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Is the Big Bang a Bust? August 18, 2007

Posted by Dwight and Lynn Furrow in Philosophy, Science.
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Physicist Michael J. Disney thinks modern cosmology is in trouble. Essentially his argument is that, in a maturing science, the number of purely theoretical constructions invented to explain observed phenomena should be less than the number of independent observations that confirm the theory.

Apparently, given the proliferation of theoretical constructions such as dark matter, dark energy, etc. and the paucity of independent observatations confirming them, cosmology doesn’t qualify as a maturing science.

Is this a good standard for evaluating a science? We humanistically-trained scholars would like to know.

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1. Michael Mussachia - August 20, 2007

Michael Disney has articulated an appropriate ideal for “maturing science.” Unfortunately, not everything empirical can be easily investigated in so successful a manner as Disney desires, e.g., the many undecided issues (competing hypotheses/interpretations, lack of evidence) in numerous parts of the historical sciences, including paleogeology, evolutionary biology and human history. Some things are worked out well, other things are not. In those areas that are not worked out (e.g., the relationship of neandertals and homo sapiens), there are more hypotheses, including ad hoc hypotheses, than discriminating evidence. This situation is common in unsettled areas of science. Cosmology, which is the study of the large scale structure and dynamics of the universe, is a very young science (really only about 70 years old), and it is essentially a historical science. Even the scientific study of a nearby star involves a historical reconstruction since the light arriving from the star left the star years ago. Big Band cosmology is, of course, the ultimate historical reconstruction, and while there is some striking evidence in support of Big Band theory (observed expansion of the cosmos, cosmic background radiation, hydrogen to helium ratio throughout the universe, etc.), it is far from being a highly confirmed theory like quantum theory. Another indication of the immature status of Big Band theory is that it is not even a single theory but is rather a class of theories sharing some core theoretical components. And, yes, the number of ad hoc hypotheses have been increasing lately in cosmology.

Quantum theory is, of course, our best example of a mature and highly confirmed theory. Not only does it satisfy Disney criterion for being a mature science – a minimum of ad hoc hypotheses; it also has demonstrated its descriptive accuracy of the fundamental physics of the world by its tremendous instrumental power (technological applications). In contrast, cosmology has far less theoretical unification, far less empirical support, no instrumental power and far more ad hoc elements. There’s nothing controversial in this comparison. What is controversial is the future prospects for cosmology. Is it making progress? I propose it is in that it is slowly gathering more data about the universe. Is it becoming theoretically unified and making use of fewer ad hoc hypotheses? Not currently. Its present difficulty lies in accounting for the data coming in. Will it mature? I for one would advise against passing any final judgments on cosmology for the simple reason that it is notorously difficult to predict the pace of scientific developments. Cosmology is a young science, and it is tackling one of the most difficult subjects possible. Its ability to obtain evident with which to judge its competing hypotheses is very constrained compared to other natural sciences. We should not expect it to theoretically develop at a rate similar to that of other natural sciences. Clearly, cosmology is characterized by a far higher degree of epistemological uncertainty than most other natural sciences. I advise patience and a wait-and-see attitude. In any case, it is still the best we humans can currently do in trying to understand the cosmos.

2. W. Stockwell - August 22, 2007

Note that even quantum mechanics has parameters that are observed, and not predicted by the theory. The mass and charge of the electron for example. Modern particle physics is even worse. We know it is an incomplete theory (Supersymmetry??) That doesn’t change the fact that these theories work incredibly well over their region of applicability.

The best bits of science are like large puzzles, with many interlocking bits of evidence working together to show you the big picture. Modern cosmology is still missing many pieces… but the pieces we have fit together pretty well. Yes, dark matter is still an open issue. Yes, the dark energy is a new surprise. Yes, observations are difficult. But the fact that the theory can change to fit new observations is what makes it science and not opinion.

3. Dwight Furrow - August 25, 2007

Michael,

“Big Band cosmology is, of course, the ultimate historical reconstruction…”

Ah, the Big Band Theory. Is that the view that the Dorsey Expansion and the Cosmic Background Radiation Singers are at the summit of the Great Chain of Jazz Being?

More seriously, doesn’t Disney’s worries raise questions about demarcating cosmology from theology? What justifies us calling it a science? After all there is some evidence for theological speculations along with endless ad hoc formulations. It occurs to me that what distinguishes cosmologists from theologians is that cosmologists presumably are willing to give up a hypothesis at some point if it cannot generate testable predictions. But that seems to be more like a moral virtue than a feature of the inquiry itself.

