Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Nobel Prize Goes to Scientists Who Helped Confirm the Big Bang

[Here is further evidence for Big Bang cosmology, the reigning theory of the origin of the universe. Since the theory requires the absolute origination of the universe out of nothing, it provides strong scientific support for creation ex nihilo (Genesis 1:1). See also the NPR write up. This is where I first heard it.]

Mather, Smoot Win Nobel Prize for Big Bang Research (Update2)
By Daniel Frykholm

Oct. 3, 2006 (Bloomberg)

U.S. scientists John Mather and George Smoot won the Nobel Prize in physics for research into cosmic microwave background radiation that helped explain the origins of galaxies and stars.

Mather, 60, and Smoot, 61, used measurements from a satellite launched by NASA in 1989 for results that support the Big Bang scenario, the Stockholm-based Nobel Foundation said in a statement on its Web site today. ``This year the physics prize is awarded for work that looks back into the infancy of the universe,'' said the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which awards the prize.

Mather, who is senior astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, and Smoot, a professor of physics at the University of California, will share the award of 10 million kronor ($1.37 million). Mather coordinated the process of measuring the results from the Cosmic Background Explorer satellite, while Smoot was responsible for measuring small differences in the temperature of the radiation.

Under the Big Bang theory, the universe developed from a state of intense heat and the cosmic microwave background radiation is a relic of this earliest phase of the universe's existence. If the theory is correct, the radiation today would have a form called ``blackbody,'' which Mather and Smoot proved from the measurements by the satellite, the academy said.

Only Scenario

Their work increased support for the Big Bang theory as it is the only scenario that predicts the kind of cosmic microwave background radiation measured by the satellite, the academy said. ``The results received a standing ovation'' at an astronomy conference, the academy said.

Smoot's measurements also showed there are extremely small differences in the temperature of the radiation, which show how matter in the universe began to form after the Big Bang. ``This was necessary if the galaxies, stars and ultimately life like us were to be able to develop,'' the academy said. . .


Kevin Winters said...

The Big Bang does not demonstrate that the universe came from "nothing" (in the nihil sense). The most that may be said is that the matter in the universe was in an undifferentiated state, not that it didn't exist at all.

Douglas Groothuis said...

That is not the received view of it. See Robert Jastrow, God and the Astonomers or the treatment in Moreland and Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview.

Kevin Winters said...

I would beg to differ. Paul Davies, whom you favorably quote in "Christianity and Science, Strangers, Enemies, or Friends," states the following in reference to the "nothing" prior to the Big Bang:

"The idea of space being created out of nothing is a subtle one that many people find hard to understand, especially if they are used to thinking of space as already being 'nothing'. The physicist, however, regards space as more like an elastic medium than as emptiness. Indeed, as we shall see in later chapters that, because of quantum effects, even the purest vacuum is a ferment of activity and is crowded with evanescent structures." (God and the New Physics, 18)

Later in that same work, he says that "if the prediction of an initial singularity is taken at face value, the universe began in a state of infinite temperature, infinite density and infinite energy" (Ibid, 49), which hardly sounds like "nothing" in the nihil sense required by creation ex nihilo. If quantum laws are active in the singularity (which may or may not be the case; if it is truly of infinite density, then the singularity is below the Planck scale, so quantum laws may not apply), then there are a swarm of virtual particles and activity (if anything through fields), though wholly undifferentiated. Again, no "nothing" in the ex nihilo sense.

James Glanz, in a 1999 article in Science ("Which Way to the Big Bang?," vol. 248, 1448-1451), refers to the current debates concerning whether we even can say anything about the singularity or what was occurring prior to the Big Bang (citing Stephen Hawking [a favorite of William Lane Craig] as a opponent to the view that we can, in fact, meaningfully speak of the "beginning"). Adolph Grunbaum (with whom Craig has had a few spats) has argued (well in my mind) that our discussions of t=0 are inherently problematic, whether we are speaking of divine or secular cosmology (see, for example, his "Narlikar's 'Creation' of the Big Bang Universe Was a Mere Origination," Philosophy of Science 60/4 (1993), 638-646).

Brian Greene, in his Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality (2004), states:

"And if we continue our journey, right back to nearly time zero itself-- the time of the big bang— the entire known universe is compressed to a size that makes the dot at the end of this sentence look gargantuan. The densities at such an early epoch were so great, and the conditions were so extreme, that the most refined physical theories we currently have are unable to give us insight into what happened. For reasons that will become increasingly clear, the highly successful laws of physics developed in the twentieth century break down under such intense conditions, leaving us rudderless in our quest to understand the beginning of time. We will see shortly that recent developments are providing a hopeful beacon, but for now we acknowledge our incomplete understanding of what happened at the beginning by putting a fuzzy patch on the far left of the cosmic spacetime loaf--our verson of the terra incognita on maps of old." (247-248)

More could be given, but Moreland/Craig's sense of security in the standard Big Bang model is not felt in the wider physics community for whom there are many other questions and anomalies that need to be addressed.