The following is published with permission from William C. Mitchell, author of:
The Cult of the BIG BANG: Was There A Bang?
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Chapter 15 The Cult
As stated in the introduction there, of course, isn't really a cult. But to the uninformed outsider there might just as well be a BB cult. External appearances might easily be interpreted as evidence of its existence.
Based on media coverage, if one didn't know differently, and didn't know that he is an amazing genius, one might suspect that Stephen Hawking was the current high priest of the Big Bang. If one weren't aware that many other BBer cosmologists were intelligent, highly educated, and otherwise normal human beings, one might think that they were members of a whole hierarchy of Big Bang priesthood, including bishops and cardinals under Supreme Priest Stephen.
There also seems to be some BB prophets and saints, and even a Messiah. The Messiah would of course be Einstein. He, apparently unintentionally, started the entire movement. Perhaps the greatest brain of history, and a beautiful person, Einstein the Divine can only be regarded with extreme reverence.
The priests work in their parishes, called universities, where they perform cosmological rituals for the parishioners and strive to write holy equations in support of the Big Bang Faith. A doctor of philosophy degree in mathematics or theoretical physics is required of The Priesthood, but both of those degrees are highly desirable.
Among the early saints was mathematician Alexander Friedmann, who undoubtedly was inspired by divine cosmological revelation to interpret Einstein's equations and thus provided a basis of the Big Bang expansion of the universe so that the masses (mere mortals) might understand. Another saint, Lemaitre, who is called the Father of the BB, also had a revelation. He was called to trace the expansion of the universe back to its explosive creation. He named the start of time, space, energy and matter the Creation of the Primeval Atom.
Like early Christianity, things didn't start out very rapidly for the Big Bang Cult. It wasn't until the great prophet Gamow, a disciple of Friedmann, and undoubtedly also destined for sainthood, came to us and set forth further details about the explosion that was to be called the Big Bang. The masses hungered for something they could cling to and, with its trendy new name, the Big Bang brotherhood flourished. (Out of proper respect, the new name is always capitalized.)
The Big Bang has it Scriptures, as revealed by its saints and prophets. Everything that has happened from the first instant of time has been painstakingly recorded for posterity. What occurred and the exact conditions under which it occurred, from the Creation to this very moment, has been precisely preserved by the chosen few so that the priests can spread the word to the masses.
Faith in the Big Bang has been reinforced by revelations of divine expansion to Elders Hubble and Humason, by revelations of divine radiation to Elders Wilson and Penzias, and confirmation of divine light elements by the prophet Gamow himself. The words "remarkable" and "amazingly" are among the most common adjectives used in the Scriptures to describe such events, and rightfully so, for who could not be in awe of the wonders of the Big Bang.
Some of the Big Bang saints and prophets were not immediately accepted. Among those were Saint Planck. His unorthodox vision of the Holy Quantum for many years went unrecognized for its True Holiness. It was not until after several additional prophets came, that the Priesthood agreed to integrate the Quantum into the Doctrine of the Cult. Among this group of Quantum Prophets were Bohr, Pauli, Heisenberg, Dirac, Feynman, Gell-Mann, and Weinberg. It took the persuasion of their detailed revelations to convince the Big Bang hierarchy that they were true prophets worthy of acceptance. The Quantum is now revered by the brethren.
After their embarrassingly reactionary reluctance to accept those later day saints and prophets, for which they have done penance, the Priesthood, for fear of denying a new revelation from the Almighty Big Bang, is now more receptive to new revelations. They now seem eager to accept those who have had a revelation or seen a vision, regardless of how radical those might be.
Among other more recently accepted are Guth, Steinhardt and Linde who's revelations have providing finer detail about the Instant of Creation. With the help of inspired followers like Pagles and Davies (now bishops) these revelations have been integrated into Holy Theory.
Questioning the tenets of the Faith, such as Isotropy and Homogeneity, the Expansion of Space, and Big Bang Everywhere, is frowned on. Such questions are analogous to a Christian priest questioning the virgin birth. Any consideration of such topics must be carefully presented as purely hypothetical intellectual pursuits. The council that rules on matters of Sacred Doctrine includes Cardinals Peebles and Schramm.
