In November, Tim Eastman and I were invited by the Cobb Institute to reflect on the status of the cosmological theory popularly known as the “Big Bang,” a.k.a. the ΛCDM (Lambda cold dark matter) or Lambda-CDM model. Earlier this year, NASA’s new James Webb Space Telescope came on line. Its huge mirrors allow for a six fold increase in light collection compared with the older Hubble Space Telescope. In July, the JWST began sending back surprising data from the deepest/earliest reaches of cosmic spacetime.
The JWST’s preliminary findings raised eyebrows across the community of physical cosmologists. While it is too early to determine the fate of the standard “Big Bang” model of cosmology, in the video below Eastman offers an alternative theoretical interpretation rooted in his study of space plasma that appears to better fit the data.
The Big Bang model has so many free parameters that can be adjusted as new data comes in, and has been so heavily invested in both in terms of public funding (the JWST alone cost tax payers ~$10 billion) and in terms of the professional reputations of generations of hard-working physicists that it is unlikely to be tossed out anytime soon. As Eastman makes clear, the problem is that the Big Bang model has failed to make any predictions! Instead, it has repeatedly been adjusted to fit new observations, which we might call “post-diction.” A healthy scientific hypothesis, according to some critics (Eastman included) should not work this way.
Cosmology is still a young science swaddled in metaphysics. I do not for a minute doubt that a hunger for truth is driving researchers, but it is hard to deny the extra-scientific pressures involved in securing public funding. This pressure has led scientists to present the ΛCDM model to the public in such a way that, in the popular imagination, model has become reality. In other words, for many people the Big Bang has taken on mythic proportions. Ironically enough, when the theory of a universe expanding from a “primeval atom” was first proposed by the Belgian physicist and astronomer Georges Lemaître, his scientific colleagues criticized him for proposing an overtly religious creation story!