Monday, March 20, 2006

Best ever map of the early universe revealed

Best ever map of the early universe revealed, New Scientist, 17 March 2006, Stephen Battersby ... The universe went through a traumatic growth spurt before it was a billionth of a billionth of a second old, according to the latest data from the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP). The probe has also given physicists their first clues about what drove that frantic expansion, and revealed that the cosmic "dark age" before the first stars switched on was twice as long as previously thought. On Thursday, the WMAP team revealed the best map ever drawn of microwaves from the early universe, showing variations in the brightness of radiation from primordial matter. The pattern of these variations fits the predictions of a physical theory called inflation, which suggests that during the first split second of existence the universe expanded incredibly fast. The variations in the density of matter that the microwave map shows up were created by quantum fluctuations during the expansion, according to the theory. If so, then those fluctuations provided the seeds for the gravitational growth of galaxies and stars - without inflation the universe would still be a featureless cloud of gas. [So inflation is itself another fine-tuned parameter:

"A very remarkable case of fine-tuning has to do with the smoothness of the universe as it emerged from the Big Bang. The universe had to be extremely smooth, or else it would have been packed with nothing but black holes. At the same time, there had to be just the right amount of lumpiness to the early universe, to make the formation of stars and galaxies possible. Mathematician Roger Penrose (Penrose 1981) has estimated that the margin of error permitted here was less than 1 in 10 to the 10 to the 123rd power (that is, 1 followed by 10 to the 123rd power zeros, more zeros than there are particles in the universe!) One solution to the this smoothness problem is offered by the theory of an inflationary Big Bang, a Big Bang in which there is a very brief period of very rapid expansion at the very beginning. However, such expansion requires an even more impressive feat of fine-tuning. For inflation to take place, the value of the cosmological constant had to take a very small and very precise value. The cosmological constant is the result of the almost perfect cancellation of a very large number of comparatively very large physical constants. For example, a change in the strength of the gravitational or nuclear force as little as one part in 10 to the 100th could entirely ruin the cancellation, making space expand or contract furiously. There are many more coincidences of this kind than we can even mention in the short time available, coincidences involving the proton/electron mass ratio, the fine structure constant, the necessity for a universe with exactly 3 spatial dimensions, the necessity of Pauli's exclusion principle and the quantization of the energy levels of the atom, the electrical neutrality of matter, and so forth." (Koons R.C., "Post-Agnostic Science: How Physics is Reviving the Argument from Design," November 5, 1998. My emphasis)
"The fundamental boundary value (or initial condition) problem with the big bang is the criticality of the initial velocity. If this velocity is to fast, the matter in the universe expands too quickly and never coalesces into planets, stars, and galaxies. If the initial velocity is too slow, the universe expands only for a short time and then quickly collapses under the influence of gravity. Well-accepted cosmological models tell us that the initial velocity must be specified to a precision of 1/1055. This requirement seems to overwhelm chance and has been the impetus for creative alternatives, most recently the new inflationary model of the big bang. However, inflation itself seems to require fine-tuning for it to occur at all and for it to yield irregularities neither to small nor to large for galaxies to form. Early on it was estimated that two components of an expansion-driving cosmological constant must cancel each other with an accuracy better than 1 part in 1050. More recently in Scientific American (January 1999), the required accuracy is stated to be 1 part in 10123. Furthermore, the ratio of the gravitational energy to the kinetic energy must equal to 1.00000 with a variation of 1 part in 100,000. This is an active area of research at the moment and these values may change over time. However, it appears that the essential requirements of very highly specified boundary conditions will be present in whatever model is finally confirmed for the big bang origin of the universe.." (Bradley W.L., "The Designed 'Just So' Universe," Leadership U., 25 February 2005. Emphasis mine)]

Not everyone will be convinced, but this is the strongest evidence so far in support of inflation. "Galaxies are nothing but quantum mechanics writ large across the sky," says theoretical physicist Brian Greene at Columbia University, New York, US. So what force could actually have caused inflation? There have been hundreds of speculative physical models, postulating as yet unknown energy fields. But the new data are precise enough to rule out many of these ideas - especially some of the more complicated ones. "The simplest of the models fits the data well," says WMAP team member David Spergel at Princeton University, New Jersey, US. That simple model should generate strong gravitational waves, which would leave their own distinctive imprint on the polarisation of the microwave background. If either WMAP or ESA's upcoming Planck satellite can detect a gravitational-wave signal, physicists will begin to learn why inflation happened, and that could have profound implications for fundamental physics. Meanwhile, a slightly more prosaic puzzle has been solved. ... [See also ABC/Reuters, ABC News, CBC, Christian Science Monitor, CNN, Discovery News, New York Times, ScienceNOW,, The Australian, USA Today & Washington Post!

The problem is that when (or indeed if) scientists discover "what force could actually have caused inflation?" they will then have to explain "what caused that force that caused inflation"? And so on ...! And because man is finite, eventually he will have to give up, with theories that can never be tested.

