Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Vatican's Big Bang Conference: Does George Lemaitre's "Theory" Prove A Supernatural God?

The news this past week out of Rome is the Vatican celebrated the big-bang theory. What? Big Bang? The theory whereby the cosmos incepts from an "explosion" (super dense state) and needs no external divine agents? Yep, one and the same, but the Vatican is not deterred and believes firmly there need be no conflict between its proclamations and the findings of modern cosmology.

So it's not entirely odd that the Vatican Observatory has invited some of the world's leading scientists and cosmologists to talk about black holes, gravitational waves and space-time singularities as it honors a Jesuit cosmologist  (George Lemaitre) who is considered one of the fathers of the idea that the universe began with a gigantic explosion.

The May 9-12 conference honoring Lemaitre was held at the Vatican Observatory, founded by Pope Leo XIII in 1891 to help correct the notion that the Roman Catholic Church was hostile to science. The perception has persisted in some circles since Galileo's heresy trial 400 years ago, but let's face it the perception is not entirely without foundation.  Recall, for reference, how Stephen Hawking noted in his book, 'A Brief History Of Time', how Pope John Paul II warned against trying to investigate the "moment of creation" at one cosmology conference Hawking attended at the Vatican.  Of course, this is the very moment one does want to investigate - or at least as close to it as possible.

Hawking's formulation of the universe's inception spontaneously can be described via the diagram below:

This was explored in detail in the episode God and the Origin of the Universe in the "Planet Green"  'Curiosity' series some five years ago. By the end of the program even a person with no mathematical background could grasp Hawking's simple arguments which followed from gravitational time dilation, e.g. the slowing of clocks as experienced near black holes or other gravitating masses.

Understanding Hawking's arguments even at a basic level, requires a few preliminaries. First, at a basic logic level, we agree and understand that to have causal agents or causality we require time. If there is no time evident or existent, then there can be no nexus or connection from event A to event B. It is time- the chronometric passage of some interval- which allows one to say, e.g.

(Event A) -> (Event B)

If on the other hand, the two events occurred with no time passage, one wouldn't be able to infer causality, say that Event A "caused" B.

Second, we need to grasp at least at a qualitative and rough quantitative level that time slows down in the vicinity of gravitating masses. The way this is approached is usually by using what's called a "metric tensor" such as shown in the bottom half of the lower diagram There are 16 components in this tensor, each of which can be measured by means of clocks...atomic or other. For the form of the metric tensor shown, we have elements conforming to a spherically symmetric distribution with r the radius or distance from the center.

See also my earlier post on general relativity, e.g.

To operate in a typically curved space-time (x,y,z,t) one will usually use what's called the "interval" such that:

ds2 = {1 - 2GM/r}dt2 - {1 + 2GM/r}(dx2 + dy2 + dz 2)

The key component used in gravitational time dilation measurements is the one at the very upper left of the matrix which we denote by g 0o. All experiments on gravitational time dilation can be regarded as direct measurements of the g 0o component of the metric tensor. For all comparisons with actual experiments, it's convenient to express chronometers at two different distances, say:

dτ2/ dτ1 = [g 0o(2)]1/2  / [g0o (1)] 1/2

it's convenient to use fractional deviations, e.g.

Dτ/ τ = (dτ2 - dτ1)/ dt ~ GM {1/r1 - 1/r2}

The clock rate can also be related to the frequency f. If a clock registers a large elapsed time it must be ticking fast, and if a small elapsed time, ticking slow. Thus the frequency difference, D f, must be proportional to D τ, or:

Df/f = (f2 - f1)/f =  D τ/ τ ~ GM{1/r1 - 1/r2}

Cutting to the chase and sparing readers a lot of algebra, one ends up with:

D τ/ τ = g [ D r/ c2 ]

As a terrestrial application, say D r = 10 km (the typical height attained by an aircraft) the time dilation is:

Dτ/ τ = 10 -12 

Now switch to the Hawking's black hole example, and one finds as one approaches the center of the hole, at which r = 0, there is no time, period. This is also the point of maximal gravitational acceleration, call it g = ¥, or infinite. Thus:

Dτ/τ = ¥ [ 0/c2 ]= D f/f = 0

In the above we have assumed the reference clock is right at the black hole center, and the difference is now 0. Then the time elapsed is zero. This is confirmed - well, the tendency of clocks to slow in g-fields is confirmed by hydrogen -maser clocks and others. (See, e.g. 'Gravitation and Spacetime', by Ohanian and Ruffini, p. 183. In effect, one simply extrapolates to the most extreme g-field, present in black holes, to infer no time passage that can be reckoned by any chronometer.

If there is no time passage, there can be NO cause! There can be nothing which causes the universe in the first place, "supernatural agent" as "creator". Since we already agreed that for causality to operate time must exist, then conversely, if we find time doesn't exist then there can be no cause or causal agent.

