APS News


Not with a Bang, but a Whisper

Isn’t the metaphor “whispering cosmos” a more accurate and aesthetic description than “big bang” for the very cool microwave background radiation the permeates the entire universe?”

In 1949, astronomer Fred Hoyle coined the term big bang to deride Belgian priest George Lemaître’s prediction that the universe had originated from the expansion of a hot “primeval atom” in space-time. Lemaître had based this on Einstein’s equations of general relativity. Hoyle referred to Lemaître’s “primeval atom” sarcastically as “this big bang idea” during a program broadcast on March 28, 1949 on the BBC. Hoyle said this because it contradicted his own steady state theory, which postulated that matter was continually being created as the universe expanded in accordance with Edwin Hubble’s measurements.

The cosmic microwave background noise or whisper comes from every direction of the cosmos. This rustling whisper is evident to us today as we tune between television and radio stations. In the early 1960s, Robert Dicke of Princeton had predicted, as had George Gamow, Ralph Alpher and Robert Herman in 1948, that Lemaître’s hot “primeval atom” should have cooled to a few degrees above absolute zero as it expanded to form the present universe. The radiation was discovered by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson in 1964, for which they received the Nobel Prize in 1978.

Fred Hoyle’s continuous creation or steady state theory cannot explain the microwave background radiation or cosmic whisper, which has cooled from the expansion of a hot “primeval atom”. Yet the term big bang persists. Big bang makes no physical sense, as there was no matter (or space) needed to carry the sound that Hoyle’s term implies. The big bang is a hypothesis. There was no one there to observe it! Other hypotheses may be discovered that can predict the observed Whispering Cosmos as well as the nature and origin of dark matter and dark energy that still challenges physicists.

How can conservatives be faulted for rejecting the imprecise big-bang metaphor? I believe the Whispering Cosmos is more accurate, eternal, and beautiful. It is consonant with Astronomer Mario Livio’s aesthetic cosmic principle (The Accelerating Universe: Infinite Expansion, the Cosmological Constant, and the Beauty of the Cosmos. New York, John Wiley & Sons, 2000). Since scientific theories express the harmonies found in nature, the theories themselves should be aesthetic. The Whispering Universe is cooler cosmology than the big bang.

Paul H. Carr
Hanscom, MA

Genesis and Angular Momentum

In a letter in the October APS News, Mike Strauss explained the discrepancy between Genesis and modern cosmology regarding the age of Earth as due to the “long” Hebrew days in Genesis. Would he be so kind to explain the following in Genesis 1 (and similarly in Genesis 1, 8- 31):

4: And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

5: And God called the light Day and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

I am particularly interested in the reconciliation of “long” days or “periods of time” with the current short days and the conservation of angular momentum of Earth. How did the earth’s rotation increase by such an enormous amount?

Alfred A. Brooks
Oak Ridge, TN

Mike Strauss responds:

I’m glad that Alfred Brooks is looking carefully at the text of Genesis. As with any language, the meaning of the words is found primarily in the context. The same word can have two or more different meanings even in the same sentence, as in, “On Christmas day it snowed all day, but cleared up at dusk.” In that sentence the first use of the word “day” refers to a period of about 24 hours, while the second refers to a period of daylight, maybe 10 hours. The context tends to reveal the best meaning. The Hebrew word “yom,” translated “day,” has many different meanings, including (1) 24 hours, (2) the part of a solar day that is light, and (3) a long period of time like an “era” or “epoch”. There are places in Genesis, like parts of verse 4 and 5 as pointed out by Alfred Brooks, where the best meaning of the word “yom” is given by (2) above. However, many Hebrew linguists believe that the meaning of “yom,” when referring to the six “days” of creation, is best given by (3) above, an “epoch”. The scholar Gleason Archer Jr. wrote, “On the basis of internal evidence, it is this writer’s conviction that ‘yom’ in Genesis 1 could not have been intended by the Hebrew author to mean a literal twenty-four-hour day.” (From “A Survey of Old Testament Introduction” (1994)). The context indicates that, when referring to the six “days” of creation, the word “yom” in the Hebrew text may best be translated into English as six “epochs” of creation, with each epoch taking many hundreds of millions of years or so. There is then no problem with conservation of angular momentum, and no time-scale discrepancy between the biblical text and the known 14-billion-year age of the universe.

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Contributing Editor: Jennifer Ouellette
Staff Writer: Ernie Tretkoff