The Rise and Fall of Bogus Evidence
In March of 2014, a wave of media attention was given to an announcement by cosmologists who gathered data at the South Pole using a special telescope (BICEP2). The headlines were bold.
“Theory No More? Scientists Make ‘Big Bang’ Breakthrough with Find” (2014, emp. added).
“Space Ripples Reveal Big Bang’s Smoking Gun” (Overbye, 2014, emp. added).
“Big Bang’s ‘Smoking Gun’ Confirms Early Universe’s Exponential Growth” (Vergano, 2014, emp. added).
“Scientists Find Cosmic Ripples from Birth of Universe” (2014, emp. added).
“First Wrinkles in Spacetime Confirm Cosmic Inflation” (Cho and Bhattacharjee, 2014, p. 1296, emp. added).
“The recent discovery of gravitational waves emerging from the Big Bang may point a way forward” (Afshordi, et al., 2014, p. 40, emp. added).
“Detecting primordial gravitational waves is the closest thing to a proof of inflation that we are ever going to get” (Clark, 2014, p. 34, emp. added).
Apparently, inflation was proven. The facts were in. Empirical evidence for the beginning moments of the Big Bang had finally surfaced.
Under the Big Bang model, the Universe is theorized to be expanding outward from the point in space where the cosmic egg allegedly “exploded.” During the first moments after the Big Bang, Universal expansion occurred faster than the speed of light, according to the theory, and this is known as inflation. However, no direct evidence has ever substantiated the claim that the Universe inflated in the violent way implied by the Theory—only circumstantial evidence. According to the model, gravitational waves would accompany the initial, rapid expansion immediately after the “bang,” but no direct evidence has ever surfaced for their existence. The new discovery was hailed as the “first direct evidence” of Universal inflation (“Theory No More?...,” 2014; “Scientists Find Cosmic Ripples…,” 2014; Landau, 2014).
Subsequently, we published an article responding to the claims (cf. Miller, 2014). In typical fashion, we highlighted the rashness of modern naturalists and the media, who make wild claims without adequate evidence. The announcements are loud, and the retractions tend to be soft. Sure enough, within three months, by June of 2014, the alleged findings were studied further, and the excitement of the celebration began to rapidly evaporate. Nature published an article titled, “Big Bang Finding Challenged,” arguing that the signal from the alleged gravitational wav
was too weak to be significant, studies suggest…. [T]he new analyses suggest that the twisting patterns in the CMB polarization could just as easily be accounted for by dust in the Milky Way…. [W]hen the dust is fully accounted for, the signal that can be attributed to gravitational waves either vanishes or is greatly diminished (Cowen, 2014, emp. added).
Theoretical physicist of New York University and the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, Raphael Flauger, examined the evidence and concluded that “there’s no evidence for the detection of gravitational waves” (as quoted in Cowen, 2014, emp. added). Based on two independent analyses of the evidence, Nature concluded, “The astronomers who earlier this year announced that they had evidence of primordial gravitational waves jumped the gun” (Cowen, 2014, emp. added). In Nature, theoretical physicist and professor at Princeton Paul Steinhardt said that “serious flaws in the analysis have been revealed that transform the sure detection into no detection” (2014). In an October follow-up, Nature reported in an editorial titled “Dust to Dust,”
More than six months after the initial announcement that scientists had found evidence of gravitational waves—echoes of the Big Bang itself—the claim is hanging by a thread. Subsequent analysis showed that much of the signal could have been contaminated by galactic dust. The predictions of Nobel prizes for the team have faded. The champagne has gone flat. Extraordinary claims, as the saying almost goes, demand more scrutiny than usual to make sure they stand up (2014, emp. added).
The other major science news magazines gradually weighed in as well, distancing themselves from the claims made by the researchers. In June, New Scientist had conducted an interview with Andrei Linde, who is credited as one of the originators of cosmic inflationary theory. Linde said “they were a bit over-optimistic, and claiming the discovery of gravitational waves may have been premature” (as quoted in Schilling, 2014, emp. added), although he was quick to allege that the growing skepticism about the gravitational waves discovery in no way disproves his theory of cosmic inflation. Then in October, 2014, New Scientist reported that the data results from the Planck telescope “suggest that dust could indeed account for the pattern BICEP2 detected” (Slezak, 2014). The article, titled “The Rise and Fall of Cosmic Inflation,” stated, “Inflation is dead, long live inflation! The very results hailed this year as demonstrating a consequence of inflationary models of the universe…may now do the exact opposite. If the results can be trusted at all, they seemingly suggest inflation is wrong” (Slezak, emp. added). David Parkinson of the University of Queensland in Australia studied the waves to determine if they were the correct kind of waves to fit inflationary theory and discovered that they were not. “Contrary to what the BICEP2 collaboration said initially, Parkinson’s analysis suggests that the BICEP2 results, if legitimate, actually rule out any reasonable form of inflationary theory. ‘What inflation predicted was actually the reverse of what we found,’ says Parkinson” (as quoted in Slezak, emp. added). Not good for the Big Bang Theory, which relies on inflation to fix the Horizon and Flatness problems inherent in naturalistic cosmological theories.
