There have been recent news reports of a new cosmological theory that eliminates a beginning to the universe.1 In a first paper (henceforth referred to as Paper 1), Saurya Das and Rajat K. Bhaduri wrote about the basic assumptions of this new model.2 In a second paper (henceforth referred to as Paper 2), Ahmed Farag Ali and Saurya Das developed this cosmology.3 According to this proposed cosmology, there was no big bang. This is sure to be of interest to many people, because the big bang has been the reigning cosmological model for a half century. Some Christians see in the big bang God’s method of creation. However, many of us realize that the big bang is not biblical. Lest we be tempted to embrace this new model, we must realize that this model appears to be a return to an eternal universe, which was very commonly believed until the big bang became popular in the 1960s. At least with a big bang, the universe had a beginning, so there might be room for a Creator, but if the universe is eternal, then there is no need of God. Let us sort through this new model.
The Rise of Modern Physics
Physics underwent a revolution a century ago. Since the late seventeenth century, Newtonian physics had ruled supreme. But by the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, many experimental results did not agree with predictions of classical physics. Modern physics is founded upon two pillars: general relativity and quantum mechanics. Albert Einstein published his theory of general relativity one hundred years ago. In general relativity, time is treated in a similar manner to space, so that we now say that there is a four-dimensional space-time manifold. Space-time may be flat or curved on large scales, but the presence of large amounts of matter or energy will curve space-time locally. It is the motion of objects following straight paths through curved space-time (geodesics) that gives rise to what we see as gravitational attraction. Gravity appears to be the dominant force across the universe, so general relativity would seem to be the appropriate tool for studying cosmology, the structure of the universe. Indeed, shortly after publishing his theory of general relativity, Einstein published a cosmology based upon his theory. Nearly every cosmology since, including big bang, has been based upon general relativity.
There is an inherent fuzziness in the world of quantum mechanics.
While general relativity is appropriate when studying the largest things in the universe (such as the universe itself), quantum mechanics deals with the smallest things in the universe, such as atoms and subatomic particles. In quantum mechanics, particles have a wave nature. This is quite a departure from classical physics where particles and waves are very different entities, so there are some fundamental differences in the sorts of predictions that classical physics and quantum mechanics make about small particles. For instance, in classical physics a particle can be localized as a point. There is no fundamental limit to how accurately we can locate the position of a particle; the only limits to the precision of locating a particle are practical. However, since waves are not confined to one point but instead spread out over some distance, in quantum mechanics we cannot determine where a particle is with infinite precision. That is, there is an inherent fuzziness in the world of quantum mechanics. On scales much larger than atoms this fuzziness disappears, so we do not notice quantum mechanical effects in our everyday world. Hence, to most people the concepts of quantum mechanics seem weird. However, quantum mechanics is a very powerful theory that explains much about the atomic and subatomic world.4
General relativity and quantum mechanics are very different theories. But in physics there is a long history of unifying what had appeared to be disparate phenomenon. For instance, for a long time electricity and magnetism had seemed to be very different things, but experiments in the early nineteenth century showed that there was a relationship between them. James Clerk Maxwell, building upon the experimental work of Michael Faraday, unified electricity and magnetism into a single theory with four equations that he published in 1865.5 There is a belief that all physical theories, including general relativity and quantum mechanics, can be unified into a single theory. Einstein was working on this unification when he died 60 years ago. While much progress has come since then, we probably still are far away from this ultimate theory.
What Is This New Cosmology?
While the authors of the newly published cosmology do not claim that they have produced a full theory of quantum gravity, they suggest that their theory may be a good start. They supposed that the universe is filled with a type of particle called bosons. Physicists divide all particles into two broad classes: bosons and fermions. All particles appear to spin (although the spin of the Higgs boson is thought to be zero). For the sake of argument, imagine a particle spinning like a baseball. Like most analogies, this one has many shortcomings. For instance, while a baseball may spin at any rate, elementary particles can spin only at multiples or half-multiples of a certain fixed value. Particles that spin with integral multiples of this fundamental value are bosons; particles that spin with half-integral multiples are fermions. Electrons and protons have half-integer spin, so they are fermions. Photons, particles of light,6 have integer spin, so they are bosons. Bosons and fermions behave very differently. Nearly a century ago, Albert Einstein and Satyendra Nath Bose (for whom the boson is named) predicted that at very low temperatures bosons can assume an odd state with unusual properties. We call this odd form of matter the Bose-Einstein condensate. This state of matter has been produced and studied in the lab.
