Reasons to Believe

Young-Earth Issues: Is the Big Bang Dead?

Down with the Big Bang?

In May 2010, Institute for Creation Research (ICR) science writer Brian Thomas posted an article in response to research published in the Astrophysical Journal1 regarding mature galaxy clusters in the early universe. Thomas describes some of the scientific challenges the mature galaxy cluster presents for the big bang models and counts this among the evidences that “fly in the face of the Big Bang.” He then references an earlier ICR paper that lists additional evidence of the big bang’s demise. In an ironic twist, the ICR paper Thomas references actually shows how robustly inflationary big bang cosmology has withstood and answered the challenges of the last 20 years.

Duane Gish, former vice-president of ICR, authored an article titled “The Big Bang Theory Collapses” back in 1991. The opening paragraph of the article reads:

“Down with the Big Bang;” “The Big Bang Theory Goes Kerplooey;” “The Big Bang Theory Explodes;” “Sorry, Big Bang Theory Is a Dud;” “Map Challenges Theory of Universe;” “Astronomers’ New Data Jolt Vital Part of Big Bang Theory;” “Quasar Clumps Dim Cosmological Theory.” These have been titles of a few of the articles found in newspapers and science journals in the last two or three years, as the Big Bang theory has received one body blow after another.

He then describes a variety of research that seems to spell the end of big bang cosmology. Specifically, he mentions:

  1. the discovery of enormous superclusters of galaxies that seemed inexplicable;  
  2. cold dark matter modifications of big bang cosmology could not explain these superclusters;  
  3. papers in scientific journals that appear to rule out cold dark matter (CDM) big bang models as valid;
  4. the cosmic microwave background radiation (first detected in the 1960 and often used as validation of big bang cosmology) was too uniform, i.e., the COBE satellite had not found the temperature ripples necessary to produce the galaxies and galaxy clusters astronomers see in the heavens;  
  5. and new steady-state and plasma cosmologies are poised to replace big bang cosmologies.  

One piece of evidence not explicitly discussed by Gish was that astronomers found stars and galaxies that were older than the ages for the universe, assuming CDM big bang models. Given all this evidence, it indeed looked like bleak times for the big bang.

Twenty years of research has produced a veritable flood of data relevant to assessing the validity of big bang models. Some of the relevant finds include the following.

1. In 1992, the COBE satellite detected, for the first time, the predicted anisotropies (or ripples) in the cosmic microwave background radiation. The anisotropies had the magnitude required to produce the galaxy structures seen by astronomers. Furthermore, the size and distribution of the ripples confirmed that we live in a geometrically flat universe filled with a large amount of dark matter.
   
2. In 1999, two independent groups discovered that scientists had missed a key piece of any cosmological model. The universe contains normal matter and dark matter as previously determined, but a mysterious “dark energy” makes up the dominant component of the universe’s matter/energy budget. As with dark matter, many subsequent discoveries confirm dark energy’s existence (see here and here for examples).

3. One of subsequent discoveries, namely the clustering of galaxies throughout the universe, demonstrates that the fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background radiation grow into the observed galaxy structure (even those massive superclusters) through normal gravitational interactions.
  
4. The WMAP satellite (COBE’s successor), confirmed all the major results by COBE and established even tighter constrains on the amount of dark matter, dark energy, and normal matter and on the age of the universe. I was employed full-time at UCLA when the first announcement of the WMAP results was released (one of my colleagues worked on WMAP) and remember a palpable hope in the room that WMAP would provide something to indicate that the prevailing big bang picture of the universe was wrong (or at least incomplete). But the talk started with a matter-of-fact statement that WMAP confirms the model in every area that it addressed.
  
5. A long-standing dispute regarding the age of the universe was finally settled thanks to careful efforts to understand how Cepheid variables work. Coupled with the advances listed above, the remaining big bang cosmologies2 now explain the vast majority of astronomical observations of the universe.

6. More evidence for big bang cosmology is presented in “A Beginner’s—and Expert’s—Guide to the Big Bang” by Hugh Ross.

As with any scientific model, anomalies remain (such as the mature galaxies mentioned above) in the big bang models, but the wealth of evidence strongly demonstrates their robustness. Even some young-earth proponents acknowledge the big bang’s explanatory power.

As mentioned in a previous article, I don’t often respond directly to comments from young-earth proponents. However, I thought Thomas’ post merited such response because despite young-earth predictions of its demise, big bang cosmology enjoys strong scientific (and biblical) support.

Send me an email if you have comments or questions regarding this topic.


Subjects: Scientific Evidence for an Old Earth

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. C. Papovich et al., “A Spitzer-Selected Galaxy Cluster at z = 1.62,” Astrophysical Journal 716, no. 2 (June 20, 2010) 1503 doi: 10.1088/0004-637X/716/2/1503.
  2. See “A multiplicity of models” subsection.