This is John Horgan's "The End of Science" thesis, that the very success of science means it is in the final stages of a rapidly decreasing law of diminishing returns. In the context of cosmology and inflation, Horgan points out that it is becoming more and more speculative and more like aesthetics and philosophy than science:

"Nonetheless, by the early 1990s, inflation and many of the other exotic ideas that had emerged from particle physics in the previous decade had begun losing support from mainstream cosmologists. Even David Schramm, who had been quite bullish on inflation when I met him in Sweden, had his doubts when I spoke to him several years later. `I like inflation,' Schramm said, but it can never be thoroughly verified because it does not generate any unique predictions, predictions that cannot be explained in some other way. `You won't . see that for inflation,' Schramm continued, `whereas for the big bang itself you do see that. The beautiful, cosmic microwave background and the light-element abundances tell you, `This is it: There's no other way of getting these observations:' Schramm acknowledged that as cosmologists venture further back toward the beginning of time, their theories become more speculative. Cosmology needs a unified theory of particle physics to describe processes in the very early universe, but validating a unified theory may be extremely difficult. `Even if somebody comes up with a really beautiful theory, like superstring theory, there's not any way it can be tested. So you're not really doing the scientific method, where you make predictions and then check it. There's not that experimental check going on. It's more just mathematical consistency.' Could the field end up being like the interpretation of quantum mechanics, where the standards are primarily aesthetic? `That's a real problem I have with it,' Schramm replied, `that unless one comes up with tests, we are into the more philosophical rather than physics area. The tests have to give the universe as we observe it, but that's more of a post-diction rather than a pre-diction." (Horgan J., "The End of Science: Facing the Limits of Knowledge in the Twilight of the Scientific Age," [1996], Little, Brown & Co: London, 1997, pp.102-103. Emphasis in original)

Astronomer-Royal and current President of the Royal Society, Sir Martin Rees admits, in the context of a discussion of inflation, that there is a limit to science's explanations:

"Cosmologists sometimes claim that the universe can arise 'from nothing'. But they should watch their language, especially when addressing philosophers. We've realized ever since Einstein that empty space can have a structure such that it can be warped and distorted. Even if shrunk to a 'point', it is latent with particles and forces - still a far richer construct than the philosopher's 'nothing'. Theorists may, some day, be able to write down fundamental equations governing physical reality. But physics can never explain what 'breathes fire' into the equations, and actualizes them in a real cosmos. The fundamental question of 'Why is there something rather than nothing?' remains the province of philosophers. And even they may be wiser to respond, with Ludwig Wittgenstein, that 'whereof one cannot speak, one must be silent'." (Rees M.J., "Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces that Shape the Universe," [1999], Phoenix: London, 2000, pp.145. Emphasis original)

This is also a teaching of Christianity. The Bible has a number of verses that teach God has made the Universe so that man can find out a lot, but also so that man will never be able to find out completely how God created:

Job 11:7-8 "7Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than the heavens-what can you do? They are deeper than the depths of the grave - what can you know?"

Job 38:4-6 4"Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand. 5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? 6 On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone- "

Ecc 3:11 "He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end." (my emphasis)

Or at least not in this life:

1 Cor 13:9,12 "9For we know in part and we prophesy in part ... 12Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."]

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
"Problems of Evolution"

"NATURAL Selection,' simply and by itself, is potent to explain the maintenance or the further extension and development of favourable variations, which are at once sufficiently considerable to be useful from the first to the individual possessing them. But Natural Selection utterly fails to account for the conservation and development of the minute and rudimentary beginnings, the slight and insignificant commencements of structures, however useful those structures may afterwards become. Now, it is distinctly enunciated by Mr. Darwin, that the spontaneous variations upon which his theory depends are individually slight, minute, and insensible. He says, `Slight individual differences, however, suffice for the work, and are probably the sole differences which are effective in the production of new species.' And again, after mentioning the frequent sudden appearances of domestic varieties, he speaks of `the false belief as to the similarity of natural species in this respect.' ["Animals and plants under Domestication," vol. ii., p.414] In his work on the "Origin of Species," he also observes, `Natural Selection acts only by the preservation and accumulation of small inherited modifications.' ["Origin of Species," 5th edit., 1859, p.110] And 'Natural Selection, if it be a true principle, will banish the belief ... of any great and sudden modification in their structure.' [Ibid. p.111] Finally, he adds, `If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.' Ibid. p.227. Even in his recently published work, Mr. Darwin observes, `Slight fluctuating differences in the individual suffice for the work of natural selection.' See "Descent of Man," vol. ii, p.387." (Mivart S.J., "The Incompetency of `Natural Selection' to Account for the Incipient Stages of Useful Structures," Chapter II, "On the Genesis of Species," Macmillan & Co: London, Second edition, 1871, pp.26-27)

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