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Darkness Falls on Dark Energy

on August 22, 2009

National Geographic News: “Dark Energy’s Demise? New Theory Doesn’t Use the ForceThough once a high-flying idea, the notion of dark energy has received another devastating blow from two mathematicians.

Dark energy was originally postulated to help fudge the numbers, in a sense: the universe was moving apart faster than astronomers had predicted, and dark energy was inserted as a factor to explain the mystery. Nonetheless, the inability to detect dark energy has meant a steady controversy among astrophysicists and mathematicians over what it is and whether it exists.

The inability to detect dark energy has meant a steady controversy among astrophysicists and mathematicians over what it is and whether it exists.

The mathematicians have solved equations matching up with a recently posited counter to the dark energy explanation: that, instead, we live in an unusual, low-density region of space that distorts our perspective of the rest of the universe. (We previously covered the debate—and the idea that the mathematicians are advancing—on May 17, October 4, and December 13 of last year.)

“If correct, these solutions can account for the anomalous accelerated expansion of galaxies without dark energy," said one of the mathematicians, the University of California–Davis’s Blake Temple. (His colleague is Joel Smoller of the University of Michigan.)

But there’s one major problem that troubles many astronomers with Temple and Smoller’s solution: it would imply that our solar system and the Milky Way Galaxy are in a unique part of the universe, caught in a ripple. That idea would violate the Copernican principle, widely held by big bang cosmologists, which essentially states that our solar system (and galaxy) cannot be in a central or otherwise privileged position within the universe. After all, such a position would not make sense given only the big bang and random chance—why us? Alexey Vikhlinin of Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics voices the point: “You have to wonder why we are in the middle of this [ripple]? Why not somebody else?”

We can’t help but think that sounds like secular scientists are saying, “We’re not special, no matter what the evidence indicates.” That said, even the mathematicians challenging dark energy are working within the big bang framework; the entire debate is intimately wrapped up in an understanding of astrophysics based on the big bang.

In that sense, we have no specific stake in who wins the debate over dark energy’s existence, although we appreciate findings that challenge the Copernican principle. Our position, rooted in Genesis, is in part reflected by even the many non-creationists who dismiss the big bang model. As stated in an open letter, a group of such thinkers stated, “[T]he big bang theory can boast of no quantitative predictions that have subsequently been validated by observation.” The big bang is not a good scientific model, but rather an unprovable historical speculation layered with rescuing devices when it doesn’t match the evidence. As for the fate of dark energy, we will have to wait and see.

Remember, if you see a news story that might merit some attention, let us know about it! (Note: if the story originates from the Associated Press, Fox News, MSNBC, the New York Times, or another major national media outlet, we will most likely have already heard about it.) And thanks to all of our readers who have submitted great news tips to us.

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