What Does It Mean?

It’s worth taking a pause right now to consider where we’ve come. We started with a brief biography of physics, moving from the earth-centered view of things to a vast universe that might be just one of virtually infinite universes. This view is called the multiverse.  We’ve seen that the Big Bang Theory is currently the predominant theory on how the universe came into being. It is now almost universally (no pun intended) recognized as the accepted theory because it and it alone explains what we observe.

By running the Big Bang backwards we are led to an inescapable conclusion: that everything was all together in one place at one time. That instant in time is the Big Bang itself, the instant when immeasurable energy exploded. Both space and time began at that instant. We’ve speculated on what caused the Big Bang and we’ve run into a knotty problem that occupies physicists today. How do we reconcile General Relativity and String Theory? Is there one unifying theory? This unifying theory is given the name of the Grand Unifying Theory, inelegantly known as GUT. Too bad scientists have fallen prey to the seemingly insatiable desire to create an acronym for everything.  But science is no different than anyone else. We have reduced the Supreme Court of the United States to SCOTUS, which looks an awful lot like scrotum. But I digress.

We have seen that there are three possibilities for why the universe is the way it is. The first is that it is a random event. After the Big Bang there were almost infinite possibilities for how the universe could turn out and it turned out this way. In other words, we won the cosmic lottery; otherwise we wouldn’t be here to ask such questions. The second possibility is that of the 10500 universes that exist in the String Theory-predicted multiverse, the odds are that at least one of them would be like ours, that is, capable of sustaining life. The final possibility is that, given how exquisitely fine-tuned our universe is, it must be the product of intelligent design.

We purposely chose this last postulate because it gives us much more room to let our imaginations run wild as to what form this intelligent design takes, is this a Supreme Being in the classical sense of God, does time exist for God, what was God doing before he created the universe and what is He doing now. Along the way we rejected two other possibilities, one suggested by Isaac Asimov that this universe is the creation of a super-computer created by another civilization; and the String Theory variant of that that we are all simulations in a highly evolved Farmville game being run by a seventh-grader somewhere.

So, where we are is with the proposition that a Supreme Being, God, created this universe. The Big Bang is consistent with Genesis. What does that mean for us?

First of all, it gives real problems to the evolutionists. Evolution takes a similar tack as String Theory. Over time, given so many variants in organisms, we evolved. Evolution has no need for God, just as LaPlace had no need in his theory. But if God created this universe for us, doesn’t it make sense that He also placed animals, plants, microbes and all other forms of life here as well? If evolution is going to stand on the proposition that God isn’t necessary for life to have developed on Earth then it better explain the existence of the universe in the first place.

With the almost certainty of further offending anyone other than a physicist, I’ll close this post with one of my favorite quotations

on science. This is from Ernest Rutherford:   File:Ernest Rutherford cropped.jpg

                       All science is either physics or stamp collecting.

By this he meant that every other science is simply concerned with categorizing information.

Does Time Exist for God?

We’ve touched on this issue when we asked, what was God doing before He made the universe? We answered this in part by postulating that God exists outside of time, where things are constantly present before Him. But does that mean time doesn’t exist to God?

In the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C), section 130, verse 4, the question is asked “Is not the reckoning of God’s time, angel’s time, prophet’s time, and man’s time according to the planet on which they reside?” In verse 5 the answer is given, “Yes. But there are no angels who minister to this earth but those who do belong or have belonged to it.” There are many concepts expressed in these verses, among them that, as we saw in a previous post, God has created many worlds, though He gives an account only of this world, and those worlds apparently have angels that minister to those worlds. We’ll discuss this later. For our purposes today, these verses make it clear that time is measured differently to God and to man.  Verse 7 appears to address our postulate that God exists in a state where things are constantly present before Him. That verse says “But they [the angels appointed to this earth] reside on a globe like a sea of glass where all things for their glory are manifest, past, present and future, and are continually before the Lord.”

Note this doesn’t say that angels reside on a globe of glass. It says that it is like a sea of glass. With modern technology it’s easy to imagine a much more advanced version of the computerized table top where information is projected onto a giant touch screen. But it does support the proposition, first made by St. Augustine, that God exists outside of man’s time and that all things are constantly present before Him.

Are there other scriptures to support this?

