Big Bang: You're Dead

Even in the face of seemingly irrefutable evidence, die-hard Big Bangers may still cling to their outdated theory, like Russian communists preserving Lenin's body, and many skeptics may still feel that if 95% of cosmologists favor a theory, it must be right. That is why I wrote this article, describing the history of cosmology, how the Big Bang became the dominant model of the universe, and why it is absolutely, just plain wrong.

My main reference in these articles is Eric Lerner's book, The Big Bang Never Happened. In fact, for the most part, these articles are a summary of that book. So just in case some of my words are a little close to those used by Dr. Lerner, let me start by saying, buy the book! Dr. Lerner explains his thesis much better than I do (after all, he has 430 pages to do it), and he is an interesting, entertaining writer. Whenever I refer to Lerner's book, I will simply give a page number. Other references will include an author or magazine title and a page number.

Part One: A Brief History of Cosmology

In the beginning, the Earth was very small. Sumer, Babylonia, and Egypt floated on an endless sea, from an unknown past, to an unknown future, while the Sun, Moon, and stars alternated duty in the sky. This simple but scientifically thought out universe was shattered when the first philosophical scientist decided that, since the Earth must be resting on something, and since turtles can grow very large, the Earth must be resting on the back of a giant turtle. Other philosophers added elephants, endless waterfalls, solar chariots, and the like, creating a logically consistent but completely incomprehensible monstrosity of a universe.

Since then, cosmological models that are observationally consistent but logically incomplete have fought with ones that are logically complete but not consistent with observational evidence. All of the major cosmological models have started as simple, observationally derived ones, but at some point, philosophical scientists have stopped paying attention to the evidence and relied only on their minds to complete the vision.

The way we view our universe changes with the social and economic climate of the time. A progressive, optimistic society tends to see an infinite, continuously evolving universe, while an oppressed, pessimistic society favors a finite cosmos that began in a moment of divine perfection, and is running down to an ignominious end.

In ancient Egypt, for instance, it was believed that the universe was created by the mating of the gods, who created everything that now exists at the moment of divine conception (p. 59). This vision of the Earth was encouraged by the pharaohs, who liked the way it separated the divine, magically created heavens from the ordinary world of the peasants, giving justification to the separation of the divine pharaohs from the common farmers and slaves.

Later, ancient Greece saw the birth of a primitive form of democracy. It has to be remembered, though, that most of the residents of the region were slaves, and that only citizens, who did not include women and children, participated in the democratic process. This implicit duality encouraged different views of the universe.

The democratic nature of the society encouraged the idea that the universe was merely an extension of the world, and could be understood by applying observable, earthly processes. This view was espoused by Thales around 600 BC (p. 63), and shared by others, such as Anaxagoras, who hypothesized around 400 BC that stars are merely rocks, larger than Greece, that were flung off the early Earth, and were heated by friction until they glowed. Perhaps more importantly, he was the first to suggest that stars are distant suns, instead of divine dots fixed on a distant sphere (p. 64). This, however, was also the age of Pythagoras, the first great mathematical scientist, who believed around 500 BC that the universe was the realm of reason and perfection, and could only be understood by the mind, separating it from the observationally describable Earth (p. 66). A contemporary of Anaxagoras was Plato, who believed that the Creator used perfect molds to cast the flawed denizens of the Earth (p. 67).

The greatest triumphs of observational cosmology in the ancient world came in the third century BC. In 240 BC, Eratosthenes accurately calculated the size of the Earth, using shadows, triangles, and careful measurement. Using an earlier calculation by Aristarchus of Samos, he derived the relative sizes and distances of the moon and the sun. Aristarchus calculated the relative distances of the sun and the moon by measuring the angle between them when exactly half the moon is visible. He also reasoned that the sizes of both bodies bore an equal proportion to their distances from us because they appear the same size from Earth. Eratosthenes plugged his value for the size of the Earth into the model and calculated the distances and sizes of the sun and moon (Humez, pp. 68-69).

Unfortunately, Aristarchus' value for the Earthbound angle was off by two degrees, so Eratosthenes' values for the size and distance of the sun were too small. According to Archimedes, however, Aristarchus re-measured the angle later on, using a value of 89 degrees 30 minutes (the correct value is 89 degrees 50 minutes). Upon seeing the result this new measurement gave, he reasoned that Earth and the other planets must revolve around the vastly larger sun, and proposed that the stars must be much farther away than previously thought (Humez, p. 70).

Thus, 1700 years before Copernicus, the true nature of the solar system was known, derived from observation and careful measurement, proven by mathematics. Unfortunately, it was not accepted by most scientists, as new, radical ideas rarely are, and around 140 BC, an Egyptian philosopher named Ptolemy created the next cosmological monstrosity. Ptolemy explained the wandering motions of the planets by saying that they moved within small spheres (epicycles) within the larger shells of their orbits. The simplicity of Aristarchus' observation was replaced by the complexity of Ptolemy's logic. This hierarchical model of the universe came to be accepted by the Church, and was to dominate the study of the universe for the next 1600 years.

The trading cities that marked the social renaissance of the fifteenth century also sparked the renaissance of an infinite universe, governed by earthly laws. During this time Nicholas of Cusa argued in favor of Anaxagoras' universe, denying that perfection existed anywhere. He argued that all objects in the universe move, and that Earth only seems stationary because we are moving with it. He promoted a universe of infinite complexity, in which final truth can never be reached, stating that knowledge is merely a series of better approximations (pp. 96-97).

The early part of the sixteenth century saw the beginning of the Reformation, a rebellion against intrinsic hierarchy. It was in this climate that Nicholas Copernicus developed his heliocentric universe (pp. 100-101). Although he compromised, retaining perfect spheres for planetary movement, and therefore epicycles for the variation in the planets' distances, Copernicus' model was much simpler than Ptolemy's monstrosity (which Eric Lerner calls "a neoplatonic Rube Goldberg invention" (p. 73)).

The next great cosmological advance was made by Johannes Kepler, a pupil of Tycho Brahe, who was the most accurate observer of the time. Kepler tried for years to reconcile Tycho's observations with the circular perfection that was supposed to describe the solar system. Finally, quite unintentionally, he found a model that fit. The planets, including the Earth, travel around the sun in ellipses, with the sun at one focus. He demonstrated further that, if a line is drawn from a planet to the sun at various points throughout its orbit, the planet will sweep out the same area in the same amount of time (p. 106). A mechanism for this motion was later provided by Robert Hooke, who formulated a universal law of gravitation. Within the next year, Galileo saw moons around Jupiter, rings around Saturn, and the phases of Venus (p. 107). The perfection of the heavens was smashed. And finally, the new views had a receptive audience when the English revolution of 1642, and similar events throughout Europe, gave rise to a new, commercial society.

Over the next two centuries, the continuing scientific and cultural revolutions that accompanied the development of an industrial society gave us a universe infinite in space and time, continuously evolving, and striving toward a perfect future.

Part One: A Brief History of Cosmology | Part Two: The Big Bang | Part Three: The Plasma Universe

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