Friday, October 24, 2014

Pondering the Big Bang

For years I’ve quoted the work of Roger Penrose, whose calculation regarding the improbability of a natural origin of our universe have greatly emboldened creationists and proponents of a designed universe.  Penrose concluded that, of all the possible initial conditions that our universe could have had, our universe started in an extremely rare, highly ordered, low entropy state. (For those of us needing reminder of what entropy is – it is the degree of disorder in a system; a measurement of disorder, which is always increasing in the universe.) So rare in fact that the chance that our universe began with such a low entropy is just 1 in 1010^123.  That is a 1 with 10123 zeros behind it!  Incredible!

The number is hard to appreciate without a little more explanation.  A man couldn’t write the number out longhand even if he began writing it on the day Adam was created!  That’s a very big number, representing a very special universe.  The Penrose calculation is the mother of all arguments for a finely tuned universe.  From it, many have made the obvious inference for the existence of God.

Not only did the universe began in a very rare state, but this condition is also necessary for life to exist.  In intelligent design lingo we call this “specified complexity”.  The universe is finely tuned for life.  That’s the amazing thing.

Since I had been quoting Penrose, I decided I should learn a little more about him.  Is he just a nutty
Sir Roger Penrose
professor, out on a limb, or is he someone who knows what he is talking about?  I learned that Roger Penrose is actually Sir Roger Penrose, having been knighted for his mathematical ability.  With Steven Hawking, he worked out the implications of the General Theory of Relativity on cosmology and the “big bang”.  Penrose is no nutty professor.  He is a world class mathematician, a brilliant man.

I wondered how he calculated such a large number.  Was it just a combination of the other "fine tuning" arguments rolled into one?  Is it a mysterious formulation, decipherable by few mortal minds?  Or is it profound yet understandable?   So, I found the book where he makes the calculation, The Emperor’s New Mind, and began reading with great interest.  As it turns out, in a nutshell he is saying that out of all the possible initial entropy states of each particle in the universe, all were at an amazingly low entropy (highly ordered) state.  He arrives at the number using relatively simple formulas and justifiable assumptions.

In The Emperor’s New Mind  Penrose also argues that the known laws of physics are inadequate to explain the phenomenon of human consciousness.  He seems willing to go against the flow of materialist thought – matter is all that exists – and provides views on the human thought process that are not popular within the scientific community.  Though he wrote the book about twenty years ago even referring to a Creator in the text (without giving definition), he is still trying to figure out a natural explanation for the low entropy initial state of the universe.  Wikipedia claims he is an atheist. Online I found an intriguing interview, where it is evident that he is still wrestling with the implications of his own work.  Trying to devise a natural explanation, all he has found is what he refers to as crazy ideas.  Check out the interview at

Other atheist cosmologists suggest the explanation for our existence, against all odds, is the "multi-verse", an infinite number of parallel universes. Thus, we just happen to be in the universe with the right entropy, the right fundamental forces, etc. Lucky us!

There are at least a couple of big problems with this idea. First, it is a metaphysical (beyond physical) explanation which secular scientists have told us is out of bounds.  As Physicist Stephen Barr mused, “It seems that in order to abolish one unobservable God, it takes an infinite number of unobservable substitutes.”

Another problem with the multi-verse is that it can explain anything, therefore it explains nothing. In a parallel universe, a guy who looks just like you invented ice cream. That's not really an explanation, but shows the absurdity of the multiverse. Anything can happen as a result of a random quantum fluctuation, even things we normally attribute to natural law.

The obvious answer to the puzzle of "fine tuning" is that, as another knighted cosmologist, Sir Fredrick Hoyle, once put it, “A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with the physics, as well as with chemistry and biology.”  As Christians, we know Who the Superintellect is!  Isn’t it amazing that what our God spoke into existence still confounds even the brilliant among us!!  I am reminded of  Isa. 29:14, "Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.”

Monday, January 13, 2014

On the Big Bang

As one who believes in supernatural creation, I sometimes chuckle when I read books on modern cosmology.  Einstein’s Telescope is one of those books.  Early on in the book we are assured of the veracity of the Big Bang Story.    The author claims that three strong lines of evidence give us this assurance:

1.       The Expansion of the Universe
2.       The ratios of light elements Lithium, Deuterium and Helium from early nucleosynthesis from protons and neutrons.
3.       The Cosmic Background Radiation

However, I know from other books on the subject that, in order for these three lines of evidence to be consistent with observations, new, speculative entities have been invented.  

First, the idea of “dark energy” had to be invented to explain the accelerating expansion of the universe.  According to the latest big bang calculations, 72% of the mass-energy of the universe is dark energy.  Unfortunately, nobody has found it nor are there any good candidates for what it is.  Yet, secular cosmologists believe in it because “something” is causing the universe to accelerate outward.  Hmmm.

Second, “cold dark matter” had to be invented to explain the ratios of the light elements as well as the apparent mass of galaxies.  You see, for the math to work out, the big bang requires that 23% of the mass-energy of the universe be made up of this cold dark matter, which is mass that doesn’t absorb or emit heat or light.  Extra mass, which we can’t see, is required to explain the speed at which galaxies rotate.  For many years, scientists believed this mass was normal “baryonic” matter, like black holes or burnt out stars, which couldn’t be seen by telescope.  However, if all that mass was normal matter, that extra matter would drastically change the ratios of the light elements formed according to big bang cosmology.  The observation would no longer match the theory.  So, to keep that cosmology alive, scientists infer “cold dark matter”, an exotic entity which is very common but never been detected.  Hmmm.  Cold dark matter also helps to explain how matter could begin to clump together in the early universe, which otherwise looks very smooth according to the cosmic background radiation measurements.  It’s very useful stuff.  If they could only find some. 

It is hard to see how the ratio of light elements is evidence for the big bang when “cold dark matter” has to be invented to rescue it.

The book Einstein’s Telescope is about the search for dark matter and dark energy, so I thought it would be interesting.  Indeed.

Finally, the “inflation” epoch was invented to solve the horizon problem, that is, the uniformity of the Cosmic Background Radiation.  Again, this inflation epoch is unproven but it is needed to explain why the background temperature is the same in every direction.  Not only is this “inflation” unproven and unprovable, the inflation theory actually says that, for at least a moment, the universe expanded many times faster than the speed of light.  Hmmm.  That sounds more than a little speculative.  Friends, maybe the background temperature is the same in every direction because we are near the center of the universe.  Oh, no.  That would make us special, and we can’t have that.

As you can tell, I’m more than a little skeptical about the strong lines of evidence for the “big bang”.  Yes, there is good evidence for the three lines themselves, but the observations could be caused by something, or someone, else.  As Michael Disney, a British Astrophysicist, put it,

In its original form, an expanding Einstein model had an attractive, economic elegance. Alas, it has since run into serious difficulties, which have been cured only by sticking on some ugly bandages: inflation to cover horizon and flatness problems; overwhelming amounts of dark matter to provide internal structure; and dark energy, whatever that might be, to explain the seemingly recent acceleration. A skeptic is entitled to feel that a negative significance, after so much time, effort and trimming, is nothing more than one would expect of a folktale constantly re-edited to fit inconvenient new observations.” (from “Modern Cosmology: Science or Folktale?”, American Scientist, 2007)

And they think we have faith!