Cosmologists and Religion in Cahoots?

Posted by barb on Mar 29, 2005 in Science Musings |

Last time I was on the Ask a High Energy Astronomer hotseat, I stumbled across this article: The “Big Bang” is Just Religion Disguised as Science [The article moved or is gone – Jan 2014]. Wow. Fortunately, the article is difficult to find if you go straight to the What Really Happened page, but there you’ll find some other wacked-out theories (I’m assuming, based on the headlines — I didn’t actually read through anything).

This particular article starts out with a long introduction about how the geocentric model of the Universe was based on religion, and how later generations clung to the model because it served the agenda of the Church. Okay. A bit clunky, and rambling, but not entirely inaccurate.

Then the article gets weird. It brings up the discovery by Hubble that all galaxies appear to be receding from us. The article states:

Religious circles embraced the idea of an expanding universe because for the universe to be expanding, then at some point in the past it had to originate from a single point, called the “Big Bang”. The “Big Bang” coincided nicely with religious doctrine and just as had been the case with epicycles (and despite the embarrassment thereof) religious institutions sought to encourage this new model of the universe over all others, including the then prevalent “steady state” theory.

Huh? I’m not sure which religion the author is from, but most of the ones I’m familiar with (namely, the Protestant Christian ones) hate the idea of the Big Bang. They contend that the Universe cannot be as old as Big Bang cosmology indicates, and blast anyone who dares promote the Big Bang. The debate has not yet reached the level of the evolution controversy, but it’s just a matter of time.

The article then goes into more current work on Big Bang cosmology:

An attempt was made to prove the Big Bang by searching for the “Cosmic Background Radiation”, the presumed energy echo from the primordial explosion. and indeed a radio noise signal was picked up.

Yes, the CMB (cosmic microwave background) is viewed as a large piece of evidence supporting the Big Bang theory. However, the CMB was discovered more by accident than as a search for evidence to back up the BB.

But just as the theory of epicycles did not accurately predict the observed motion of the planets, the Big Bang Theory turned out to be less than accurate about the radiation signal detected in space. When the satellite COBE was sent up to analyze the Cosmic Background Radiation, it discovered instead of the smooth featureless glow predicted by the cosmologists a highly complex and detailed structure.

Actually when the first COBE results were posted, the astronomers were impressed by how smooth the results were, but were also a bit worried that it was too smooth. After longer exposures, COBE finally showed the complexities in structure that had, indeed, been expected.

The article finally gets to the point it wants to make. It presents the theory that the redshifts observed for distant galaxies can be caused by the remnant of a nearby supernova — that there is an old remnant of a planetary nebula Earth is sitting in.

The evidence presented in the article are scant

  • We’re made of heavy elements — Okay, that’s right, but they came from generations of stars successively enriching the interstellar medium. But, we are, in fact, sitting in the “Local Bubble”, which is likely due to an ancient, relatively nearby supernova. But, there’s no evidence of a remnant planetary nebula, and astronomers have known about this “Local Bubble” for a while now.
  • Redshifts in some studies of distant galaxies show that they are quantized — This is not directly supported by the idea that there was a nearby supernova, but was “quite possibly triggered” by it. By what method? Besides, redshift is not the only way that astronomers measure distances — it’s the one commonly used for the furthest objects, but other things, like Type Ia Supernovae confirm the idea of redshift as distance indicators (at least, to a certain distance)
  • Um..that seems to be it.

The author seems to want to “shame” astronomers into considering his theory because apparently we’re clinging to a “religious view” of the Universe. I’m sorry to inform him that it’s not going to work that way. For astronomers to reexamine a well-established (and well-supported, for that matter) theory, there needs to be compelling new evidence that has been well-tested (and well-established). The first response to the initial evidence for “dark energy” was skepticism. Since then, there have been numerous studies that have confirmed the original results — only then did astronomers and cosmologists start to reformulate their view of the Universe.

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