Friday, August 03, 2007

Where did the Universe Come From? Part 2

Part 2: "Bird Droppings on my Telescope"

The Big Bang theory was totally rejected at first. But those who supported it had predicted that the ignition of the Big Bang would have left behind a sort of 'hot flash' of radiation.
So far, so good

If a big black wood stove produces heat that you can feel, then in a similar manner, the Big Bang should produce its own kind of heat that would echo throughout the universe.
Not a terrible analogy

In 1965, without looking for it, two physicists at Bell Labs in New Jersey found it. At first, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson were bothered because, while trying to refine the world's most sensitive radio antenna, they couldn't eliminate a bothersome source of noise. They picked up this noise everywhere they pointed the antenna.
This skips a lot, but is essentially correct

At first they thought it was bird droppings. The antenna was so sensitive it could pick up the heat of bird droppings (which certainly are warm when they're brand new) but even after cleaning it off, they still picked up this noise.
Again, essentially correct

This noise had actually been predicted in detail by other astronomers, and after a year of checking and re-checking the data, they arrived at a conclusion: This crazy Big Bang theory really was correct.
Okay, they provided enough evidence for the big bang theory to be taken seriously

In an interview, Penzias was asked why there was so much resistance to the Big Bang theory.

He said, "Most physicists would rather attempt to describe the universe in ways which require no explanation. And since science can't *explain* anything - it can only *describe* things - that's perfectly sensible. If you have a universe which has always been there, you don't explain it, right?

"Somebody asks you, 'How come all the secretaries in your company are women?' You can say, 'Well, it's always been that way.' That's a way of not having to explain it. So in the same way, theories which don't require explanation tend to be the ones accepted by science, which is perfectly acceptable and the best way to make science work."

But on the older theory that the universe was eternal, he explains: "It turned out to be so ugly that people dismissed it. What we find - the simplest theory - is a creation out of nothing, the appearance out of nothing of the universe."
I can't find a reference for this quote anywhere. However, I did find this, which mentions, in the "Science and Philosophy" section that Penzias equates the big bang with the moment of Biblical creation.

So what. Penzias managed to reconcile his faith with his science. A lot of scientists do. It seems we're back to argument from authority

Also, that bit about explanation vs. description smells extremely fishy

Penzias and his partner, Robert Wilson, won the Nobel Prize for their discovery of this radiation. The Big Bang theory is now one of the most thoroughly validated theories in all of science.

Robert Wilson was asked by journalist Fred Heeren if the Big Bang indicated a creator.

Wilson said, "Certainly there was something that set it all off. Certainly, if you are religious, I can't think of a better theory of the origin of the universe to match with Genesis."
I found this quote here. This site is dedicated to argument from authority, and all of the quotes can be attributed to poetic metaphor, Deist beliefs or quote mining. When I have time, I may research a few quotes listed there for evidence of said quote mining.

Also notice that Wilson said "if you are religious..."
This looks to me to be an attempt to forestall any conflicts, rather than an admission that the Bible is really true after all

Stay tuned for tomorrow's installment: "Why the Big Bang was the most precisely planned event in all of history."
Again, I look forward to it


Perry Marshall

Again, all argument from authority. So far I don't see any compelling reason to attribute the creation/existence of the universe to any kind of supernatural being.

This little snippet was also included:
For further reading:
"A Day Without Yesterday" - Albert Einstein, Georges Lemaitre and the Big Bang

Check it out. I wonder, did Mr. Marshall put Einstein's name in the title by mistake?

Lemaitre was a mathematician who happened to be a Catholic priest. So what? Unless the implication is more argument from authority.


3 people have spouted off:

Qalmlea said...

Re: Description vs. Explanation

I would say that "description" would fall in with data-gathering and analysis. But in most cases, scientists don't stop there. They want to know why the data is distributed that way. Often a new field will be nearly purely descriptive for a while, with a few very hedged attempts at explanation.

There are certainly still fields where explanations are fuzzy at best. Why gravity? Well, there's the geometric curvature of spacetime interpretation, and there's the graviton interpretation. So far as I know, no one's come up with a "winner" or a way to integrate the two. And there may be others I haven't heard of.

But then, "Why electromagnetism?" Charged particles moving. And then quantum mechanics started to take a look at the "why" of that.

I suspect that your article is trying to put a cut-off on this exploration of explanation, rather than going deeper down the rabbit hole. "Goddidit endofstory."

John said...
That seems to be the tactic here.
8/5/07, 8:05 PM
A. Thinker said...

There's a new model being published in a scientific journal. I forget which journal, but the guy who made the model is A) From Penn State University (woo hoo!), and B) describes an awesome system by which the big bang could have occurred and the universe is still infinite. Not only that, but it accurately predicts what would have happened before time T = 0. Good stuff.