A group of cosmologists, other scientists and engineers published an open letter in New Scientist on May 22, 2004.
Their purpose was to draw attention to the current policy on research funding which seems to be governed by dogmatism and prejudice in favour of “establishment” science.
The specific case refers to the denial of funding for research into Plasma Cosmology. The Big Bang theory has been the generally accepted explanation of the origins of the Universe since 1965, in spite of serious theoretical problems. New observational evidence is now accumulating against Big Bang. Lerner and his supporters contend that Plasma Cosmology provides a superior basis for understanding the Universe. They protest that decisions on research funding are taken in the interests of supporting the status quo rather than advancing scientific understanding.
In this article we give a background to the controversy, highlight some of the severe problems which have afflicted Big Bang in recent years, and give examples of recent observational evidence which, whilst readily explained in terms of Plasma Cosmology, appears to refute Big Bang entirely.
Science Stifled by Dogma
In an open letter published in New Scientist a group of scientists protest that scientific research is being stifled by the way in which funds are allocated 1. This is not a new complaint, but it poses serious questions, not least because the area of research concerned, the nature of the Universe, is itself fundamental.
The integrity of science depends to a large degree on the peer review process. Stephen Hawking explains as follows, “A good theory will describe a large range of phenomena on the basis of a few simple postulates and will make definite predictions which can be tested … if the observations disagree with the predictions, one has to discard or modify the theory”.
So far so good, but Hawking then adds, in revealing parentheses, “(At least, that is what is supposed to happen. In practice, people often question the accuracy of the observations and the reliability and moral character of those making the observations.)” – our emphasis.2 Perhaps Hawking has in mind his own early struggles for acceptance of his work on the Big Bang theory against open hostility from Professor Fred Hoyle.
The Big Bang theory is the oldest modern explanation of the origin of the Universe, having its roots in the concept of the expanding Universe proposed by Georges Lemaître, in 1927. Lemaître was the first to wind the clock backwards to a creation event. The theory received crucial support when, in 1929, Edwin Hubble announced his discovery that galaxies appear to be receding from us, as though from a massive explosion. At the time of Hawking’s difficulty with the aggressive Professor Hoyle, the Big Bang had not yet achieved a dominating position. There was a competitor.3
The Steady State Theory
By the late 1940s it was already becoming clear that the Big Bang theory was not the simple explanation of the origin of the Universe that it had at first appeared. There were problems in reconciling the simple concept of a Big Bang with the state of the Universe as it then appeared. Philosophically, the Big Bang was not universally attractive either, involving as it must, an instant of creation and a new vacancy for a Creator, a problem likely to remain unresolved.4
To the non-philosopher, in the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, big bangs were not attractive. The way was open for an alternative.
The Steady State theory of Hoyle, Bondi and Gold was advanced in the late 1940s and was a serious rival to Big Bang for almost 20 years.5 Hoyle and his colleagues proposed a universe which is expanding, but has the same properties at all times. This was an extension of the cosmological principle, which says that the Universe is isotropic and homogenous in space, to include homogeneity with respect to time.
They countered the objection that if the universe is expanding at a steady rate the density of matter must decrease with time by proposing the C-field which provided continuous creation of hydrogen atoms in the vacuum to counteract the dilution due to expansion. This process has never been observed in the laboratory, but since the rate of creation required is of the order of one atom per cubic kilometre of space over a period of around 10 years, this was hardly a fatal objection.
At Cambridge, due to the undoubted brilliance of the Steady State team, and, it has to be said, the arrogance of Hoyle, Steady State was in the ascendancy at the time of young Stephen Hawking’s struggles. Although Hawking built his reputation on his work to advance Big Bang theory, and consequently refute Steady State, he made use of the C-field concept in his development of the inflationary universe. In fact, in the eternal inflation model, Big Bang universes appear as small bubbles in the de Sitter vacuum. The essential difference is in the size of the creation event: entire universes in the inflationary model, rather than single hydrogen atoms in Steady State.
Steady State fell out of favour because it was unable to explain the observed correlation between the evolution of galaxies and their observed red shift, although Fred Hoyle was never reconciled to Big Bang. The fatal evidence which finished off Steady State was the discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation.
Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation
(CMB), discovered accidentally by two radio engineers, Penzias and Wilson in 1965, constituted the vital observational evidence which guaranteed the supremacy of Big Bang at the time. The characteristics of CMB suggested that it had been produced in the very early stages of the Universe (around 300,000 years after the initial singularity). When released, this radiation would have been in the optical or uv range of the spectrum, but since then it has been progressively red shifted by the expansion of the universe and is now seen at microwave wavelengths with a temperature of 2.73K. CMB was of paramount importance in providing evidence about the thermal conditions in the fledgling universe. Also, its near-perfect isotropy was in support of the cosmological principle. The discovery of ripples in the microwave background by the Cosmic Background Explorer satellite in 1992, which had already been predicted by Hawking and others, made it possible to test theories of cosmological structure formation.6
Flaws in the Big Bang
The recent history of the Big Bang theory has been of mathematical struggle to find solutions to a sea of problems. We are now a very long way from Hawking’s ideal of a theory which “on the basis of a few simple postulates will make definite predictions which can be tested”. For example, when it became impossible to reconcile the standard cosmological model with the Universe as it appears, the concept of inflation involving a finite period of inflationary expansion was introduced. Since the proposal of what is now termed old inflation by Guth in 1981, we have experienced new inflation, chaotic inflation, eternal inflation, stochastic inflation, modified gravity, and their sub-variants. At the end of which, we have no evidence that inflation ever happened. All the above theories and their numerous variants are effectively attempts to explain the “facts” as we know them by mathematical modelling. Depending on results from the Large Hadron Collider, due to be completed at Geneva in 2005, it may be possible to determine whether we are in living in a (mem)brane universe in 11 dimensions of space time.7
It may not be unfair to conclude that the modern Big Bang theory comes with more patches and fixes than a piece of Bill Gates’ software.
