Written By:



By Timothy E. Eastman, Ph.D. (Space Plasma Physicist)


A full consideration of issues in contemporary physical cosmology requires a treatment that includes philosophical presuppositions, scientific method, political and sociological issues, data and data analysis, basic science questions, and the consideration of viable alternatives. Brief notes on such considerations are given below. Another issue, not here addressed, is the historical and cultural context of developments in cosmology.

1.  Philosophical Presuppositions

There are several problematic philosophical presuppositions typically associated with proponents of the standard (Big Bang or “BB”) cosmology model, some of which are as follows:

  1. A. Causal Closure: This is the claim that there must be an all-inclusive web of efficient causal propositions, presumed possible in some final true “theory of everything” that would be complete without need for propositions outside of that framework. Several considerations undermine this claim, including Gödel’s Proof demonstrating that within any finite algebra of consequence, one can formulate propositions that go beyond said framework.
  1. B. Actualism: This is the claim that the domain of what is “real” can be mapped, without remainder, onto the domain of the “actual.” For example, the “block universe” model (commonly associated with Einstein’s space-time framework) treats the full domain of the model as “actual” without reference to “potentiality” and, if so referenced, only in some epistemic sense of the term. New results in quantum theory of measurement however show that quantum physics, most fundamentally, requires reference to potentiality-probability-actuality transitions (see, e.g., Epperson and Zafiris 2013, 108). Thus, interpreting relativity theory as denying potentiality assures a fundamental conflict with the much more highly tested results of quantum physics. Actualism is presupposed, for example, in recent discussions of multiple universes: Instead of a common-sense consideration of possibilities in the future, one refers only to some essentially infinite array of actualized universes. This is truly an ontological overflow!
  1. C. Deterministic Law: The Enlightenment period favored the view that physical relationships are God-given “laws.” Influenced by Kant and the philosophical presuppositions of classical physics, Einstein assumed that fundamental “laws” are deterministic necessities, with the same kind of necessity provided by deductive logic. In practice, science does achieve the identification of invariant physical relationships with mathematical forms and high levels of determination, but the solution and application of such formalism is always with approximation in the context of particular physical systems. Thus, it is a metaphysical claim (not a claim of science) that any particular physical law is strictly deterministic, because part of the meaning of such “law” is through its potential solutions, which necessarily involve approximation, including particular context, and initial and boundary conditions. In this sense, the statement that a particular equation is of “deterministic form” is a meaningful scientific claim; however, the statement that such is strictly “deterministic” necessarily involves a philosophical claim.
  1. D. Mathematical physics trumps experience: In the past century, many have created a chain of reasoning that extrapolates from the predictive power of modern science to a seemingly unlimited faith in theoretical science to yield knowledge. In this neo-Platonism, commonly encountered among Big Bang theorists, claims like the following are sometimes made: “The physical world not only is described by mathematics, but that it ismathematics, making us self-aware parts of a giant mathematical object” (Tegmark 2014, 6, emphasis added). In appreciation of the fundamental limitations of human-generated theory, model making and approximation, some mainstream mathematical physicists, less committed to recent extensions of the Big Bang framework into untested, even in-principle untestable and unfalsifiable regimes, are beginning to express their skepticism (Smolin 2006). Even more pointedly, some have noted that certain basic concepts presupposed in the neo-Platonic faith in abstract theory, such as that concerning “absolute universal law,” are “idols ripe for smashing” (Finkelstein 2004, 185).

2.  Issues of Scientific Method

Philosophers and historians of science generally agree that science is defined by method and not by specific content. Indeed, most scientists would argue that the best method is to seek clear tests between alternative models or hypotheses concerning given observations or experimental results with an emphasis on the value of falsification (in general, meaningful scientific propositions should be “falsifiable,” at least in principal). In an unending process, science communities seek sound descriptions, interpretations and models (involving both quantitative and qualitative aspects) of invariant features of physical relations, steadily improved (yet always involving approximation) through repeated testing and evaluation. At its best, such process leads to a succession of models with enhanced reliability and predictive power, going from preliminary hypotheses to various levels of confirmation, but never “proof” which is reserved for logic and certain mathematical propositions, not for contingent physical relations. Of course, at any stage, particular hypotheses may suffer disconfirmation or falsification, leading to simple rejection or re-interpretation.

The core of quantum physics has evolved in this way to achieve a very high level of confirmation, and has survived numerous tests and experiments that could have led to falsification and rejection. Unfortunately, some theories can evolve in a way that makes them highly resistant to such testing and any possible falsification instances. In particular, the Big Bang framework has evolved into a research program (Chalmers 2013, Chapter 9) that is not directly testable, and directly relevant laboratory experiments are not possible. Most cosmology parameters and measurements are model-dependent so that effectively “circular” arguments are common. At the very least, the level of confirmation regarding BB is dramatically lower than for core quantum physics, which is grounded on extensive testing, applications and laboratory experiments. Finally, a signature feature of many arguments for BB-related claims is how some theoretical prediction—made after some xzy observational result is already known—is “confirmed” by xyz observation. Confirmation, consistency, and coherence are valuable traits of a model, of course, but are relatively weak factors compared to experiments, testing between alternatives, and resistance to falsification instances. Many critics argue that the Big Bang research program has met very little exposure to these latter factors and is overly dependent on claimed “confirmations.” Indeed, many members of the Alternative Cosmology Group (http://cosmology.info) report that there is no known instance of a genuine “prediction” (versus “post-diction”) made in support of BB.

3.  Political and sociological issues

I witnessed first-hand some of the political forces affecting any truly “objective” treatment of science questions concerning contemporary cosmology when serving as a branch chief at NASA headquarters (within the Space Physics Division, 1985-88). During that time, problems with the Hubble spacecraft required costly repair options and powerful arguments were needed to justify such costs. This led to some exaggerated claims about how Hubble data would “prove” inflation and the Big Bang, etc.

Disruption of normal scientific process has surrounded cosmology issues in other ways. A striking example is the treatment of the eminent observational astrophysicist, Halton Arp, who was fired essentially for forwarding a non-BB interpretation of cosmology data—now the “quasi-steady state hypothesis” which, in Professor Narlikar’s hands, continues to be a viable alternative (Narlikar 2002, 290-98). Officials cancelled his previously-scheduled telescope time, and astronomical journals refused to publish his research (Arp 1987, 167).

Continuing to the present time, similar efforts to suppress alternative approaches are often reported, as documented for example by members of the Alternative Cosmology Group. I personally know of cases in which submissions of low quality that support BB are readily published, whereas some submissions of very high quality that do not support BB are refused publication.

Professor Wolfgang Kundt (emeritus, Univ. of Bonn, Germany) summarizes the situation as follows, “Frontline physics is not as unique and reliable as the multiply tested physics of every-day life. The further the frontline advances towards unreachably large, or unresolvably small separations, or timescales—be it in astro-, geo-, bio-physics, or cosmology—plausible assumptions have to replace redundant experience, and hasty interpretations can lead astray. Our politically organized society then takes care of suppressing minority opinions.” (Kundt 2001, 611-612)

4.  Issues of Data and Data Analysis

A fundamental limitation of physical cosmology and most areas of astrophysics is that, unlike quantum physics, direct experimentation is not possible in spite of the fact of important indirect experiments (e.g., information on atomic spectra). In addition, attempts to measure parameters of cosmological significance are all theory dependent. Indeed, even the basic “distance” parameter of Red Shift (at least for high values) depends on its interpretation, whether by “cosmic inflation” only as assumed for BB, or, in part, involving a contribution of intrinsic Red Shift (several models entirely avoid the notably untestable hypothesis of BB “inflation” (Ratcliffe 2010)).

With regard to the Cosmic Background Radiation (CMB), this illustrates well one of the pervasive problems of available data of cosmological significance. In addition to the theory dependence of parameters, as noted above, most measurements of CMB involve very low signal to noise (S/N – approximately 1 in 1000), the noise originating from one or more of the following error sources: source uncertainties; the propagation medium, primarily intergalactic plasmas (low-density neutrals, ions, electrons and fields); and local sources (e.g., sources from our own galaxy, solar system, or even Earth itself—Indeed, Pierre-Marie Robitaille, an expert in  magnetic resonance imaging systems and microwave sources, reports that it has not yet been ruled out that a substantial “CMB” contributor is simply Earth’s oceans (Robitaille 2007a; 14, 2007b, 20-22). CMB data analysis ranks as one of the most difficult of all complex data analysis efforts, and involves extensive financial, computational and human resources. Many scientists question several BB-related assumptions that go into such analyses (see examples of such critique at http://cosmology.info).

