The Big Bang is a philosophical — as well as a scientific — presence in many people’s minds.
It seems clear, from the the ongoing kerfuffle and vigorous denials that the James Webb Space Telescope findings shook many of them up. Both science writers and scientists sense this. For example,
For a long time, for instance, scientists believed the universe’s earliest, oldest galaxies to be small, slightly chaotic, and misshapen systems. But according to the Washington Post, JWST-captured imagery has revealed those galaxies to be shockingly massive, not to mention balanced and well-formed — a finding that challenges, and will likely rewrite, long-held understandings about the origins of our universe.
“The models just don’t predict this,” Garth Illingworth, an astronomer at the University of California at Santa Cruz, told WaPo. “How do you do this in the universe at such an early time? How do you form so many stars so quickly?”Maggie Harrison, “Scientists puzzled because James Webb is seeing stuff that shouldn’t be there.” at Futurism (August 30, 2022)
It’s the kind of puzzling and unexpected data astronomers were hoping for. It’s why we wanted to build the Webb telescope in the first place. And it tells us that while the big bang model isn’t wrong, some of our assumptions about it might be.Brian Koberlein and Universe Today, “New Webb telescope observations throw a wrench in our understanding of the Big Bang” at Inverse (August 28, 2022)
While Brian Koberlein is surely correct in his assessment, we shouldn’t underestimate the wrench to the establishment. Universe Today reminds us, “It all started with an article published in Nature, where astronomer Alison Kirkpatrick talked about the inconsistencies between observations and theory and used the following phrase: ‘Right now I find myself lying awake at three in the morning, wondering if everything I’ve ever done is wrong.’”
Witnessing the distress, some have taken to blasting “science denialism:”
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has not disproved the Big Bang, despite an article about a pseudoscientific theory that went viral in August, and which mischaracterized quotes from an astrophysicist to create a false narrative that the Big Bang didn’t happen…
The author of the article, an independent researcher named Eric Lerner, has been a serial denier of the Big Bang since the late 1980s, preferring his personal pseudoscientific alternative…
“I saw it and thought ‘This is horrible, but it’s also nonsense, nobody is going to read this,'” [astrophysicist Allison] Kirkpatrick said. “The next thing I know, everybody has read it!”Keith Cooper, “The James Webb Space Telescope never disproved the Big Bang. Here’s how that falsehood spread.” at Space.com (September 7, 2022)
Yes, the blame for the uproar has fallen on researcher, popular science writer, and Big Bang doubter Eric Lerner.
Lerner has authored peer-reviewed publications as well as a book arguing that The Big Bang Never Happened. (1992). As a featured speaker at IAI.tv’s How the Light Gets In festival (October 1– 2 in London), he was to participate in a panel called Cosmology and the Big Bust — but the page is Not Found as of September 11, 2022. At present however, his article at IAI.tv, “The Big Bang didn’t happen” (August 11, 2022) tells us that he is to appear at the Festival. If the discrepancy proves interesting, you may wish to save the page…
Could it be that, as data drifts back to Earth, something is happening that is hard to put into words?
First, Lerner would never have attracted the attention he has in recent weeks if nothing were happening. His book came out twenty years ago, with no especially significant outcome.
Second, as noted earlier, there are two separate questions here: Must the universe have a beginning? Yes, if you want to avoid the impossible mathematics of infinity. But did that beginning play out just as the textbooks and popular science documentaries claim? That’s the part under discussion and many are distressed by the debate the Webb findings have inevitably created.
If it’s any help…
Jeff Zweerink offers that neither the certainties nor the uncertainties are entirely new. The Big Bang is supported by a number of observations that the Webb is not even designed to test. As for the uncertainties,
For most of the 1970s, 80s, and into the 90s, astronomers couldn’t even agree whether the universe was closer to 10 billion years old or 20 billion years old because different measurement techniques gave different ages! During my scientific career, I have read published papers with star dates older than the age of the universe, cosmic structures too large to form given the universe’s age, and measurements showing the CMB as too smooth to form stars, galaxies, and clusters of galaxies.Jeff Zweerink, “Do the James Webb Telescope Images Show the Big Bang Didn’t Happen?” at Reasons to Believe (September 2, 2022)
While Zweerink disagrees with Lerner, he is okay with him having a place at the table:
The latest JWST images don’t justify the enormous attention Lerner’s model has recently received in the public sphere. Yet, Lerner’s plasma cosmology deserves a place at the table of models trying to explain our universe. Science advances when theory matches observation.Jeff Zweerink, “Do the James Webb Telescope Images Show the Big Bang Didn’t Happen?” at Reasons to Believe (September 2, 2022)
But then Zweerink works at a Christian ministry to scientists, so he already has a religion and thus can afford to be calm and generous despite the clamor.
You may also wish to read: Astrophysicist: Webb finds may bring “revolutionary changes.” It doesn’t disprove the Big Bang, says Brian Koberlein… but read the fine print. Fermilab’s Don Lincoln gets the religious implications all wrong. Theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder thinks we don’t know what happened and never will — and that the Big Bang is a “creation myth” in the language of math.