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No. 233 "Vital Articles on Science/Creation" November 1992
Bumps in the Big Bang
by Russell Humphreys, Ph.D.*
Copyright (c) 1992 by I.C.R.
All Rights Reserved
* Dr. Humphreys is an ICR Adjunct Professor of Geophysics and
Astrophysics at ICR Graduate School and a physicist at Sandia
National Laboratories, Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Laboratories
have not supported this work.
In April 1992, a team of scientists working on data from the Cosmic
Background Explorer (COBE) satellite made a dramatic announcement: They
had found what proponents of the Big Bang theory of the cosmos called
the "Holy Grail"--the long-sought "bumps" in the cosmic microwave
background radiation. Without really understanding what this meant,
newspapers and television commentators reported that the "final proof"
for the Big Bang theory had been found, and that "we now know" how the
universe began. Theistic evolutionists began trumpeting, even louder,
their view that the Bible should be re-interpreted to accommodate the
Big Bang's time scale (20 billion years) and evolutionary order of
events (sun before earth; death before Adam, etc.). Christian lay people
began to ask creationist scientists what the hoopla was all about. What
is the cosmic microwave background radiation? What are the "bumps"? Why
all the excitement? Is there a creationist explanation? This article
seeks to answer those questions.
What Is the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation?
In 1964, two Bell Laboratories scientists, Arno Penzias and Robert
Wilson, accidentally discovered that the earth is bathed in
low-intensity microwave electromagnetic radiation coming equally from
all directions. The intensities and wavelengths of these microwaves are
characteristic of thermal radiation
Everything emits thermal radiation. Any object at a particular
temperature emits thermal radiation with a particular set of intensities
and wavelengths. For example, a white-hot light bulb filament at 3000C
emits radiation at high intensities and short wavelengths all across the
visible light part of the electromagnetic spectrum. A red-hot coal at
700C emits lower intensity radiation at longer wavelengths, some of it
at the red end of the visible light part of the spectrum and some of it
at invisible "infrared" wavelengths. A soldier's body at 37C emits yet
lower intensities and longer wavelengths; his thermal radiation is not
visible to the eye, being fully in the infrared part of the
electromagnetic spectrum, but it is visible to a sniperscope on cool
Yet cooler materials, say liquid hydrogen at minus 253C (20 above
absolute zero), emit very low intensity radiation at relatively long
wavelengths (millimeters to centimeters), in the "microwave" part of the
electromagnetic spectrum. The microwaves Penzias and Wilson discovered
have the intensities and wavelengths of an object just 2.740 above
The Big Bang Explodes Upon the Scene
Immediately after the Penzias-Wilson discovery, many cosmologists
began interpreting it as evidence that the universe began in a cosmic
explosion 10-to-20 billion years ago. About a million years after this
"big bang," they claimed, the resulting fireball of expanding
incandescent gas would cool down to about 3000C, and the thermal
radiation in the fireball would be in the visible light-part of the
spectrum. At this point, the light would be able to travel freely in
all directions through the fireball as it expanded. According to
Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, space itself would expand along
with the fireball. This expansion of space would stretch out the light
waves passing through it, "red shifting" them by a factor of 1000 down
to much longer wavelengths. Thus, according to Big-Bang theorists, the
cosmic microwave background radiation we see today would be light from
their primordial fireball, but red-shifted down to low intensities and
What Are the "Bumps"?
Big-Bang proponents theorize that small clumps of gas in their
primordial fireball grew into stars, galaxies, and clusters of galaxies.
The clumps should have left evidence of themselves as hot and cold spots
in the cosmic microwave background. That is, as we point our detectors
in different directions, we should see slight differences in the
temperature of the microwaves from point to point in the sky. Plotted
on a map of the sky, these temperature differences would look like hills
and valleys, or "bumps." The larger the bumps, the faster the
corresponding clumps of gas in the primordial fireball could grow into
stars and galaxies.
The early measurements of the microwave background were rather
imprecise. However, experimentalists gradually refined their
measurements over the years. As they did so, they found no bumps. Late
in 1989, the COBE satellite was launched in an effort to make more
precise measurements and find the bumps. As of late 1991, COBE was
still reporting no bumps in the background. Big Bang theorists were
beginning to panic, because the experimental limits on the bumps were
beginning to get too low to allow formation of galaxy clusters within
the allotted time of billions of years.
Why All the Excitement?
That brings us back to the April 1992 announcement. The COBE team
had continued to accumulate data: "And now, as COBE reaches the limits
of its precision, the team [had] finally found the long-sought
bumps." The alleged bumps are "well below the level of instrumental
noise," and one team member says, "You can't point to any one point in
the data and say that's signal and that's noise." But the team is
confident they have good statistical evidence for hot-and-cold spots
differing in temperature by about five parts out of a million, i.e.,
by about one hundred-thousandths of a degree. The team leader, George
Smoot, admits that he is "going out on a limb" until other experiments
back him up. Even if the results are correct, nobody knows for
certain whether these bumps are really intense enough to account for the
large-scale structure of the universe. Yet Big-Bang proponents are so
relieved to find any bumps, they are breaking out the champagne!
