Scientists focus enormous effort on turning detections (observations and measurements) into predictions. Meteorologists use data to predict temperatures, wind, and precipitation. Astronomers use data to predict meteor showers and eclipses. Physicists use data to predict the existence of fundamental particles. Seismologists use data to predict volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.
How do they do it? The answer gives fresh significance to a familiar and (for some) favorite childhood pastime: model building. This pastime carries on into adulthood for more than just the avid hobbyist. Model building plays an important role in the work of architects and engineers, automobile and aircraft designers, medical doctors and biology researchers, mathematicians and philosophers, geologists and, among many others, cosmologists—those who study the characteristics of the universe.
The more closely a model resembles reality, both in large features and in fine details, the more valuable it proves. Unlike the models from childhood, though, models that advance understanding of the natural realm do not come in boxes complete with parts, instructions, and illustrations. Both the parts and the patterns for assembling them come from painstaking observation and experimentation. Scientists call these assemblages hypotheses at first. They become theories after much testing and refinement. A few models even go on to become laws, as did Newton’s models of motion.
Predictions serve as a model’s proving grounds. Major predictive failures suggest the need for major overhauls. Minor ones suggest the need for refinements. Inconsistencies indicate the presence of variables and interrelationships not yet accounted for. Weather models help illustrate the point. So do models for the treatment of disease. Both have come a long way since people first began to keep notes on the accuracy of their predictions. And both still have a ways to go toward precision.
One of the biggest and most challenging modeling projects yet attempted by science endeavors to depict the realities of the cosmos. A diverse array of models underwent construction and testing during the twentieth century. Major predictive failures sent most to the scrap heap. One set of models, however, remains in the refinement process: hot big bang models.
This development comes as good news to some people, but bad news to others, because it carries implications for religious beliefs and values. Models exist not in isolation but in relation to other models.
The cosmological model demonstrates this point. It puts constraints on the models for their component parts, such as the models for star formation and life origins. At the same time, the cosmological model either reinforces or contradicts the models into which it fits as a component part, such as the philosophical-theological models popularly known as worldviews.1
Some of the latest discoveries about the universe, specifically about the hot big bang model, speak volumes about the predictive power of a Bible-based, science-affirming perspective on the cosmos. Articles on the subject have appeared in previous issues of Facts for Faith, two national conferences focused on it, and readers can expect more discussion of it in the future.2 This model asserts that a transcendent intelligent Creator purposefully brought the universe into existence “in the beginning,” determined its physical laws and characteristics, and fine-tuned its development for billions of years to create a home for human civilization. The hot big bang set of models closely matches these assertions.
Any breakthroughs corroborating and refining the hot big bang model, in essence, corroborate the distinctively Christian theistic worldview. For scientists who thrive on the corroboration and refinement phase of model building, and for anyone fascinated by this particular worldview, the following discoveries give as much cause for jubilation as a freshly painted model airplane about to be hung from a ceiling.
Supernova Attests To Fine-Tuning of Cosmic Expansion
Based on earlier research, and especially on observation of a certain class of supernovae (massive stellar explosions), one subset of hot big bang models depicted (and predicted confirmation of) this scenario: cosmic expansion began with an enormous blast, slowed down for about eight to nine billion years, and then began to speed up.3 Theoreticians have determined that this particular pattern of expansion crucially determines whether or not physical life is possible anywhere and at any time in cosmic history.4
Like highway patrolmen’s radar guns, Type Ia supernovae serve as speed detectors. They tell researchers the velocity of cosmic expansion at different times in history.5 Until the early part of 2001, astronomers had obtained expansion-rate measurements back to about 6 billion years ago. Then, on April 2, 2001, the NASA Space Telescope Science Institute announced discovery of a Type Ia supernova some ten billion years old—and nearly twice as far away as the most distant one previously measured.6
These previously known supernovae clearly depicted the speeding-up era of cosmic expansion. This new finding reaches back into the earlier era of cosmic history when, according to the model, the mass density of the universe would have been slowing the expansion. And that is exactly what it shows: a significantly slower rate of expansion when the universe was four to five billion years old.
