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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

New Model of Universe -- No Big Bang -- Not Really So New

Physicists recently have proposed a new theory of the universe. (See the article at the end of this post.) While I do not claim to understand all aspects of this theory (nor the mathematics behind it), there are certain elements that are familiar to mythology, non-Christian religious thought, and certain philosophical notions.

In this model proposed by Wun-Yi Shu, a professor in Taiwan, the universe has no beginning and no end. This view is consisted with Eastern religion and philosophical views. In Buddhism, the universe has no beginning and no end; there is no creation as creation would imply the beginning of consciousness. For the Buddhist (at least as I understand it), most troubling is the "non-existence" of consciousness; therefore, there can be no beginning as it would imply before the "beginning" there was no consciousness. The idea of the "eternal cosmos" was debated in Aristotle and among the ancient Greeks. (See the article "Ancient Greek-Roman Cosmology: Infinite, Eternal, Finite, Cyclic, and Multiple Universes" in Journal of Cosmology.)

Basically, there isn't a theory regarding the origins (or non-origins) of the universe that already hasn't been debated in philosophy. Philosophical or religious presuppositions govern or color how the mathematical models are devised and how the physical data from telescopes and such are interpreted and understood. Apart from the Judeo-Christian tradition, thought essentially reverts back toward ideas found in Greek paganism or toward ideas found in Eastern religious thought.

For whatever else the "big bang" theory represents, in it, the universe does have a definite beginning and a likely end -- either entropy causes all to fade away into a formless void with no pattern, or the universe crunches in on itself (implosion) -- a beginning and an end. In this one aspect, the "big bang" theory has more in common with traditional Judeo-Christian teaching than some of the "newer" theories, which are actually a throw back to Greek paganism or to Eastern thought.

As science and mathematics is dominated more and more by people of Asian descent, it really should come as no surprise that the philosophical and theological underpinnings of various cosmological theories have taken on a more "Eastern" flavor. 

One interesting aspect of this "new" theory is the variability of the speed of light. In most science textbooks today, it is taught that the speed of light is a "constant" of the universe -- its speed never varies through time. This "new" theory allows for light to travel at different rates in time. Some Creationists and Intelligent Design folk also have posited a variable speed of light to explain in part the vast distances observed in the universe today while maintaining a relatively young earth and cosmos. 

In any case, my interest at the moment isn't a debate or discussion about Creationism but rather the observation how "theological" and "philosophical" notions govern the outcome how physical data is interpreted in the name of "hard" or "pure" science. In the history of thought, it is notable that creation ex nihilo as a "philosophical" idea appears first in the writings of Saint Augustine. 


Model describes universe with no big bang, no beginning, and no end

July 29th, 2010 in Physics / General Physics

( -- By suggesting that mass, time, and length can be converted into one another as the universe evolves, Wun-Yi Shu has proposed a new class of cosmological models that may fit observations of the universe better than the current big bang model. What this means specifically is that the new models might explain the increasing acceleration of the universe without relying on a cosmological constant such as dark energy, as well as solve or eliminate other cosmological dilemmas such as the flatness problem and the horizon problem.
Shu, an associate professor at National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan, explains in a study posted at that the new models emerge from a new perspective of some of the most basic entities: time, space, mass, and length. In his proposal, time and space can be converted into one another, with a varying speed of light as the conversion factor. Mass and length are also interchangeable, with the conversion factor depending on both a varying gravitational “constant” and a varying speed of light (G/c2). Basically, as the  expands, time is converted into space, and mass is converted into length. As the universe contracts, the opposite occurs.
“We view the speed of light as simply a conversion factor between time and space in spacetime,” Shu writes. “It is simply one of the properties of the spacetime geometry. Since the universe is expanding, we speculate that the conversion factor somehow varies in accordance with the evolution of the universe, hence the speed of light varies with cosmic time.”
As Shu writes in his paper, the newly proposed models have four distinguishing features:
• The speed of light and the gravitational “constant” are not constant, but vary with the evolution of the universe.
• Time has no beginning and no end; i.e., there is neither a  nor a big crunch singularity.
• The spatial section of the universe is a 3-sphere [a higher-dimensional analogue of a sphere], ruling out the possibility of a flat or hyperboloid geometry.
• The universe experiences phases of both acceleration and deceleration.
He tested one of the models against current cosmological observations of Type Ia supernovae that have revealed that the universe appears to be expanding at an accelerating rate. He found that, because acceleration is an inherent part of his model, it fits the redshift data of the observed supernovae quite well. In contrast, the currently accepted big bang model does not fit the data, which has caused scientists to search for other explanations such as  that theoretically makes up 75% of the mass-energy of the universe.
Shu’s models may also account for other problems faced by the standard big bang model. For instance, the flatness problem arises in the big bang model from the observation that a seemingly flat universe such as ours requires finely tuned initial conditions. But because the universe is a 3-sphere in Shu’s models, the flatness problem “disappears automatically.” Similarly, the horizon problem occurs in standard cosmology because it should not be possible for distant places in the universe to share the same physical properties (as they do), since it should require communication faster than the  due to their great distances. However, Shu’s models solve this problem due to their lack of big bang origin and intrinsic acceleration.
“Essentially, this work is a novel theory about how the magnitudes of the three basic physical dimensions, mass, time, and length, are converted into each other, or equivalently, a novel theory about how the geometry of spacetime and the distribution of mass-energy interact,” Shu writes. “The theory resolves problems in cosmology, such as those of the big bang, dark energy, and flatness, in one fell stroke.”


