Science Feature: Magical Thinking About The Big Bang

Posted Monday, June 6th, 2011 11:01 am GMT -5 by

”MagicalI recently had a chance to view the half-hour video, “The ‘Something from Nothing’ Universe” with its subtitle: “Exposing the supernatural phenomena behind the Big Bang Theory” which was posted on the video-sharing site vimeo.com. The half-hour video consists of Hubble Space Telescope wallpaper pictures overlaid by quotations from institutions such as NASA and famous scientists such as Stephen Hawking to a faint classical music soundtrack.

Carol Osnes narrates, starting with a disarming introduction where she confirms that all the featured quotations are from “pro-evolutionary sources” and that they are all used in context. Most of the rest of the video is taken up with Carol reading said quotations, which have been chosen either to flag unresolved issues in current theories or to highlight what she calls the Missing List – entities called for by current theories but which so far have not been found.

The complete list of the missing occurs at 25 minutes 56 seconds and includes the following: Protostars; Higgs Boson Particle; Graviton; Gravity Waves; Dark Energy; Chameleon Particle; Dark Matter. Obviously this list is not complete; she could have added all of the supersymmetric particles, extra dimensions and even black holes – as well as many other postulated entities.

The video’s main ire is directed at the notion that the universe may have arisen from a quantum vacuum fluctuation, a zero-energy event. We’re informed that such a happening would have to be supernatural. And now it all falls into place. In the last few minutes of the video it’s confirmed that all this Big-Bang stuff is indeed a false explanation. Jesus is the creator, the Genesis story is real and by accepting a scientific approach you are rejecting Jesus and salvation itself.

To summarise the video’s message: our best theories currently fail to explain many phenomena, not least the creation of the entire universe itself. Certain concepts of modern physics such as the uncertainty principle and quantum vacuum fluctuations are unreasonably counter-intuitive. The resulting conceptual deficit can only be explained by the existence of a magical entity which put the universe together. And if you don’t accept that, you’re in trouble.

If you want a list of problems unsolved by current Big Bang theory you don’t need to set aside half an hour for an inaccurate video; there is a perfectly good Wikipedia article which nicely summarizes the ongoing issues. Attempts to push models back to the earliest moments are plagued by the high energy densities, which make gravitational effects as important as the quantum-theoretic forces of the Standard Model (strong, weak and electromagnetic). Unfortunately as yet we lack a well-substantiated theory of quantum gravity.

Is this a problem? Only if you think that science has to have an answer to everything right now. Here is the contrast with magical thinking, which frequently does purport to ‘explain’ everything. In science we logically start with the phenomena, the data. We construct mathematical models which allow us to account for what we observe, and to make predictions about other observations. As our technology improves and we make new (and new kinds of) observations we frequently find our model-predictions deviate from observed reality. The theoreticians have to work hard to create better models.

It’s really rather wonderful that current physical theories, based on our limited and largely earthbound experiences, can already successfully explain so much. It’s even more wonderful that the process of science is error-correcting: wrong ideas do not, in the end, survive their errors in prediction.

If only all modes of thinking were so good!