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Another Attempt by an Esteemed Cosmologist to Avoid a Cosmic Beginning Collapses on Inspection

Photo: Roger Penrose, by Biswarup Ganguly, CC BY 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons.

In previous articles, I described how several recent pieces by physicists assert that the universe might not have had a beginning. I explained how each of the presented arguments was already fully addressed by Stephen Meyer in his book Return of the God Hypothesis or in the extended research notes (hereherehere). The website The Conversation recently published an article by philosopher of science Alastair Wilson titled “How could the Big Bang arise from nothing?” Wilson presents a cosmological model constructed by mathematical physicist and cosmologist Roger Penrose dubbed “conformal cyclical cosmology” (CCC) that purportedly avoids a beginning. 

Penrose is considered one of the preeminent physicists of our day. He performed the famous calculation that the fine tuning of the entropy at the beginning of the universe measures at 1 part in 10 to the power of 10 to the power of 123. This number could not be written if a zero were placed on every particle in the visible universe. Penrose is a true genius, and he has performed a herculean effort to avoid the universe’s beginning. But CCC is founded on numerous highly dubious assumptions, and it contradicts the empirical evidence.

Penrose’s Model

Penrose envisions that the universe is eternally expanding. And it periodically transitions during “crossover events” from the dying embers of an ancient universe to the initiation of a new universe at a big bang event. The crossover occurs after all black holes have evaporated away and the mass of all particles drops to zero. The energy distribution throughout the universe then appears homogeneous as it did after the previous crossover (see figure). 

At each crossover, a hypothesized “phantom field” transitions from a purely mathematic entity into a physical field that rapidly acquires mass and dominates over all other fields. The spacetime geometry at the end of one epoch matches the geometry at the beginning of the next. But lengths are rescaled so that the enormous volume of the old epoch is treated as a miniscule volume after a big bang. The rescaling causes the extremely cold temperature and diffuse concentration of photons at the end of the old epoch to appear after a big bang as an extremely hot and dense state. The “effective entropy” also appears smaller as required to match the observed low entropy in our universe. 

Penrose comments in “The Big Bang and its Dark-Matter Content: Whence, Whither, and Wherefore”:

This conformal freedom allows us to stretch out the hot big bang of the succeeding aeon and to squash down the remote future of the previous one — bearing in mind that energy and momentum scale in the exact inverse way to space and time. So hot becomes cold and dense becomes rarefied upon conformal stretching…

When all black holes have evaporated away, at the crossover 3-surface, the effective entropy will have dropped to the very low value that is required to start off the next aeon. Thus, the 2nd Law is not violated; it is transcended in the sense that the effective entropy definition has to shift down to that which is relevant to the new aeon.

Penrose argues that his model is supported by evidence from patterns observed in the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR). Specifically, he claims to have identified concentric circles and “anomalous points” that could represent an imprint of the universe before the most recent big bang. 

Penrose and His Critics

Yet CCC has faced severe criticism from other cosmologists. The concentric circles in the CMBR could not be identified by other research groups. And many have argued that the CMBR data fits other cosmological models far better than CCC. In addition, the assumption that electrons will eventually lose their mass is not consistent with the Standard Model of particle physics. Physicist Juliane Barbour stated in “Inside Penrose’s Universe”:

There are numerous problems to be overcome in this proposal, which involves a radical rethinking of Penrose’s own ideas about the second law. One serious difficulty is that it relies heavily on all particle masses, including that of the electron, becoming exactly zero in the very distant future. Many particle physicists will question that. But the biggest difficulty of all is that even if the shapes of the aeons match, how does the transition from an infinitely large scale before crossover to an infinitely small scale after crossover occur? This is where the argumentation and mathematics get tough…

Penrose effects the crossover with a scalar field dubbed “phantom” before the crossover, because it involves a purely mathematical conformal transformation. This field then becomes physical after crossover… its transformation “at once” from being a purely mathematical object to a physical one has no parallel elsewhere in physics — unless one likens it to the notorious collapse of the wavefunction in quantum mechanics.

Astrophysicist Ethan Segal even more blunted stated in “No, Roger Penrose, We See No Evidence Of A ‘Universe Before The Big Bang’”: 

Although, much like Hoyle, Penrose isn’t alone in his assertions, the data is overwhelmingly opposed to what he contends. The predictions that he’s made are refuted by the data, and his claims to see these effects are only reproducible if one analyzes the data in a scientifically unsound and illegitimate fashion. Hundreds of scientists have pointed this out to Penrose — repeatedly and consistently over a period of more than 10 years — who continues to ignore the field and plow ahead with his contentions.

Questionable Assumptions

An additional problem is that Penrose’s model requires several highly questionable assumptions. First, it must overcome the implications of the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem that proves that expanding universes must have an absolute beginning. To avoid this conclusion, Penrose must assume that the universe was infinitely large in the infinite past, which is philosophically problematic. Additional unproven assumptions include the following:

  • All particle masses dropping to zero. 
  • Presence of a scalar field that becomes active at the right time to trigger crossover.
  • Mass of the scalar field rapidly increases after crossover.

Given the lack to supporting evidence and the ad hoc assumptions, CCC offers no serious challenge to the evidence that the universe had a beginning. Therefore, something, or more likely someone, outside of time and space must have created it.