A Less Exotic Cause for the Bumps
However, in their haste to find bumps in the primordial fireball,
Big Bang theorists appear to have forgotten another possible cause of
the bumps--a cause that would have nothing to do with the alleged
fireball (or any other possible source of the background). Several
decades ago two Soviet astrophysicists, R. A. Sunyaev and Ya. B.
Zel'dovich, pointed out that as the background radiation passes through
large clouds of intergalactic gas, some of the radiation would collide
with electrons in the gas, scattering it out of our line of sight and
giving it a different wavelength ("Compton scattering"). The
resulting change of intensity in the background radiation reaching us
would be interpreted by COBE as a change in the radiation's temperature.
Different lines of sight in various directions would have different
changes, depending on the number and size of gas clouds in the cosmos
(see Figure 1). Sunyaev and Zel'dovich estimated the resulting bumps
could be as large as one part in a thousand. Another author estimated
three parts in ten thousand. Since the effect depends on the number and
temperature of electrons in the gas clouds, cooler and less-dense clouds
could easily cause the smaller bumps which COBE observes, five parts out
of a million.
Figure 1. [See IMP-233.GIF for Figure 1 illustration]
Sunyaev-Zel'dovich theory for "bumps" in the cosmic microwave
background. Thermal radiation from one direction interacts with
large gas clouds in the cosmos, causing the COBE satellite to
register a slightly different temperature than that of the
source. Radiation from another direction encounters no gas
clouds, so COBE registers the true temperature of the source,
which is slightly different from that of the first direction.
Thus, even if the source of the background radiation (whether
fireball or something else) were perfectly uniform in temperature, the
Sunyaev- Zel'dovich effect could account for all of the bumps observed,
simply by taking account of what would happen to the radiation on its
long trip to us. This means that the original source of the radiation
could have been very uniform. A smoother source would be very hard on
Big Bang theories.
Is There a Creationist Explanation?
It is not enough merely to criticize evolutionary theories. Creationist
scientists must try to offer alternative theories in their place. In
1981, creationists did propose an alternative theory for the cosmic
microwave background. However, the bumps which that theory would
predict would be much greater than those actually observed. The only
other creationist explanation I know of is an idea I have had for
several years. It sprang from about seven years' work I have been doing
on a young-earth creationist cosmology. Though it is based on
Scripture, it is quite consistent with Einstein's General Theory of
I have made good progress, but the theory is not mathematically
complete and has not been subjected yet to formal peer review.
Therefore, it would not be appropriate to explain it here. I hope to
present a fairly complete version of the theory at the Third
International Conference on Creationism in Pittsburgh during the summer
In summary, the brouhaha over the bumps in the Big Bang seems to be
much ado about nearly nothing. The observed bumps are at the limit of
experimental precision, and really need to be verified by more accurate
experiments. Even if they turn out to be real, the bumps could have a
simple alternative explanation--an explanation which would put yet more
pressure on the Big Bang theory than it is already under. If
creationists can provide a good explanation for the cosmic microwave
background itself, not just the bumps in it, as my work leads me to
believe is possible, the Big Bang theory might turn out to be a "Big
-- REFERENCES --
1. F. Flam, "COBE finds the bumps in the big bang," _Science_, 256
(1 May 1992) 612.
2. J. Silk, "Cosmology back to the beginning," _Nature_, 356
(30 April 1992) 741-742.
5. D. R. Humphreys, "Compton scattering and the cosmic microwave
background bumps," submitted 19 May 1992 to _Nature_, Scientific
Correspondence section. Copies available from author.
6. R. A. Sunyaev and Ya. B. Zel'dovich, "Small-scale fluctuations of
relic radiation," _Astrophysics_and_Space_Science_, 7 (1970) 3-19,
cf. p. 16.
7. J. V. Narlikar, _Introduction_to_Cosmology_ (Boston: Jones &
Bartlett, 1983) pp. 190-191, 346-347, 457.
8. R. Ackridge, T. Barnes, and H. S. Slusher, "A recent creation
explanation of the 3K black body radiation," _Creation_Research_
_Society_Quarterly_, 18 (December 1981) pp. 159-162.
9. R. Humphreys, "C decay and galactic red-shifts," _Creation_Ex_
_Nihilo_Technical_Journal_, 5 (1992) part 1, in press.
This "Impact" was converted to ASCII, for BBS use,
from the original formatted desktop article.
Comments regarding typographical errors
in the above material are appreciated.
Don Barber, ICR Systems Administrator
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