The James Web Space Telescope is the largest optical telescope in space. Although only operational for a few months, it’s already getting regular headlines for the breathtaking images that are being released.
Here’s an example:
You might have also seen articles that say its discoveries are contradicting the Big Bang model. One article in particular (“The Big Bang Never Happened,” by Eric J. Lerner) has been especially popular in social media.
Lerner made some provocative statements, such as:
“[T]he existence of these galaxies demonstrates that the Big Bang did not occur.”
“[T]he new data is [sic] causing [Big Bang] theorists to panic.”
“One paper’s title begins with the candid exclamation: ‘Panic!’”
So what’s going on? What are these new discoveries? Do they disprove the Big Bang model? And are Big Bang theorists really panicking?
We’ll address the “panic” allegations later. First, let’s talk about the new discoveries, and whether or not they’re consistent with predictions made by scientists who believe the Big Bang model.
(This article will be a bit longer than usual, but it’s worth it. There’s good stuff here.)
A brief history of galactic history
Some concepts in astronomy have been around since ancient times. Others, not so much.
Many people don’t know that the belief in other galaxies outside of our Milky Way is actually quite recent. Only a few galaxies are visible to the unaided eye. And even when looking at one through a telescope, a typical galaxy only appears as a faint smudge.
Thus, even well into the twentieth century, most astronomers believed these objects are just nebulae (gas clouds) within the Milky Way. The common view was that our galaxy was the only one that existed.
In 1920, there was a famous debate on this issue. Later that decade, Edwin Hubble showed that the Andromeda Galaxy must be outside of the Milky Way.
Over time, more and more astronomers accepted that these “island universes” (as they were often called at the time) were extragalactic—i.e., outside of our own galaxy.
Astronomers knew that galaxies are found in a variety of different shapes. Already in the mid-1920s, Hubble had started classifying galaxies according to a scheme now called the “Hubble Sequence.” A galaxy can be classified as elliptical, spiral, or irregular.
The ellipticals are on the left of the sequence. They are large and round; they range from spherical to egg-shaped.
Spiral galaxies are on the right of the sequence. They have flattened disk shapes with spiral arms and central bulges.
Some of these are “barred spirals,” each of which has a bar between the bulge and the arms. Our Milky Way is believed to be a barred spiral.
Some astronomers also consider lenticular galaxies as their own category. These are in the middle of the sequence; they have large bulges and flattened disk shapes, but no spiral arms.
Lastly, irregular galaxies are those that don’t fit into the other categories. They tend to be asymmetric, and they are (as the name implies) rather irregular in shape.
The evolution of galaxies
It might seem that the Hubble sequence is meant to suggest a progression over time—that according to secular astronomers, galaxies evolve from the shapes shown on the left, into the shapes shown on the right.
This is incorrect. (Hubble himself noted that this wasn’t the case.) Today, most secular astronomers actually believe that:
- Small irregular galaxies formed first
- Then they merged to form disk galaxies
- And then over time, the disk galaxies merged and combined into ellipticals.
Another common misconception is that this process was supposedly the result of the Big Bang. In fact, the Big Bang model says that stars (and therefore, galaxies) were not formed by the Big Bang. These objects had to form later.
Therefore, if the overall Big Bang story is true, then when the Universe first created itself, no galaxies existed. This situation lasted for quite some time. (More on this in a moment.)
Then there was an epoch when galaxies were first starting to form, and eventually, over time, they evolved into the galaxies we see today.
Therefore, if somehow we could look back in time, we’d see the Universe as it used to be, farther and farther back into the past. For most of the cosmos’ history, we would see mature galaxies, as there are today… but if we kept looking farther and farther back, we would eventually see that epoch when the very first galaxies were forming.
In other words, if the Big Bang model were true, and if we could look far enough back into time, we would see a Universe dominated by “immature” galaxies that by today’s standards would look peculiar and irregular.
And indeed, it should be possible to do exactly that.
Observing the expected
As telescopes have improved, we can look deeper and deeper into space. From a Big Bang perspective, this would mean we were essentially looking back in time.
For example, here is a famous photograph called the Hubble Extreme Deep Field:
In this photo, there are galaxies that are so far away, that their “lookback time” is said to be 13.2 billion years. In other words, the light needed 13.2 billion years to reach us.
Note: secular calculations for large lookback times are disputed by creationary astronomers, who propose other relationships between distance and light travel times. In other words, distant starlight doesn’t necessarily require the Universe to be billions of years old. This will be the topic of Volume IV of my astronomy video series, which is (finally!) in pre-production.
But in this article, I’m discussing galaxies from the perspective of the secular Big Bang worldview. And from that perspective, when we look at a faraway galaxy today, we are seeing it as it appeared in the distant past.
