It is customary that some theory, when particularly fascinating and pursued by well established scientist, in the scientific community at large and then in the eyes of the wider public, acquire the status of an established law. They are still called “theory” but are considered as something definitely proven and taken for granted. Till some observation generates doubts, showing that that theory is not really justified. The history of science demonstrates that often theories, on the long run are proven wrong (cf Thomas S. Khun, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions). And this seems it might be happening now with the Big Bang Theory. Eric Lerner, in this and other articles published by Jonathan Tennenbaum in Asia Times, explains why. The following article originally appeared in Asia Times (www.asiatimes.com) and is republished here with the permission of the authors.
Introduction by Jonathan Tennenbaum:
The Big Bang theory asserts (among other things) that our universe was born in a gigantic explosion 13.8 billion years ago. The Big Bang is one of the most stubborn dogmas in science today. Thousands of scientific papers, textbooks, popular books and articles have treated the Big Bang theory as if it were essentially a proven fact.
The opposite is the case. In an exclusive four-part November 2020 interview with Asia Times under the banner “The Big Bang never happened,” the well-known astrophysicist and plasma physicist Eric Lerner revealed how the Big Bang theory is contradicted by an overwhelming mass of astronomical evidence – evidence that is constantly accumulating – while mainstream cosmologists continue to twist and turn in attempts to save the theory and discredit its critics.
On September 3, the New York Times published a guest essay by physicists Adam Frank and Marcelo Gleiser entitled “The Story of Our Universe May Be Starting to Unravel.”
The authors suggest that recent observations by the James Web Space Telescope, on top of other pieces of astronomical evidence, contradict the so-called “standard model” of cosmology and thus call for scientists to “rethink key features of the origin and development of the universe.” A “conceptual revolution” may be needed, they say.
Frank and Gleiser are familiar to the public through their books and media appearances but not, so far, as critics of the Big Bang theory. Strangely, despite the sensational title, the authors do not question the Big Bang itself, but only other assertions of the “standard model” that are contradicted by observations.
But, needless to say, the Big Bang is the most essential feature of the “story of our universe” that mainstream cosmologists have been telling us. Whether Frank and Gleiser intended it or not, their essay provides further evidence that the Big Bang theory is on the way out.
We asked Eric Lerner, a prominent protagonist in the scientific debate over the Big Bang, what he thought about Frank and Gleiser’s essay. He kindly sent the comments below for publication in Asia Times. – JT
Eric Lerner’s comments:
Another big step toward an open, public debate over the validity of the Big Bang, expanding-universe hypothesis came September 3 with the publication in the New York Times Opinion section of an article titled “Crisis in Cosmology” (and re-titled online as “The Story of Our Universe May Be Starting to Unravel”) by Adam Frank and Marcelo Gleiser.
Now, it is hardly news that there is a crisis in cosmology. Researchers have been discussing that for nearly 30 years and it has been big in the mass media since 2019.
But what is new and important is the admission by well-known cosmologists such as Frank and Gleiser that new observations mean we may need “a radical departure from the standard model” of cosmology, one that requires us “to change how we think of the elemental components of the universe, possibly even the nature of space and time.”
What the authors don’t actually say is that there already is an alternative “story of the Universe” that is being widely debated among researchers: the story of an evolving universe without a Big Bang or the expansion of space.
This is the scientific hypothesis – sometimes referred to as “plasma cosmology,” developed by Noble Laureate Hannes Alfven and elaborated by myself and many others – that the phenomena we observe in the universe can be explained by the physics we observe in the laboratory: the physics describing electromagnetism, plasma, gravitation and nuclear fusion reactions.
No origin of the universe in time, no inflation, no dark matter nor dark energy is needed. On this basis we have published technical papers correctly predicting what the new James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) would reveal and elaborating on the evidence against the Big Bang and for a non-expanding universe without dark matter or dark energy.
Frank knows of this alternative. In December of last year, he wrote an opinion piece in The Spectator in which he prominently mentioned me as an advocate of “an alternative model of cosmology” and as the author of an August 2022 article on the Institute of Arts and Ideas website, titled “The Big Bang Didn’t Happen,” which ignited widespread debate in the cosmology community and among sections of the public.
At that time, Frank wrote that the new images from the James Webb Space Telescope posed no threat to the “standard model.”
