Cosmic Inflation: Did it really happen?

Built on a house of cards

House of cards

Astrophysicists have measured the temperature of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) radiation and its small variations (anisotropies) but also they have found it is partially polarized. They make the claim that,1

The largest contribution to the polarization was imprinted during the epoch of recombination, when local quadrupole intensity fluctuations, incident on free electrons, created linear polarization via Thomson scattering.2 [emphasis added]

This is a key element in the alleged evolution of the big bang universe. The big bang supposedly produced a super-hot plasma of electrons, protons, and photons, and this plasma was opaque.  The “epoch of recombination” is assumed to have occurred about 380,000 years after the bang, when it was cool enough for electrons to combine with protons to become neutral hydrogen atoms. This made space transparent to photons, so the CMB radiation separated from matter in the big bang fireball, called ‘photon decoupling’. Once radiation decoupled from matter it travelled freely throughout the universe, no longer interacting with matter. Thus it should carry information of the physics from the early universe. This radiation, allegedly, after it cooled by about a factor of 1100, is observed at the earth as the CMB radiation.

The epoch of recombination produced the largest scalar E-mode3 polarization on the CMB radiation and it allegedly occurred long after any inflationary epoch. It is also assumed that there were gravitational waves, which generated both E-mode and B-mode polarisations as well as gravitational lensing, which generated B modes by distorting the scalar-induced E-mode pattern in the CMB radiation.

Prior to the epoch of recombination, primordial gravitational waves from an alleged cosmic inflation are said to have left their imprint on the CMB radiation in the form of B-mode polarization.4 By attempting to distinguish the various contributions, at different scale sizes, it is hoped to detect some evidence of the era of inflation. All of this hinges integrally on the standard ΛCDM (‘big bang’) cosmology being correct. If the model is wrong—remember also dark matter and dark energy are essential components here—then the house of cards crumbles.

Figure 1: Cosmic timeline illustrated showing redshift across the top, and ‘lookback’ time to the big bang along the bottom. Credit:

Figure 1: Cosmic timeline illustrated showing redshift across the top, and ‘lookback’ time to the big bang along the bottom. Credit: NASA/ESA.

New CMB E-mode polarization data

Does newly published polarization data of the CMB radiation, from the South Pole Telescope (SPT), really show that cosmic inflation really happened? According to Hugh Ross5 it really did happen! He stated in his recent article, “Cosmic Inflation: It Really Happened”:

“… we now can be 99.9999999 percent certain that the universe indeed went through an inflation event when the universe was only about 10-34 seconds old. To put it another way, there is less than 1 chance in 900,000,000 that the universe did not experience an inflation event very early in its history.”6

Why was that not news on all the science/boffin news websites? The last time this claim was made, in March 2014, by the BICEP2 team, also from the South Pole, it was splashed around on all the news websites and published in all the news media. But it was a big flop. The BICEP2 team was heavily criticized for not more carefully looking for other sources, in particular foreground sources in the galaxy that could also result in the same signal they claimed was evidence of the inflation-era primordial gravitational waves that were their claimed ‘smoking gun’ 4 evidence. In the final analysis they admitted they were wrong.7

Last year, with the grandiose claim there was also mention of a Nobel Prize for a ‘proof’ of the big bang inflation epoch.8 Why is there no such story now? Why aren’t the news sites full of this story?

Just for a sanity check, and to be certain, I googled the words “the South Pole Telescope (SPT), cosmic inflation really happened”. All the ‘hits’ I got related to the 2014 BICEP2 claimed discovery, except for one, this article by Ross.

On top of that, according to Ross:

“This is good news for Christians because for more than 2,500 years the Bible and biblical commentaries were the only books proclaiming the fundamental features of big bang cosmology.”