According to that perspective, we are, in a sense, looking backwards in time. We are seeing these objects as they used to be.
And it turns out that as we have looked farther and farther out into the cosmos, and thus farther and farther back into cosmic history, more and more irregular and peculiar galaxies have been found.
For years, this seemed to match secular expectations about galactic evolution.
But all was not well.
Observing the unexpected
Over the years, secular astronomers have developed extensive models for how galaxies would form and evolve over time.
By the early 2000s, it was understood that galaxies would need three to six billion years to form. Therefore, if our telescopes could look deep enough into the cosmos, it should be possible (if the Big Bang model were correct) to actually see light from the earliest galaxies.
In other words, we should actually be able to see these galaxies as they appeared back when they were first forming.
But to be able to do this, how far out would we have to look?
According to the Big Bang model, the Universe is almost 14 billion years old. So, if we could observe galaxies at a distance that represents a lookback time of 8-11 billion years, then we’d be seeing the Universe as it was when it was only 3-6 billion years old.
This isn’t easy, but it’s well within the capabilities of modern equipment. By the early 2000s, astronomers were regularly observing objects at these distances.
But did astronomers observe a Universe where galaxies were just beginning to form? No.
Instead, as astronomers looked farther and farther out, massive galaxies were found at farther and farther distances. These are mature galaxies that, according to secular models, shouldn’t be there, because (according to secular models) there hadn’t been enough time for them to form. But these galaxies exist anyway.
As I discussed in Volume II of my astronomy video series, this trend has been going on for about two decades now.
For example, back in 2004, a study was published by the Gemini Deep Deep Survey (GDDS). One of the co-principal authors commented that:
“We expected to find basically zero massive galaxies beyond about 9 billion years ago, because theoretical models predict that massive galaxies form last. Instead, we found highly developed galaxies that just shouldn’t have been there, but are.”Source: Johns Hopkins University. “Glimpse At Early Universe Reveals Surprisingly Mature Galaxies.” ScienceDaily, 8 July 2004.
A study in 2005 used the Spitzer Space Telescope, and one of the researchers said:
“We’re detecting galaxies we never expected to find, having a wide range of properties we never expected to see.”
“We are really amazed—these are the earliest, oldest galaxies found to date. Their existence was not predicted by theory.”Source: Carnegie Institution. “Astronomical Surprise: Massive Old Galaxies Starve To Death In The Infant Universe.” ScienceDaily, 21 March 2005.
Let me emphasize something here. Massive galaxies “shouldn’t have been there” beyond about nine billion years ago, according to secular models. That’s ‘only’ about five billion years after the alleged Big Bang, and galaxies would need up to six billion years to form. However, massive galaxies were being found there anyway.
But despite all of this, there was one potential comfort for secular thinkers. As I mentioned earlier, there are many irregulars at these distances too. In fact, at these faraway distances, a high percentage of the galaxies are irregular.
So even though the massive galaxies shouldn’t be there, at least the large numbers of irregulars and peculiars seemed to match secular expectations.
But then, in late 2021, the James Webb Space Telescope was launched.
And everything changed.
James Webb: Better images of the same regions
At 6.5 meters, the JW’s mirror is about six times as big as Hubble’s. Thus, its optics are much better.
Some of its early assignments have been to observe objects and regions that had already been imaged previously. Here’s an example:
The image on the left was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, while the one on the right is from the James Webb. Clearly, the JW produces superior results.
Note that the JW doesn’t just produce more detail—it also reveals objects that weren’t previously visible at all. It’s turning out that many of these regions contain a lot more galaxies than were previously known.
They were too dim to be seen with other telescopes, but they are visible to the JW. In the images above, there are many examples of this. Look at all the galaxies in the JW photo that aren’t apparent in the Hubble photo.
And a surprising number of these newly-discovered galaxies aren’t irregulars or peculiars. They’re disk galaxies.
Furthermore, some of the galaxies that were previously thought to be irregulars, are now (due to the better images) shown to be disks instead.
In fact, according to this study of a previously-studied region (SMACS 0723, shown above), there are ten times as many disk galaxies there as was previously thought. About half of the galaxies observed are disks.
Remember, it had been thought that irregulars and peculiars dominate the galaxy populations at these distances. These regions were supposed to be evidence for early stages of galaxy formation.
But the JW has shown that this is not correct. Apparently, at these distances, peculiar and irregular galaxies are much less important (as a proportion of the overall population) than was previously thought.
We now know that these regions contain a lot of galaxies that were already mature, even when we’re looking (according to the secular viewpoint) far back in time—far before the earliest time when galaxies were supposed to be possible.
