Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Comfort's Questions: 01/10

1. What was in the beginning?

[Atheists have a dilemma when they say that there was nothing in the beginning. This is because nothing cannot create something. If they say that there were gases (or something) in the beginning, then it’s not the "beginning," because the gases or the “something” already existed. Who or what made them? This is why reasonable atheists admit that they just don’t know, humbling though it may be].

Asking ‘what was in the beginning?’ can be likened to asking ‘what is the smell of blue?’ Ray here isn’t being particularly clear about what he is asking. Does he want to know what ‘created’ the universe, or does he want know what came ‘before’ the Big Bang? From his explanatory paragraph, I’m going to assume a little of both.

An explanation of what we understand to have happened directly after the ‘Big Bang’ follows:

It is generally understood that the universe started out as something infinitely small and infinitely dense – a singularity, about a trillion times smaller than a full-stop. Even Kent Hovind had a basic grasp of that idea – though he fumbled both the explanation and his refutation of it (to a group of children, of all things – my how these people love ruining their kids chances of getting anywhere in the real world.)

The theory goes on to explain that in what we now term the ‘Big Bang’ – the infinitely small, dense and hot singularity began to expand. During that expansion, the universe ‘evolved’. From the Planck Era (which is still unknown by Physics and is about 10-43 seconds after expansion began) to the Inflation Era, between 10-12 and 10-10 seconds after the expansion began, where a ‘soup’ of photons, gluons and other elementary particles existed. Following the Inflation Era, some 10-11 seconds after the expansion began;

“...the tiny expanding Universe is filled with radiation creating pairs of particles and antiparticles, and pairs of particles and antiparticles annihilating back into radiation... as the Universe expanded, it cooled, and the cooler radiation was less likely to create quark-antiquark pairs. As quarks and antiquarks "froze" out of the radiation background, a greater number of quarks than antiquarks was left over.”

At 10-10 seconds after expansion began:

“...the Universe was so hot that the average energy of the radiation is above the energy of the weak nuclear force, the weak nuclear bosons were massless and the weak nuclear force had an infinite range like that of the photons and gluons. But as the Universe expanded and cooled, the average energy dropped to the level where spontaneous symmetry breaking occurred, and weak nuclear bosons gained mass.”

At 10-4 seconds something strange happens – the gluons and quarks in the entire universe ‘confine’ together to become protons, neutrons and mesons.

“ the Universe cooled to a temperature below the deconfinement temperature of QCD (Quantum Chromodynamics), quarks and gluons were no longer able to zip around on their own and became confined together into the mesons and baryons that produced the Universe we see today.”

At 1 second after the expansion began, the universe had cooled sufficiently far enough that the neutrons and protons, which had previously been rapidly turning into each other, slowed until there were seven neutrons for every one proton.

“To make a hydrogen nucleus, we only need one proton, no neutrons. To make a helium nucleus, we need two protons and two neutrons. Therefore, a direct consequence of an excess of protons over neutrons would be an excess of hydrogen over helium, and that is what is observed today.”

At 100 seconds after expansion, the neutrons and protons began to stick together to make the nuclei of the lighter elements such as Helium and Hydrogen.

“Physicists call this process nucleosynthesis, and it had to occur before the structures we observed today, such as atoms and molecules, could exist.”

This set the stage for the formation of atoms – which then lead to stars and then galaxies. Though things didn’t even begin to become recognisably ‘universe’, until about 1 billion years after the expansion began.

Take the Big Bang tour here.

So – we know what happens directly after the ‘Big Bang’ – how about ‘before*’?

You’d have to have a pretty good grasp of Physics to truly understand the latest information about the origin of the universe. I don’t have that, so I’ve basically been pulling my hair out trying to understand what is being theorised. It’s fascinating stuff though, when you get right down to it. However, a good couple of hours with Google lead me to find some interesting, if highly complicated, papers on the subject – and one or two really quite clever websites – I’ll link them at the end.

I found that to really find out what came ‘before’ the Big Bang, you have to go to Quantum Physics, which posits a number of theories.

The ‘Multiverse’ theory is a commonly known one, which suggests the formation of universes through the collapse of giant stars and the creation of Black Holes. Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees, describes the theory:

“Our universe may be just one element - one atom, as it were - in an infinite ensemble: a cosmic archipelago. Each universe starts with its own big bang, acquires a distinctive imprint (and its individual physical laws) as it cools, and traces out its own cosmic cycle. The big bang that triggered our entire universe is, in this grander perspective, an infinitesimal part of an elaborate structure that extends far beyond the range of any telescopes.”

If I understand it correctly, I take that to mean that each Black Hole is the entrance to a universe – and this is infinite, every universe having many Black Holes and every Black Hole being a universe. Kind of confusing to wrap my head around, but an elegant theory nevertheless.

‘Loop Quantum Gravity’ (often known as the ‘Big Bounce’ theory) is a fairly recent one, proposed by Physicist Martin Bojowald and involves the theory that before our Universe, there was a previous Universe, the collapse of which created our own. (I tried to find a quote that would explain the theory more clearly, but failed dramatically – this theory is just far too complicated!)

Again, if I understand this one correctly, the collapse of a universe is the beginning of another universe – thus our universe is not the first and certainly not the last. When our universe implodes (as current thinking goes) we will be creating the next universe. I picture this as a long line of bubbles, for some reason.

Another, far more complicated theory, is that of the String Theory:

“Finally, string theory offers a possible explanation for the Big Bang. It had long bothered scientists that although they could plot the stages of the Big Bang backwards to the singularity, the initial cause for the event was without explanation. Now string theorists believe that two branes colliding could have caused the Big Bang event.”

After reading around a bit, I think what this means is the following:

Each String is either Open or Closed, depending on whether it is connected to a Brane or not (a Brane is the dimensional boundary layer – for instance, three dimensional space is the ‘3-Brane’ moving through time...) so two strings, both connected to a separate Brane, collided. The resultant forces are what caused the expansion of the universe to take place.

I think. Please keep in mind that my last Physics class was when I was 15 years old!

To really get to grips with any theory given for what came ‘before’ our universe, you really should speak to a Theoretical Physicist or pick up a few books on the subject. I’ve only mentioned three theories and given what explanations I can from a layman viewpoint – and it took me forever to find a usable quote for String Theory!

Suffice to say, we don’t yet know precisely what there was before the Big Bang. However, we have some damn good theories about it and given enough time, we will know for certain.

This isn’t an answer Ray Comfort can appreciate though. He dislikes that we don’t know ‘exactly’ – and because we don’t know ‘exactly’, he prefers to put God in there as a ‘Godidit’ explanation. He says it himself;

“This is why reasonable atheists admit that they just don’t know, humbling though it may be”

But of course, he gets it wrong. We don’t know YET. But we will know. Funnily enough, we’ll still be ‘humble’ about it too, because we understand that in the greater picture, we are but specs of matter in the universe, here for the blink of an eye.

- All about the Big Bang
- All about the Big Bang
- A conversation about String Theory
- All about String Theory
- All about the Big Bounce
All about the Multiverse Theory
An interesting discussion about String and Multiverse theories

*For a given understanding of ‘before’ – considering there was no time or space before the Big Bang – both of which only came to be after the Big Bang.

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