In the Pearl of Great Price, Abraham 5:13, Abraham writes “Now I, Abraham, saw that it was after the Lord’s time . . . for as yet the Gods had not appointed unto Adam his reckoning.” This occurred before Eve was created. Apparently even after man was created time had not begun in the sense that we now measure it (Adam’s reckoning had not yet been appointed or created). This should answer the argument raised in the play Inherit the Wind where Henry Drummond asks Matthew Brady whether Genesis’ account of the creation is literal in the sense of taking only seven days. Although Frederick March’s Brady stands by the literal creation in seven days despite being made to look the fool by Spencer Tracy’s Henry Drummond, it should be clear that the use of the word “day” in Genesis is intended simply as a designation of a period during which certain things were accomplished. During the first “day” unorganized matter was gathered together and formed into a world similar to worlds previously formed. During other indeterminate periods of time other portions of creation took place.

None of this is contrary to what we have seen from the Big Bang theory. After the initial explosion energy spewed into newly created space, energy transformed into matter, matter coalesced to form stars and galaxies which were born, lived and died millions of times over before this earth was created.  It’s interesting that science can speak of the passage of billions of years (13.7 approximately) since the Big Bang despite the fact that our sun, by which we measure those years, is a fairly recent addition to the cosmos. Since science is comfortable with this seeming non sequitur, science should also be able to accept Genesis’ account of a creation in seven days without getting its collective panties in a wad over whether those were 24-hour days or not.

There’s no way to prove that time exists for God but neither can science disprove such a notion.

Series and Parallel Universes

Carried to its logical conclusion string theory leads to a multiverse, or landscape, of independent universes. There are two ways of viewing the multiverse and its constituent universes. There is a series view and a parallel view. In the series view, the multiverse is one universe but we, in our little pocket universe, can only see a limited portion of the multiverse. The rest is so far away and is moving so fast that information (light) from those nether portions cannot ever reach us. This boundary between the observable and the unobservable is the horizon. Because we cannot get any information from beyond the horizon, whatever happens there is irrelevant to us. Events beyond the horizon can have no effect on our pocket universe.

The parallel view of the multiverse is more interesting. In that view there are many universes evolving simultaneously. At 10-35 seconds after the Big Bang “bubble” or parallel universes began to form because of slight variations. In the parallel or many-worlds view, each time there is more than one possibility, the universe splits, one for each possibility. Consider a leaf on a tree. The leaf can fall or it can remain on the tree. At that juncture the universe splits, one for the possibility that the leaf falls and one for the possibility that the leaf remains on the tree. At that instant both universes are identical except for the one leaf, but from that time forward each develops independently of the other. What is “now”’ to us lies in the pasts of innumerable future universes. Everything that can happen does happen. Perhaps not in “our” universe but in one of the future universes.

The parallel view of the multiverse is what science uses to rebut the need for a creator. With so many evolving universes at least one was destined to be suitable for life. But this view falls apart unless evidence is found for the multiverse. Right now it’s a conclusion to be drawn from M-Theory, which in turn is derived from string theory, neither of which can be proven.


Omega-Point-Multiverse (Photo credit: Wikipediay, which in turn is derived from string theory, neither of which is capable of proof.

It seems we have three possibilities. One, the multiverse exists and we are here simply due to the laws of probability. With so many parallel universes one of the 10500 and probably more were suitable for life. Two, it’s all just a fluke. Like the one bridge hand dealt out of six billion possible hands, we got lucky. Three, there is a creator or some sort of intelligent design behind this universe.

Neither of the first two possibilities is very fertile ground for further speculation. Only statisticians get excited over probability and if this was just a fluke then that’s all that need or can be said about why we’re here.

But if a creator or intelligent design is thrown in the mix all sorts of intriguing questions pop up. What form does the creator take? What was happening before the Big Bang? If time began at the Big Bang was there even a “before” to talk about?

More Evidence of a Creator?

English: René Descartes, the French philosophe...

English: René Descartes, the French philosopher, by the French engraver Balthasar Moncornot. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We’ve already made note of the fact that the big bang looks a lot like the Bible’s description of the formation of the world. We’ve noted that the rate of expansion of the early universe had to be within tolerances on the order of 1 part in 1015 either way. That much more and stars wouldn’t have formed; that much less and everything would have collapsed by now. In the last post we saw the asymmetry between matter and antimatter necessary for the stars and galaxies to form and that that asymmetry is on the order  of one part in 109. As they say in TV commercials, “but wait! There’s more.”

If the asymmetry between matter and antimatter had been smaller, say one part in 1011 there wouldn’t have been enough matter for galaxies to form.  And if it had been greater, on the order of one part in 108 the abundant matter would have congealed into enormous lumps without forming discrete stars.