I am almost lost for words! For all history, and certainly the last 2000 years, except for about the past 200 years, Jewish and Christian scholars have believed in fiat creation, which occurred about 4000 BC. That could hardly be construed as “biblical commentaries were the only books” teaching a big-bang-type cosmology. As for the Bible itself, the main texts in relation to the origin of the universe are in Genesis, which are much older than 2500 years. The South Pole Telescope team has now published their latest measurements.1  But their paper was submitted to the preprint archive (which is freely available) on 4 November 2014. So this is not new news! At least Ross waited until it was published in a peer-reviewed journal, something the BICEP2 team did not do. But wait! The South Pole Telescope team did not make any claim of such a discovery or ‘proof’ of inflation in the very paper Ross gets his evidence from. Strange?

The scalar spectral index

Ross’s claim of detection of an inflation epoch comes from his belief in the big bang. He wrote:6

“The E-mode signal is sufficient to determine the scalar spectral index (ns) of the CMBR spectrum. For a universe with no inflation event, ns equals 1.0 or greater. For a universe that had a simple inflation event, ns equals exactly 0.95. For a universe that has had a complex inflation event, ns equals 0.96–0.97.”

The scalar spectral index is allegedly related to primordial density fluctuations in the early universe. And the logic follows that those density fluctuations left their imprint on the CMB radiation. Modelling of different types of inflation indicate this number will be different from unity. If ns < 1.0 then the universe must have had an inflation event, they say.

Clearly Ross did not learn from the BICEP2 fiasco. He shows that he has ‘faith’ in the modelled results; that they can only mean one thing. There are two obvious problems with this claim, apart from any sort of possible ‘proof’ that could show that is the only possible interpretation of that number.

One problem is that many unverifiable assumptions are made in order to determine the value of ns. The power spectrum of the E-mode polarization signal of the CMB radiation at specific frequencies is filtered and generated using certain cosmological assumptions where other effects are allowed for or extracted. Most E-mode polarization is expected to have occurred at a time in the evolution of the universe later than the alleged inflation epoch.

In the extraction of the modelled parameters of which the scale spectral index is one, data from WMAP and Planck satellites and others are combined. There are 10 free parameters used in the comparison of the observational data with the standard big bang ΛCDM cosmology. This is all done in an effort to interpret the information as from the earliest epochs of the big bang. Ross states:

“Their measurements, in combination with the best results from the WMAP and Planck satellite, have yielded the most accurate determination of ns to date. The value they published: ns = 0.9593 ± 0.0067.”6

He speaks of accuracy, which is wrong, because accuracy means that you know what the absolute fundamental value of the parameter actually is. Without a revelation from God no cosmologically determined number can have accuracy. He must, of course, mean precision, which includes both systematic and statistical errors.

Ross quotes the one standard deviation (1σ) on the value of ns, given in the paper1 (± 0.0067 at 68% C.L.), from which he calculates his claimed 99.9999999% certainty that the universe underwent inflation.9 An effect found with confidence greater than 99.99994% (or 5σ) is normally considered a discovery.10

But from Table 3 of the SPT paper1 it is evident that the inclusion of the SPT E-mode polarization (SPTpol) results have very little effect on the value of most of the standard ΛCDM cosmology parameters. They were assumed prior to the investigation (determined from other survey data, including that of the Planck satellite). So in effect these new results do very little to change any of their parameters, especially the value of the scalar spectral index (ns). When the Planck satellite polarization data was published11 in 2013, a very similar number was produced (ns = 0.9603 ± 0.0073 when combined with WMAP polarization data) but no claim of proof of inflation was made then.12 Following the same line of reasoning as Ross used, that result is equivalent to saying that the universe underwent inflation with 99.9999934% certainty,13 which is also above the confidence level for a discovery. Statistically, this is the same as saying that there is less than 1 chance in 15,000,000 that the Universe did not have an inflation event. So why was no such claim made in 2013?

Now the claim of proof that the inflation event really happened hinges on the value of ns. But what requires that that number must be less than unity to ‘prove’ inflation really occurred? The modelling does. Depending on the form of the inflation theory, the mathematical modelling indicates that ns differs from unity due to the type and power in the alleged primordial gravitational waves generated by the physics of the early universe. So the logic is totally dependent on the models of the inflation epoch. What if all models are wrong because inflation never happened?