And M. Stockwell, it seems to me that the fact that a theory can change to fit new observations is not a sufficient criterion if the changes are ad hoc hypotheses lacking empirical tests.

4. Michael Mussachia - August 28, 2007

Didn’t they play the main gig at Woodstock?

Seriously (and hopefully without typos), the difference between cosmology and theology is much more than just being “willing to give up a hypothesis at some point if it cannot generate testable predictions.” Cosmology’s semantic content is much more clearly defined and takes a mathematical form, its theoretical structure is logically consistent, much of it is related to measurement technology and data, much of it derives from highly confirmed theories like nuclear physics, quantum theory, plasma theory, both the special and the general theory of relativity, etc., and cosmologists make a serious and continued effort to theoretically and empirically justify any theoretical changes that are initially ad hoc.

Some theologians and fundamentalist religious types may prefer to think of cosmology as just another faith, but as just pointed out, there’s still a big difference between even as troubled an area of science as cosmology on the one hand and theology on the other. Even some very religious types know this, e.g., George Coyne, the Jesuit director of the Vatican Observatory. Like Michael Disney, Coyne is an actual scientist and so knows his science. The real question here is whether cosmology is going to be able to tighten up its theoretical/explanatory structure or is it biting off more than it can chew. I, myself, am not sure, but only time will tell. Any judgments made know are premature.

5. Dwight Furrow - September 1, 2007

Michael,

But suppose we had a logically consistent theology. (I don’t think we do; there is a little problem about evil) But suppose we did. On your view, should we then take theology seriously despite the absence of empirical support?

Suppose Anselm’s ontological argument was logically consistent. (It isn’t, but just suppose) Would we then have to take seriously his conclusion that God must exist, despite the fact that none of his premises make reference to observed facts?

As I said above, it seems to me the demarcation between theology and cosmology has to do with a moral commitment to follow the evidence, not anything about the structure of the inquiry itself. As you point out “cosmologists make a serious and continued effort to theoretically and empirically justify any theoretical changes that are initially ad hoc.” It is the willingness to make that effort draws the sharpest line of demarcation.

6. Michael Mussachia - September 1, 2007

Dwight,

This “moral commitment to follow the evidence” is indeed central to the demarcation between theology and cosmology, it’s just that cosmology has several other related features (see my previous post) that are also part of the criteria that distinguish cosmology from theology. Using test/measurement procedures that prevent psychological factors like preferences and expectations from influencing the test/measurement results and having a theoretical structure that takes a mathematical form and that is related to measurement technology and data is what allows the “moral commitment to follow the evidence” to usually succeed in a scientifically rigorous manner. Anyone can claim to have a moral commitment to follow the evidence; that in itself does not make them a scientist or how they follow the evidence a science. A theologian, for example, might argue that they also have this commitment and are following the evidence in an Argument from Design line of reasoning, but the “evidence for design” is not as precisely and objectively defined as evidence is in science and its relation to the conclusion of their argument is not as tightly bound as in a quantified science. Finally, neither the Argument from Design nor the Ontological Argument are testable, mathematical extensions or applications of any scientific theory, let alone highly confirmed theory like quantum physics. In other words, the difference between science in general and theology is in how one follows the evidence. (Astronomy and astrology are a good example of this methodological difference.) In the end, all these interrelated structural and procedural features do illustrate the level of commitment scientists have to follow the evidence; it’s just that it is these very structural and procedural features that characterize the scientific way of obtaining and following the evidence. I understand that this may not be so obvious to “humanistically-trained scholars” looking at science from the outside, but any scientist will tell you – it’s in how you follow the evidence that ultimately makes for science.

7. Michael Mussachia - September 2, 2007

Big Bang, Big Bang, Big Bang ….. (I’m working on my moral commitment to get my left index finger trained on the distinction between the “G” and the “B” keys.)

By the way, there’s a similar discussion/debate going on over string theory (e.g., too many variants in the “landscape,” too many bright physics grad students going into string theory rather than other approaches, few testable predictions and no empirical data for/against after decades of work by string theorists). If string theory can be made to work, it will help a great deal with Big Bang cosmology. Unfortunately, neither seems to be “maturing sciences” at the moment. It’s possible that string theory is stalling and may turn out to be a theoretical dead end. I suspect that if real progress is not made within the next ten years, physicists will begin to put more effort in alternative approaches to developing a quantum theory of gravity.