In September, American Scientist chimed in, reporting that
cosmologists say the much-heralded claim may have been premature. The findings, if true, would provide the first direct observational evidence for cosmic inflation, a theory that posits that the universe expanded exponentially during the first fractions of a second of its existence…. New observations indicate that the team may have underestimated polarization from relatively nearby dust in our galaxy. Some or all of the signal originally attributed to primordial gravitational waves could be due to effects of local dust (Burke, 2014, emp. added).
Also in September, Science ran an article titled “Evidence for Cosmic Inflation Wanes,” with the sub-title, “The biggest result in cosmology in a decade fades into dust” (Cho, 2014, emp. added). In the issue, Princeton cosmologist David Spergel said, “We’ve gone from ‘They can’t prove that it isn’t dust’ to ‘It’s probably dust’” (as quoted in Cho). Cosmologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland Charles Bennett, mercifully said, “They just got overenthusiastic, but it’s tough to know when you really have something” (as quoted in Cho, emp. added).
Nature, New Scientist, American Scientist, Science, and finally, Scientific American jumped into the fray, reporting in October concerning the alleged gravitational waves discovery that
in the intervening months, the Planck satellite has reported new measurements that indicate the Milky Way may contain more dust than assumed by the BICEP2 team. Several groups have…concluded that it is possible that dust could reproduce all (or most of) the claimed BICEP2 polarization signal. Although these developments have dampened the exuberance of many in the physics community regarding the BICEP2 result, the BICEP2 team stands by its estimates—but it now admits that it cannot rule out a dust explanation (Krauss, 2014, p. 66, emp. added).
The printers were relatively silent over the next few months until late January, 2015, when Nature announced the official demise of the gravitational waves discovery under the title, “Gravitational Waves Discovery Now Officially Dead” (Cowen, 2015, emp. added). The team of astronomers that thought they had found the waves withdrew their claim, acknowledging that what they thought was gravitational waves from the Big Bang “can be entirely attributed to dust in the Milky Way rather than having a more ancient, cosmic origin” (Cowen, emp. added).
What Can Be Learned From This Debacle?
It was fun while it lasted,” New Scientist reported in February (McKee, 2015), but what do we learn from the bumpy ride? At the risk of beating a dead horse, let us say yet again: the modern scientific (i.e., naturalistic) community and the liberal media are consistently rash in their claims to have found evidence for naturalistic theories,
and sadly, the general populace is quick to believe whatever they say. By the time the retraction is made, the damage is done. Mainstream Americans, whose attention spans are shockingly short due to the many distractions in our lives, have already moved on, believing that the truth has been officially determined. Many times, the “truth” being proclaimed is contrary to the Bible. The result: more and more individuals distrust the Bible, when all the while, the story that instigated the disbelief was wrong in the first place.
Even the evolutionary scientific community has had to admit its rashness in this instance. In September, 2014, Science reported, “A beleaguered claim that appeared to reveal the workings of the big bang may instead say more about how science is done in an age of incessant news coverage” (Cho). Science, which was one of the first to announce the alleged discovery, proceeded to pass the blame to the researchers. “Some researchers say the BICEP team made its result seem much stronger than it was by announcing it in a press conference and a press release that proclaimed the ‘first direct evidence of cosmic inflation’” (Cho). The BICEP2 team returned fire, arguing that they “felt pressure from the media to stake a definite claim, [University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, cosmologist Clement] Pryke says: ‘They’re trying to translate this into something that the public can understand, and they want a yes or no’” (Cho). In line with what we have long argued, Steinhardt concurred: “The sudden reversal should make the scientific community contemplate the implications for the future of cosmology experimentation and theory” (2014). Chiding the irresponsibility of the scientific community and the media for their rashness in reporting the gravitational waves discovery, he admonished that next time,
announcements should be made after submission to journals and vetting by expert referees. If there must be a press conference, hopefully the scientific community and the media will demand that it is accompanied by a complete set of documents, including details of the systematic analysis and sufficient data to enable objective verification (2014).
We are not holding our breath that the scientific community will listen to his admonitions. First, it is critical that researchers and media gain attention for their discoveries or stories if they want to gain grant money, Nobel Prizes, or Pulitzers (and fame). And second, if solid, empirical evidence were required for every claim made by naturalists, the majority of evolutionary biological information would cease to exist, as well as all of Big Bang cosmology, modern paleoanthropology, and uniformitarian geology. Nature, acknowledging the blunder by the media in how the supposed discovery was handled, but simultaneously claiming innocence, reported a meeting in October of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing, at which a panel of scientists and journalists would “search for ‘lessons learned by scientists and science writers involved with the BICEP2’ story” (“Dust to Dust,” p. 274).
