I Finally Get to Meet a Real Astronomer

by Liam Scheff
Jan 1, 2010


The Big Scam

The first thing you should know is that I don’t really believe in the Big Bang. I mean, no, I don’t believe in it at all, for a variety of reasons, which I’ll boil down into a singular potato for you:

I don’t believe it because it’s not true.

Okay, I’ll do better. But it requires some explanation of my particular philosophy.

I am of the opinion that the sciences have taken the place of the religions of the past. That they have inherited the position of ‘answerer of existential questions,’ that used to fall to the Church elders, before the Church was up-ended by Galileo, Bruno and Copernicus – but really, by the relentless march of technological progress by the human species.

Today’s sciences now hold the place of dispensers of great truths, and of great mysteries. “Why are we here? Where do we come from? What are we made of? Why do we get sick? How do we get better? Why do we think these thoughts? Where does our creative spirit come from? Where do we go after we die? What is the meaning of it all…?”

But who answers these questions now? “God is Dead” spake Zarathustra – or Nietzsche, I mean. The church is passé’, declared Voltaire. We are in an age of reason!

And so, these questions fell away from the philosophers, priests and prelates of old, and were gathered up by a new priestly class: the scientists. The inheritors of the mantle of trust and truth. And they did good work, for awhile.

And the relentless surge of technological progress that is the hallmark of our species sped on, and that, in itself, was proof to most people that science answered all questions. Television, CAT scans, Special effects, the MP3…The iPod is proof. Proof that science can’t be wrong.

Or is there a difference between that relentless march of technology, and knowledge? Of knowing, truly knowing, the answers to those large, penetrating, eternal questions: Why are we here, and where do we come from?

In 1927, Georges Lemaitre, a Belgian Priest and astronomer, thought better of letting 2000 years of hard work go down the drain, and devised a method of aligning the Biblical story of Genesis with Galileo’s heretical observations and Newton’s heretical physics: “First there was nothing, then there was everything.” Could it be that simple? he must have asked himself, “To put religion back into astronomy?”

“First there was silence on the face of the deep, then the Lord said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.”

First there was nothing, then, BANG. There was everything.

At first, the idea was ridiculed, and seen as a ruse to resuscitate Genesis. But then, it was decided that this emotionally-satisfying Judeo-Christian idea should be treated more generously, and “proof” was sought out to make it stick. And so, proof was found.

The proof constituted the observation that some objects in space are moving away from Earth at a faster rate than others. And if there was a creation ex-nihilo, out of a “central nothingness,” then it stands to some sort of “reason” that the farther out you get, the older the stuff-that-came-from-nothing is. And as some objects were farther away, they therefore must be ‘older.’

(Now, I want to interject, for the record, I’m no atheist. I’m also no fundamentalist. My spiritual life is of deepest importance to me, but I don’t believe that we humans can take logos – the word – and believe that it can easily transmit total truth, in our metaphorical, limited language. So, when I hear “First there was silence on the face of the deep,” I hear a profound poetry, that signals to both truth, and belief. It points to a moment of creation – not THE moment. It is a resounding phrase, and I do love it, but it is not the only phrase that is resounding, that comes from ancient texts, to describe the birth of life, or of us. Interjection completed..now on with the essay).

Where were we…Right. The further out you go, the older things must be.

And so it came to pass, that by looking at the lightwaves that emanate from distant objects, the astronomers who saw them decided that the red light represented the oldest phenomena, and blue, the youngest. And so “redshift” became the measuring stick that proved the Big Bang correct.

Except that it didn’t. Because it also came to pass that a curious astronomer, named Halton Arp, regarded the heavens and noted that the theory did not hold. Red and blue objects were often closely aligned, in fact, touching, stemming from the same cosmic vortexes. Were red and blue signifiers of a singular moment of creation, or instead of an ongoing creative process?

It has been considered by many that Halton Arp’s observations “falsified” the Big Bang theory. (Falsified is a special ‘scientist’ word that, in schoolyard English, simply means, “proved it wrong”). For his trouble, Dr. Arp was banished from his University, and had to flee overseas to continue his research. (Galileo sends his regards, Dr. Arp).

Nevertheless, in subsequent decades, continued blows rained down upon the poor Big Bang. It was seen that there was not enough matter in the visible universe that would explain how it could hold itself together, if gravity were the only force active in outer space.

Oh! I forgot. Underpinning Father Lemaitre’s ‘discovery’ of the Big Bang, was the condition that the only active force in the universe was Sir Isaac Newton’s “gravity.” And gravity was determinable, (though it was a changeable and very weak force), through a mathematical equation. And in applying this math, it was also discovered that nothing really should be as it is, by any stretch of the imagination, and that neither you nor I can be here.

