Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Is Big Bang Cosmology History?

It started in early December. I ran across the first article on while looking for something else altogether; the article was entitled "Science and the Coming Dark Age." Potent quote from Thomas Henry Huxley: "The great tragedy of science--the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact." Or range of them, which the hypothesis or theory cannot explain.

It was the problem of anomalies--verified facts that aren't explained by or which actually refute a favored theory--and what to do with them, what their implications for the status of scientific theories might be, that got me interested in the philosophy of science in the first place. That interest, now that I am teaching again, might be reawakening, along with a new project. That project: to answer the question: is big bang cosmology dead? And--given that no one in the mainstream science press has breathed a word of it--what are the implications within what is fashionably called the sociology of science, i.e., the problem of authority structures within the various scientific communities?

In this article, and in others sought out since, I have gained rudimentary acquaintance with the ideas of one Halton C. Arp, astronomer, one-time assistant to Edwin Hubble, and purported discoverer of redshifted objects (such as quasars) that appear to be connected to or even in front of galaxies known to be fairly close by in astronomical distances. Arp has written books with names like Quasars, Red Shifts and Controversies and Seeing Red: Redshifts, Cosmology and Academic Science that argue the case (1) there are alternative explanations for redshift besides the conventional idea that redshifted entities are receding from us at very high speeds, and (2) the astronomical community has attempted to suppress evidence of this.

Of course, it is the redshift that supposedly constitutes the largest body of evidence for the expanding-universe model that is part and parcel of big bang cosmology. It is at least possible that if this model goes, then big bang cosmology goes with it. And then there remains far less evidence that the universe is either as large as or as old as conventional physics and astronomy would today have it. (Darwinism is threatened by this, since Darwinism too depends conceptually on a universe billions of years old.)

This, alone, won't support Intelligent Design. That must stand or fall on its own merits. But Intelligent Design hypotheses cannot end up worse off.

The late Sir Karl Popper developed in great detail the thesis that even our best scientific theories are but conjectures. He used the somewhat paradoxical notion conjectural knowledge to describe the status of the results of even the best empirical science. One of the most influential factors on the rise of twentieth century philosophy of science was the fall of the Newtonian empire. Newton's theory of universal gravitation was considered the best confirmed physical theory ever--yet it fell, replaced by Einstein (and there are now people who doubt that Einstein will have the last word).

It appears that the particular set of conjectures about the origin, age and even size of the universe known as big bang cosmology has also taken a fall, and the investigation should prove instructive both philosophically and sociologically.

Other articles worth consulting:
Cosmology and the Big Bang
Exploding the Big Bang

More to follow.

Of course, any serious study will have to sketch the full conceptual background including discussing the full range of reasons why big bang cosmology was deemed acceptable in the first place, consult Arp's own writings and seek out whatever secondary literature exists on his work. Expect follow-ups.

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