In addition to corroborating the hot big bang theory, this finding testifies to the necessity of a divine designer. To achieve the precise rate and timing of the cosmic slowing down and speeding up, two characteristics of the universe must be fixed with exacting precision. The mass density cannot vary by more than one part in 1060 and the space energy density cannot vary by more than one part in 10120 (that’s 120 zeroes behind the 1).7
High-Resolution Measurements Affirm Design
During the early months of 2000, the BOOMERANG research team, which studies the background radiation left over from the big bang (creation event), announced their conclusion that the universe is flat, or nearly flat—in terms of its geometry. 8 This news caused almost as big a stir as the discovery that Earth is round.
Flat geometry means that light takes a straight pathway, not a curved one, through space between one object and another, for example, from one galaxy to another. Given this geometry, astronomers can predict the makeup of the universe—what proportion mass density (ordinary plus exotic matter) contributes and what proportion space energy density contributes to the total density of the universe. These densities can then be corroborated by independent means, allowing for some cross-checking of the model.
On April 29, 2001, the same BOOMERANG team that initially reported on flatness presented their analysis of more cosmic background data—14 times more data.9 This new information gives astronomers the most detailed picture to date of the cosmic density components. It indicates that ordinary matter (matter made up of particles such as protons, neutrons, and electrons that strongly interact with radiation) contributes approximately 4.5% of the total cosmic density that adds up to produce a flat-geometry universe. Exotic matter (particles such as neutrinos that weakly interact with radiation) contributes approximately 30%. The remaining 65% comes from the space energy density (energy within the space fabric that works to expand that fabric at an ever accelerating rate).
The team’s findings simultaneously reinforce the case for flatness and refine the cosmological model. The team detected the anticipated variations in background radiation left over from the creation event. The particular contours that this detection confirmed (specifically, the second and third “acoustical peaks”—see figure 1) were predicted by a particular subset of flat–geometry (or nearly flat) hot big bang models called “inflationary” models.10 Two more research teams have since independently verified these same acoustical peaks.11
In other words, these findings narrow the field of candidates for “best model” among the larger field of big bang models. University of Pennsylvania cosmologist Max Tegmark commented to New York Times reporter James Glanz, “This is a very bad day for the competition.” 12 This “bad day,” however, is actually a good day for those who seek truth.
Cosmologist Michael Turner told Washington Post reporter Kathy Sawyer, “These latest results put Albert Einstein’s theories of gravity, as well as the big bang theory and other key pillars of modern cosmology all on a much firmer footing.”13 These pillars appear not just in the growing annals of science but also in the pages of Scripture.
Latest Deuterium Measurements Agree
Only two days after the April 29 announcement of the BOOMERANG results, three astrophysicists published their analysis of deuterium abundances in distant, hence ancient quasars (the dense, energy-rich cores of then young supergiant galaxies).14 Taking advantage of newly refined calculations of the rate of deuterium (hydrogen with a neutron in the nucleus, often called “heavy hydrogen”) production in the first few minutes of the big bang creation event, they found that ordinary matter constitutes between 4.1 and 5.5% of the cosmic density necessary to produce a flat-geometry universe.15 The most likely figure (based on the favored measure of the average cosmic expansion rate) is 4.7%.
Gratifying to researchers, this announcement closely matches and confirms the 4.5% figure for ordinary matter reported by the teams studying cosmic background radiation. It also resolves a conflict that arose from older measurements. One earlier study set the deuterium abundance in ancient stars at 2 to 3%, another at 4 to 5%. With more advanced tools to work with, researchers were able to establish the accuracy of the 4 to 5% measurement. And, by resolving the conflict, they added stability and reliability to the model.
Intergalactic Gas Lends Weight
As if further corroboration were needed (and a scientist would say it always is), a team of ten astronomers from Germany, Italy, and the U.S. recently added confirmation to the cosmic mass density by examining some of the huge X-ray emitting hot gas clouds that surround galaxy clusters.