The astronomers were in a bind. They had two choices:

1. Throw out the Big Bang, throw out the gravity-only universe, and start looking for answers, or…

But, what do Priests do when an idea controverts a Biblical fact? They invent something to explain the contradiction.

And so, the astronomers put on their priestly hats and frocks, and began to invent. They invented “black holes,” immense space creatures capable of destroying galaxies, that were also invisible! They invented “dark matter,” immensely weighty material that comprised 90 plus percent of the universe, that was also invisible! And “dark energy,” which…yes, was also invisible, and could not be measured…

The Big Bang, as it now exists at all, rests on these hallowed ideas. Father Georges Lemaitre’s Gospel exists because of invisible space monsters.

And so, I don’t believe in the Big Bang.

But I’ve been anxious to ask a real astronomer, one who practices at the level of the current state of the art, to respond to my bothersome suggestion that this is all, at present, an irritating hoax, which is siphoning tax dollars and research years into a very real black hole. I spotted my chance last week, when the Wall Street Journal published a brief editorial by astronomer Lawrence Krauss, director of the Origins Institute at Arizona State University.

Mr. Krauss was writing on the “thrilling, possible breakthrough” that “leaked a tantalizing hint” on dark matter. The experiments took place in a giant hole in the ground – the deep Soudan Mine in northern Minnesota – where “something remarkable” was “discovered”:

“The actual result? Two pulses were detected over the course of almost a year that might have been due to dark matter, CDMS announced on Dec. 17. However, there is a 25% chance that the pulses were actually caused by background radioactivity in and around the detector.”

Thrilling, indeed! The published research paper itself is less thrilled, however, at the “chances”:

“Based on this revised estimate, the probability to have observed two or more surface events in this exposure is 20%; inclusion of the neutron background estimate increases this probability to 23%. These expectations indicate that the results of this analysis cannot be interpreted as significant evidence for WIMP interactions [those that ‘might indicate dark matter’], but we cannot reject either event as signal.” – Results from the Final Exposure of the CDMS II Experiment, Dec. 2009 (Note – thanks to Dave Smith of PlasmaResources.com for this citation).

Why would a non-significant event be talked up in the Wall Street Journal? (A paper read by investors…who may not be very critical of the science…who might be looking for an investment opportunity?) Who can say?

This is one of many such holes in the ground where Big Bang research is being conducted. The most famous hole is the eight billion dollar (and then some) Large Hadron Collider (also called CERN), in Geneva Switzerland, of which Mr. Krauss made comment:

“[M]y colleagues and I had concluded that in order to understand what we see, it is quite likely that a host of new elementary particles may exist at a scale beyond what accelerators at the time could detect. This is one of the reasons there is such excitement about the new Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland. Last month, it finally began to produce collisions, and it might eventually directly produce these new particles.”

“These new particles?” What new particles? Answer: Imaginary particles – those that “quite likely may exist” in order for the children of Lemaitre to understand what they see.

The question being asked by the scientists and engineers who’ve spent years and billions of tax Euros digging this giant hole is, “Can we collide sub-particles quickly enough to ‘recreate’ the Big Bang?” Nothing has come of it yet, nor of any previously existing giant hole they dug, but who can stop them from digging?

And so I put it to Mr. Krauss, in the comments section of the Wall Street Journal online:

“Present one study, any one study, that gives non-falsified evidence that we human beings can indeed measure a ‘beginning of time,’ and please make sure this number hasn’t been altered 30 times for political reasons, and been begrudgingly reached by ‘consensus agreement.'”

“Better yet, is Halton Arp correct? Is Redshift now falsified – ie, not a true measure of distance – and distance, or movement ‘away’ from a presumed ‘galactic center’, well, not really ‘distance’ at all, but something else entirely?”

Mr. Krauss wrote several responses, in which he exclaimed, “I have read a number of openly iignorant [sic] responses, a bunch of irrelevant political responses but yours concerned me because it has the aura of knowledge, but contains little.”

He added, “Your statement “What is invisible, and cannot be seen, measured, or located, does not exist,..” represents the antithesis of scientific progress.”

He continued, “blah blah blah…since you are such a pompous person I will respond briefly.” And provided a list of ideas which were “evidence for big bang,” including, “prediction of existence of microwave background with observed temperature,” and “prediction of observed hubble [sic] expansion.”