The same surprises exist in the world of particle physics.  If the strong force that binds atomic nuclei together were a few percentage points greater quarks wouldn’t form protons.  If it were five percent weaker stars couldn’t make heavy elements past hydrogen. If the weak force was much stronger the big bang would have cooked atoms all the way up to iron, leaving no lighter elements. If gravity was stronger stars would be mostly weak red dwarfs; much weaker and they would be fast-burning blue giants.  Either way so-called normal stars like our Sun would be non-existent or rare.

Many have seized on these incredibly improbable coincidences as evidence that some “Cosmic Designer” is at work. It is ironic that cosmology and physics can be conscripted to give evidence of a creator. This notion that the Goldilocks universe in which we live didn’t happen by chance is called the Anthropic Principle. The Anthropic Principle can be expressed many ways but the most common is, “the universe is the way it is because we are here to see it. If it weren’t the way it is, we wouldn’t be here.” This is reminiscent of Rene Descartes statement Je pense, donc je suis (I think, therefore I am, or cogito ergo sum in Latin). Descartes, a French philosopher of the 17th Century, set out to develop a set of fundamental principles that one can know without any doubt. As a starting point he had to prove his own existence. This he did by concluding that because he thinks, he exists. “The simple meaning of the phrase,” he wrote, “is that if one is skeptical of existence, that is in and of itself proof he does exist.” Similarly, the universe exists as it does because we are here to question its existence.

Does all of this mean there is someone or something behind the big bang? Consider this hypothetical. You have been sentenced to death by a firing squad of 100 trained sharpshooters. You stand blindfolded and hear “ready, aim, FIRE” followed by a volley of shots. Suddenly you realize you are not dead. Under these circumstances the law says you may go free. Is it not realistic to see a higher power behind this? Aren’t the odds against all 100 sharpshooters missing you so astronomical as to be impossible in the absence of divine intervention?

On the other hand, the odds of a bridge player being dealt a particular hand are something like one in six billion. Does the bridge player marvel at the hand she has been dealt or does she simply play the hand she has? Most bridge players play the hand they are dealt rather than wonder why they got that particular hand, since all hands are equally likely.

Many scientists have taken the latter position — that the universe just happened this way. But to bolster their position against the “astronomical odds” argument, they suggest that one view of reality is that there is an enormous number of existing universes, on the order of 10500 (1 followed by 500 zeroes). With so many universes it is virtually certain that one of those is suitable for life. Therefore the Anthropic Principle holds true: the universe is this way because we are here to see it. We need not wonder at this particular state any more than we wonder at any other state. By making the universe non-unique in the sense that this is not the only one there is, the need for a creator is eliminated and replaced by simple laws of probability.

So where did these 10500 universes come from? For that we need to enter the world of string theory.

What is Stuff Made Of?

The Standard Model starts out with this simple question: what is stuff made of?  Until about 100 years ago the answer would have been “atoms.”  The very word atom comes from a Greek word meaning “indivisible.”  Scientists thought atoms were the solid building blocks from which everything else was made.  Ernest Rutherford and others showed that atoms are mostly empty space.  There was a dense nucleus made up of protons (positive electric charge) and neutrons (neutral), surrounded by the cloud of negatively charged electrons.  For a time protons, neutrons and electrons were considered fundamental particles, indivisible any further.  Then in the 1960s “atom smashers,” machines that accelerate particles to extremely high speeds and smash them into each other, showed that protons and neutrons were composed of partially charged particles called quarks.  There was also a weightless particle called a neutrino that could pass through thousands of miles of solid iron without slowing down.  But things were still fairly simple.  There were quarks, electrons and neutrinos. Quarks are incredibly tiny.  If an atom was the size of the Earth, a proton would be a football stadium and a quark would be a tennis ball.

In the next decade, more powerful particle accelerators, capable of accelerating particles to near light speed, demonstrated hundreds of fundamental particles.  All seemed to fall into one of 12 categories of fermions, depending on their mass.  The lowest level of fermions contains normal matter:  up and down quarks, electrons and neutrinos.  The next two levels contain fermions that exist only fleetingly in particle accelerators.  Each of the 12 fermions has a corresponding antiparticle that can only be created with a sufficiently energetic collision.

English: Standard model of elementary particle...