It is important in the new cosmological theory that most of the bosons assumed to fill the universe remain as a Bose-Einstein condensate. This is possible only if the temperature of the universe remains below a certain critical temperature. The critical temperature depends upon the mass of the particles. To ensure that most of the particles remain in a Bose-Einstein condensate, the particles must have very low mass. The electron is one of the lightest known particles, but the electron would have more than 500,000 times more mass than the hypothesized particles. The authors of Paper 1 suggested that their hypothetical bosons may be gravitons or axions. Gravitons are hypothetical particles that are involved with gravitational interaction. Gravitons are very difficult to detect, so we do not yet have evidence for them, though most physicists think that gravitons exist. Similarly, axions are difficult to detect, and so we have not observed them, though most physicists think that axions exist. Axions are required by the standard theory of particle physics. The authors of Paper 2 concentrated on the case in which the bosons in their model are gravitons.
The authors of the new cosmological model made further modifications to the standard approach to general relativity. They assumed a different kind of geometry, and then included quantum mechanical effects. This produced a quantum mechanical wave function that they then solved. Actually, Paper 2 made two quantum mechanical corrections. They concluded that the universe did not undergo a singularity in the past. In mathematics, a singularity is a condition where the mathematics breaks down. The classic singularity is division by zero—when one divides by zero, all sorts of errors can arise, so we conclude that division by zero is undefined. The big bang amounts to a singularity. Hence, Paper 2 reached the following conclusion:
Thus, the second quantum correction in the Friedmann equation gets rid of the big-bang singularity.7
Paper 2 claimed to solve several problems. Among those problems was the identification of dark matter and the identification of dark energy or, alternately, the cosmological constant. Dark matter has been invoked to explain strange, fast motions of objects orbiting galaxies. This new cosmology identifies dark matter as the hypothesized bosons. Dark energy, or the cosmological constant, amounts to a repulsion that space has for itself. Secular scientists think that the apparent acceleration of very distant objects in the universe is proof of this repulsion, although it should be noted that George Ellis, a well-known cosmologist, has pointed out that this conclusion could be based upon a misinterpretation of the data.8 The new cosmology suggests that this apparent repulsion is a result of a quantum mechanical wave.
If there was no big bang in the past, then how did the universe begin?
What does this new study mean? First of all, I do not expect many scientists to abandon the big bang model in favor of this new one. The big bang model is firmly entrenched (the big bang is too big to fail, so to speak), so not many scientists will give it up willingly. The discovery of the cosmic microwave background a half-century ago is taken as the great proof of the big bang model. It would require a complete reevaluation of the cosmic microwave background to dislodge the widespread support that the big bang model has. There are a few scientists who are committed to belief in an eternal universe—some of them likely will be attracted to this new model. I think that this might be the motivation of the authors of this new study. If there was no big bang in the past, then how did the universe begin? Of course, there is the option of biblical creation, but this does not seem to be the underlying belief of the authors of this new study. They have not yet indicated what they think. One possibility is that they may propose that the universe is oscillating. Normally, the idea of an oscillating universe is an infinite series of a big bang, followed by expansion, an eventual contraction, leading to a big crunch, followed by a new cycle initiated by another big bang. However, if there never was a big bang, as these authors claim, then an oscillating universe would undergo expansion and contraction without ever passing through a singularity. Another possibility is that the big bang was not a singularity, and that prior to the big bang the universe existed eternally in a state different from today.
How might other scientists object to the new theory? One avenue may be to dispute the alternate geometry used in this model. In discussing their conclusion that there was no big bang singularity in the past, the authors of Paper 2 stated the following:
This is precisely what is expected from the no-focusing of geodesics and the quantum Raychaudhuri equation.9
That is, the fix was in when they assumed a geometry that did not allow for singularities. Given the nature of their geometric assumption, it would have been difficult to reach any other conclusion. However, there are other things to quibble with, such as the manner in which the authors included quantum mechanics. In short, I do not expect this model to gain much traction, so I am not very concerned with it. Previous papers have claimed to eliminate a beginning for the universe while explaining dark energy and expansion.10 Some of these models appear good at first, but problems emerge long after the media attention.
What if a theory like this gains traction? This would be a large problem for Christians who have wedded the Genesis creation to the big bang. If we interpret Genesis in terms of the big bang, and the world were to decide to embrace some model other than the big bang, then it would undermine the authority of Scripture. This is why it is important to examine man’s ideas in light of the Bible rather than the other way around.11