported a relationship between his distance information and some special analyses of light that had been carried out by Slipher (see Hubble, 1929).

Redshifts, Blueshifts, and Doppler Effects

In the decade spanning 1910-1920, Slipher (using a 24-inch, long-focus refractor telescope) had discovered the characteristic signature of atomic spectra in various far-flung galaxies. That discovery then led to another somewhat “unusual” finding. Examining a small sample of galaxies (which, at the time, were referred to as nebulae), he observed that the light frequencies those galaxies emitted were “shifted” toward the red portion of the spectrum (the concept of redshift is explained in detail below), which meant that they were receding from Earth. In 1913, Slipher reported the radial (or “line of sight”) velocity of the Andromeda galaxy, and discovered that it was moving toward the Sun at a rate of 300 kilometers per second (see Slipher, 1913). This was taken as evidence in favor of the hypothesis that Andromeda was outside the Milky Way. [The Andromeda Galaxy is now considered a part of the “Local Group,” which is an assortment of around thirty nearby galaxies (including the Milky Way) that is bound together gravitationally.] In 1914, Slipher reported radial velocities of 13 galaxies, and all but two were visualized as redshifts. By 1925, Slipher had compiled a list of 41 galaxies, and other astronomers had added four additional ones. Of the total of 45, 43 showed a redshift, which meant that only two were moving toward the Earth (see Gribbin, 1998, p. 76), while all the others were moving away from us.

These were, by all accounts, extraordinary observations. Using a far more sophisticated instrument (specifically, a larger, short-focus telescope that was better suited for this type of work), Edwin Hubble made the same types of discoveries in the late 1920s after Slipher had turned his attention to other projects. This “galactic redshift,” Hubble believed, was an exceptionally stunning cosmic clue—a shard of evidence from far away and long ago. Why, Hubble wondered, should galactic light be shifted to the red, rather than the blue, portion of the spectrum? Why, in fact, should it be shifted at all?

From the very beginning, many astronomers have attributed these shifts to what is known as the Doppler effect. Named after Austrian physicist Christian Johann Doppler (1803-1853) who discovered the phenomenon in 1842, the Doppler effect refers to a specific change in the observed frequency of any wave that occurs when the source and the observer are in motion relative to each other; the frequency increases when the source and observer approach each other, and decreases when they move apart. By way of summary, the Doppler effect says simply that wavelengths grow longer (redshift) as an object recedes from the viewer; wavelengths grow shorter (blueshift) as an object approaches the viewer (see Figure 1 below). [Color actually is immaterial in these terms, since the terms themselves apply to any electromagnetic radiation, whether visible or not. “Blue” light simply has a shorter wavelength than “red” light, so the use of the color-terms is deemed convenient.] 

Blueshift/Redshift Depiction
Figure 1—Blueshift/Redshift Depiction

The light that we observe coming from stars is subject to the Doppler effect as well, which means that as we move toward a star, or as it moves toward us, the star’s light will be shifted toward shorter (blue) wavelengths (viz., light that is emitted at a particular frequency is received by us at a higher frequency). As we move away from a star, or as it moves away from us, its light will be shifted toward longer (red) wavelengths (viz., light that is emitted at one frequency is received by us at a lower frequency). In theory then, a star’s Doppler motion is a combination of both our motion through space (as the observer), and the star’s motion (as we observe it). As it turns out, “the light from most galaxies exhibits a redshift roughly proportional to the galaxies’ distance from us. Most cosmologists consider this pattern of redshifts to be evidence of cosmic expansion” (Repp, 2003, 39:270).

A word of caution is in order here. The Doppler effect, combined with the concepts of blueshift and redshift, can be somewhat confusing. It would be easy to assume that the expansion of the Universe is due solely to matter “flying through space” of its own accord. If that were true, then, of course, the Doppler effect would explain what is happening. But there is somewhat more to it than this. Cosmologists, astronomers, and astrophysicists suggest that the matter in the Universe is actually “at rest” with respect to the space around it. In other words, it is not the matter that is necessarily moving; rather, it is space itself that is doing the expanding. This means that, as space expands, whatever matter is present in that space simply gets “carried along for the ride.” Thus, the particles of matter are not really moving apart on their own; instead, more space is appearing between the particles as the Universe expands, making the matter appear to move. Perhaps an illustration is appropriate here. [Bear with us; as you will see, the distinction that we are about to make has serious implications.]

More often than not, cosmologists use the example of a balloon to illustrate what they are trying to distinguish as “the true nature of the expanding Universe.” Imagine, if you will, that someone has glued tiny shirt buttons to the surface of the balloon, and then commences to inflate it. As the balloon increases in size, the buttons will appear to move as they are carried along by the expansion of the balloon. But the buttons themselves are not actually moving. They are “at rest” on the balloon, yet are being “pushed outward” by the expansion of the medium around them (the latex of the balloon). Now, cosmologists suggest, compare this example to galaxies in space. The galaxies themselves can be “at rest” with respect to space, yet appear to be flying apart due to the expansion of the medium around them—space.