I held him to the questions he did not answer, and asked after his tendency to ad hominem, and he wrote the following:

“I am done with this particular piece now, and have other things to move on to, so this will be my last note to you. But in the spirit of the season I will apologize for expressing in print the frustration raise by your statements.. There are, alas, some arguments not worth pursuing, and some people not worth trying to convince. By predictions, I mean that one set of observations leads to a theory that predicts the result of another set of observations that have not yet been made.. in this case perhaps 1-2 dozen observations. When the results of those observations are in agreement with the predictions this suggests the theory that led to the predictions is on the right track. In the case of age, the GR predictions of expansion allow us to determine a dynamical age of the universe based in inferences using the presently observed rate of expansions. Then when that age is compared to the age of stars and globular clusters, derived using completely independent physics (nuclear reaction rates and the equations of hydrodynamic equilibrium) one derives precisely the same age. Similarly when one uses the derived age to predict what the present temperature of the microwave background should be, one gets the correct number. THis [sic] is how science is done. Happy holidays. I cannot give a physics course here, but if you want more details look in one of my books, or someone elses.”

Indeed…If you can find any one reproducible bit of evidence, so resilient as to allow itself to be called a “fact” in there, I’d be happy to buy you a drink. Any of his points, by the way, dissolves into controversy when prodded even slightly. That is, try to track the history of what the temperature of what the microwave background radiation “should be,” and you’re in for a journey.

I asked once more after those two questions, but he never did supply that paper, nor did he answer the question about Dr. Halton Arp.

Which leads me back where I started. I don’t believe in the Big Bang, because scientists tell me, by their actions, that I have no reason to trust them. That is, I don’t believe it, because it’s not true – it’s not in evidence.

What is in evidence, on the other hand, what has been observed, is a universe powered not by gravity, but by electricity, by the flow of ionized particles, bubbling and pinching, exploding in plasma and diffusing in aurora, pushed and pulled, prodded and goaded, excited and flung across lightyears, by the electro-magnetic forces that live in – that are – outer space.

I invite Mr. Krauss and his colleagues to have a look, and soon, because we, the tax-payers, are getting a little fed up with a scientific authority that insists on wearing Papal clothes.

. . . . . .

Liam

10 Comments

  1. Powerful essay, Liam, and I agree with most of it. However, when I first read your comment that, “what is invisible, . . . . etc. etc. . . . . does not exist.”, I immediately considered disputing that on our chat group. But I decided against it because I didn’t want to start a ruckus, and besides, I agreed with just about everything else you had said. I think the statement should have been worded differently, because as it is I vehemently disagree with it.

    Sorry, but that’s the way I feel about it.

  2. Hank, Thanks for reading.

    By the way, this was my quote that Lawrence Krauss shortened and dismissed:

    “Let’s make it plain: What is invisible, and cannot be seen, measured, or located, does not exist, in all practical senses. Black holes, dark matter, and a “host of new elementary particles” are a fiction created by a very vain and churlish scientific set, who fear, like the Dickens, a debate on the well-known and well-documented “Crisis in Cosmology.”” [link]

    I can see some holes in that idea, but I was referring to billion dollar expenditures, like ‘black holes’ and ‘dark matter;’ not ‘love,’ or ‘energy,’ or ‘chi,’ etc, which are real, but you may or may not be able to see, depending on your disposition and point of view…

    The astronomer, Krauss, made this point that atoms were invisible, until they weren’t, and I responded in comments:

    “As far as comparing atoms to black holes. Well, the ancient Greeks postulated atoms – or subparticles – from the fabric of life. It was self-evident to the philosophical mind, that given the ever nested-hierarchies of material visible to the naked eye alone, that forming the smallest particle or form we could make out, would be a host of smaller forms we could not quite make out.

    That is, one can see the tree, and the branches, and leaves, and cells, and infer a continuation of the process. One can even mold glass into hemispheres, and cause the surface of one’s own skin to reveal valleys and gorges unavailable to the naked eye – and yet, present, and visible, once given the slightest provocation to understanding.

    Call it a ‘fractal’ universe, in that sense – ever-repeating, ever-nested, ever-more minute forms swirling in hierarchical nests…

    So, where, where, oh where in the world is there anything even slightly resembling this invisible, all-powerful, all-consuming (though light and matter ejecting), super-massive (or perhaps atom-small), never-seen (though always inferred – or implied – in a pinch) ‘black hole?”

    What do you think?

  3. As soon as they began saying it couldn’t be located or measured, it went from science to faith. And we’ve seen time and time again how scientists keep changing their story to fit the faith.

    One day something is proved, some years later it is unproved and a new “proven” theory is brought forth.