Going where no telescope has gone before
We see then that JW’s images of regions that had already been studied, at distances that we had already been able to reach, have overturned previous ideas.
But in addition to its superior optics, JW was also designed to observe into the infrared part of the spectrum, and therefore, to look much deeper1 into the cosmos than other telescopes can.
Therefore, from a secular perspective, the JW can see objects as they were much farther back in time than was possible before. In effect, it can look back much closer in time to the Big Bang.
So, here’s a question. In its deepest observations—in its observations of faraway regions that were inaccessible to us before—has the JW finally revealed a stage of the Universe where it was full of the immature, still-forming galaxies that secular cosmologists have been expecting?
The most distant galaxies ever observed
In the JW’s deepest images, there are still mature, massive galaxies visible. In other words, there are mature galaxies very early in cosmic history.
How early? Mature galaxies are now being reported that (according to secular models) had already formed just 230 million years after the Big Bang.
Galaxies that weren’t supposed to exist
It’s hard to overstate the discrepancy between secular expectations and the JW’s observations. Remember, just a few years ago, astronomers believed that galaxies would need at least three billion years (and possibly up to six billion years) to form.
Secular astronomers were already shocked when massive, mature galaxies were found to exist when the Universe was supposedly five billion years old. Now they have to grapple with JW’s observations of galaxies that (according to their worldview) already existed just 230 million years after the Big Bang.
That’s less than one-quarter of one billion. (And it’s only eight percent of three billion.)
Put another way, the JW is showing galaxies that (from a secular perspective) already existed more than 2.75 billion years before they were supposed to be possible.
And even though this is shockingly early from the secular perspective, the problem is actually even worse than that. These galaxies weren’t forming at this time; they had already formed.
This means that the actual formation process must have occurred even earlier. Possibly much earlier.
We see this in a variety of ways:
- As we’ve already mentioned, the JW is observing massive galaxies at these distances. If small irregulars formed first and then merged into more massive galaxies later (as secular astronomers believe), then this had already happened in the regions that JW is observing.
- There is also evidence of larger-scale structure. Some of the galaxies have the same approximate redshift, indicating that they are in a “group or proto-cluster”. The models say that this structure wouldn’t exist immediately, so it would take time to form. But in these images, it seems to already exist.
- Many of the faraway galaxies are quite bright. A few are comparable to, or even brighter than, our Milky Way galaxy.
- Many of the galaxies are quite dense. As this study notes, in some regions stellar mass density is “three orders of magnitude higher than anticipated.” In other words, some of these galaxies have a density of stars that’s more than 1,000 times the expected value.
- They are chemically mature. For example, there is a “surprising richness” of elements such as oxygen. But if the Big Bang model were true, at least two generations of stars must have already formed in order for this to be possible.2
However, these mature and already-formed objects being observed by JW are supposedly very close in time to the Big Bang. And there’s little time available for all this to happen.
We see then, that in multiple ways…
The JW images are showing galaxies that are not at all what secular astronomers had expected.
And remember, the JW has only been operational for a few months. We’re only seeing results from the first few studies. So we’re only seeing a small sample of what will be discovered and published in the coming months and years.
This means it’s quite possible that mature galaxies at even farther distances will be found. In fact, it’s reasonable to expect this, since there’s no hint that we’re approaching the alleged epoch of initial galaxy formation.
As this study notes, “we have not reached the limit of where the first ellipticals and spheroids have formed. We will need to probe even higher redshifts to find when and if there are no spheroids or disk galaxies.”
But scientists are running out of time within which they can look for this alleged period of galaxy formation. As the JW looks deeper into space, and thus (from a secular perspective) farther and farther back into time, there’s less and less “time after the Big Bang” available for the first galaxies to have formed within.
This “mature galaxy” crisis has been building since the mid-2000s, but now the JW is pouring gasoline on the fire. In the creation movement, many of us were expecting discoveries like these, but the JW has produced results that are even better than we could have anticipated.
(It’s a great time to be a creationist!)
So… is this the final nail in the coffin for the Big Bang model? Does this mean that secular astronomers are panicking, as some articles have claimed?
The new observations are certainly creating some confusion in the secular scientific community. And perhaps we could argue that secular theorists should be panicking.
But despite the articles you might have seen on social media, they aren’t.
And this isn’t really surprising. Here’s why.
No panic (not even at the disco)
First of all, there was indeed a recent paper with a title that began with, “Panic! at the Disks.” But this was not meant to describe the authors’ emotions; it was actually meant to be a joke.
(The title was supposed to be a play on words, and was referring to an American rock band named “Panic! at the Disco.” Yes, even scientific papers include bad puns sometimes.)
