Reading Time: 2 minutes By NASA, ESA, and C. Robert O’Dell (Vanderbilt University) (http://www.spacetelescope.org/images/heic1310a/) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Reading Time: 2 minutes

I have been reading a lot of Thomas Paine recently. I just finished “Age of Reason.” I know that Robert Ingersoll, “The Great Agnostic” of the 19th Century, admired Paine, and it is clear that many of his ideas came from Paine’s writings, especially “Age of Reason.” The phrasing that Ingersoll uses to describe the absurdity and immorality of the Bible is right out of “Age of Reason.”

Paine was a Deist. He believed in a god who created everything. Ingersoll disagreed with him, but when you read Paine’s concept of Creator, it’s not that different from just calling it Nature. And when you compare the Big Bang to Paine’s idea of the Creator, they both seem equally plausible…or implausible.

Ingersoll believed that the matter in the Universe is timeless and indestructible…that it has always been here and will always be here. Our concept of time, with a beginning and end, makes it hard for us to accept that. It is likely that we will never know the answer, but that does not mean we should quit trying to understand as much as possible about our current iteration of Universe-life, or how it ultimately will end.

The problem with the Big Bang is that it raises the obvious question: What was “here” before it happened? I put here in quotes because I am not sure where “here” was before there was space-time. When everything, all matter and energy, were concentrated in a “singularity,” a one-dimensional point where gravity and the curvature of space-time are infinite.

That is also the condition at the center of a Black Hole, and we have lots of those in the Universe. There is a black hole at the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way, and probably one at the center of most other galaxies. So, that suggests a model for an oscillating Universe: Big Bang, followed by expansion and cooling for a twenty billion years or so, then gravity pulls everything back into Black Holes at the center of galaxies, and as space-time contracts, the Black Holes come closer together, combine and combine until there is one monster Black Hole…the singularity from which the next Big Bang will start.

There are a few pesky problems with this nice neat scenario. What triggers the Big Bang? Does the singularity have to reach some critical mass, like a nuclear weapon? A bigger problem is the Red Shift. Measurements show that it increases at greater distance, meaning that the most distant galaxies are accelerating, instead of slowing due to gravitational forces. That apparent acceleration is measured from our perspective here on our little planet, and we have no way of knowing where we are in relation to the center of the Universe…the place where that singularity blew up. But if that acceleration continues, it shoots down the idea of an oscillating Universe and suggests that this is a one-shot deal.

Another possibility is that our measurements of relative velocities of objects at great distances may not be accurate due to some artifact that we don’t understand. Or possibly the acceleration will slow and reverse in a few billion years when the “dark energy” that is allegedly causing the acceleration is dissipated. I plan to come back and check on that.

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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...