August 3, 2009 | David F. Coppedge

Cosmologist Has a Sobering Thought: We Are Forever in the Dark About Dark Energy

An evangelist for the standard model of cosmology is having a moment of penitence.  He is admitting to himself, and to the world, that “we will remain resolutely in the dark about dark energy.”
    In a piece in New Scientist, Pedro Ferreira [Oxford] has revealed the vicious circle of assumptions that undermine confidence in the claims of modern cosmologists.  Most models assume a flat universe for convenience.  Without knowing the geometry of space-time, or the evolution of dark energy, or whether the cosmological constant (lambda) represents acceleration, we have no basis for assuming a flat universe.

This means that we cannot pin down the geometry of space-time.  We are then caught in a vicious circle: to know the geometry of the universe we need to pin down dark energy.  Yet to determine how much dark energy there is, we need to know the geometry.  Knowing one without the other is futile and a recipe for disaster.
    These recent results are sobering.  Having proselytised about the great discovery of the millennium, that the universe is flat, I now find myself backtracking.  And there is a sense of foreboding that it may never be possible to know our cosmos as well as we’d like to.

Ferreira unraveled the hype behind COBE, WMAP and the other instruments and studies that seemed to support the standard model.  He was “brutally honest” about how little we actually know.  He talked about new findings that “shook my faith in the notion” that the universe is flat.  He ended his confession on a mildly optimistic note.  “Happily all is not lost: new experiments are being designed to probe the deepest recesses of the cosmos,” he said.  New probes and small projects are “chipping away at our ignorance.”  Getting a handle on the geometry of space-time “is just going to take a bit longer than we originally thought.”

Cosmologists are the biggest hype marketers in the universe.  How many books have been written promoting a golden age of “precision cosmology”?  How many speeches have been given?  How many dazzling planetarium shows?  Ferreira is not the only evangelist that preached to us, “repent and believe the big bang gospel” (e.g., 11/02/2002).
    Some skilled visualization can turn vicious circles into works of art.  In the land of logic, though, they are still vicious.  They have the habit of blinding the unwary of their own assumptions.  Christians should not trust the loud voices of salesmen on the big bang bandwagon promoting their snake oil potions of dark stuff.  Now that one of them has come clean, admitting its efficacy is doubtful, and that it might even be a “recipe for disaster,” have we learned our lesson?  Now that he has admitted that “it may never be possible to know our cosmos as well as we’d like to” would you drink his new, improved elixir next time?

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Categories: Cosmology, Physics

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