    Just go back seventy years of so. They proved, with mathematics, the same math they use today, that there was an invisible barrier in the sky preventing anyone from reaching or exceeding the sound barrier. Proved it! Just a few years later Chuck Yeager breaks the sound barrier. But the point is also that here we had an invisible barrier, something that couldn’t really be defined and proven, but that all of the scientists seemed to believe in. Across-the-board agreement that something they had made up to explain what they didn’t full understand, had to exist to explain what they didn’t fully understand. But after the sound barrier was broken, there were no explanations for how they got it so wrong. The sound barrier wasn’t a theory. It had been proven. Yet clearly not.

    They have theoretical mathematics and theoretic physics. You don’t get this in other areas. There is no theoretical English classes or theoretical history courses.

    When they were going to detonate the first atomic bomb, there were some physicists who were pretty sure, based on the math they knew, the same math used today, that if the atomic bomb was detonated, it would continue to detonate everything else, the world would come to an end as all matter was consumed.

    They built the Large Hadron Collider at a cost of gazillions. It has been up and running for a while now. Why didn’t they get results on day one? If they know this stuff exists, things like dark matter, dark energy, super strings and so on, what’s taking so long proving it all true? Their math and physics tells them this stuff exists, and that this collider can show it, so why isn’t it? If they know, it should be provable. If it is just guesses, say so.

    The idea of Black Holes has been around a good long time now. Nobody has ever seen one, but they are certain they are out there. Even one at the center of our own Milky Way. Or so they say. If it is there, you’d think you could prove that.

    It just seems that whenever their theories aren’t proving to be provable, they just come up with some new exotic phenomenon to explain it away. And the newer it is, the more likely it is to be even more unprovable, more unmeasurable, more invisible, impossible to locate but give us a few trillions and we might find it.

    I see the same thing with the Man Made Global Warming Scam. Cook the books to prove the theory, get the public to pay. It is well known that carbon dioxide is heavier than air, thus it should not be able to float up in the atmosphere. And the Earth sheds heat in to space, so whatever does float up doesn’t hit some invisible, unmeasurable barrier a few miles up, the heat makes contact with the cold of space and goes bye bye. It’s the same with humans. You wear a hat to try and keep the heat in your body from escaping through your head. And plant life converts carbon dioxide to energy and food, allowing them to grow and flourish. Thus enabling more carbon dioxide to be absorbed by plants. Has this suddenly stopped? Do plants no longer convert carbon dioxide any longer? Is carbon dioxide now lighter than air all of a sudden?

    There are no super computers that can accurately model the Earth. They have been building super computers for years, and the first ones back in the 70’s and 80’s were mostly used to predict the weather. Predict = Guess. It is a guess because the computers can’t take everything in to consideration because it is just too much information. So parameters have to be changed (read as manipulated) in order to show what one wants to see.

    Whenever you set out to prove something, there is always the very real chance you will influence the outcome with your desire to find results that prove true what you sought to prove true. We often see what we want to see. Science is no different.

  4. Yes, we often see what we want to see. However, there is a flip side to the story- Experiments also reveal the possibilities/ phenomena that scientists haven’t entertained or cannot explain. In my experience, the proportion of this gray area is much more than the white area that we understand. This leads to the next obvious question- How does one comprehend or explain the unknown?

    Since a scientist always has to grapple with the unknown (Religion calls the unknown, cosmic or divine), can he/she escape asking these eternal questions? The answer is a big No… Therefore Science through the lens of humans attempts to answer these grand, eternal questions- What is Life? what is consciousness? Is there nothingness? Define unknown etc.

    But the real question is with the limitation of human thought the limited capacity of the human mind, and with little possibility of understanding of the unknown, should we be even attempting these questions?

    I am of the opinion that we should continue seeking answers only because we apparently cannot escape the questions. However, while seeking answers, we should consciously make the decision to clearly separate Fact from Fiction, Actuality from Dogma, observation from over-interpretation with a realistic understanding that we are forever only Nature’s tool, and not its architect. All mistakes seem to happen because Science, not acknowledging its own limitation, attempts to play God. Despite all the mind-blowing technological advances that we have witnessed throughout history, and the advances that we may witness in future, we as a human race are only going to be an instrument.

    May be Scientists or more specifically research funding agencies should be made aware of this?

  5. Hi Liam,

    I enjoyed reading your piece, but am not sure whether I agree with everything.

    First off, when dealing with matters such as the origin of the universe or the nature of galaxies, it’s perhaps better to limit our claims to `astronomers’ or `astrophysicists’ than to extrapolate to all sciences without comment. Although there are similar problems in palaeontology and biology, geology and medicine to the ones we see in astronomy, these are not addressed in your piece.