In cosmology, how can you be sure that you have a unique proof? Could some other effect explain the same result? For example, it was shown that dust emission from the galaxy was the cause of the effect the BICEP2 team saw in the B-mode polarization of the CMB radiation.7 It was not due to primordial gravitational waves after all. The believers of course hold onto hope that they will indeed find such an effect, but is not that an indication that the model or worldview determines what can be looked for?

Expanding universe

Ross assumes the validity of an expanding universe is strong despite the unverifiable assumed existence of the dark entities needed for this to be so.14 He even claims it a successful prediction of biblical texts. He cites several OT scriptures in support of cosmological expansion of the universe. But careful examination of the meaning and intent of the Hebrew words used in those scriptures indicates that the ancients had no such concept of the standard rubber balloon analogy of cosmological expansion.15 At best those scriptures describe no more expansion than the stretching of tent or curtain material and, in some cases, beaten brass.  Tent material may stretch a few percent of its size, but most certainly there is no concept of linear expansion by a factor of 1100, as required for the CMB radiation. If you include the inflation stage the linear expansion factor increases to more than 1029.

Ross wrote “ongoing expansion since that beginning” was a biblical prediction.  But to say that the Bible predicted the expanding universe, including cosmic inflation, because it is in reference to “since the beginning”, then that prediction must be interpreted as involving a gargantuan ‘stretching’ and ‘spreading’. These words are used in the biblical verses he cites, one of which is Isaiah 40:22, which uses the expressions “stretches out the heavens as a curtain” and “spreads them out as a tent”. These are similes, and as such should carry some correspondence over to the intended meaning. But I have never heard of a tent being stretched by anything like that—1029 times. Have you?

The cooling of the CMB radiation is apparently also a prediction of the Bible according to Ross. He states: “A pervasive law of decay that implies a continuously cooling cosmos.” In regards to this point he cited Romans 8:18–22.  The key verse is Romans 8:22, stating that the whole creation suffers in agony. This verse describes the effects of the Curse of sin that entails the entry of death and suffering into God’s “very good” creation (something that Ross says predated sin). It is somewhat of a stretch to get the second law of thermodynamics, the law of decay,16 from that, but that is what he means. There is no doubt that we see decay and we also see isolated systems headed to equilibrium. This results in cooling. These are experimental facts. But what is not proven is that the universe is expanding and as a result the expansion induces adiabatic cooling in the CMB radiation.  To say this is what the scripture meant is clearly reading into it more than the Author intended.

It is true that the Bible describes a “singular beginning of matter, energy, space, and time”, which are Ross’s words. Genesis 1:1 states God created the universe. But Genesis 1 and Exodus 20:11 also state He did it in six approximately 24-hour days, not in a big bang nor with the sequence of events the big bang evolution posits.17 To imply that any scriptures describe a big-bang-inflationary origin is really stretching it (no pun intended).

Finally Ross claims the Bible supports “constant laws of physics”, which I agree with. The laws of physics are part of God’s created order and we know we can trust in Him, who remains constant throughout all time (Hebrews 1:11, 13:8). This biblical perspective was foundational to the development of modern science, spurred on by the Reformation, when the authority of the Bible was rediscovered.18 However, to suggest that those laws are the product of the inflationary hot big bang early universe as many secular (or pagan) theoretical cosmologists assert, and not the product of a Creator, is what Ross must inherit as he believes the big bang is what the Bible describes. Where does he draw a line? Alternatively there are those theorists, such as Paul Davies, who believe not that God created the laws and the universe, but that the laws created the universe without any creator.19


In his article, Ross over-reached when he said the Bible predicted an inflationary-big-bang-expanding universe. He claimed that cosmic inflation has now been proven, even when the secular cosmologists have not claimed that. Quite obviously Ross does not understand cosmology. A few secular theorists do when they say: “Cosmology … isn’t a science”.20

The universe began in time. That is the only similarity between the Bible’s account and the big bang’s. That similarity, though, stems from the big bang requiring an expanding universe to have an origin in time. The Bible however does not insist upon an expanding universe, so it does not support anything else big bang. But even that origin in time is now under attack from the secularists who don’t like any origin in time. What will Ross do if and when the secular cosmologists adopt an eternal big bang universe? 21,22 What will the theology of Hugh Ross, William Lane Craig and others like them become then?