X-ray emission signifies the presence of hot, diffuse gas. Only strong gravity can keep such a cloud from disintegrating, and strong gravity means much mass. By measuring the size and the temperature of more than 100 of these X-ray gas clouds, the group of astronomers determined how much mass holds the clouds together. Their calculations show that ordinary and exotic matter together comprise 35% of the cosmic density necessary to produce a flat-geometry universe, a result identical to that of the teams studying the cosmic background radiation.16
Cosmic Creation Date Updated
Mapping of the cosmic background radiation has also enabled astronomers to shore up a once wobbly piece of the hot big bang models: their multibillion-year variation in cosmic age estimates. The past decade’s measurements had reduced this wobble to approximately 1.5 billion years, fixing the creation date somewhere between 13.0 and 15.5 billion years.17 But, during 2001, a group of American astronomers zoomed in on a remarkably accurate 14-billion-year age figure, varying by no more than a half billion years in either direction.18
The team measured the angular sizes of hot and cold spots on the newest cosmic background radiation maps, spots arising from that moment when the universe was just 0.002% its current age. The size of those spots tells astronomers how long their light has been in transit to Earth (the smaller, or less dispersed, the older) if the universe is geometrically flat (or nearly so). The observed time span yields an age determination: 14 billion years ± 0.5 billion.
Confirmation of flatness adds powerfully to scientists’ confidence in this age determination.
The most recent substantiation comes from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. As the Sloan database grows, evidence for both the high-degree flatness and high-degree homogeneity of the universe grows more compelling. That database now includes measurements on 900,000 galaxies.19 The sheer volume of data helped cut the error bar (on the cosmic geometry and homogeneity) by more than half in just one year. Shrinking error bars speak confidently of a model’s proximity to reality.
Creation Model Stands Strong
Ancient contributors to Scripture, including Job, Moses, David, Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Zechariah described various features of the big bang universe with amazing, even supernatural, accuracy. They detailed the universe’s singular transcendent (from beyond matter, energy, space, and time) ancient beginning, its ongoing expansion, the fine-tuning of its expansion, the fixity of its physical laws, and the specific and meticulous preparation for human life. 20
These Bible authors wrote thousands of years before Albert Einstein’s equations demonstrated cosmic expansion from a transcendent event. They wrote thousands of years before astronomers studied Type Ia supernovae, measured deuterium abundances, mapped acoustical peaks in the cosmic background radiation, measured the gravity holding together hot intergalactic gas clouds, or determined the light travel time from ancient hot and cold spots in the background radiation to the present day.The predictive power of the biblically based cosmic creation model attests to the divine inspiration of Scripture, thus the trustworthiness of its central message, the good news of humanity’s redemption from sin through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This message casts the model in the context of God’s larger-than-cosmic plan for humankind.
- Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, 3d ed. (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2001), 69-174.
- Hugh Ross, “Flat-Out Confirmed: God Spread the Universe!” Facts for Faith 2 (Q2 2000), 26-31; Hugh Ross, “A Beginner’s—and Expert’s—Guide to the Big Bang,” Facts for Faith 3 (Q3 2000), 14-32; Hugh Ross and John Rea, “Big Bang—The Bible Said It First!” Facts for Faith 3 (Q3 2000), 26-32; Hugh Ross et al., Putting Creation to the Test: Constructing a Scientifically Plausible, Biblically Faithful Account of Creation, Reasons To Believe Conference audiotapes, June 28-30, 2001 (Pasadena, CA: Reasons To Believe, 2001); Hugh Ross et al., Beyond Genesis 1: Building a Creation Model, Reasons To Believe Conference audiotapes, June 22-24, 2000 (Pasadena, CA: Reasons To Believe, 2000).
- S. Perlmutter et al., “Measurements of Ω and Λ from 42 High-Redshift Supernovae,” Astrophysical Journal 517 (1999): 570. The most distant Type Ia supernova that the Supernova Cosmology Project used to make the first conclusive determination that the universe has a significant space energy density term had a redshift, z = 0.83. This redshift corresponds to a distance of just over six billion light years away; Ross, “Flat-Out Confirmed,” 26-31.
- Lawrence M. Krauss, “The End of the Age Problem, and the Case for a Cosmological Constant Revisited,” Astrophysical Journal 501 (1998): 461.
- S. Perlmutter et al., “Discovery of a Supernova Explosion at Half the Age of the Universe,” Nature 391 (1998): 51-54; Hugh Ross, “Einstein Exonerated in Breakthrough Discovery,” Connections vol. 1, no. 3 (1999), 2-3.
