Home > Cosmic Origins, General Cosmology > Can the Standard Big Bang Model Describe the Origin of the Universe?

Can the Standard Big Bang Model Describe the Origin of the Universe?

William Lane Craig commonly uses four quotes (Kenny, Davies, Barrow/Tipler, Hoyle) to lend support to his claim that the beginning of the universe came from “nothing,” and all four describe what is called the “Standard” Big Bang model (that is, if they describe a model at all). But what is the standard model?

David Harrison (physics department at the University of Toronto) gives a brief explanation:

There was a big bang some 15 billion years ago, when the size of the universe was zero and the temperature was infinite. The universe then started expanding at near light speed.

According to this model, the universe began as a state of infinite density, infinite temperature, and zero size which is often referred to as a singularity – the “zero size” is why it is often described it as “nothing” (whether or not a singularity is “nothing” will be explained in a later post). At first glance, these properties are  mathematically incoherent; just try plugging zero and infinity in any density equation, and you can get all sorts of nonsense.  But Roger Penrose and Stephen Hawking later solved these problems which temporarily saved the standard model … that is until Hawking realized his mistake:

It is perhaps ironic that, having changed my mind, I am now trying to convince other physicists that there was in fact no singularity at the beginning of the universe—as we shall see later, it can disappear once quantum effects are taken into account

A Brief History of Time (1988), page 50

Of course, quantum mechanics isn’t the only problem which plagues the standard Big Bang Model. Harrison points out three more:

  • The flatness problem: Why is the matter density of the universe so close to the unstable critical value between perpetual expansion and recollapse into a Big Crunch?
  • The horizon problem: Why does the universe look the same in all directions when it arises out of causally disconnected regions? This problem is most acute for the very smooth cosmic microwave background radiation.
  • The dark matter problem: Of what stuff is the Universe predominantly made? Analysis of the gravitational interactions of galaxies shows much more matter than we can see. Nucleosynthesis calculations suggest that this dark matter of the Universe does not consist of ordinary matter – neutrons and protons?

And he continues by stating that “the list is slated to grow” (he wrote this back in 2001, mind you). Even Dr. Craig admits the problem with the standard model:

The standard Big Bang model needs to be modified in various ways. For example, the model is based on Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. But Einstein’s theory breaks down when space is shrunk down to sub-atomic proportions. We’ll need to introduce quantum physics at that point, and no one is sure how this is to be done.

Dr. Craig goes on to say that “none of these adjustments need affect the fundamental prediction of the standard model of the absolute beginning of the universe” but this is irrelevant.  If Dr. Craig wants to continue making the claim that the universe came from “nothing” then he should stop using the standard model. A model which, according to Harrison, hasn’t been well-accepted since the early 1990s.

As theoretical physicist/cosmologist Alan Guth writes in the preface of his 1997 book The Inflationary Universe (amazon),

The traditional big bang theory has become widely accepted because, as far as we can tell, it gives an accurate picture of how our universe has evolved . . . However, although the standard big bang theory is very successful, there is good reason to believe it is incomplete.

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  1. mojo.rhythm
    11/14/2010 at 4:58 AM

    Craig seems to have alot of trouble distinguishing the following two statements:

    (a) Before the universe, there was nothingness

    (b) There was no time at which the universe did not exist, and no place the universe came from. Asking what was before the universe is like asking what is north of the north pole.

    (b) is probably true and (a) probably false, yet Craig over and over again commits the fallacy of equivocation; conflating the two statements as if they both meant exactly the same thing.

  1. 07/14/2010 at 2:39 AM
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  7. 11/21/2010 at 12:39 PM

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