Hawking's final argument, illustrated by the top illustration in the lower diagram, is simply that the cosmos (originally with less diameter than a proton) simply "popped" into existence much like we currently observe particles in pair production doing the same via spontaneous quantum fluctuations using the energy-time uncertainty principle. The basic principle underlying these pair production processes is the energy-time uncertainty principle: dE dt > h/2π where h is the Planck constant of action. . Thus, a brief fluctuation occurring over time dt can produce a change in energy dE, which may be sufficient to produce particles. The energy has an estimated magnitude given by the uncertainty principle.

Hawking's other point is that the manifestation of mass in the cosmos always has a complementary action in forming negative energy. He used the analogy of a person forming a large mound or hill by digging into the ground. The larger the hill formed, the bigger the hole from which the hill was excavated. All that negative energy is now scattered across space, as bound systems via gravitational potentials. These potentials represent negative energy reservoirs. For example, gravitational potential energy, say associated with a planet's g-field might be expressed: V(r) = - GMm/r.

If all the positive and negative energy contributions are tallied, the total comes to zero. This zero energy indicates that no agents acted to create the cosmos. We didn't need a "hole digger" to get positive mass from "digging a negative energy hole" because it already inhered in the subatomic cosmic hyperdense state. Moreover, we're still seeing -observing the effects of the initial repulsion of the unstable primeval "atom" as all parts of the cosmos continue to accelerate during the expansion of space.

However, the head of the Vatican Observatory, Brother Guy Consolmagno, says you can believe in both God and the big-bang theory. He bases his argument on Lemaitre's theory of the "primeval atom" and - to give credit where it is due - Lemaitre was the first to explain the recession of distant galaxies (called the "expansion of the universe").   He arrived at this result by solving the equations associated with Einstein's theory of general relativity, see e.g. the content in the link above. According to a Vatican press release:

"He understood that looking backward in time, the universe should have originally been in a state of high energy density, compressed to a point like an original atom from which everything started".

But is this enough basis to believe in both God (as a supernatural entity) and the big bang theory? Not really, and Brother Guy does not bother to go into the further details that it was actually a trio of physicists (Ralph Alpher, Hans Bethe and George Gamow) who get more credit for the big bang theory via their 1948 paper published in Physical Review. That trio actually came closest to predicting the major outcome, the temperature of the cosmic microwave background temperature.  That is, there exists a "relic" radiation comprised of thermal microwaves from the big bang detectable even today. Further, the spectrum must match that of a black body.

They did this by way of a meticulous assessment of primordial nucleosynthesis at that epoch and assuming that the latter was radiation dominated. Gamow himself made an original estimate of the CMB at 10 K (some sources say 50 K) but his collaborating students Ralph Alpher and Robert Herman, later refined that to 5 K in a further paper (Physical Review 74 (12): 1737–1742, 1948).  By 1965, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson at Bell Laboratories discovered the CMB at 2.7 K. 

There is some dispute here concerning the "ABC" paper as it was called, and that in fact it was a Canadian cosmologist - Andrew McKellar - who predicted the CMB temperature first and most accurately in a 1940 paper. This paper emphasized "excellent coincidences obtained between the wave lengths of three of the unidentified, sharp, interstellar lines and lines arising from the lowest states of the CH, NaH, and CN molecules"   and hence “the maximum ‘effective’ temperature of interstellar space would be 2.7K”. 

My point in respect of the preceding is that while Lemaitre did great original work he did not make any actual predictions, say for what background cosmic temperatures would be detected.  And hence his hypothesis fell short of being an actual big bang THEORY.  Remember, a theory is a hypothesis which has actually made predictions that have been confirmed.  Alpher, Bethe and Gamow met this standard, Lemaitre did not.

Brother Guy Consolmagno's remark to the Vatican and international press that "Christians believe in a supernatural God who is responsible for the existence of the universe" is fine as a statement of faith, but alas, is not scientific. Nor is it based on any objective scientific evidence.  He added that "our science tells us how He did it" but again, that begs the question of why one needs to insert a special supernatural agent-creator at all. Hawking's work - as I showed - indicated this is superfluous.

These distinctions are important and even Lemaitre conceded his conclusions were largely based on faith, not science, i.e. when he reminded Pope Pius XII "the creative act of God was not something that happened 13.8 billion years ago, it is happening continually".   In other words, as a Christian this is what he believes - but it is not a scientific conclusion. At least not in terms of a supernatural deity.

As I noted in my ASTRONOMY magazine article:  ‘The God Factor’ (Astronomy Forum, March, 1990), science selectively excludes problems for which no practical method of inquiry exists. The supernatural, which is neither measurable or verifiable, falls into this category and that includes ‘God’ - if depicted as "causeless" and "supernatural". More to the point, we tend to regard unproven, non-evidentiary agents claimed by virtue of belief alone as evocative of superstition. 

The key fallacy embraced by the Vatican appears to be ignotum per ignotius : postulating an unknown agent or cause to account for a not well understood process or entity, e.g. consciousness or the origin of the cosmos.

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