Has light from the first stars after the big bang been detected?

“Astronomers detect light from the Universe’s first stars” is the headline of a Nature news article, which appeared February 28, 2018.1  It relates to observations made by a team of astronomers led by Judd Bowman of Arizona State University in Tempe. The team published their results in Nature the same week.2 According to Bowman,

“This is the first time we’ve seen any signal from this early in the Universe, aside from the afterglow of the Big Bang.”

They used a small radio-telescope situated in the Western Australian desert, far away from human settlement to minimise interference from radio signals generated by human technology. (See Fig. 1.) The antenna was tuned to a waveband of about 78 MHz, which is at the low end of FM radio, so isolation from human generated radio signals was essential.

Figure 1: The small radio telescope in Western Australia used to detect evidence of light allegedly from the Universe’s first stars. Credit: CSIRO

To understand what the astronomers interpret from this research I quote an editorial summary from Nature:3

“As the first stars heated hydrogen in the early Universe, the 21-cm hyperfine line—an astronomical standard that represents the spin-flip transition in the ground state of atomic hydrogen—was altered, causing the hydrogen gas to absorb photons from the microwave background. This should produce an observable absorption signal at frequencies of less than 200 megahertz (MHz). Judd Bowman and colleagues report the observation of an absorption profile centred at a frequency of 78 MHz that is about 19 MHz wide and 0.5 kelvin deep. The profile is generally in line with expectations, although it is deeper than predicted. An accompanying paper by Rennan Barkana suggests that baryons were interacting with cold dark-matter particles in the early Universe, cooling the gas more than had been expected.”

Let’s look at this in two stages. What was observed and what is the interpretation of the recorded data. Continue reading

Cosmology’s fatal weakness—underdetermination

Can we definitively know the global structure of spacetime? This is a good question. It is one that is actively discussed in the area of the philosophy of modern physics.1,2

However it is a question that highlights the fundamental weakness of cosmology and hence of cosmogony. (Cosmology is the study of the structure of the cosmos whereas cosmogony is the study of the origin of the universe.)  That weakness is the inherent inability to accurately construct any global cosmological model, i.e. a model that accurately represents the structure of the universe at all times and locations. The reason for this is underdetermination.3

“There seems to be a robust sense in which the global structure of every cosmological model is underdetermined.”1

In the philosophy of science, underdetermination means that the available evidence is insufficient to be able to determine which belief one should hold about that evidence. That means that no matter what cosmological model one might conceive of, in an attempt to describe the structure of the universe, every model will be underdetermined. Or said another way, no matter what amount of observational data one might ever (even in principle) gather, the cosmological evidence does not force one particular model upon us. And this underdetermination has been rigorously proven.1 Continue reading

Stephen Hawking and imaginary time

The imaginary time axis is drawn orthogonal to the real time axis. Credit: Wikimedia commons

Update 14/03/2018 Professor Stephen Hawking died today. See his obituary here. From all I have read he remained an ardent atheist his whole life. And he never really understood the worldview issue in cosmology and the origin of the universe. This proves that even very smart people can get it wrong. Nevertheless he gave us much to ponder, debate and learn. 

What is imaginary time? I don’t mean the time you spend day-dreaming but the concept in physics, promoted by theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking. It is used in some quantum mechanics and special relativity theory. Imaginary time is where the usual time dimension undergoes a Wick rotation (a phase rotation)1 so that its coordinates are multiplied by the imaginary number the square root of -1, represented by the symbol i. In such a situation time theoretically behaves like a spatial dimension.

Stephen Hawking Credit: Wikipedia

Hawking wrote:2

“One might think this means that imaginary numbers are just a mathematical game having nothing to do with the real world. From the viewpoint of positivist philosophy, however, one cannot determine what is real. All one can do is find which mathematical models describe the universe we live in. It turns out that a mathematical model involving imaginary time predicts not only effects we have already observed but also effects we have not been able to measure yet nevertheless believe in for other reasons. So what is real and what is imaginary? Is the distinction just in our minds?” (emphasis added)

Positivism is the philosophy that we cannot determine what is real, but we can only propose hypotheses and test those against what we observe. Hawking is an atheist—an anti-theist—and has spent some time attempting to show that the Creator is unneeded in the universe.

Hawking claims that imaginary time is as real as real time, only that it is travelling in a different direction.3 He claims that ‘before’ the big bang time was imaginary and thus there was no time. Imaginary time may have “always existed” he said, but because we have no idea of what the laws of physics were ‘before’ the big bang, and there is no way to measure what happened ‘before’ the big bang, hence there is no point including time back then in a discussion of our universe. Continue reading

No CMB shadows: an argument against the big bang that can no longer be sustained

I have previously made the argument that the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation, ‘light’ allegedly from the big bang fireball, casts no shadows in the foreground of galaxy clusters.1 If the big bang were true, the light from the fireball should cast a shadow in the foreground of all galaxy clusters. This is because the source of the CMB radiation, in standard big bang cosmology, is what is known as the “last scattering surface“.

