Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Big Bang Happened. Get Over It.

Yesterday someone asked me if I'd heard about the new discovery about the Big Bang: the so called 'Axis of Evil', an axial anisotropy in the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation that supposedly 'disproves' the Big Bang.

Now, the person asking was doing it with highly transparent intentions, as a Christian who would believe just about anything to preserve his precious creation myth and sees the Big Bang as a threat to that myth. So I said that truthfully I had not heard of it and I would do some reading up before I responded. So today I did just that.

The anistropy is real and measurable, and comes from the latest WMAP imaging of the CMB. However, it is totally unreasonable to assume that it is in any way a blow to Big Bang theory. A paper has already been published by Chris Vale of Fermilab showing how it can be explained by gravitational lensing caused by the nearby Shapley Supercluster. And even if there were no conventional scientific explanation for it, to say that a new discovery in a field is by definition a blow to that field shows a complete misunderstanding of how science works. In science, additional knowledge and data can either disprove a theory OR refine it further. An axial anisotropy in the CMB, if unexplained by conventional theory, would only result in cosmologists gaining further insight into the details of the Big Bang. It would not, however, disprove the Big Bang, because the CMB itself is proof that the Big Bang happened.

The exact same thing happens every time new evidence or new questions are raised in the theory of evolution. Additional data is only going to affect the theory of how evolution happens; the fact of evolution is a reality. The theory only tries to explain the mechanism for that reality. The same with the Big Bang: we know, for a fact, that the universe as we know it was once in a high energy, high density state and has been expanding and cooling from that state ever since. As we cannot measure anything that happened before that high energy state (the high energy itself obscures any photons that may have come from an earlier time) that point can, for all intents and purposes, be called the beginning of the universe. Why and how that high energy state existed and is expanding, is what Big Bang cosmology is about.

But this kind of sensationalism is so typical of anything that might impact on scientific theories that specifically go against biblical myth. Any time a supposed 'crack' in the theory is 'discovered', the media jumps all over it and makes out as if scientists around the world are sitting about scratching their heads and wondering about a career change. Not so. As Chris Vale has shown, science moves on. Calling something like this the 'Axis of Evil' (and i blame the publishers of the first paper here entirely) is totally irresponsibly and is only likely to cause more unnecessary public misunderstanding. It was a dumb move.

On a similar topic, the US government has been giving NASA scientists gag orders, and purposefully messing with information on the NASA site, in order to promote its own unscientific agenda. This kind of gagging of a national science foundation that is sponsored by tax dollars is unquestionably disgusting, and the Bad Astronomer had a lot to say about it. To cut a long story short, George Deutsch, a presidential appointee involved in NASA public relations, not only gagged a paper on global warming because it made america look bad, the same guy also ordered that everywhere in the NASA website that the term Big Bang appeared, it was to be appended with 'theory'. This, on its own, is not really an issue, apart from public misunderstanding of the word 'theory'. The Big Bang theory is a theory. But the motivations behind the addition are far more sinister: in Deutsch's own words, the Big Bang is "not proven fact; it is opinion." He goes on to say, "It is not NASA’s place, nor should it be to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator."And it gets worse: "This is more than a science issue, it is a religious issue. And I would hate to think that young people would only be getting one-half of this debate from NASA. That would mean we had failed to properly educate the very people who rely on us for factual information the most."

What??? This is a science foundation. It is only interested in proven scientific fact, and the existence of the Big Bang is fact. It is also not the place of NASA to educate the youth about religion. It is certainly not, in a secular country, the place of a tax-dollar supported institution to teach religion. Deutsch is so far out of line he's not even on the same planet. In a case like this, such an appointee should very swiftly be un-appointed as he has proven he cannot do his job.

It is not the place of the government, or the media, to decide what is and is not scientific fact, or when a theory is or is not in crisis. That's what scientists are for, and they are a good deal better at it than your average newspaper hack or government toadie, i can promise you that.


Anonymous Chuck Norris said...

As a Christian and a scientist I have no problem with the Big Bang. Taking anything in the Bible literally is asking for trouble. Leave scientists to make the discoveries and interpret them. If the religious community needs them put into context, let someone who is scientifically educated do so (Jesuit cosmologists have been intergrally involved in the theory of the Big Bang from its conception).

February 07, 2006 3:24 PM  
Blogger moonflake said...

absolutely! thank you for putting it so succinctly. Scientists are only interested in reporting facts; it is up the religious community to decide how best to integrate those facts into their belief system. It's only when religion ignores fact that it outmodes itself.

February 07, 2006 3:27 PM  
Blogger Bast said...

I've been meaning to tell you about the Dan Brown book I read recently. Its called Deception Point. You should read it - it will give you a lot of ranting fodder. It's a prime example of how someone can take an extremely complicated scientific phenomenon distill it to the absolute bear bones of fact and then extrapolate it to nonsense. The "logical" leaps he makes about panspermia are hideous.

February 08, 2006 9:47 AM  
Blogger moonflake said...

haha, i will have to track it down :)

February 08, 2006 10:14 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home