In his reply to a recent post, a frequent visitor to my blog, Steven J, mentioned epicycles. It reminded me of another practice often engaged by scientists, namely the use of “exotic” explanations employed to prop up flawed theories. For people not familiar with epicycles, let me give you a thumbnail description of what they are. In the geocentric (earth-centered) model of the universe, Ptolemy used the notion of epicycles to explain the apparent motion of planets. If a planet simply circled the earth, it should appear to move across our sky in a straight line at a steady speed. However, the planets seemed to move at different speeds and sometimes even seemed to move backward. Ptolemy suggested planets also made smaller orbits around an invisible point called the deferent. It wasn't a terrible idea, really, and it seemed to explain the motions of the planets very well. After all, we could see the planet moving and sometimes it really seemed to be moving backward so the epicycles were “observed”. However, we've since learned that the planets don't circle the earth. What looked like changes in speed was caused by the differences in relative speed between us and the other planets. Epicycles and deferents did not even exist at all!
In a similar fashion, people once believed in a fiery element they called phlogiston. Objects that would burn easily were believed to be rich in phlogiston and objects that didn't burn easily were had little phlogiston. As an object burned, the phlogiston was released into the air and the object was turned to ashes. But if it was the phlogiston that allowed the object to burn, then why did objects considered rich in phlogiston not burn in an enclosed space? To explain this, it was suggested the air could only hold so much phlogiston and once the air was completely saturated, it could not receive any more, thus the object could not release any more and so would stop burning. Again, the theory seemed to explain reasonably well what was being observed but we've since learned that it is the oxygen in the air that allows objects to burn. Phlogiston did not even exist at all!
Things like epicycles, deferents, and phlogiston were the symptoms of flawed theories. They seemed to smooth out problems with the theories but the real problems laid in the theories themselves. Yet as long as the underlying theory persisted, more and more fanciful sub-theories had to be invented to keep the failed theory afloat. You might call it the “fudge factor.”
So where am I going with all this? Well, when it comes to secular theories of cosmology, I've seen a lot of same behavior among scientists. There are several crazy, er... I mean, “exotic”... explanations that have been invoked in order to hammer down stubborn difficulties with their theories. Actually, I'm only using the term “exotic” to be nice. These theories are so insanely ridiculous that I suspect that deep down even their most staunch proponents don't sincerely believe them. They merely cling to them because without them their entire worldview completely fails.
There are several crazy ideas put forth by the long-age scientists. If I wrote just a couple of paragraphs on each one, it would make one very long post yet would still not give each idea enough explanation. What I thought I would do instead is make a short series where I spend a few paragraphs discussing each one. Here are some of the ideas I intend to discuss:
- The “balloon model” of the universe
- Hyperinflation cosmology
- Dark matter/energy
- The Oort Cloud