    Second, I remain unconvinced that astronomical science has supplanted religion. From Antiquity through the Middle Ages, religion has coexisted with early forms of science. In modern society, religions likewise coexist with the sciences. The definition of a religion entails more than just notions of intellectual obduracy and, in some cases, dictatorial authority. For all the faults it may have, modern astronomical science does not come with an institutionalised form of actual worship, involving the acknowledgment of a class of higher immortal sentient beings (not comparable to hypothetical particles), prayer, sacrifices and rituals ensuring salvation or a pleasant afterlife. The goal of science is never to purify one’s soul, book a seat in heaven or to placate gods, not even among Big Bangers. Though scientists as well as the media force the Big Bang theory down our throats, it is still not a creed and one is free to disagree. Science has not identified any Holy Scripture – and that includes Darwin’s On the Origin of Species or Charles Lyell’s writings. So I find the comparison of modern astronomy with religion overstated. It works fine in a popularising context, as on your website, but not when it is put forth in earnest.

    If anything, I feel the parallels between modern science and politics preponderate over those with religion. Modern science seems heavily and intolerably politicised. A modicum of politics is unavoidable, of course, as academia is a social institution by its very nature; the entire tax-payer argument, for instance, is a political consideration. For that reason, correcting myself, it’s probably more accurate to accuse science not of being politicised, but of operating like a despotic tyranny.

    In addition, the tone of your essay comes across to me as quite sarcastic. I don’t really feel there is anything wrong with sarcasm per se. It’s an acceptable and occasionally enjoyable form of humour, but it needs to be administered within the right social setting. Among scholars, for example. Stephen Crothers’ exchanges are often very strong-worded, but remain entirely focussed on the topic at hand. In your case, however, the sarcasm seems fuelled by the sentiment that astronomers are wilfully intransigent and malignant, as they are personally to blame for the deterioriation in their field. On top of that, they are accused collectively, en bloc, as if no exceptions exist. I am not comfortable with that.

    Is it not also possible that the tenacity with which astronomers hold on to gravity-only views is explicable – apart from the political component – as a form of collective intellectual inertia to which the human species is prone anyway? Rather than to scold astronomers for their inanity, might it not be more fruitful to consider whether a dispassionate presentation of Arp’s views can prove more beneficial in the long run than an angry one, with a sort of `underdog’ tone to it? Is it possible to present the anti-Big Bang view in a professional, technical and less passionate way – minus the accusation that scientists `religiously’ behave like priests?

    I personally feel that the theoretical framework Thomas Kuhn provided for the notion of paradigm shifts furnishes a sufficient explanation for the intellectual stupour and resistance we experience. New views, new paradigms, require time and effort to become acceptable. One cannot expect an intelligent senior scientist to be converted overnight when he or she is confronted with a better theory than the one he or she has been defending and subscribing to all their lives. As in religion (there’s a parallel here), `conversions’ may happen instantly or over a longer period of time.

    Call me naïve, but I am of the opinion that the notion of a plasma universe and all that comes with it has the potential to blossom into mainstream public opinion in a relatively peaceable manner that does not need to viscerally upset existing religions or indeed the established champions of Big Bang theory. Before my time, Hannes Alfvén has set an excellent example in this regard: by means of painstaking work over the course of decades, he has been able (almost single-handedly?) to turn around the pro-Sydney Chapman and anti-Birkeland opinion of numerous scientists regarding the direct impingement of solar plasmas on the ionosphere and lay the foundation for plasma cosmology in an entirely gentlemanly and impassionate manner.

    Call me even more naïve, but I feel that a `steady state’ theory of the cosmos, or any alternative that may approximate reality more closely than the Big Bang model, can potentially be accepted as mainstream science with patience, scholarly rigour, hard work and an amicable manner to `mainstream scientists’. I for one, at least in this matter, do not really sympathise with a dichotomy of `us’ versus `them’, or `fringe’ versus `mainstream’. Others may be content with such a viewpoint, but I personally feel the little I have been able to contribute so far is mainstream – and specialists I correspond with are not upset by my ideas; just surprised, amused or naturally suspicious. I am certain that other `Big Bang-bangers’ feel the same about their own work. All of plasma physics is mainstream science, but it takes time for the information to mature and to percolate through to other areas.

    In science, dedicated research works better than any proselytising activities. What counts is high-quality, well-informed and well-researched papers. I enjoy writing the occasional TPOD (link to http://thunderbolts.info) to express some views, but I do not have the remotest illusion that such pieces are on a par with scholarly articles and by themselves will convince anyone. They are just meant to stir curiosity and galvanise others into doing their own research. What is needed to change the actual status quo in science is research papers. It is necessary for critics to demonstrate the superiority of their own views on the same level and in sufficient depth to the articles seen in geophysical and astrophysical journals. That takes time and patience; sarcasm and impatience are less helpful, I feel.