English: Standard model of elementary particles: the 12 fundamental fermions and 4 fundamental bosons. Please note that the masses of certain particles are subject to periodic reevaluation by the scientific community. The values currently reflected in this graphic are as of 2008 and may have been adjusted since. For the latest consensus, please visit the Particle Data Group website linked below. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a counterpart to fermions there are four bosons that carry all forms of energy.  Photons carry electromagnetic energy (light and all other wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation). W and Z bosons carry the weak force, which gives rise to radioactivity; and the strong force that binds atomic nuclei together.  Finally there is the hypothetical graviton that carries the force of gravity.  The graviton has never been observed.

The theoretical framework that describes the 12 fermions and four bosons is called the Standard Model. The Standard Model does for particle physics what Newtonian physics first did for the observable world (the world we live in) and General Relativity did for the cosmos. It explains what we see. The Standard Model predicts that the four fundamental forces, which vary greatly in their strength, will be unified at sufficiently high energy. This prediction was partially proven in the 1970s when the electromagnetic and weak forces were unified. Like Newtonian physics and General Relativity, the Standard Model is incomplete. It fails to explain why there are three levels of quarks and light particles. It leaves open the possibility that quarks may be further divisible. For a time scientists theorized another boson called the Higgs boson that gives all other particles their mass in order to preserve the Standard Model.  In July 2012 scientists using the Large Hadron Collider at CERN discovered the Higgs boson. This gave a huge boost to the Standard Model, which some felt had outlived its usefulness.

Why is this important to us? Let’s revisit the Big Bang. One millionth of a second after the explosion the universe is about the size of our solar system and is as dense as air. It’s 10,000 times hotter than the core of the sun. Particles and antiparticles appear, collide and annihilate each other at a staggering rate. By ten millionths of a second after the Big Bang expansion has cooled the universe to the point that particles and antiparticles can no longer form from the radiation. The number of particles and antiparticles is fixed and they begin a war of mutual extermination. By 100 microseconds, a twentieth of the time it takes a bee to flap its wings, it’s all over. All the particles and antiparticles have paired up like guys and gals at a dance. There are no wallflowers. All matter is extinguished and the universe contains only radiation.

But wait, you say. That would be the “nothing” universe and we already know there is “something” because we’re here to wonder how it all began. And you would be right. For some unknown reason the symmetry between matter and antimatter wasn’t perfect. It was off by one part in a billion. For every billion antiparticles there were a billion and one particles. When the last particle of antimatter paired with a particle of matter there were a billion photons for every particle left, and no antiparticles. The photons continued to spread out to be discovered billions of years later as cosmic microwave background radiation and the remaining particles combined under the force of gravity to become 100 billion galaxies, one of which contains a very ordinary star around which eight planets revolve, one of which we call home.

How big is one part in a billion? Imagine someone has laid out pennies over an area three miles on a side. All pennies show heads except one. That one penny showing tails is the one particle of matter left after the billion pennies showing heads were annihilated by another billion pennies showing tails.  It’s from those leftover tails that the universe is made.

Conclusive Evidence

The fifteen years, from 1951 to about 1965, brought a number of developments that gradually weighed in favor of the Big Bang Theory.  Among these was the confirmation that radio galaxies exist.  Radio galaxies are sources of radio waves.  Astronomers had been aware of a far-away source of radio waves for some years but the debate over whether the source was a star or a galaxy was relevant to the Steady State or Big Bang Theory debate.  The theory was that radio galaxies were assumed to be young galaxies.  Under the Big Bang Theory, young galaxies should be very far away but under the Steady State Theory, young galaxies should be distributed more or less evenly throughout the universe.  Therefore, if the distribution of radio galaxies could be determined, that would provide evidence for one theory or another.

By 1961 over 5,000 radio galaxies had been discovered and their distances determined, some by direct observation and some by statistical methods.  The result clearly favored the Big Bang Theory: radio galaxies tended to be very far from the Milky Way.  Still, there had been no knockout punch one way or the other.  That changed in 1965.

Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson were working together at Bell Laboratories in 1963 in a new field called radio astronomy.  They both had an interest in radio sources in the universe and convinced Bell to let them use the radio telescope during down time.  In order to understand what the telescope was “seeing,” Penzias and Wilson had to filter out background noise.  This noise is exactly what you hear between stations on a radio dial.  It is electromagnetic radiation that comes from any number of sources: overhead power lines, a power plant, a competing and nearer radio station, for example.  To study distant radio sources, Penzias and Wilson pointed their telescope at an area of the sky where there should be little interference.  To their surprise, there was a persistent background noise.  The two tried everything to account for this but couldn’t.  Most astronomers would have ignored it because, though annoying, it wasn’t very significant.

I took the picture at a conference where Arno ...