But the Big Bang is a benevolent and humane cult. Stretching on the rack and burning at the stake of pagans and heretics are frowned on. Those who reject the faith are merely ostracized. They and any who seriously question the dogma are excommunicated; banished from recognition in the halls of higher learning, and denied the opportunity for Cosmological Brotherhood.
It's not for common parishioners or parish priests to question the Doctrine of the Cult. Those who don't worship at the Shrine of the Bang are to be shunned. But converts are welcomed. Sciama once believed in the evil Steady State, which is the equivalent of Satan worship. Nevertheless, his past sins were forgiven and he has risen in rank to become Cardinal Dennis.
Icons of earlier pagan saints such, as Euclid, Copernicus and Newton, have been thrown out of the temples and the true orthodoxy may have been established for all time. As Supreme Priest Stephen asked in his Cambridge professorial inaugural lecture, “Is the End in Sight for Theoretical Physics!” Faith in the Big Bang may soon provide us with all the answers.
Of course the above is just for fun. But the truth is that the cult concept is somewhat analogous to the facts. The BB is almost universally accepted in the scientific community, and thus by the media and the general public.
One might expect the media and the public to accept a theory on the authority of respected worldwide leaders in cosmology, but the fact is that those scientists have accepted it on faith; primarily on faith in the skills and judgments of their predecessors and colleagues. That it is at least partly a matter of faith also becomes apparent when one considers the popularity of the Anthropic Principle among cosmologists. The tenacity of belief in the BB appears to be the manifestation of man's inherent desire for answers concerning his origin and that of the world that might have more to do with metaphysics than science.
The many flaws that have been found in BBT are all but ignored. They are treated one at a time and dismissed one at a time; never gathered and examined for their overall impact, as this book attempts to do. Almost invariably researchers who discover and announce a flaw conclude their paper with a statement minimizing its importance to BBT. It may seem odd for a scientific researcher to discredit his own work in that manner, but there are some valid reasons for those disclaimers.
Few intelligent and considerate young scientists, who respect and honor their teachers and mentors, want to directly confront them with ideas that conflict with what they have taught. They don't want to appear disrespectful, ungrateful or heretical. In fact, they want to appear to be just the opposite--respectful, grateful and orthodox.
But there is more. These young scientists, who are naturally quite ambitious, are also concerned about their future. There are the matters of ratings and recommendations to consider. The young scientist's future is dependent on grading by his professors and/or on the recommendations of his professors for grants for the continuation of his work. To the professors basic cosmology is a closed issue; BBT is all but a proven fact. It becomes obvious to a student that endorsements of studies that might lead to contrary information are not very likely. Thus investigations into new areas go unrequested and unsupported.
(Thomas Gold clearly recognized this problem in a May 1993 issue of OMNI magazine entitled "Heresy! Modern Galileos," referring to this as scientific herd instinct; when articles are reviewed by colleagues, decisions regarding grant applications are determined by this herd instinct.)
But it's not just young scientists who are reluctant to appear rebellious. Even senior scientists educated in the environment of BBT can be overwhelmed by the preponderance of biased cosmological opinion. Older researchers also are aware that their future is dependent on the approval of others in their field. Evidence of this among older and respected leaders in cosmology shows up in the form of disclaimers in articles that report evidence that is contrary to standard BBT. Some examples of these that have occurred within the past couple of years are presented in the following paragraph.
In an article in Science News of May, 1991 reporting that the CDM theory can't account for how "primordial matter" could have developed fast enough to produce the very early quasars that have been found, James Gunn was quoted as saying that reports of early quasars "cannot overturn - or even force major alterations in - accepted cosmological theories." In Science of September, 1991, on the same subject, Jeremiah Ostriker was quoted as saying, “Although of course none of that casts any doubt on the Big Bang itself” In Science News in September, 1991 in an article reporting far greater abundance’s of beryllium in old stars than BBT predicts, David Schramm is said to have emphasized that a lumpy universe would still allow for a BB type explosion. In Science of January 1992 on that subject he is quoted as saying, “The data so far do not force one away from the standard picture.”
