googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: July 2014

Friday, July 25, 2014

Exotic Cosmology Part 1: The Balloon Model of the Universe

Imagine for a moment a very large, flat meadow of grass with a crowd of people standing in it. You are somewhere in the crowd. Through just simple observation, it would not be hard to guess where you are in the crowd. If all the people are on one side of you and no one on the other, you would be on the very edge of the crowd. If there were more people on one side than the other, you would be toward the edge. If there were about the same number of people everywhere you looked, you would be closer to the center. It's not hard, right?

As we look around in the universe, we observe about the same number of stars no matter which direction we look. Just as in my crowd analogy, it would be very reasonable to conclude from this observation that we are somewhere near the center of the universe. Of course, the universe is very, very large and since we cannot see the edge of it in any direction, it makes it hard to be sure that we're in the center. It would be like being in the ocean with no land in sight; you would really have no idea if you're in the middle of the ocean or just outside sight of the shore. To really know we're in the center, we'd have to have more information.

In the mid-19th century, Dutch physicist, Christian Doppler noticed that sound waves changed frequency relative to the observer when the source was in motion. He dubbed this phenomenon, “the Doppler Effect” and believed it would apply to all waves including light and radiometric waves. In the beginning of the 20th century, we were able to observe this phenomenon in the light from distant stars. The light from the stars was “redshifted” indicating that the light wave was being stretched and that the star was moving away from us. As we began to survey more and more stars, we realized that the stars uniformly seemed to be moving away from us at a constant speed.

The implications of what was being observed was huge. Obviously it meant the universe was expanding but more than that, the general movement of the stars directly away from us further seemed to confirm our position near the center of the universe.

To help visualize this, let's go back to my crowd analogy for a moment. If everyone in the crowd – including you – began running away from the center, you would notice a couple of things. Someone running right next to you at the same speed would barely seem redshifted at all. However, someone who was running in the opposite direction would be moving away from you very rapidly so would appear highly redshifted (see my illustration). If we were anywhere else but the center of an expanding universe, this is how the redshifts of different stars should appear to us.

Now imagine you were in the center of the crowd and everyone was running directly away from you. As they got further away from you, they would also move further away from each other, but each runner's redshift in relation to you would be approximately the same. This is exactly what we observe. So the simplest explanation (and most secular scientists claim to prefer the simplest explanation) is that we occupy the unique position of the center of the universe.

In this enormous universe, the odds of us coincidentally being in the center are mind numbingly small. I'm not sure how to describe how impossible it seems. I read one source that estimates there are 1 septillion stars (1024). So that would mean the odds of our star being in the center would be 1 in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. It would seem impossible if we believed were here by mere chance.

If God had intended us to be in the center of the universe, then the remote odds of it happening randomly don't matter. However, scientists, because of their bias toward natural explanations will not allow themselves to consider that we're here by design. Still, accepting that we occupy this special place by mere coincidence is too incredible to believe. So what is the solution?

Scientists have put forth a model of the universe where there really is no center – or rather everywhere is the center. Space is like a flat surface that is being stretched. All points on the surface would be moving away from each other. They also suggest there is no edge to the universe. Instead, space is curved like the surface of the earth and if you started in one direction and headed in a straight line, you would eventually end up where you began. In other words, no matter where you are in the universe, we would observe exactly the same things that we observe on earth.

To help visualize this strange explanation, many people have compared the universe to the surface of a balloon painted with stars. As the balloon expands, all the stars would move away from each other at about the same rate. Also, any point on the balloon would have the same amount of surface surrounding it so no particular point is the center. It's actually a very clever analogy that paints a vivid picture of the theory it attempts to explain. And the theory seems to cleverly explain how we can look like we're in the center of the universe yet not really be in the center.

No matter how clever the analogy, there is still one, huge, nagging problem I see with it – namely, the balloon really has three dimensions. To believe that the universe somehow exists on an immensely curved plane resembling just the 2D surface of a balloon seems a stark contrast to everything else we experience. It seems an unnecessarily complicated solution, especially when we know a much simpler explanation exists.

In my crowd analogy, if I saw the same number of people on every side of me, I would conclude that I was close to the center. I could test that theory by walking to the edge and seeing if I was right. However, if I had no way to walk to the edge, I would simply have to trust my conclusion as being reasonable. What I believe is unreasonable is if I suggested there really is no center to the crowd and if I tried to walk to the edge, I would eventually end up where I started. Such an idea seems insane. Yet scientists would have us believe that is the correct way to view our universe.

Does the universe have an edge or not? Does the universe have a center or not? The problem with either theory is that we can't really test it. There's no way we could fly to edge of the universe to see if it's there. We can't stand back from the universe and see if it resembles the surface of a balloon. We can only picture the universe based upon we can observe from the earth. What I'll do instead is appeal to what seems the most reasonable explanation.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Use of Exotic Explanations to Perpetuate Flawed Theories

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
If I think of some other, extreme examples, I may include them too but at the very least, I will include these. Keep checking back!!