Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Universe Without Expansion

What if the universe were static rather than expanding? What if, in fact, it could even be shrinking? And what if there never was a Big Bang cosmological singularity? These are the possibilities proposed by C. Wetterich from the University of Heidelberg in a new paper published this month with the title A Universe Without Expansion. 

Einstein, among others, believed in a static universe. But after Hubble’s discovery that all objects in the universe have a red shift, which means they are traveling away from us, the conclusion was reached that the universe is expanding and all attempts at finding static solutions were abandoned. But, as Wetterich explains, there was always a “loophole in the argument.”  The assumption was that the masses of electrons and protons are constant throughout the evolution of the universe. But what if that were not the case? An atom with a higher mass would emit photons with higher energy than one with lesser mass. Since higher energies correspond to higher frequencies, the light from heavier atoms would be blue shifted, while those from lighter ones would be in the red part of the spectrum.

What if the masses of the electrons and protons were smaller at an earlier time in history? Since we observe the universe as it was millions or billions of years ago—the time it takes their light to reach us—if their masses were smaller than they are today their “frequencies of characteristic atomic lines” would produce the same red shift that we see today, without their moving at all. And the degree of red shifting would correspond to the distance from us. In this line of thinking, the Planck mass and the particle masses increase simultaneously with time, while distances remain constant or even shrink.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Creationists, Evolution, and Aliens

I have always found it difficult to understand why Creationists (and Intelligent Design proponents) are so against evolution. Even if evolution is true, it says nothing about the existence of God one way or the other. In the same way that physics may explain the development of the universe, evolution may explain the development of life on earth. Evolution is no more against God than quantum mechanics or the Big Bang Theory. God can be viewed as having created the universe with all of its laws, including the law of evolution.

So what is at the heart of the antagonism to evolution? One commonly held explanation is the Biblical reference to God having creating Man in His own image. If evolution depends on random mutations and natural selection, the thinking goes, it has no predetermined outcome and, therefore, it goes against the Bible. The human race could have evolved in myriad other ways. This thinking obviously follows a literal reading of the Bible rather than a metaphorical one.

According to one rough estimate, the Milky Way contains about 100 billion earth-like planets. Since the known universe contains about 500 billion galaxies that we know of, there are roughly 5x10^22 habitable planets in the universe. Even if that estimate is off by several orders of magnitude, it is clear that intelligent life must exist elsewhere in the universe. Do Creationists believe that this intelligent life looks exactly like us, Homo sapiens? From their point of view, are these intelligent beings any less “God’s creatures” than we are? Or do they really believe that we are the only intelligent beings in this vast universe?