Exploding the Big Bang

By David Pratt

If light from stars or galaxies is passed through a prism or grating, a spectrum is obtained, consisting of a series of lines and bands. These spectra can be used to identify the atomic elements present in the objects concerned, as each element has a distinct spectral "signature." But if we compare the spectral lines of distant galaxies with those produced by the same elements on earth, we find that in every case the lines are displaced towards longer (redder) wavelengths. This is known as the redshift, and is the subject of intense controversy. The majority of astronomers and cosmologists subscribe to the big bang theory, and interpret the redshift to mean that all galaxies are flying apart at high speed and that the universe is expanding. A growing minority of scientists, however, maintains that the redshift is produced by other causes, and that the universe is not expanding. As astronomer Halton Arp remarks in Seeing Red: Redshifts, Cosmology and Academic Science, "one side must be completely and catastrophically wrong." (1)

G. de Purucker rejected the theory of an expanding universe or expanding space as "little short of being a scientific pipe-dream or fairy-tale," and suggested that the redshift might be caused by light losing energy during its long voyage through space. (2) This is known as the tired-light theory, and is supported by several astronomers. Paul LaViolette and Tom Van Flandern, for example, have reviewed several observational tests of the different interpretations of the redshift, and conclude that the tired-light, non-expanding-universe model explains the data much better than the expanding-universe hypothesis. (3) To bring the big bang model into line with observations, constant adjustments have to be made to its "free parameters" (i.e., fudge factors).

According to the big bang theory, a galaxy's redshift is proportional to its recession velocity, which increases with its distance from earth. In the tired-light model, too, we would expect redshift to be proportional to distance. The fact that this is not always the case shows that other factors must be involved. Numerous examples of galaxies at the same distance having very different redshifts are given in the landmark book Seeing Red by Halton Arp, who works at the Max Planck Institut fur Astrophysik in Germany. He also gives many examples of how, for over 30 years, establishment astronomers and cosmologists have systematically tried to ignore, dismiss, ridicule, and suppress this evidence -- for it is fatal to the hypothesis of an expanding universe. Like other opponents of the big bang, he has encountered great difficulties getting articles published in mainstream journals, and his requests for time on ground-based and space telescopes are frequently rejected.

Arp argues that redshift is primarily a function of age, and that tired light plays no more than a secondary role. He presents abundant observational evidence to show that low-redshift galaxies sometimes eject high-redshift quasars in opposite directions, which then evolve into progressively lower-redshift objects and finally into normal galaxies. Ejected galaxies can, in turn, eject or fission into smaller objects, in a cascading process. Within galaxies, the youngest, brightest stars also have excess redshifts. The reason all distant galaxies are redshifted is because we see them as they were when light left them, i.e., when they were much younger. About seven local galaxies are blueshifted. The orthodox view is that they must be moving towards us even faster than the universe is expanding, but in Arp's theory, they are simply older than our own galaxy as we see them.

To explain how redshift might be related to age, Arp and Jayant Narlikar suggest that instead of elementary particles having constant mass, as orthodox science assumes, they come into being with zero mass, which then increases, in steps, as they age. When electrons in younger atoms jump from one orbit to another, the light they emit is weaker, and therefore more highly redshifted, than the light emitted by electrons in older atoms. To put it another way: as particle mass grows, frequency (clock rate) increases and therefore redshift decreases.

When astronomers first saw active, disturbed galaxies neighboring each other, they immediately jumped to the conclusion that they were in the process of colliding. Arp comments: "By ignoring the empirical evidence for ejection from galaxies, they illustrated an unfortunate tendency in science, namely that when presented with two possibilities, scientists tend to choose the wrong one" (p. 104). Despite the modern mania for galaxy mergers and black holes, it is ejection processes that are the most ubiquitous, and may provide a key to redshift anomalies.