8. Dwight Furrow - September 4, 2007

Micheal,

I quite agree.

“Using test/measurement procedures that prevent psychological factors like preferences and expectations from influencing the test/measurement results and having a theoretical structure that takes a mathematical form and that is related to measurement technology and data is what allows the “moral commitment to follow the evidence” to usually succeed in a scientifically rigorous manner. ”

But all of this speaks to mature sciences with empirically testable results. I am not comparing the ontological argument to quantum mechanics which is experimentally well confirmed.

Since cosmology has very few empirical consequences and string theory none as far as I can tell, what independent value with regard to the demarcation question does mathematical complexity or logical coherence have? Mathematical models enable scientists to generate precise predictions and draw precise conclusions from experimental results. But in the absence of experimental results it is not obvious that mathematical models are sufficient to demarcate science from theology.

9. Forrest Noble - September 17, 2007

If a science such as Cosmology has but a single theory with many changing facets, with little or no valid predictive ability– especially one that is wrong, like I believe the Big Bang is– then the science will drastically change once a theory with more valid perspectives is put in the drivers seat.

10. Forrest Noble - October 4, 2007

An alternative theory to the BB theory called the Pan Theory of Relativity argues that:

Although there is ample evidence to support the existence of Black Holes, contrary to popular theory, black holes are not a single vacuous/ vacant point as proposed by Hawkings et. al. relating to Einstein’s original mathematical concepts. Also there was no beginning condensation of matter at the beginning of the universe.

Instead:

Black Holes are a dense state of matter roughly thousands of times more dense than a theoretical Neutron Star. They are a compressed form of dark matter –that dark matter is a kind of “Aether” omnipresent throughout the universe, on earth, and which is the sole cause/ source of gravity everywhere. These dark-matter fields, and their densest volumes called Back Holes, have created all atomic matter in the universe except for heavier elements that are created within stars; No Big Bang! After creation these atomic particles are both destroyed and recycled through these Black Holes. Creation is continuous surrounding the Back Hole of young galaxies—mostly protons, electrons, with some helium nuclei..

Accordingly, maybe 90% of the atomic matter within most galaxies would have been originally created by the mammoth central Black Hole(s) within them (in the larger scheme of the universe stellar Black Holes like stars in general are relatively inconsequential). This new creation is accomplished, according to theory, by the tremendous forces applied to stings of dark matter that surround Black Holes. All these strings of dark matter, and those within the Black Hole would continuously but slowly increase in number while decreasing in size (a string theory without the need for new dimensions). This can explain the observed red-shifting of galaxies. Atoms and the particles within them would have been increasingly larger in the past ( but smaller in quantity) therefore they would have produced longer E.M. radiation. Space also would appear to us to be expanding because of the relative changing ratio between matter and the space which it occupies. New atomic matter would be created surrounding Black Holes from the increase in count of the background field of dark matter.

There still would have been a beginning to the universe at one point in time. Not a Big Bang, just a silent single particle very slowly evolving (unwinding). The same identical “simple particle” would accordingly make up all dark matter, particle matter, atomic matter, us, etc.—past, present, and future. Of course in the past it would have to have been countess-times larger compared to the identical particle today, but what would size mean if it was the first and only thing that existed. With trillions of years available for the creation for the observable universe (instead of 13.7 billion years according to B.B. theory) there would have been ample time for nucleo-synthesis of heavy elements, and for the observable universe to evolve into the large galactic structures that we have observed, which at best are poorly explained by B.B. theory. Questions?

forrest noble

11. Forrest Noble - November 23, 2007

No takers? Common the microwave background support of the BB theory is in trouble. The BB will go down!! http://www.dsri.dk/~mykal/tmp/tycho/Verschuur.doc

forrest_forrest@netzero.net

12. linux hosting - August 5, 2013

I absolutely love your site.. Very nice colors & theme. Did you build this website yourself? Please reply back as I’m looking to create my very own site and would like to learn where you got this from or just what the theme is called. Kudos!|

Forrest Noble - November 11, 2013

Thanks, My son built the site for me. This is his profession and has a college degree in the field. He is an employee and not independent however. See my e-mail address in my posting #11 for contact or further information.

regards, Forrest


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