I took the picture at a conference where Arno Penzias was a member of the panel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recall that in the 1940s Gamow, Alpher and Herman had predicted cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation as a left-over signal from the Big Bang.  Because at that time there was no way to detect CMB, their theory had languished and now, 20 years later, was all but forgotten.  Certainly Penzias and Wilson weren’t aware of it at the time.  Toward the end of 1964 Penzias attended a conference in Montreal, Canada, where he casually mentioned this phenomenon to Bernard Burke of Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  A couple of months later Burke excitedly contacted Penzias to tell him that two theoreticians at Princeton, Robert Dicke and James Peebles, had presented a paper in which they predicted CMB (they, too, were unaware of Gamow’s, Alpher’s and Herman’s work two decades earlier).

Suddenly everything fell into place for Penzias and Wilson.  The background noise had nothing to do with extraneous power sources or even “white dielectric material” (pigeon droppings) left on the horn of the telescope as they had once supposed.  Instead, they had quite unwittingly and unintentionally proved the Big Bang Theory.  Not only did the Big Bang Theory account for CMB but the Steady State Theory had no place for it to exist.  Over the next 13 years a number of astronomers verified CMB, measured it and compared it to the predictions of the Big Bang Theory.  Everything matched.  In 1978 Penzias and Wilson received the Nobel Prize in physics for their discovery.  This firmly cemented the Big Bang Theory as the explanation for how the universe came to be.  That conclusion, however, only raised another question: what caused the Big Bang?  As Carl Sagan said: “Ten or twenty billion years ago, something happened — the big bang, the event that began our universe.  Why it happened is the greatest mystery we know.  That it happened is reasonably clear.”

WMAP image of the (extremely tiny) anisotropie...

WMAP image of the (extremely tiny) anisotropies in the cosmic background radiation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Religion Weighs In

Most scientific debates take place in coffee houses and scientific conferences.  But with something as fundamental as how the universe began the public got involved.  George Gamow was in large part responsible for the publicity by writing articles for popular magazines.  Eventually even the Catholic Church got involved.  In 1951 Pope Pius XII gave an address in which he praised the Big Bang Theory as proof  of the existence of a creator:

“Thus everything seems to indicate that the material universe had a mighty beginning in time, endowed as it was with vast reserves of energy, in virtue of which, at first rapidly and then ever more slowly, it evolved into its present state. . . . In fact it would seem that present-day science, with one sweeping step back across millions of centuries, has succeeded in bearing witness to that primordial Fiat lux uttered at the moment when, along with matter, there burst forth from nothing a sea of light and radiation, while the particles of chemical elements split and formed into millions of galaxies. . . . Therefore there is a Creator.  Therefore God exists!”

image of pope Pius xii

image of pope Pius xii (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The atheist and jokester Gamow seized on this and mischievously quoted the Pope in a research paper he published in 1952, knowing it would annoy many of his colleagues who were anxious to avoid any overlap between science and religion.  The large majority of physicists believed that the validity of the Big Bang Theory had nothing to do with God and that the Pope’s endorsement of it should not be used in a serious debate.  Supporters of the Steady State Theory began to use the Pope’s address as a way of mocking the Big Bang Theory.  British physicist William Bonner suggested that the Big Bang Theory was part of a religious conspiracy to shore up Christianity.  “The underlying motive,” he said, “is of course to bring in God as a creator.  It seems like the opportunity Christian theology has been waiting for ever since science began to depose religion from the minds of rational men in the seventeenth century.”

Bonner was clearly referring to Galileo’s experience.  Since that unfortunate encounter between religion and science, science had portrayed a religious person as someone who checked his intellect at the door of the church when he entered.  This wariness toward religion sometimes bordered on paranoia.  English Nobel laureate George Thomson observed: “Probably every physicist would believe in creation if the Bible had not unfortunately said something about it many years ago and made it seem old-fashioned.”

English: George Gamow (1904—1968) — Russian-bo...

English: George Gamow (1904—1968) — Russian-born theoretical physicist and cosmologist. Русский: Георгий Гамов (1904—1968) — советский и американский физик-теоретик, астрофизик и популяризатор науки. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By the end of the decade of the 1950s, scientists were fairly equally divided between the two theories.  Both models had established themselves as serious contenders but neither had proven conclusive.  Both were based on observations that were made at the limits of science’s technology, so the “facts” deduced from those observations had to be taken not lightly but with critical examination.  Furthermore there were a number of highly intricate connections between the facts that were necessary in order to arrive at the final version of each theory.