References and Notes

  1. Crites, A.T.,  et al., Measurements of E-Mode Polarization and Temperature-E-Mode Correlation in the Cosmic Microwave Background from  100 Square Degrees of SPTpol Data, Astrophysical Journal 810(1):50, 2015| doi: 10.1088/0004-637X/805/1/36.
  2. Thomson scattering occurs when low-energy photons are scattered elastically by photons.  High-energy photons often give energy to the electrons, so the scattered photons have lower energy (so longer wavelength), called Compton scattering.
  3. E and B are common symbols in physics for the electric and magnetic fields, respectively. The polarization of radiation can be decomposed into two components—E-mode (radial, curl free) and B-mode (circular, divergence free). In big-bang cosmology, E-mode polarization of the CMB radiation is said to result from Thomson scattering, while B-modes are not from magnetic fields but are said to result from gravitational lensing effects.
  4. Hartnett, J.G., Has the ‘smoking gun’ of the ‘big bang’ been found?, 20 March 2014.
  5. Dr Ross promotes the idea that ‘creation’ happened progressively over billions of years, which entails having death and suffering before the Fall of Adam, which undermines the Gospel, the goodness of God and eschatology. He also asserts that Noah’s Flood was a local event. His views are critiqued in articles listed here:
  6. Ross, H., Cosmic Inflation: It Really Happened,, 3 August 2015.
  7. Hartnett, J.G., New study confirms BICEP2 detection of cosmic inflation wrong, 5 February 2015.
  8. Hartnett, J.G., Hey, not so fast with the Nobel Prize!, 3 April 2014.
  9. This amounts to saying that an inflation event happened to within more than 6 standard deviations (6σ).
  10. The Cryogenic Dark Matter Search collaborators once claimed some bumps in their data might be a weakly interacting massive particle (WIMP) signal at the 3σ level.  But it was not a detection. And a faster-than-light neutrinos claim was found to be wrong even though it was from a 6σ result. For more information see Hartnett, J.G., Our galaxy near the centre of concentric shells of galaxies?, 26 May 2014.
  11. Planck Collaboration (2013), Planck 2013 results XVI, Cosmological parameters, Astronomy & Astrophysics 571: (A16), See Table 2, p. 12, November 2014 |
  12. In 2013 WMAP nine year data analysis produced a similar result (ns = 0.972 ± 0.013), See Nine-year Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) observations: final maps and results, The Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series 208(2), September 2013. And an online review paper, Lahav, O. and Liddle, A.R., The Cosmological Parameters, September 2011, quotes ns = 0.967 ± 0.014. These results have double the errors of the latest paper yet still ns < 1.0. However, no claimed proof of inflation was made back as far as 2011.
  13. This amounts to saying that an inflation event happened to within 5.4 standard deviations (5.4σ).
  14. Hartnett, J.G., ‘Dark photons’: another cosmic fudge factor, 18 August 2015.
  15. Hartnett, J.G., Does the Bible really describe expansion of the universe?, J. Creation 25(2):125–127, August 2011.
  16. A better choice of verse would be Hebrews 1:10-11: “… the heavens are the works of Your hands: They shall perish; … they all shall wax old as does a garment;” (KJV).
  17. Hartnett, J.G., The big bang is not a Reason to Believe, 20 May 2014.
  18. Sarfati, J., The biblical roots of modern science, 29 September 2009.
  19. Hartnett, J.G., The singularity—a ‘Dark’ beginning, 15 July 2014.
  20. Hartnett, J.G., The big bang is pagan philosophy, 15 August 2015.
  21. Hartnett, J.G., Rainbow gravity means an eternal universe, 16 July 2015.
  22. Hartnett, J.G., An eternal big bang universe, 26 February 2015.

Related Reading