Since February 10, the media have been abuzz with the story that two quantum physicists have “corrected” Einstein’s theory of general relativity to demonstrate that the big bang never happened. The two physicists—Ahmed Farag Ali (a professor at Benha University in Egypt) and Saurya Das (a professor at University of Lethbridge in Alberta)—claim the universe might have existed forever. Their paper, “Cosmology from Quantum Potential,” first appeared as a preprint in April 2014 and was published in Physics Letters B in February 2015.1 Anyone can read the entire paper free of charge.
As you can well imagine, concerned believers have bombarded my Facebook pagewith questions. Has one of Christianity’s core beliefs (“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”) just been falsified? Did the Bible get it wrong about the beginning of the universe? Is God irrelevant? Are astronomers mistaken about the big bang? Have the space-time theorems been invalidated?
The short answer to all these questions is no. The longer answer is that there are at least four reasons to doubt the vanquishing of the big bang.
Physics Letters B offers authors considerable latitude to speculate and engage in “what if” physics. Published works there do not necessarily need to pertain to known physical reality. In fact, the paper was published in the journal’s theory section, not in the astrophysics and cosmology section.
The first two lines of the abstract are the most important thing to note about the paper: “It was shown recently that replacing classical geodesics with quantal (Bohmian) trajectories gives rise to a quantum corrected Raychaudhuri equation (QRE).” A geodesic is simply the shortest possible path between two points along a curved or flat space-time surface. In cosmology, a freely moving or falling particle always travels along a geodesic.
Cosmologists use geodesics to build models of the universe. These models establish that there is a “point,” or an infinitely small volume, in the universe’s past where all the geodesics converge, giving rise to a singularity. This singularity is: (1) the beginning of the universe, including the beginning of space and time; and (2) the basis of the space-time theorems,2 which imply that a causal agent beyond space and time is responsible for bringing matter, energy, space, and time into existence.
Quantal Bohmian trajectories are, by definition, paths along which particles travel where it is impossible for the paths to cross each other or converge. Farag Ali and Das’ starting assumption—that geodesics can be replaced wholesale by quantal Bohmian trajectories—rules out the possibility of a singularity occurring at any time or anywhere in the universe. Thus, the conclusion that their cosmological model “gets rid of the big bang singularity and predicts an infinite age of our universe”3 is not a conclusion; it’s simply a restatement of their starting assumption.
The observable predictions made by Farag Ali and Das’ cosmological model are largely indistinct from those made by big bang creation models. The only possible distinctive is a prediction of a tiny mass for the graviton; standard particle physics models predict a zero mass. (The graviton is a hypothetical elementary particle thought to mediate the force of gravity. Physicists believe it to be massless because gravity appears to have an unlimited range of operation.) However, the proposed tiny graviton mass is still orders of magnitude below what any conceivable instrument could possibly detect.
Without a testable distinctive, their model as it presently stands is scientifically irrelevant. Farag Ali and Das fully acknowledge this weakness, pointing out that their work is in a preliminary stage of development. They also acknowledge that theirs is not a quantum gravity model. A quantum gravity model would explain the operation of the universe when it was younger than 0.000000000000000000000000000000000000000001 seconds, when not just gravity but also quantum mechanical effects influenced the universe’s dynamics. So far, scientists lack experimental, observational, and theoretical tools to explore this early era. Most physicists believe such tools are forever beyond their reach.
Farag Ali and Das’ proposal appeals to David Bohm’s quantum potential theory. Bohm (1917–1992) was a quantum physicist who in later life became known for intense interest in New Age mysticism and the paranormal. Bohm believed a deeper reality existed beneath quantum mechanics, namely a sub-quantum field called the quantum potential. In Bohm’s quantum potential theory, space, time, and causality are no longer the dominant factors determining the relationships among the universe’s physical components. Such redefinitions of space, time, and/or causality allow both New Age practitioners and physicists like Farag Ali and Das to argue against the beginning of the universe and the existence and operation of God.
John Boslough in his book, Stephen Hawking’s Universe, quotes Bohm concerning his mystical physics: