We don’t often see an announcement that’s immediately hailed as a shoo-in for a Nobel Prize in physics.
If you follow science news, no doubt you heard the announcement on March 17th claiming that scientists have found the “smoking gun” for the Big Bang—proof that the Big Bang happened exactly how secular cosmologists have said.
Was this announcement correct? No.
As often happens, when you separate the observations from the interpretations, a far different picture emerges.
What Was Actually Observed?
The Earth is constantly bathed in radiation coming from space. Most of it comes from our Sun (i.e., sunlight). Most of the rest comes from stars, galaxies, and the like.
But in addition to this, there’s also “background radiation” in the form of low-temperature microwaves coming from all directions.
This radiation has been named the CMB: the Cosmic Microwave Background. (The image above is a skymap of the CMB.)
The announcement was that within this radiation, scientists have discovered certain patterns of polarization. In other words, within the electromagnetic waves (i.e., the radiation) that make up the CMB, it appears that these waves are oscillating in certain preferred orientations.
So those are the observations: some polarization within the CMB.
How Should These Observations Be Interpreted?
Secular cosmologists believe that the CMB is leftover radiation from a particular stage of the Big Bang.
Most of these cosmologists are interpreting the polarization patterns as proof of gravitational waves within the early Universe. Specifically, these waves would have been generated during a specific period very early in the Big Bang, when a process called inflation made the Universe grow at an hyperexplosive rate (much faster than the speed of light).
Since inflation has a boatload of theoretical problems, cosmologists are eager to find something that they can claim is physical evidence for it (as if this would make the theoretical problems go away).
Thus, there’s a lot of excitement over the polarization patterns, which supposedly prove that inflation happened. And if inflation happened, then so did the Big Bang.
Well, as you probably already suspect…
This “Smoking Gun” Is No Such Thing
The breathless media announcements were far overblown.
These polarization measurements are new data, and thus are very interesting. But they don’t prove that the Big Bang happened, because…
This Discovery Is Consistent With Other Interpretations Too
These polarization patterns are only the “smoking gun” for the Big Bang if you make a whole pile of assumptions first.
In fact, even some secular cosmologists are doubtful about the importance of the polarization.
The Physics arXiv blog ran an article entitled:
“Gravitational Waves and Inflation May Be Wrong”
Here’s an excerpt:
“But even before the sound of champagne corks popping has died down, theorists are beginning to question the new result. Everyone agrees that the data shows [sic] important evidence of gravitational waves. The question is whether these waves could have been created after inflation, rather than before it. If so, then they do not provide any evidence that the early universe expanded so quickly and the celebrations have been premature.”
Hmm. Apparently these patterns don’t prove as much as was claimed.
Nevertheless, even if the polarization doesn’t prove inflation, doesn’t it still prove the Big Bang?
Polarization in the CMB is consistent with some creation cosmologies too. For example, Dr. John Hartnett is a Bible-believing physicist who writes that in his proposed cosmology:
- God filled the newly-created Universe with glowing plasma.
- The light produced by the plasma would produce a CMB.
- That plasma would have had acoustical waves oscillating through it.
- The oscillations would appear today as CMB polarization patterns.
So if polarization patterns are consistent with Big Bang cosmology
and with Biblical creation cosmologies too…
…then obviously these patterns are not “smoking gun” proof for the Big Bang.
Update, September 22, 2014. Mounting evidence shows that the polarization comes from interstellar dust, not from cosmological causes. See “Criticism of Study Detecting Ripples From Big Bang Continues to Expand.”
Update, January 30, 2015. “Gravitational waves discovery now officially dead.”
Image credit: NASA / WMAP Science Team