An Alternative Theory
It is no surprise that the current Big Bang theory has been attacked by a number of scientists. In 1991 in his book, The Big Bang Never Happened, Eric J. Lerner presented evidence that the Big Bang theory was contradicted by observations and that another approach, plasma cosmology, which hypothesized a universe without beginning or end, far better explained what we know of the cosmos. 8The book set off a considerable debate. Since then, observations have only further confirmed these conclusions. On his website The Big Bang Never Happened Lerner presents details of the evidence accumulating against Big Bang theory, and gives examples where the alternative Plasma Cosmology gives correct predictions.
Observing the Inexplicable
The list of inconvenient (for Big Bang theorists) observations grows.
1. In 2003, a survey of clusters of galaxies made using data acquired by the ROSAT x-ray satellite showed what seems to be a huge concentration of matter some 12 billion light years across. A concentration of this size could not possibly have formed during the time since the supposed Big Bang (10-20 billion years).
2. Discoveries announced at the January, 2004 American Astronomical Society meeting showed that the Universe looks very similar billions of years ago (i.e. at high redshifts), to its appearance today, in contraction to the Big Bang idea that the Universe looked quite different in the past. For example, galaxies from 10-billion-years-ago appear to have a similar distribution of stellar ages and a similar spectrum of chemical elements produced by stars as our present-day galaxy. If the Big Bang had really happened, these galaxies should appear much younger, with fewer heavy metals and mostly young stars. Instead they look much the same as today.
3. The ARP Controversy over Galaxy NGC 7603.
Plasma Cosmology Theory
Like the Steady State model, Plasma Cosmology hypothesizes an evolving Universe without beginning or end.
A fundamental problem with Big Bang theory is the weakness of the gravitational force. If the Universe is held together by gravity, why did the products of the Big Bang not disperse spontaneously to infinity? The answer to this problem was to postulate extra or ‘dark’ matter to provide sufficient attractive force. It turned out that over 98% of the Universe would have to be composed of dark matter, which no one has ever been able to detect. Even if the dark matter proposition is accepted, there remains the problem of how the rate of expansion could have turned out just right to allow stars, planets and life to evolve. A tiny variation either way would produce a Universe which either disappeared to infinity or collapsed back on itself shortly after the Big Bang. The probability of the fledgling Universe getting it just right is minute.
Plasma Cosmology eliminates these difficulties by replacing gravity by the much stronger electromagnetic force (the electrostatic attraction between a proton and an electron is 1040 times stronger than their gravitational attraction). It was always assumed that the electromagnetic force was insignificant in astronomical situations because there is no large scale separation of electrostatic charge which would be necessary to create electric forces.
Results from the Chandra X-Ray Observatory are claimed to confirm the presence of huge clouds of electrically charged plasma in the Universe, refuting the conventional assumption.
In September 2003, Chandra returned an image of the supernova remnant in the Crab nebula. “…the center of the remnant contains a rapidly rotating neutron star – or pulsar – that is apparently pumping enormous amounts of energy into the nebula in the form of high-energy particles and magnetic fields. Chandra’s X-ray image provides significant clues to the workings of this mighty cosmic generator…”
Nearer home, the mysterious slowing of the Pioneer 10 probe as it moves away from the Solar System has no explanation in conventional terms but is readily explained if the probe is electrically charged (which it probably is) and is moving through an electric field.
According to Lerner, Plasma Cosmology not only explains existing observational evidence, but has successfully predicted results which were unknown at the time – just as Einstein was able to do with the General Theory of Relativity – the mark of a sound hypothesis.
Science Obstructed by Dogma
In spite of the accumulation of observational evidence against it, and the array of fudge factors necessary to its survival, Big Bang remains the primary model of cosmology. The time has now come for serious investigation into an alternative explanation. This is the message of Lerner’s Open Letter. His complaint is that because of the entrenchment of Big Bang in the scientific establishment, it has become virtually impossible to obtain funding for open-minded research. Worse than that, young scientists who make bold to doubt the establishment theory put their careers in jeopardy – as Stephen Hawking did in his time. “Even observations are now interpreted through this biased filter, judged right or wrong depending on whether or not they support the big bang. So discordant data on red shifts, lithium and helium abundances, and galaxy distribution, among other topics, are ignored or ridiculed.”
This reflects a growing dogmatic mindset that is alien to the spirit of free scientific enquiry.
It is not difficult to understand how scientists who have devoted their entire careers to the development of a major theory feel when their work comes to be supplanted. But this is the only way forward, and ultimately, nothing is wasted.
1. An Open Letter to the Scientific Community, New Scientist, May 22, 2004.
2. Hawking, S. The Universe in a Nutshell, Bantam Press, 2001, p. 31.
3. Krach, H. Cosmology and Controversy: the Historical Development of Two Theories of the Universe, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ, 1996.
4. Craig, William Lane. “Creation and Big Bang Cosmology.” Philosophia Naturalis 31 (1994): 217-224.
5. Hoyle, Sir Fred. Nature of the Universe Cambridge UP, 1952.
6. Goldsmith, D. Einstein’s Greatest Blunder? The Cosmological Constant and Other Fudge Factors in the Physics of the Universe, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA, 1995.
7. Hawking, S. op cit p. 196-200.
8. Lerner, Eric J. The Big Bang Never Happened. Vintage, 1991.