After citing the official retraction by the BICEP2 team, New Scientist summarized the state of Big Bang inflation as it currently stands:
The discovery of the apparent gravitational waves was hailed as the “smoking gun” for a theory that the infant universe experienced an epic growth spurt known as inflation. Physicists popped corks in elation and dreamed of a Nobel prize. But 11 months later, this smoking gun has itself gone up in smoke, and researchers are nursing a hangover. “We are pretty much back to where we were before,” says Alan Guth of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who proposed the theory of inflation in 1981 (McKee, 2015).
So where were we before?
In the midst of the fray in 2014, Paul Steinhardt, “who helped develop inflationary theory but is now a scathing critic of it” (Slezak), wrote a stinging critique of inflation and its alleged evidence from the gravitational waves. He argued that “[p]remature hype over gravitational waves highlights gaping holes in models for the origins and evolution of the Universe” (Steinhardt, 2014). He said,
The BICEP2 incident has also revealed a truth about inflationary theory. The common view is that it is a highly predictive theory. If that was the case and the detection of gravitational waves was the “smoking gun” proof of inflation, one would think that non-detection means that the theory fails. Such is the nature of normal science. Yet some proponents of inflation who celebrated the BICEP2 announcement already insist that the theory is equally valid whether or not gravitational waves are detected. How is this possible? The answer given by proponents is alarming: the inflationary paradigm is so flexible that it is immune to experimental and observational tests…. [T]he paradigm of inflation is unfalsifiable…. [I]t is clear that the inflationary paradigm is fundamentally untestable, and hence scientifically meaningless (2014, emp. added).
And that, folks, is the state of inflationary theory—and, we might add, the Big Bang Theory, upon which it rests.
Afshordi, Niayesh, Robert B. Mann, and Razieh Pourhasan (2014), “The Black Hole at the Beginning of Time,” Scientific American, 311:36-43, August.
Burke, Katie (2014), “Big Bang Breakthrough Disputed,” American Scientist, 102:329, September-October.
Cho, Adrian (2014), “Evidence for Cosmic Inflation Wanes,” Science, 345:1547, September 26.
Cho, Adrian and Yudhijit Bhattacharjee (2014), “First Wrinkles in Spacetime Confirm Cosmic Inflation,” Science, 343:1296-1297, March 21.
Clark, Stuart (2014), “The End of the Beginning,” New Scientist, 222:32-35, April 26.
Cowen, Ron (2014), “Big Bang Finding Challenged,” Nature, 510:20, June 5.
Cowen, Ron (2015), “Gravitational Waves Discovery Now Officially Dead,” Nature.com, January 30, http://www.nature.com/news/gravitational-waves-discovery-now-officially-dead-1.16830.
“Dust to Dust” (2014), Nature, Editorial, 514:273-274, October 16.
Krauss, Lawrence M. (2014), “A Beacon from the Big Bang,” Scientific American, 311:58-67, October.
Landau, Elizabeth (2014), “Big Bang Breakthrough Announced; Gravitational Waves Detected,” CNNTech On-line, March 18, http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/17/tech/innovation/big-bang-gravitational-waves/.
McKee, Maggie (2015), “Big Bang Discovery Crumbles to Dust,” New Scientist, 225:10, February 7.
Miller, Jeff (2014), “Was the Big Bang Just Proven by Astronomers?” Reason & Revelation, 34:81-83, June, http://apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?category=9&article=4817.
Overbye, Dennis (2014), “Space Ripples Reveal Big Bang’s Smoking Gun,” New York Times On-line, March 17, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/18/science/space/detection-of-waves-in-space-buttresses-landmark-theory-of-big-bang.html?_r=0.
Schilling, Govert (2014), “Making Cosmic Waves,” One Minute Interview, New Scientist, 222:27, June 21.
“Scientists Find Cosmic Ripples from Birth of Universe” (2014), Fox News On-line, March 17, http://www.foxnews.com/science/2014/03/17/major-discovery-smoking-gun-for-big-bang-expansion-found/.
Slezak, Michael (2014), “The Rise and Fall of Cosmic Inflation,” New Scientist, 224:8, October 4.
Steinhardt, Paul (2014), “Big Bang Blunder Bursts the Multiverse Bubble,” Nature, 510:9, June 5.
“Theory No More? Scientists Make ‘Big Bang’ Breakthrough with Find” (2014), Fox News Mobile, March 18, http://www.foxnews.mobi/quickPage.html?page=22995&external=2582508.proteus.fma#quickPage_html_page_22995_content_102688773_pageNum_2.
Vergano, Dan (2014), “Big Bang’s ‘Smoking Gun’ Confirms Early Universe’s Exponential Growth,” National Geographic Daily News, March 17, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/14/140317-big-bang-gravitational-waves-inflation-science-space/#.UymgsYXDWRg.