The last scattering surface is the stage of the big bang fireball that describes the situation when big bang photons cooled to about 1100 K. At that stage of the story those photons separated from the plasma that had previously kept them bound. Then expansion of the universe is alleged to have further cooled those photons to about 3 K, which brings them into the microwave band. Thus if these CMB photons cast no shadows in front of all galaxy clusters it spells bad news for the big bang hypothesis.

Fig 1: Schematic of the Sunyaev-Zel’dovich effect that results in an increase in higher energy (or blue shifted) photons of the CMB when seen through the hot gas present in cluster of galaxies. Credit: astro.uchicago.edu/sza/primer.html

The CMB radiation shadowing effect, or more precisely the cooling effect, by galaxy clusters is understood in terms of the Sunyaev–Zel’dovich Effect (SZE). This is where microwave photons are isotropically scattered by electrons in the hot inter-cluster medium (ICM) (see Fig. 1) via an inverse Compton process leaving a net decrement (or cooling) in the foreground towards the observer in the solar system. Of those CMB photons coming from behind the galaxy cluster less emerge with the same trajectory due to the scattering. Even though the scattered photons pick up energy from the ICM the number of more energetic CMB photons is reduced. After modelling what this new CMB photon energy (hence temperature) should be, a decrement can, in principle, be detected.

Starting around 2003 some published investigations, using this SZE, looked for the expected shadowing/cooling effect in galaxy clusters. No significant cooling effect was found, by multiple studies, including the WMAP satellite data.2 This was considered to be very anomalous, significantly different from what was expected if the CMB radiation was from the big bang fireball. The anomaly was even confirmed by the early Planck satellite survey data in 2011.3

Continue reading

Let There Be Light

by Jim Gibson

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.” (Genesis 1:1-5)

As someone once said, “the first four words of the Bible are some of the most sublime words ever written.” In fact, that first creation day contains mysteries that the mind of man will never be able to comprehend. In this feeble attempt, I want to highlight just a few of these unfathomable secrets. This is not a scientific paper as such, rather, it is theological which contains inherent scientific concepts. Obviously, what I will present to the reader are just my own beliefs and thoughts regarding some of the mysteries involved in God’s creation of light.

In the beginning. This phrase denotes the element of time. Thus, it speaks to the origin of time itself. As a biblical creationist, I accept the fact that God as Creator exists outside the boundaries of time and His own creation. Here, in this verse, it alludes to the idea that God created time. To have time, matter must exist.

This verse has become a gateway for a controversy that exists within Christianity today. Many Christians support the idea that God used the vehicle of evolution to bring about His creation. Those that do so also embrace cosmic evolution. Cosmic evolution accepts the alleged Big Bang and the belief that our universe “evolved” over a period of billions of years. If one were to take the plain meaning of Jesus’ words, then they would discover that Jesus did not share this view. In fact, his words denounce such an inference. We find in scripture that Jesus placed the creation of man at the very beginning of creation. There is not a gap or billions of years found within the Creation Week. If Jesus were to address the Church today regarding this issue, I believe He might begin with these words, “Have ye not read.” The Jews of Jesus’ day knew exactly His point of reference when He used the word “beginning” in the passages below.

“…Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female.” (Matthew 19:4)

“But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female.” (Mark 10:6)

God created. God is the “First Cause.” He is transcendent of His creation, that is, God exists apart from and not subject to that which He created. To the secular scientist, this is incomprehensible. The Hebrew word “bara” is here translated created. The Latin phrase for this word is ex nihilo, which essentially means, “out of nothing.” As others have pointed out, this word is only used in the context with God, never man. Contrary to secular science, and the supposed Big Bang, there really was nothing. There were no quanta (energy particles) or matter. What an awesome God we serve! True are the words of the writer of the book of Hebrews, “For the word of God is quick (living), and powerful…” Yes, He spoke, and matter began to exist as did time.

The heaven and the earth. Many Hebrew scholars say that the phrase, heaven and earth, is a merism. A merism is a term which means that two contrasting words denote the entirety or totality of a thing. The example given for it in a dictionary is, “I searched high and low.” In other words, he searched everywhere. So, in this first verse, the Bible declares that God created all matter which He would use to form the universe. Continue reading

Book Review: “Setting Aside All Authority” by Christopher M. Graney

The book “Setting Aside All Authority” comprises 10 chapters, 270 pages. The last half of the book is largely made up of two appendices: (A) the first English translation of Monsignor Francesco Ingoli’s essay to Galileo (disputing the Copernican system on the eve of the Inquisition’s condemnation of it in 1616) and (B) excerpts from the Italian Jesuit astronomer Giovanni Battista Riccioli’s reports on his experiments with falling bodies. The book is published by the University of Notre Dame, 2015.