Almost all popular (and even most technical) publications advocate the view that the redshifts viewed in the expansion of the Universe are, in fact, attributable solely to the Doppler effect. But if it is true that the galaxies are actually at rest (although, admittedly, being “carried along” in an outward direction by the expansion of space itself, with its “embedded” galaxies), then the redshifts witnessed as a result of the expansion are not true Doppler shifts. To be technically correct, perhaps the galactic redshift should be called the “cosmological redshift.” On occasion, when the “perceived motion” of the galaxies (as opposed to “real motion”) is acknowledged at all, it sometimes is referred to as “Hubble flow.” One of the few technical works with which we are familiar that acknowledges this fact (and even provides different formulae for the Doppler expansion versus the Hubble flow expansion) is Gravitation, by Misner, Thorne, and Wheeler (1973; see chapter 29).

Interestingly, as we were in the process of researching and writing this material, physicist Andrew Repp of Hawaii authored a fascinating, up-to-date article on the nature of redshifts. In his discussion, Dr. Repp correctly noted that there are several known causes of redshifts (see Repp, 2003). One of the causes that he listed was the concept of “Hubble flow” expansion that we introduced above—which (again, interestingly) he labeled as “cosmological redshift” (39:271). As Repp remarked, this “expansion redshift” (a synonym for Hubble flow or cosmological redshift) “is caused by the expansion of space through which the wave is traveling, resulting in an ‘expansion’ (redshifting) of the wave itself.... [T]he expansion redshift would be the result of the motion of space itself.” Yes, it would—which is exactly the point we were making in the above paragraphs. And, as Repp went on to acknowledge concerning expansion redshift: “It is the commonly accepted explanation for the redshifts of the distant galaxies” (39:271). Yes, it is.

But that is not quite the end of the story. There is evidence to support the idea that the galaxies themselves may, in fact, actually be moving, rather than simply being “at rest” while being carried along by the expansion of space. The Andromeda Galaxy (known as M31), which is among our nearest neighboring galaxies, presents a light spectrum that is blueshifted. If the Universe is expanding, how could that be? Apparently, the Doppler motion is large enough blueward to negate the cosmological redshift expansion, thereby allowing us to view a galaxy that has a blueshift. The implication of this is that the galaxy itself must be moving.

What could be responsible for that? Some astronomers have suggested that such movement may be attributable to the localized forces of gravity. Galaxies are known to clump together into clusters that can contain anywhere from a few dozen to a few thousand galaxies. [Clusters of clusters are known as “superclusters.”] What holds these structures together? Presumably, it is gravity. That would imply that the objects composing the structures have orbits—which produce motion that are indeed Doppler in nature.

Andrew Repp expounded upon the concept we are discussing here under the title of “gravitational redshift” in his article reviewing the various causes of redshifts, and specifically mentioned that “the expansion redshift differs from the gravitational redshift” (39:272). Yes, it does. As Dr. Repp commented, whereas the expansion redshift is the result of the motion of space itself, “gravitational redshift is the result of...the effects of gravity on spacetime” (39:271).

That being true, the light spectrum of any given galaxy will exhibit shifts that are the result of both the Doppler effect (due to actual motion) and the “cosmological redshift” (expansion redshift/Hubble flow—due to perceived motion). And how would astronomers differentiate between the two? They wouldn’t; observationally, there is no way to do so—which means that no one can say with accuracy how much of each exists. In fact, as Repp once again correctly noted, the Big Bang Model does not allow for “large-scale pattern of gravitational attraction, the mass distribution being assumed homogeneous; hence it predicts expansion redshifts but not (large-scale) gravitational redshifts” (39:272, parenthetical item in orig.). In point of fact, however, the commingling of cosmological redshift and gravitational redshift may well be one of the reasons that the calculation of the Hubble constant (discussed below) has been so problematic over the years. And this is why we stated earlier that the important distinction being discussed in this section has serious implications (different values for the Hubble constant result in varying ages for the Universe).

According to the standard Doppler-effect interpretation then, a redshifted galaxy is one that is traveling farther away from its neighbors. Hubble, and his colleague Milton Humason (1891-1972), plotted the distance of a given galaxy against the velocity with which it receded. By 1935, they had added another 150 points to the expansion data (see Gribbin, 1998, p. 81). They believed that the rate at which a galaxy is observed to recede is directly proportional to its distance from us; that is, the farther away a galaxy is from us, the faster it travels away from us. This became known as “Hubble’s Law.” Today, the idea that redshift is proportional to distance is a crucial part of distance measurement in modern astronomy. But that is not all. The concepts of (a) an expanding Universe, and (b) the accuracy of redshift measurements, form a critically important part of the foundation of modern Big Bang cosmology. As David Berlinski put it: “Hubble’s law embodies a general hypothesis of Big Bang cosmology—namely, that the universe is expanding...” (1998, p. 34). One without the other is not possible. If one falls, both do. We will have more to say on this important point later.