And it’s also true that astronomers are surprised by the new observations. Media stories have contained quotes like these:
“The models just don’t predict this… How do you do this in the universe at such an early time? How do you form so many stars so quickly?”Garth Illingworth, University of California at Santa Cruz
“The reality is just kind of blowing our mind.”Jeyhan Kartaltepe, Rochester Institute of Technology in New York
“No one was expecting anything like this.”Michael Boylan-Kolchin, University of Texas, Austin
“This is way outside the box of what models were predicting.”Garth Illingworth, University of California (UC), Santa Cruz
“Right now I find myself lying awake at three in the morning, wondering if everything I’ve ever done is wrong.”Allison Kirkpatrick, University of Kansas in Lawrence
But these quotes only mean that these astronomers don’t understand how their models about galaxy formation could accommodate the new observations.
The quotes don’t mean that they are questioning the overall context of the Big Bang model.
Some scientists are even emphasizing this. For example, Eric Lerner, in his article The Big Bang Never Happened, reproduced the quote from Ms. Kirkpatrick (“I find myself lying awake…”), and implied that she is doubting the Big Bang model. She responded by changing her Twitter username to “Allison the Big Bang happened Kirkpatrick.”
It might seem strange that secular astronomers aren’t reacting more strongly than this. The JW observations are so inconsistent with secular expectations that it seems logical to question the broader model that produced those expectations.
But this would be to ignore the bigger context. With very few exceptions, the secular astronomical community accepts the Big Bang model as fact. Secular scientists aren’t questioning this model, because it doesn’t even occur to them to do so.
Will the JW observations force the secular community to re-evaluate their models of galaxy formation, early star formation, and so on? Yes, certainly. In fact, this process has already begun.
But the overall idea of the Big Bang is being exempted from this process.
Mature galaxies: not even the worst problem
History tells us that the new JW observations probably won’t be enough to topple Big Bang cosmology.
Previous discoveries had already falsified the model, but they didn’t matter. Secular astronomers still hold to it anyway. So there’s no reason that the JW’s discoveries will fare any better.
Let’s discuss a few examples.
The Big Bang model violates the laws of physics. It suffers from a problem I call the secular dilemma. Either something came from nothing (which violates the laws of physics in one way), or there has always been something (which violates the laws of physics in a different way). Either way, the Big Bang is inconsistent with the laws of science. The only cosmological model that explains our Universe and is also consistent with physics, is that a supernatural Creator is responsible for it.
The Big Bang requires cosmic inflation: a contrived, just-so story about an “inflaton.” This is a made-up particle, completely outside of physics, that was invented purely to save the model from evidence that would be fatal to it otherwise.
It also requires a multiverse (an infinite number of Universes). This idea is not only unscientific, it’s anti-scientific3—but the secular community embraces it anyway, because the Big Bang model needs it (in order to explain away the overwhelming amount of fine-tuning and apparent Design of the cosmos).
The model requires dark energy—a mysterious anti-gravity force (and again, completely outside of known physics), that was invented to protect a fundamental secular assumption4 from being disproved by the data.
And so on.
Although the JW’s discoveries are radically inconsistent with secular predictions about galaxy formation, these predictions will just be changed soon to accommodate them. Compared to all the other fatal problems that the Big Bang model has—and all the contortions that the secular community has gone through to protect it—creating new predictions for accelerated galaxy formation will be child’s play.
The continued survival of the Big Bang model—despite a long list of should-have-been-fatal-to-it discoveries—shows us that it isn’t a scientific model after all. Scientific models are discarded when evidence accumulates against them, but the Big Bang has been immune from this.
That’s because it’s not actually a scientific model. It’s an ideology. It’s an unquestioned and unquestionable belief held by the secular community.
The James Webb Space Telescope was designed to show us more of the Universe. And even in only its first few months, it’s already doing just that.
Along the way, it’s also revealing something else.
The new telescope is also illustrating the hollowness of modern secular cosmology. We’re seeing the failure of more of its predictions. We’re seeing more inconsistency between the observed data and the model’s implications.
And most of all, we’re seeing the emptiness of the Big Bang’s claims to being a legitimate scientific model.
- Because objects that are more distant have a higher redshift. The JW was specifically designed to be able to observe objects with high redshifts.
- The Big Bang model says that the Bang was incapable of making anything other than hydrogen, helium, lithium, and perhaps trace amounts of beryllium. Thus, for heavier elements such as oxygen to exist today, the model says that first, stars had to form from the hydrogen and helium. They then burned for a while, and created heavier elements via nuclear fusion, until finally they reached the end of their lifespans and exploded. The new heavier elements were then distributed throughout the cosmos. Only after all this happened could another generation of stars form that might incorporate the new elements.
- I discussed this in more detail in the video Our Created Universe.
- The so-called cosmological principle.