    Science is not entirely healthy, but has it ever been at any point in time? Halton Arp’s discoveries have not been received properly, but does that mean that all of science has turned into papacy – or simply that it’s only early days in the current paradigm shift, that the first drops need to swell into a trickle and the trickle into a stream? That we need to be more patient and keep researching?

    If I am not mistaken, Don Scott’s invitation earlier this year to present his views at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center had nothing of the character of a Catholic Inquisition. Far from it – I gather that it was an amicable exchange of views. The invitation shows that the people at NASA are not hidebound monsters trying everything in their might to eradicate our views. They are more likely good-willing scientists who simply haven’t given much consideration to electrical or plasma viewpoints before, due to the vagaries of history and the shortness of life, and whose interest was genuinely piqued. Scientists are only human beings with all their limitations and NASA’s invitation epitomises the friendly spirit within which progress can be made. Bridgman’s objections admittedly contained too much odium, but are still part and parcel of a fair and healthy scientific exchange (minus the ad hominems). His vitriol had little to do with a religious mindset, methinks; more with his intellectual inertia and academic politics (Don belonged to the wrong `political party’, in this case). Bridgman wasn’t worshipping any higher entities or remaining faithful to his creed; he simply acted with the limitations of a blinkered and non-inquisitive human being – a poor scientist perhaps, but still a scientist, not a priest.

    The invention of black holes, dark matter and other ad hoc solutions to shortcomings in the gravity-based model of space is not an intellectual error or a mistake per se. It takes time for scientists to discover that a model does not work or contains holes. Momentum needs to build up – and we’re right in the heat of that process. In ancient times, Eudoxus’ circles or Ptolemy’s epicycles were not a sin or a departure from sound science. They were simply faulty hypotheses that needed to become – and eventually did become – obsolete. I guess the distinguishing criterion is how long the denial persists in the face of contradictory evidence; a generation or two of denial does not necessarily turn a falsified belief into a religion. If the denial of facts becomes systemic over the course of a number of generations, let’s say more than half a century, it ought to be stamped `superstitious’. Only if the superstition is combined with ideas about deities, worship and sacrifice does it qualify as `religious’.

    The ancient geocentric model of space was false and it was endorsed by religious people – but it was not religious itself. It remains a scientific hypothesis, though an outdated one. Religious people clung on to it because they were not scientists and have a tendency not to upgrade. Ditto for the Big Bang theory, dark matter, and the like?

    It is highly significant, of course, that Lemaître was lapping up the religious ramifications of a Big Bang hypothesis. However, advocates of the Big Bang theory do not support the theory with any religious or mythological materials concerning a primeval particle from which all of creation arose (as there are many). They construct their argument on the basis of mathematics and other considerations, whether rightly or wrongly (the latter ;-)). For this reason, I feel it is unfair and unscientific to turn Lemaître’s sympathy for Genesis 1 verse 1 into an accusation against the Big Bang theory. The Big Bang theory must be confronted on purely scientific grounds, as Halton Arp, Stephen Crothers, Fred Hoyle and others have done; the religious connection is simply anecdotal and of interest to psychologists. (It is, indeed, wrongheaded, as the opening sentence of Genesis does not, in fact, teach creatio ex nihilo). From a philosophical point of view, the psychological origins of a scientific hypothesis have no bearing whatsoever on the veridicality of the hypothesis – one of a few points where I agree with the epistemologist, Karl Popper. Von Kekulé discovered the circular structure of the benzene molecule following a dream about the ourobóros. He got it right, even though the dragon was not a zoological reality. Others saw the solution to scientific problems in visions, or while queueing in the post office. It does not matter. If you believe that the Big Bang theory was actually tailored to fit Lemaître’s Biblical musings – and that the mathematics do not stand on their own – you will have to demonstrate this using the earliest published works of Big Bang theorists.

    I entirely understand the exasperation felt upon seeing astronomers `pontificate’ in their ivory towers. Similar irritating attitudes abound in my own field of research. But these types of behaviour are not religious per se. They are human.

    Finally, I agree that too much money is wasted on false science. But it’s science nonetheless. To use a worn analogy, before a butterfly can flap its wings it needs to endure the slimy inconvenience of its cocoon for a bit. Such is the nature of paradigm shifts. Intellectual inertia and the intrusion of tyrannical politics into science are the biggest detractors, I believe, not a transformation of science into religion.

    I write all of the above in a friendly spirit and have no personal issues. You’re most welcome to disagree and I won’t feel bad. But if we could agree on some of the above, that would be brilliant.