Hubble and Humason’s work gave cosmologists clues to the size of the Universe and the movement of objects within it. But while astronomers were peering through their telescopes at the Universe, theoretical physicists were describing that Universe in new ways. The first two models came from Albert Einstein and Willem de Sitter in 1917. Although they arrived at their models independently, both ideas were based on Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, and both scientists made adjustments to prevent expansion, even though expansion seemed a natural outcome of General Relativity. However, as knowledge about redshifts became more widespread, expansion was introduced as a matter of fact. [Redshift and expansion inevitably became the “twin pillars” upon which much of modern Big Bang cosmology was built. Interestingly, expansion itself also was built upon two pillars—homogeneity (matter is spread out uniformly) and isotropy (matter is spread out evenly in all directions). We will have more to say about all of this later, as well.] This was the case in 1922 with a set of solutions produced by Russian mathematician and physical scientist Aleksandr Friedman. Five years later, in 1927, the Belgian scholar Georges Lemaître produced a model incorporating a redshift-distance relation very close to that suggested by Hubble. If the Universe is expanding now, Lemaître calculated, then there must have been a time in the past when the Universe was in a state of contraction. It was in this state that the “primeval atom,” as he called it, expanded to form atoms, stars, and galaxies. Lemaître had described, in its essential form, what is now known as the Big Bang, and scientists even today speak frequently of FL (Friedman-Lemaître) cosmology, which assumes the expansion of the Universe and its homogeneity (see Illingworth and Clark, 2000, p. 94).


But, we are getting ahead of ourselves. The most problematic liability of each of the aforementioned hypotheses was their inability to ultimately explain the literal origin of the Universe. Each sequence of events started out in medias res (in the middle of things). Admittedly, the most comfortable position for the evolutionist is the idea that the Universe is eternal, because it avoids the problem of a beginning. In fact, it was to avoid just such a problem that evolutionists Sir Fred Hoyle, Thomas Gold, and Hermann Bondi developed the Steady State Theory. In an attempt to avoid the conundrum of beginning in medias res, these three scientists decided to create their own loophole by simply removing the need for either a beginning or an end, and therefore assumed an eternal Universe. (This still did not change the fact that they were beginning in the middle of the sequence.) This also was a nice sidestepping tactic for philosophical questions such as “What came before the beginning?” and “What will come after the ending?” The Steady State Theory picks up in mid-cycle with the eternal Universe’s expansion. In explaining the expansion, Hoyle invented fictitious points of spontaneous generation called “irtrons”—where hydrogen was manufactured out of nothing and spewed out into the Universe. Since two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time, and since the newly created matter had to “go” somewhere, it simply pushed the already-existing matter farther into distant space. This replenishing “virgin” matter, which allegedly maintained the density at a steady state (thus the name of the model), had the amazing ability to condense into galaxies and everything contained within them—stars, planets, comets, and, ultimately, organic life.

When asked the question as to the origin of this matter, Hoyle replied that it was a “meaningless and unprofitable” pursuit (1955, p. 342). Astronomer Robert Jastrow, in his book, Until the Sun Dies, noted: “The proposal for the creation of matter out of nothing possesses a strong appeal to the scientist, since it permits him to contemplate a Universe without beginning and without end” (1977, p. 32). Yet, Dr. Jastrow had concluded just two pages earlier that “modern science denies an eternal existence to the Universe, either in the past or in the future” (p. 30). So, despite the “strong appeal” of the Steady State concept set forth by Hoyle, Gold, and Bondi, scientists nevertheless have acknowledged that “the specific theory they proposed fell into conflict with observation long ago” (Barrow, 1991, p. 46). First, empirical observations no longer fit the model—that is, we now know the Universe had a beginning (see Gribbin, 1986). Second, new theoretical concepts (to be discussed later) were at odds with the model. Third, it violated the first law of thermodynamics, which states that neither matter nor energy can be created or destroyed, but only conserved. Jastrow commented on this last point when he wrote:

But the creation of matter out of nothing would violate a cherished concept in science—the principle of the conservation of matter and energy—which states that matter and energy can be neither created nor destroyed. Matter can be converted into energy, and vice versa, but the total amount of all matter and energy in the Universe must remain unchanged forever. It is difficult to accept a theory that violates such a firmly established scientific fact (1977, p. 32).

Unable to overcome these flaws, scientists “steadily” abandoned the Steady State Theory, and sought another theory to fill the void. They ended up turning back to the theory that had been proposed earlier by Georges Lemaître and the Russian-American physicist George Gamow—a theory that had been shoved aside hastily by the Steady State model only a few years prior.

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*Please keep in mind that Discovery articles are written for 3rd-6th graders.

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