Big Bang Discovery Leads to Theological Questions

Photo by Dave Young https://flic.kr/p/8xpVHFThe concept of “cosmic inflation” received additional support earlier this month, offering more evidence for the Big Bang theory. But does it also provide more or less evidence for the hand of the Divine? To answer that question, you have to understand the basic science behind the theory.

There are three reasons why the Big Bang is generally accepted. First, we’ve found that the galaxies are rushing away from one another as if they were set in motion by a powerful explosion. Second, we’ve always measured roughly ten hydrogen atoms for every helium atom in the universe. And third, we can actually “see” the relic fireball of the explosion: the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) radiation. The CMB is so important to science’s understanding of creation that Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson shared the 1978 Nobel Prize in physics for its discovery.

But despite the Big Bang theory’s general acceptance, there have been two stubborn facts giving scientists pause. These are sometimes called the horizon problem and the flatness problem.

The horizon problem asks: why is the temperature of the universe the same everywhere? Einstein tells us that interactions have a speed limit: the speed of light. Given Nature’s speed limit, those regions of the universe furthest to our east shouldn’t have had enough time to exchange heat waves with those regions furthest to our west. But the temperature of the universe (as defined by CMB) is exactly the same east and west. Is it just a coincidence?

The flatness problem is different: why on the largest scales do parallel lines never cross? Mathematicians tell us that there are many different kinds of geometry. There are some mathematical geometries where parallel lines actually cross (as strange as this might sound) and some were parallel lines diverge. Between these two, like a knife balanced on its edge, is “flat” geometry, where parallel lines neither cross nor diverge. Of all the ways the universe could have been constructed, why are we balanced on a knife’s edge?

In the early eighties, Alan Guth offered a solution to both problems, refined by Andre Linde, by suggesting that just after the universe’s birth it went through a period of exponential growth — the “cosmic inflation.” Prior to inflation, various regions of the universe were closer, allowing them to come into thermal equilibrium. The exponential growth then carried them away from each other very rapidly. Because nothing happened to drastically change their temperatures, the temperature of the universe is the same everywhere today even though separate regions are not able to exchange heat waves with one another. Additionally, just as the surface of a balloon may have a very irregular shape when deflated, if you rapidly blow it up to the size of Texas (assuming it doesn’t burst), parallel lines drawn over any reasonably sized patch on the surface will appear to look just like parallel lines drawn on a flat tabletop.

Earlier this month astronomers offered the first evidence that Guth and Linde’s inflation ideas are correct. They did this by carefully examining very slight irregularities in the CMB. The detection was made by the BICEP team with a South Pole-based telescope. The telescope offers a way to detect the microwave radiation from the ground and analyze the data for the effect of gravitational waves on a property of the microwave radiation called its polarization.

Here is a wonderful video of Linde being surprised with the news.

Now some will no doubt argue loudly that the astronomers’ recent discovery offers proof that God does not exist. Others, just as loudly, will argue that the astronomers’ discovery offers sure proof of God’s existence.

In truth, like that knife edge of the universe’s flatness, neither is correct and yet both are correct — best not to dwell on these Zen-like paradoxes. Instead, get in your car and drive out to where the city lights don’t obscure the night-time sky. Look up, and let your jaw drop in wonder at the sheer incomprehensibility of creation.

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News Source: Christian Post





About the Author

Dr. Camparo has a BA in physics from Columbia College (1977) and a Ph.D. in Chemical Physics from Columbia University (1981). He is presently an adjunct professor of Physics at Whittier College in Southern California, where his interests include research and development of the laser-pumped atomic clock, the study of atomic timekeeping onboard spacecraft, and experiments investigating atomic interactions with microwaves and light. Additionally, Dr. Camparo collaborates with members of the Psychology Department at Whittier College developing new statistical procedures for the behavioral sciences. Dr. Camparo is the author or co-author of over 100 scientific papers, and was the recipient of the 2012 IEEE International Frequency Control Symposium I.I. Rabi award for his research in the area of atomic clocks.
  • Randi Wade

    Jim, thanks for posting this. How cool is it that Alan Guth and Professor Linde came up with the concept of “cosmic inflation” in the 80’s, now 30 years later there is data to back up their thesis. Guess all the earth and physics are constantly evolving puzzles – that we mortals get the pleasure of puzzling over.