In the 1950s, after some initial reluctance, astronomers came to accept the evidence that jets of radio-wave-emitting material could be ejected in opposite directions from the nuclei of active galaxies. Further examples of ejection are provided by spiral galaxies: large knots are sometimes seen along spiral arms, and companion galaxies on the ends of the arms. There is fierce resistance, however, to the idea that high-redshift objects can be ejected by low-redshift galaxies, because this would demolish the fundamental assumption on which the big bang is built -- that the redshift is caused entirely by recession velocities. Nevertheless, the evidence is compelling. Pairs of ejected objects often line up on either side of active galaxies and are connected to their parent galaxy by luminous filaments ("umbilical cords"). However, establishment scientists insist that all cases where low-redshift and high-redshift objects appear to be physically associated are merely chance combinations of foreground and background objects, and they attribute the connecting filaments to "noise" or "instrument defects."

Mainstream astronomers believe that the normally very high redshifts of quasars indicate that they are situated near the edge of the visible universe, and are rushing away from us at velocities approaching the speed of light. To explain why many quasars lie very close to low-redshift galaxies, it is fashionable nowadays to invoke the theory of gravitational lensing: the image of a background quasar is supposedly split into multiple bright images by the gravitational field of a foreground galaxy with a large mass. The Einstein Cross, for example, consists of four quasars aligned across a central galaxy of lower redshift, and is regarded as a prime example of gravitational lensing -- despite the fact that Fred Hoyle calculated the probability of such a lensing event as less than two chances in a million, and despite the presence of connecting material between the quasars and the galaxy nucleus! The assumption that redshift equals velocity has led to galaxy masses being overestimated, and more reasonable estimates indicate that genuine gravitational lens effects are probably very rare.

If the universe is expanding, redshifts should show a continuous range of values. Instead, however, they are "quantized," i.e., they tend to be multiples of certain basic units, the main ones (expressed as velocities) being 72.4 km/s and 37.5 km/s. This phenomenon, says Arp, "is so unexpected that conventional astronomy has never been able to accept it, in spite of the overwhelming observational evidence" (p. 195). He suggests that redshift quantization could be due to episodes of matter creation taking place at regular intervals.

The redshift-equals-velocity assumption has led big bangers to conclude that galaxies in groups and clusters are moving much faster than they really are, and since the galaxies' visible mass cannot account for these rapid motions, this has given rise to the current obsession with "dark matter." Some 90% of the matter in the universe supposedly consists of this hypothetical, never-detected stuff. Arp, however, shows that in every group of galaxies investigated, companion galaxies always have systematically higher redshifts than the central galaxy they are orbiting. The only reasonable explanation for this is that companion galaxies have intrinsic, excess redshifts arising from their younger age; they are born from the central galaxy and expelled into its near neighborhood. In galaxy clusters, too, smaller, younger galaxies have been found to have excess redshifts. Redshift quantization indicates that the orbital velocities of galaxies must be less than 20 km/s, otherwise the periodicity would be washed out. Once this is accepted, the need for immense quantities of dark matter vanishes.

In addition to the redshift, another important piece of "evidence" for the big bang is said to be the cosmic microwave background radiation of 2.7 kelvins, which is supposedly the afterglow of the primordial explosion. Arp, however, argues that the extraordinary smoothness of the background radiation provides strong evidence against an expanding universe. A much simpler explanation is that we are seeing the temperature of the intergalactic medium.

Current expanding-universe theory seems headed for oblivion, but the large number of professionals with vested interests in its preservation means that its demise is likely to take a very long time. Even some mystically or theosophically minded writers have tended to jump on the big bang bandwagon, believing that the theory is essentially correct, provided we recognize the workings of divine intelligence going on behind the scenes. But even divine intelligence would not be able to save the big bang!

The idea that space can expand like elastic is one of the many illogical features of the standard big bang model. Space must be infinite, for if it is finite, where does it end and what lies beyond? It's true that big bangers have concocted a theory which allows space to curve round upon itself so that it is both finite and boundless -- but this merely indicates the extent to which they have abandoned reality in favor of abstract mathematical theorizing. If space is infinite, then clearly it cannot expand for, as H. P. Blavatsky says, "infinite extension admits of no enlargement." She also indicates that the "outbreathing" of Brahma (the cosmic divinity), as described in Hindu philosophy, refers not to a physical increase in size but to a "change of condition" -- "the development of limitless subjectivity into as limitless objectivity" (The Secret Doctrine 1:62-3). In other words, outbreathing and inbreathing can refer to the unfoldment of the One (the spiritual summit of a world-system) into the many (the lower, material realms), and the subsequent reabsorption of the many into the One, in a never-ending cycle, or cosmic heartbeat, of evolution and involution.

