Reasons to Believe

A Response to Four Young-Earth Objections to Inflation

A remarkable correspondence exists between inflationary big bang cosmology and the Bible's accounts of the universe's origin. Both describe a universe that began to exist (Genesis 1:1; Hebrews 11:3), as well as the subsequent expansion of the universe (Isaiah 40:22, 42:5, 44:24, 45:12, 48:13, 51:13), all governed by constant laws of physics (Jeremiah 33:25), specifically by the pervasive law of decay (Romans 8:18–21). Thus, the new evidence for an inflationary epoch (see Monday's post) provides a powerful apologetic tool to argue for the authority of the Bible.

But despite this correspondence, young-earth creationists continue to express deep skepticism toward the big bang because it entails a universe (and Earth) that is billions of years old. An article published in a prominent young-earth journal in March 2014 responded to the reports of the new evidence by noting four different "problems" with inflationary big bang models, which I'll address here.

1. Light Travel Time

Problem: "First, a light travel time problem exists in the big bang model in that disparate parts of the universe have the same temperature, even though those parts have not had time to come into thermal equilibrium (Lisle 2003). This difficulty is called the horizon problem. Inflation in the early universe is invoked to explain the horizon problem, but there is no proof that inflation occurred..."

Response: This claim had some validity when scientists first proposed inflation because they did so in order to solve various issues with big bang cosmology. However, detailed investigations of the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB) over the last 20 years have affirmed important features of inflation. Just last month, the BICEP2 Collaboration reported detection of the B-mode polarization of the CMB, which provides a smoking gun signature for inflation.1

2. Gravitational Lensing

Problem: "Second, there ought to be gravitational lensing in the CMB, but there is none."

Response: Within recent months, scientists have published several reports detailing detections of the gravitational lensing in the CMB. These detections were made by the SPTpol Collaboration, the POLARBEAR Collaboration, and the Planck Collaboration.2

3. Quadrupole and Octupole Modes

Problem: "Third, Hartnett (2006a) has pointed out that the CMB contains quadrupole and octopole modes that the standard inflationary big bang model cannot explain."

Response: Even the most recent Planck data continue to show unexpected quadrupole and octupole modes in the CMB (see here and here).3 Even though we lack a complete explanation for these "anomalies," they don't require any new physics beyond standard inflationary big bang cosmology.4

4. Scattering by Electrons

Problem: "Fourth, Hartnett (2006b) also has explained that inverse Compton scattering by electrons (Sunyaev- Zel’dovich effect) in the intergalactic medium within clusters of galaxies ought to distort the CMB, but this is not seen."

Response: Research published last year demonstrated a measurement of both the thermal and kinetic Sunyaev-Zel’dovich effect from a massive galaxy cluster.5 In other words, the expected distortion in the CMB has been detected.

For over 40 years, young-earth creationists have argued against big bang cosmology. A number of the objections they raised were credible—at the time. However, subsequent research continues to put those objections to rest. The papers linked to above extend this pattern by validating that inflation did happen. But this is good news, not bad, for the Christian perspective on creation. As scientific advances strengthen the foundations of inflationary big bang cosmology, they also reinforce the reliability and authority of Scripture's descriptions of the origin of the universe

Subjects: Origin of the Universe

Dr. Jeff Zweerink

While many Christians and non-Christians see faith and science as in perpetual conflict, I find they integrate well. They operate by the same principles and are committed to discovering foundational truths. Read more about Dr. Jeff Zweerink.

References:

  1. BICEP2 Collaboration, “BICEP2 I: Detection of B-mode Polarization of at Degree Angular Scales,” submitted March 17, 2014, last updated March 18, 2014, http://arxiv.org/abs/1403.3985v2.
  2. D. Hanson et al. (SPTpol Collaboration), “Detection of B-Mode Polarization in the Cosmic Microwave Background with Data from the South Pole Telescope," Physical Review Letters 111 (September 30, 2013): 141301; P. A. R. Ade et al. (POLARBEAR Collaboration), "Evidence for Gravitational Lensing of the Cosmic Microwave Background Polarization from Cross-Correlation with the Cosmic Infrared Background," Physical Review Letters 112 (April 2, 2014): 131302; D. Hansen et al. (Planck Collaboration), "Planck 2013 Results. XVII. Gravitational Lensing by Large-Scale Structure," accepted by Astronomy & Astrophysics March 16, 2014, DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361/201321543.
  3. E. Martinez-Gonzalez et al. (Planck Collaboration), "Planck 2013 Results. XXIII. Isotropy and Statistics of the CMB," accepted by Astrophysics & Astronomy January 11, 2014, DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361/201321534; "Planck 2013 Results Papers,” Charles R. Lawrence (site manager), NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory, accessed April 22, 2014, http://planck.caltech.edu/publications2013Results.html.
  4. C. L. Bennett, "Seven-Year Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP *) Observations: Are there Cosmic Microwave Background Anomalies?," The Astrophysical Journal Supplemental Series 192 (February 2011): id. 17.
  5. J. Sayers et al., "A Measurement of the Kinetic Sunyaev-Zel'dovich Signal toward MACS J0717.5+3745," The Astrophysical Journal 778 (November 20, 2013): id. 52.