  1. But I can still be a young earth creationist, right? :)

    I'll have to read the article, though, when I have more time to spend puzzling over it. Sounds interesting.

  2. Sure thing! It is just interesting to me that a theory "Big Bang" that has often been viewed as antithetical to Biblical views of Creation (yes, I know some have tried to make a synthesis between them) actually has some elements more in common with traditional Judeo-Christian teaching than the so-called "new theories."

  3. That's the beauty of being a theoretical astrophysicist. You can develop theories that match your own worldview and nobody can really challenge it - they're all just theories after all. You don't like the old model? No problem, just say that the constants aren't constant. Some day, after time has ended, we'll all know the details of how the universe came to be. Until then, we'll have to put up with scientific enthusiasts.

  4. Reading this gave me that warm, fuzzy sensation of knowing the unicorns survived the flood. I to think I was deeply concerned they missed the weather memo Noah sent out.

    The lengths Professor Shu is willing to go to suit his universe model has reached new limits, unfortunately outside the bounds of our universe. I'm hardpressed to comprehend any physical laws which remain in his model (if any.) I will grant evidence exists for a 'less than constant' speed of light; to wit, this would then apply to the gravitional constant as well.

    But interchanging time with space - duh? And need I point out mass is a physical property; length is not. I am aware the recent studies coming out of the Swiss collider lend credence to mass being non-existant (the theory is all atoms are merely "massed" energy in origin - mass as we know it does not exist.) The general theory of relativity allows for an interchange of mass and energy without subsequent loss. But mass-to-length is a far different creature.

    I suspect what Shu is attempting to avoid is the Second Law of Thermodynamics - entropy (all systems tend toward disorder.) This is the nature of the horizon problem which has plagued the Big Bang (BB) theory. Simply put, why is the temperature of the universe uniform throughout no matter where astrophysics measure.

    Shu has not proposed a new idea in this regard. The BB boys long ago recognized the universe was simply too big - distances too vast to allow for temperatures to reconcile (measured currently at four degrees calvin.) The BB adherents posited a modification to the basic theory, from big bang to bang, breath then boom. Goes like this: Bang - the universe explodes into being, stars and galaxies form; Breath - the pause that refreshes, we wait for the temperature to reach uniformity throughout; then Boom, away the universe flies, spirling outward until today. The proposal flops whenever someone asks, "Who slammed on the brakes - then stomped on the accelerator - and why?" There's always one detractor at every astrophysical convention.

    Shu goes these wounded warriors one better - he simply filpflops time and space as needed. If a galaxy gets too far away, chance the mass to length and the problem is solved. Since light and gravity can be manipulated to suit the theory as needed, he's managed to solve all the problems, almost.

    There's still that annoying Second Law of Thermodynamics. This entire universe is still running down. Shu's theory will require a massive increase in gravity to recall the distant galaxies before they exhaust themselves. Buddha forbid one of these galaxies excape and are lost forever - there goes reincarnation. Shu can manipulate time and space to his hearts content, but those distant galaxies are too far out to be reincarnated. The gravitional force needed to recall these makes the largest 'black hole' currently known look like a Home Depot Shop Vac.

    There is a known solution to this entire problem. The answer was recorded about three thousand years ago. It goes like this; "Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out." (Is 42:5) Why create a universe - then work a silly-putty stretch job on this universe. Could God have in mind the silly astorphyics who are more interested in a fat man named Buddha (who died) or the thoughts of an English botonist named Darwin? There will be a new universe one day - but it will not be a reincarnation of this one. A man two thousand years ago promised to make all things new. This man, God's Son, will. Maranatha.


  5. Thank you for this very interesting article. I found the report about Shu's hypothesis quite interesting and especially how it challenges the current theory of the speed of light being a constant. That the speed of light is constant is critical to aging the universe. If at some point in time the speed of light was much faster than it is observed today, then the universe would not be as expansive and "old" as it is now thought to be.

    What I really like about this story is that it illustrates just how intricate science fiction can be; after all, nobody but God knows how the universe came into existence, and God tells us how it happened in Genesis. Interestingly enough, people would rather believe some fantastic story with enough math and empirical data weaved into it to make it sound plausible, than accept God created the universe as described in the Scriptures.

  6. I think what Luther said to Zwingli at Marburg is appropriate: "God is higher than all mathematicians."