Arp is one of a growing number of scientists who are returning to the idea of an infinite, eternal universe, subject to constant transformations. (4) He believes that matter is created continually -- not from nothing, but from the materialization of mass-energy existing in a diffuse state, in the form of the all-pervading "quantum sea" or "zero-point field." The universe, he says, is constantly unfolding from many different points within itself. He also believes that after a certain interval elementary particles may decay, so that matter merges back into the quantum sea. This closely corresponds to the theosophical notion of periodical materialization and etherealization, except that in theosophy the process is not confined to our physical plane but embraces higher worlds of consciousness-substance as well -- worlds whose existence is pointed to by a wide variety of physical phenomena. (5)

Our Milky Way galaxy is a member of the Local Group of galaxies, which belongs to the Virgo Supercluster, and our nearest neighbor is the Fornax Supercluster. What do we know about what lies beyond? Mainstream cosmologists insist that we know a great deal. Powerful telescopes reveal many faint, fuzzy objects with high redshifts that are assumed to represent distant clusters and superclusters, which form immense sheets of galaxies, separated by huge voids. Arp writes:

An enormous amount of modern telescope time and staff is devoted to measuring redshifts of faint smudges on the sky. It is called "probing the universe." So much time is consumed, in fact, that there is no time at all available to investigate the many crucial objects which disprove the assumption that redshift measures distance. -- p. 69

He says that, given the misinterpretation of the redshift, distances may be wrong by factors of 10 to 100, and luminosities and masses may be wrong by factors up to 10,000: "We would have a totally erroneous picture of extragalactic space, and be faced with one of the most embarrassing boondoggles in our intellectual history" (p. 1). He presents many pieces of evidence indicating that some faint "galaxy clusters" actually consist of young objects ejected from nearby active galaxies. The same applies to most of the rather peculiar-looking objects to be seen in the "Hubble Deep Field," a famous image of very high-redshift and supposedly extremely distant galaxies.

We have no reliable way of knowing how far the local Virgo and Fornax Superclusters are from the next superclusters, and there is therefore no certainty that any of the objects we observe lies outside them. In other words, we may be seeing far less of the universe than is generally believed. Even some of Arp's closest allies are very reluctant to contemplate the possibility that the cosmic distance scale as a whole is seriously wrong. Whether Arp's radical views will be confirmed remains to be seen, but he is undoubtedly right when he says: "We are certainly not at the end of science. Most probably we are just at the beginning!" (p. 249).

  • (From Sunrise magazine, December 1998/January 1999. Copyright © 1998 by Theosophical University Press.)

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    1. Apeiron, Montreal, 1998; illustrated, isbn 0-968368-90-5, US$25.00, p. ii. (return to text)

    2. G. de Purucker, Fountain Source of Occultism, Theosophical University Press (TUP), 1974, pp. 80-1; Esoteric Teachings, Point Loma Publications, 1987, 3:28-30; The Esoteric Tradition, 2nd ed., TUP, 1973, pp. 435-8n. (return to text)

    3. Paul LaViolette, Beyond the Big Bang: Ancient Myth and the Science of Continuous Creation, Park Street Press, 1995, pp. 260-3, 268-75; Tom Van Flandern, "Did the Universe Have a Beginning?," Meta Research Bulletin, 3:3, 1994, www.metaresearch.org. (return to text)

    4. See Halton C. Arp, C. Roy Keys and Konrad Rudnicki, eds., Progress in New Cosmologies: Beyond the Big Bang, Plenum, 1993. (return to text)

    5. See "Worlds within Worlds," http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/dp5/ worlds.htm. (return to text)