An additional factor is also at work. Close personal ties among physicists, astrophysicists, astronomers and cosmologists are the norm. What might be called cosmological incest is rampant in the world of cosmology. In the area of London, and especially at Cambridge University, we have had Barrow, Bonnor, Carr, Carter, Chadwick, Davies, Dirac, Eddington, Ellis, Gamow, Hawking, Lynden-Bell, Penrose, Rees, Rutherford, Salam, Sciama, Silk, Webster and others.
Glashow studied under Rutherford, Dirac was Sciama's teacher, Sciama was Hawking's tutor, Sciama and Rees worked together, as did Rees and astrophysicist Lynden-Bell. Penrose worked under Sciama. Rees and Silk collaborated, and Silk and Barrow collaborated. Hawking has worked with Penrose, Sciama, and Ellis, and with Carter (on Anthropic Principle). Internationally, Gamow has collaborated with Hans Bethe; Hawking with Thorne, Guth, Linde and others. There have been some British heretics like Hoyle, Gold and Bondi (also of Cambridge), but have been duly dealt with.
The same pattern of interlocking careers has occurred in the United States. Some of American BBers have studied or worked at more than one U.S. university at various times. At Princeton there has been Compton, Dicke, Everett, Feynman, Geller, Gott, Gunn, Ostriker, Peebles, Pagels, Salam, Thorne and Wheeler; at MIT, Gell-Mann, Guth, Philip Morrison, Steinhardt, Sagan, Schramm, Schwarzchild, Webster, Weinberg, Wilczek and Yukawa. At Cal Tech there has been Feynman, Gell-Mann, Glashow, Gott, Gunn, Osmer, Schmidt, Smoot, Thorne, Kenneth Wilson and Zweig; and at Harvard there was Glashow, Hucra, Sagan, Salam and Weinberg; and at the University of Chicago, Fermi, Gell-Mann, Sagan, Schramm, Turner, Wigner and Yang.
Wigner and Yang were assistants to Fermi. Dirac married Wigner's sister. Thorne, Rees, Everett and Feynman were students of Wheeler, and Tryon was a student of Weinberg (at Hunter College). Ostriker and Cowie have collaborated. Peebles was a student of Dicke, and they have worked together. Silk and Peebles have collaborated (at Berkeley), as have Ostriker and Peebles (at Princeton). Weinberg, Salam and Glashow shared a Nobel Prize. Weinberg and Glashow were high school and college school mates. Schramm, Gunn and Steigman have collaborated. So have Schramm, Gunn and Gott; Schramm, Steigman and Wigner; Guth and Steinhardt; and Thorne and Misner (of the "mix master" universe). Lynden-Bell, Gunn, Sandage and Schmidt have worked, sometimes together, at the Hale Observatory.
These are some examples of the associations that have occurred during the history of BBT. The combination of camaraderie, peer pressure, admiration and respect for each other, desire for acceptance and prestige, and economic considerations has caused a close fraternity among these scientists. To many of them basic BBT is a closed issue. A dissenter has little chance for research money, publication or even notice in the cosmological community. This has resulted in a great cost in misdirected brain power, time and money, and has hindered investigations into alternate cosmologies.
Although serious scientists have ever attempted to maintain their objectivity, science has proven on occasion to be the result of opinion and prejudice rather than objectivity. That certainly appears to be true of cosmology. The cult concept is supported by the fact that BBT sometimes seems to have more in common with religion than with science. Unlike science, that attempts to build on a foundation of the solid observational data, it is an elaborate construction that has been developed from a limited number of facts.
In an article on the problems of modern physics cosmologist Robert Oldershaw (in 1990) has said, "theory is far outpacing experimental observations ... a hypothesis can become to be regarded as being so convincing and elegant that it simply has to be right ... A classic example is surely our relentless devotion to the traditional paradigm of the big bang in cosmology." Like religious zealots, BB cosmologists have stubbornly refused to accept information that conflicts with their beliefs.
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