    Enough said – time to get my rosary out!

    Best,

    Rens

  6. Hello Rens, thanks for reading and writing,

    The short answer is:

    I get irritable when people steal from the treasury and betray public trust. And I believe in competition in science. We have too much of the former and none of the latter, so, I’m irritable!

    The long answer…

    Quote:

    “The goal of science is never to purify one’s soul, book a seat in heaven or to placate gods, not even among Big Bangers. Though scientists as well as the media force the Big Bang theory down our throats, it is still not a creed and one is free to disagree. Science has not identified any Holy Scripture – and that includes Darwin’s On the Origin of Species or Charles Lyell’s writings. So I find the comparison of modern astronomy with religion overstated. It works fine in a popularising context, as on your website, but not when it is put forth in earnest.”

    And

    “Before my time, Hannes Alfvén has set an excellent example in this regard: by means of painstaking work over the course of decades, he has been able (almost single-handedly?) to turn around the pro-Sydney Chapman and anti-Birkeland opinion of numerous scientists regarding the direct impingement of solar plasmas on the ionosphere and lay the foundation for plasma cosmology in an entirely gentlemanly and impassionate manner.”

    Point two first, if by ‘entirely gentlemanly and impassionate manner,” you mean, “marginalized, cut out of his research, forced to flee the United States in order to continue to work,” I suppose I’d agree with you! But, you see the problem. (This applies more to Halton Arp, but does it not apply to Alfven as well?)

    Back to point one, let me put it to you: How free are you to disagree? Indeed, you’re called ‘deniers, denialists, flat-earthers, and whacked-out conspiracy theorists,” or simply “loons,” for disagreeing with any of the bits of received wisdom currently sold and bought by a wildly incurious (over-taxed, busy, distracted) public.

    Is it so that ‘science’ is really a totally separable phenomena than religion? And what do I mean, or you mean, when we say “religion” and “science?” I’ll jump to that in a moment.

    First, to the negative, I find notes on sarcasm in the essay to be less-than-convincing, as criticism of orthodoxy is forced to take a satirical or ironic position, given no rightful place at the table of said orthodoxy. It’s par for the course when someone like a Lawrence Krauss gets on the line, talking down to readers, instructing them in their stupidity, and refusing to answer a hard question directly.

    Indeed, the thunderbolts blog is loaded with funny, ironic, punchy works, which do a great deal to draw attention to the passions behind the current blockage. (The blocking of competitive research at a high level in gov’t astronomy). Take this beauty by Dave Smith (and I quote):

    “Let’s see if I’ve got this right. They’re leading the world, leapfrogging over the competition, with the most sensitive experiment yet, AND SO FAR, HAVE HEARD NOTHING!

    This is, when you boil it all down, our hard-earned taxes being spent here, millions if not billions of our dollars, being poured into a worldwide race to find SOMETHING WHICH DOES NOT EXIST. How stupid are we to let them continually get away with this?”

    and

    “Time for some heavy math – we know theoretical physicists and cosmologists understand math, so let’s exercise the grey matter. I hope it’s not too stressing, most cosmological equations I see have lots of ones and zeros in them, and this one starts with a double-digit number.

    25 x 0 = um, … er, … nothing!! zero, zilch, naught, nil, nada, zip, sweet Fanny Adams, diddly-squat,jack, NOTHING!! Sure hope I didn’t confuse anyone with so many interpretations of the answer to that one. Math can be so complicated.”

    Is this funny? Sarcastic? It’s both. And it’s nice to see some energy on a page, it gets people beyond the theorums and into the human struggle – the difficulty one faces in putting forward a contrary idea to an aristocratic or priestly class, or to any group operating under a bit of received wisdom or belief.

    Wal Thornhill’s wonderful work zings with humor – and I suppose it is that kind of work which brings me deeper into the research than the earnest insistence that science is fair, logical, or must be carried on only in one way or another. I find immense room for both views, and approaches, and many more, in my view.

    Certainly the comment that sarcasm must be reserved for scholars can’t be made seriously? You mean amateurs and citizens can’t make jokes about what they instinctively feel is silly and absurd? (Surely you don’t mean that scholars are comedians?) I think you’re being sarcastic, mon ami! What then is the eminent outsider, or the seasoned amateur, or the visitor from another field of inquiry, if not the un-invited satirist, come to make plain what is hidden in plain sight from those too much ‘in the know?’

    Indeed, I think a far reduced level of applause for people with a few letters after their name is now in order, in our society. Those who are willing to openly answer questions to the curious, regardless of pedigree, earn my respect quickly. Those with fine titles who run from questions about their work are asking for a pinch. And pinch, we should, and I shall.