- Adam G. Riess, “The Farthest Known Supernova: Support for an Accelerating Universe and a Glimpse of the Epoch of Deceleration,” Astrophysical Journal 560 (2001): 49-71.
- Krauss, 461.
- P. DeBarnardis et al., “A Flat Universe from High-Resolution Maps of the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation,” Nature 404 (2000): 955-59; A. Melchiorri et al., “A Measurement of Ω from the North American Test Flight of Boomerang,” Astrophysical Journal Letters 536 (2000): L63-L66.
- Charles Seife, “Echoes of the Big Bang Put Theories in Tune,” Science 292 (2001): 823; P. Bernardis et al., “Multiple Peaks in the Angular Power Spectrum of the Cosmic Microwave Background: Significance and Consequences for Cosmology,” Astrophysical Journal 564 (June 2002): 559-66.
- P. Bernardis et al.,; Radek Stompor et al., “Cosmological Implications of the MAXIMA-1 High-Resolution Cosmic Microwave Background Anisotropy Measurement,” Astrophysical Journal Letters 561 (2001): L7-L10; F. Atrio-Barabdela et al., “Observational Matter Power Spectrum and the Height of the Second Acoustic Peak,” Astrophysical Journal 559 (2001): 1-8.
- A. T. Lee et al., “A High-Spatial Resolution Analysis of the MAXIMA-1 Cosmic Microwave Background Anisotropy Data,” Astrophysical Journal Letters 56l(2001): L1-L5; Charles Seife, “Microwave Telescope Data Ring True,” Science 291 (2001): 414; S. Padin et al., “First Intrinsic Anisotropy Observations with the Cosmic Background Imager,” Astrophysical Journal Letters 549 (2001): L1-L5; Atrio-Barabdela et al., 1-8.
- James Glanz, “Listen Closely: From Tiny Hum Came Big Bang,” New York Times, 30 April 2001, late edition – final, sec. A, p. 1, col. 1.
- Kathy Sawyer, “Calculating Contents of Cosmos: Ordinary Matter Makes Up Only 4.5 Percent Teams Find,” The Washington Post, April 30, 2001, p. A1.
- Scott Burles, Kenneth M. Nollett, and Michael S. Turner, “Big Bang Nucleosynthesis Predictions for Precision Cosmology,” Astrophysical Journal Letters 552 (2001): L1-L5.
- David Kirkman et al., “QSO 0130-4021: A Third QSO Showing a Low Deuterium-To-Hydrogen Abundance Ratio,” Astrophysical Journal 529 (2000): 655-60; J. M. O’Mears et al., Astrophysical Journal (2001): submitted.
- Stefano Borgani et al., “Measuring Ωm with the ROSAT Deep Cluster Survey,” Astrophysical Journal 561 (2001): 13-21.
- For a review of these recent measurements see Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, 59-63.
- Wayne Hu et al., “Cosmic Microwave Background Observables and Their Cosmological Implications,” Astrophysical Journal 549 (2001): 669-80; Ron Cowen, “Age of the Universe: A New Determination,” Science News 160 (2001), 261.
- Naoki Yasuda et al., “Galaxy Number Counts from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey Commissioning Data,” Astronomical Journal 122 (2001): 1104-24.
- Gen. 1:1, 2:3-4; Job 9:8; Ps. 104:2, 148:5; Isa. 40:22, 40:26, 42:5, 45:12, 45:18, 48:13, 51:13; Jer. 10:12, 33:25, 51:15; Zech. 12:1; John 1:3; Rom. 8:18-23; Col. 1:15-17; Heb. 11:3; The Holy Bible; Ross and Rea, “Big Bang” 26-32.
Sidebar: A New Big Bang Model
Just three weeks before the BOOMERANG team and two other teams announced the results of their studies on cosmic background radiation, a group of theoreticians presented a new cosmological model at the Space Telescope Science Institute. They termed it the ekpyrotic (out of fire) model. According to this model, two ten-dimensional flat sheets of space-time stand parallel to each other.1 At some point, a random fluctuation in the space-time fabric of one sheet peels off a membrane that floats toward the other sheet. When the floater hits the other sheet, a big bang occurs leading to the release of energy and matter from the unfurling of space curvature.