Cover of the book. The cover image is taken from Riccioli’s New Almagest (1651). Note the heliocentric system (top left) compared to the Tychonic hybrid geocentric system (bottom right).

The main thesis of the book challenges the notion that around the time of Galileo, and the beginning of the Copernican revolution, opponents of the heliocentric worldview, championed by Galileo, were primarily motivated by religion or dictates from the authority of the Roman Catholic Church.

The author, Christopher M. Graney, uses newly translated works by anti-Copernican writers of the time to demonstrate that they predominantly used scientific arguments and not religion in their opposition to the Copernican system. Graney argues that it was largely a science-versus-science debate, rather than church authority-versus-science as often incorrectly portrayed.

In the 1651, the Jesuit Giovanni Battista Riccioli published his book the New Almagest wherein he outlined 77 arguments against the Copernican system (pro-geocentrism) and 49 arguments in favour of it. Most arguments against the Copernican heliocentric system could be answered, at that time, but Riccioli, using the then available telescopic observations of the size of stars, was able to construct a powerful scientific argument that the pro-Copernican astronomers could not answer without an appeal to the greatness of God.

Graney largely uses Riccioli’s New Almagest, which argues in favour not of the Ptolemaic system but of the hybrid Tychonic system, where the Earth is immobile at the centre of the universe, the sun, the moon and the stars circle the earth; but the planets circle the sun. Riccioli built on the work of the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, and built a strong scientific case against the heliocentric system, at least through the middle of the seventeenth century, which was several decades after the advent of the telescope.

The main two arguments presented in the book, both scientific, are the size of stars and the effect on falling bodies.

Falling bodies

If the earth were rotating, then a falling body should hit a point on the surface of the earth at a definite distance from a vertical line to the surface, if dropped vertically. The same argument could be made for cannon balls fired in different directions on the earth’s surface. These type of discussions and arguments carried on for a century, and even Isaac Newton got involved. What we now know as the Coriolis force, a ‘fictitious’ force, resulting from the rotation of the planet on the fired or dropped objects could not be measured with the required precision in the 17th century.

Continue reading

The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning and the Universe Itself? Part 9

Part 9 of my review of the book: “The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning and the Universe Itself,” by Sean M. Carroll. Part 8 is found here.

Purpose without a Creator

The next chapter entitled “Emergent Purpose” is about finding some sort of ‘purpose’ as an emergent property of evolution. He is quite clear that evolution itself is undirected but suggests that we humans can find some purpose in it.

He starts out with a question “Why do giraffes have such long necks?” and gives 4 possible answers, 3 of which evolutionist would believe. Option 1 he declares incorrect, which is Lamarckian, yet actually closer to Darwin’s original idea. Options 2 is the common way of explaining neo-Darwinian evolution, with mutations conferring better fitness. Option 3 is about sexual selection and option 4 is in line with his overall message of the book.

“Given the laws of physics, and the initial state of the universe, and our location in the cosmos, collections of atoms in the shape of long-necked giraffes came into existence 14 billion years after the Big Bang.” (pp.291-2)

None of this sentence has any credibility. Only by assuming everything to be true in the evolution story from the big bang to current day could you write this. So it is not a science statement but a theological statement. He says it avoids any particular evolutionary story, but it is not hard to imagine that the words “came into existence” does not mean at the hands of the Creator, but rather is a big bang. Otherwise there would be no need to start in the big bang, nor include the words “our location in the cosmos”. He says this is a poetic-naturalism way of speaking about emergent properties of the biological world. But that could only be true if you could demonstrate experimentally that each requirement in the statement is true.

Then from this sort of story, which he calls “the fundamental description of reality” (p.292) because of the big bang, expansion of the universe and the increase in entropy with time, he says

“… these emergent pictures invoke words like ‘purpose’ and ‘adaptation,’ even though those ideas are nowhere to be found in the underlying mechanistic behavior of reality” (p.293)


“How could evolution, which itself is ultimately purely physical, bring these utterly new kinds of things into existence? It’s a natural thing to worry about. The process of evolution is unplanned and unguided.”

“There is no general principle along the lines of ‘new kinds of things cannot naturally arise in the course of undirected evolution.’ Things like ‘stars’ and ‘galaxies’ come to be in a universe where they formerly didn’t exist. Why not purposes and information?” (p.293)

Continue reading