    In any case, it draws attention to the slumbering question: Was there a big bang? I’ve now thrown this to my friends and readers, and the response is a kind of surprise:

    “My God, I’ve never really thought about that. No, I guess… I just accepted it. Hm.”

    And so it goes.

    Indeed, I gave the good fellow Krauss three or four invitations to reply to two questions: Does Harp’s redshift observation falsify the expansion idea of the Big Bang? And, ‘provide one non-contradicted, non-falsified paper showing that there was indeed, an everything created out of nothing.’ But, I didn’t hear back on these two points. Krauss provided a list of unsourced bits of evidence, which all bend at the slightest weight of inquiry. C’est la vie.

    Hence, I got to meet a “real” astronomer. One who gets to hide behind the mantle of his title. The sarcasm in the title is there, and given its antidote in the final lines: you can find real astronomy going on at Wal Thornhill’s site, and at that of Peratt, Scott and others. [see links in the blogroll under “Big Bang”]

    Again, thank you for reading my essay! I didn’t expect the response to be so philosophical, and in some senses, argumentative! But, interesting. I’d say you do indeed have far more faith in science as a separate human endeavor than I do. I don’t see us as a separable species, or one whose primary operating system is based in ‘logical movement to greater well-being.’ Indeed, when I talk of the new ‘religion,’ I was very clear to describe what I meant:

    The receptacle for the eternal, existential questions. And today’s science, astronomy, even virology, genetics, all of it, most certainly serve that purpose. And it is often intellectuals who eat it up, arguing about ‘what it might mean’ that ‘scientists now think that’ (fill in the blank – that “we’re hard-wired to like iced-cream”, that “we’re all driven by crusader genes,” that “we developed toenails in order to better have something to paint on.”) So scientists say!!

    I also pointed to the difference between the relentless march toward greater technological feats, and what is often referred to as ‘science.’ These rely on each other, but technology was developing apace long before men and woman spun liquid in test tubes. The pace of technology has moved in exponential digits since lab science –  but mostly engineering – became an institution. But…

    …people conflate and confuse ‘science,’ which is that thing they turn to for unanswerable questions, predictions, ideas, hopes, fears – those rooted in the ancient and enternal mind, the nature of the species; and technology, which is equally rooted in the species, but does not require belief in truth, god, anti-god, or anything else. Technology, as we use it, seeks to reproduce the physical world –

    – We build second suns, fires, eyes, hands, mouths, arms, backs. We put choruses into tiny bits of plastic. We embed a summer’s day, in its visual sensation, into digitally-encrypted magnetic recording.

    We reproduce – or strive to reproduce – the creative aspect of nature. We make imitations, but also homages. We do well with our technology…and because we do so well, we believe, believe and believe that science is something different than religion (in it’s existentially-probing capacity). And a great many bright people make unbelievable excuses for the failings of a scientific hypothesis.

    And that’s when you hear the royal “we.” I heard it just the other day, talking to my new vegan physicist friend.

    “Where is any evidence for creation ex-nihilo?” I asked. We had already talked redshift and Halton Arp. He responded:

    “You shouldn’t say, ‘you don’t believe in the Big Bang.’ The scientists I know WONDER, and PUZZLE at what could have caused it. They are SEEKING answers.” He said.

    I responded: “Seeking answers to a question they themselves created – for which evidence is wanting. And ignoring other possibilities. What’s logical about that?”

    If science is logic, that is…

    Which it ain’t, in practice.

    And a little humor, or quite a bit, is required when facing an orthodoxy….

    I did receive one great compliment, by the way, from a radio host I know, who does work on natural health, and related fields. He said he’d never heard of the issue, but loved my take, and wondered how many corrupt areas of science exist. He said, given what he knows about E-M fields in healing, in cellular structure and development, in biology, he can see the connection between the macro and microscopic.

    I thought that was a nice note, and was pleased to be able to point him in that direction.

    Thank you for reading and thinking and responding! Happy 2010.

    Liam

  7. Peripherally related to your topic: After reading this obit in the LA Times I was struck by the parallels between Burbidge with Duesberg and how lucky we are to have some scientists who question the common hypotheses of our times. But it also sobering to see how embedded these scientific ideas are in the minds of men and how difficult it is/will be to change (and at such a substantial personal and professional cost to the dissenters). It is only when time passes across generations perhaps that enough minds seek to challenge the status quo.

    I also realized how much we will miss Duesberg when such a sad time inevitably comes.

    http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-me-geoffrey-burbidge31-2010jan31,0,361076.story

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