Though at first glance this hypothesis may appear to get rid of the singularity that points to God as the Creator of the universe, the ekpyrotic model merely replaces the infinitesimal “point-like” singularity of the inflationary big bang models with a “plate-like” singularity. The singularity, by definition, is any infinitesimal volume regardless of shape and regardless of how many dimensions may comprise that shape.
The ekpyrotic model offers no explanation of how the space-time sheets originate. Some kind of transcendent Entity or Creator must be invoked to account for their existence and characteristics. Does the Bible allow for the universe to arise from such sheets? Yes, it does. Hebrews 11:3 says that the detectable universe was made from that which cannot be detected—a statement equally consistent with the inflationary big bang models. Whether point-like or plate-like, the singularity requires intentional, intelligent, transcendent action.
As a side note, the ekpyrotic universe model predicts that the universe could experience a fiery demise. At any moment, another membrane could peel off from a hidden ten-dimensional sheet and collide with the universe. This result would resemble the cataclysm described by Isaiah and Peter.2
While the new cosmic background radiation measurements strongly favor the inflationary big bang models, they do not definitively and conclusively rule out the ekpyrotic model. As with all models, the latter will be tested by its predictive power. The ekpyrotic scenario proposes a set of gravitational waves distinct from those of the inflationary models. Therefore, the detection of gravity waves by such instruments as the recently completed LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravity Observatory) may soon reveal which model comes closest to depicting the universe.
- Charles Seife, “Big Bang’s New Rival Debuts with a Splash,” Science 292 (2001): 189-90.
- Isaiah 34:4, 2 Peter 3:7, 10, 12.
Sidebar: Dark Matter Accounted For
One component of big bang models has for years drawn fire from the models’ critics: all big bang models predict that the universe contains more dark matter than luminous matter.1 The fact that no astronomer has seen the dark matter, opponents say, suggests that the big bang is wrong. The recent accumulation of data, however, provides a reasonable answer to that challenge.
The mere fact that dark matter is “dark” implies that astronomers will never “see” it. This fact does not mean, however, that they cannot detect it. Astronomers can easily discover, even measure, the presence of dark matter. They observe, by a variety of methods, the gravitational disturbances that arise from dark matter, even distinguishing among its various forms, whether ordinary (nonluminous matter made up of protons, neutrons, and electrons) or one of the exotic types.
Four independent methods (measurements on Type Ia supernovae, cosmic background radiation, deuterium abundance, and hot intergalactic gas clouds) provide astronomers with remarkably consistent results, all affirming the existence of dark matter. The mass density of the universe adds up to 35% of the total density. Of the matter that contributes to the mass density, only 2% is luminous ordinary matter. Approximately 85% is exotic dark matter, and approximately 13% is ordinary dark matter. Further confirmation of the existence and abundance of dark matter comes from gravitational lensing,2 measurements of the spatial distribution and density of galaxies,3 and studies on the structure of galactic halos and cores.4
- Henry M. Morris, “The Outer Darkness,” Back To Genesis, no. 154, October, 2001, pp. a-c; Danny Faulkner, “The Current State of Creation Astronomy,” Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference on Creationism (Pittsburgh, PA: Creation Science Fellowship, 1998), 201-16; Fred Hoyle, Geoffrey Burbidge, and Jayant V. Narlikar, A Different Approach to Cosmology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 275-302, 312.
- Charles Keeton, “Cold Dark Matter and Strong Gravitational Lensing: Concord or Conflict?” Astrophysical Journal 561 (2001): 46-60.
- Naoki Yasuda et al., “Galaxy Number Counts from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey Commissioning Data,” Astronomical Journal 122 (2001): 1104-24.
- Oleg Gnedin and Jeremiah Ostriker, “Limits on Collisional Dark Matter from Elliptical Galaxies in Clusters,” Astrophysical Journal 561 (2001): 61-68; Julianne Dalcanton and Craig Hogan, “Halo Cores and Phase-Space Densities: Observational Constraints on Dark Matter Physics and Structure Formation,” Astrophysical Journal 561 (2001): 35-45.