“Does any of this challenge the Big Bang itself?” he asked, rhetorically. “Not even by the tiniest sliver. If we know the Big Bang to mean the idea that the Universe started out in a smooth, hot, dense state that was set into expansion which led to evolution of structure, then no, the Big Bang has not been disproven. If anything, it’s proven the most basic feature of the theory: cosmic evolution. The results of the James Webb telescope reinforce the idea that the universe does have a story and, most importantly, we are somehow learning to tell it.”
It’s clear that Frank’s views have themselves evolved quite a bit in the last nine months as new data flooded down from JWST , dimming the hopes of Big Bang cosmologists that the theory would need only “tweaks.” Then, Frank was sure that the Big Bang was the story, but now he thinks we just might need a “new story,” even a “new way to tell stories.”
So why doesn’t he say outright that there is a possibility that the Big Bang never happened, that the universe may not be expanding, that the story of its evolution might be one without a beginning?
Part of the problem is that Big Bang cosmologists must not only give up on a theory they have repeatedly said is beyond question; they also have to give up on the method that they have been using, and Frank and Gleiser don’t seem ready yet to do that.
“Cosmology is not like other sciences,” they write.
That’s where they’re wrong. There really is only one scientific method and it applies to cosmology as well as to the rest of science. That method starts with observation, makes generalizations from these observations (hypotheses) and then tests these generalizations by making predictions about observations that have not yet been made – exact, quantitative predictions about the future.
The Big Bang theory’s predictions have been reliably wrong for decades:
- wrong about the cosmic microwave background, it’s temperature and smoothness;
- wrong about the scale of the largest structures in the universe;
- wrong about the abundance of lithium and helium;
- wrong about the size, age and brightness of distant galaxies.
Instead of abandoning the theory, cosmologists have modified it many times, as Frank and Geisel correctly point out, to fit (as precisely as the Emperor’s New Clothes) what has already been observed and to smooth over previous contradictions.
This “rear-view mirror” method is not the scientific method. Looking only in the rear-view mirror is no better way of learning about the universe than it is of driving a car.
It is instead the same Ptolemaic method of epicycles that supported the geocentric – earth-centered – view of the cosmos, a method totally discredited by the scientific revolution.
Science is useful to humanity only because it allows us to predict the future correctly. The difference between the scientific method and the Ptolemaic method is the difference between an airline that correctly predicts that its planes will safely cross the ocean and one whose planes crash every time but which gives you an explanation for each crash after it happens.
Over 30 year’s ago Sky and Telescope published an essay of mine titled “The Cosmologists’ New Clothes.” Unfortunately, the “emperors’ new clothes effect” is still strong in cosmology.
As I wrote then, a highly centralized structure for funding cosmology research and a tight competition for such funds ensured that if you wrote that the Big Bang did not happen, or if you even raised doubts about that, then you were deemed “either stupid or not fit for your job” and you wouldn’t get any funding.
In more recent years, as more and more gaps appeared between the Big Bang theory-based predictions and observations, it became acceptable to publish articles about specific contradictions with the Big Bang theory (as I and my colleagues have) but never that the theory as a whole was wrong.
This is, as I’ve written, like people in the Andersen fable being allowed to say “I can see the Emperor’s elbow” or “I can see the Emperor’s knee” or even “I can see the Emperor’s bottom” – but not that “The Emperor is wearing no clothes.”
Frank and Geisel have taken that one step farther by writing that we might need a whole new “story of the universe.” That’s sort of like saying, “You can see right through the Emperor’s clothes.”
But free and open debate is essential to obtaining scientific truth. It is long past time for cosmologists to throw off this self-censorship and say openly that the Big Bang/expansion theory may be entirely wrong.
It is also way past time to stop ignoring the alternative – that the universe is evolving, but not expanding, and that there was no hot, dense state of the cosmos nor an origin for the whole cosmos.Let’s have that open debate begin, in scientific publications and conferences, and in the mass media. It looks like Frank and Gleisel have put on their life jackets on board the sinking cosmic ship “Big Bang” but are not yet ready to enter the lifeboats.
They should not hesitate further. A rescue ship – “No Big Bang” – is standing close by at the ready. Time to get on board and chart a new course for the science of the cosmos.
Besides his work in astrophysics, Eric Lerner is pursuing one of the most promising approaches to fusion energy, based on the so-called dense plasma focus.
As Lerner discusses in his earlier Asia Times ‘Big Bang never happened’ interview, the same self-organizing phenomena that we observe in plasma focus experiments here on Earth provide the key to understanding processes on the astronomical scale of our Universe, without any Big Bang and without the various exotic entities, such as dark matter, that have been invented ad hoc in the effort to rescue the Big Bang theory.