5.  Basic Scientific Issues

There are many basic scientific issues that go well beyond the scope of these brief notes. Some of these were pointed to in my essay “Cosmic Agnosticism,” where I earlier gave an assessment of the state of physical cosmology (Eastman 2010 and 2007). Examples of such problems are as follows:

  1. A. Issues with the basic gravity model: Although mathematically elegant, Einstein’s General Relativity lacks quantitative laboratory testing, and space-based tests performed to date are readily open to alternative interpretations. It has been noted for example that “when Einstein’s equations are projected onto any null surface and the resulting equations are viewed in the freely falling frame, they become identical to the Navier-Stokes equation. . . . There is no á priori reason for such a mathematical equivalence to arise unless gravitational field equations are emergent from some, as yet unknown, microscopic structure (Kolekar, Sanved, and Padmanabhan 2011, 2). This is just one of several arguments recently made in support of taking a new look at a wide class of emergent gravity models; and, in addition, there are other classes of gravity models with their own proponents. Further, Einstein’s General Relativity and most competing gravity models assume a particular metric (variable or not) and treat such metric as foundational. In contrast, recent research in category theory (a new development in mathematics that goes beyond set theory) leads to the conclusion that metric(s) are emergent (i.e., not truly foundational), and that considerations of topology and other category theory issues are more foundational. Einstein’s theory is likely not the last word on gravity.
  1. B. Lack of a unified field theory: Physicist’s continue to seek a “unified field theory” that would combine gravity with the other fundamental force fields (electromagnetism, strong, weak). At first, string theory appeared promising, but within the past decade this research approach has been yielding ever fewer dividends for the vast efforts expended. Given the very high level of confirmation achieved for models of non-gravity force fields (namely “standard model of particle physics”), all subject to direct experimental testing, most scientists suspect that the weak link in this potential partnership is the gravity model.
  1. C. Surface Brightness or Tolman Test: In contrast to BB models, which predict that distant galaxies have hundreds of times greater intrinsic surface brightness than similar nearby galaxies, the most extensive and rigorous paper to date on this issue concludes that galactic surface brightness remains nearly constant, consistent with a flat metric and non-expanding Euclidean universe (Lerner, Falomo, and Scarpa 2014). Independent research by Paul LaViolette (2012, Ch. 7) has led to the same conclusion. Using BB models, however, one must hypothesize that dimming from expansion, by coincidence, exactly cancels the presumed greater surface brightness of early galaxies to produce the illusion of constant brightness. From their results, Lerner et al. infer that distance is simply proportional to redshift at all distances, which is well confirmed for the nearby universe. In contrast, standard BB models with inflation require complex corrections for hypothetical dark matter and dark energy, yielding yet another exotic coincidence.
  1. D. Cosmic Coincidences: Some researchers convert the above and many other highly unlikely coincidences into positive claims about some new anthropic cosmology (Barrow and Tipler 1988). Unfortunately, through unlimited flexibility in “prediction,” models employing the multiverse and inflation have become “immune to experimental and observational tests” such that “the inflationary paradigm is fundamentally untestable, and hence scientifically meaningless (Steinhardt 2014, 9).” In most areas of science, exotic coincidences represents a clue that your model is faulty and that revisions are in order, or at least a serious evaluation of alternative models.
  1. E. Lack of Independent Observations: By simply plotting the number of BB theory parameters over time versus the number of associated independent observations, Michael Disney has shown how “the number of independent observations relevant to cosmology has grown over time, but it has always been less than the number of free parameters in the reigning theory” (2007, 383). Recent talk of “precision cosmology” is misleading because ongoing adjustments of these free parameters always provides for the close fits that enable claims of “precision.” Among the added free parameters are dark matter and dark energy which, it is claimed, dominate the total mass-energy of the system and yet remain unobserved.
  1. F. The Cosmological Principle. This is the basic principle that, when viewed on sufficiently large scale, the universe will look the same from any location and in any direction, i.e., that the universe overall is homogeneous and isotropic. For the BB model, the universe changes over time and would look different to observers at different times since t=0. It is often stated that BB is inconsistent with a “Perfect Cosmological Principle,” including both space and time, but consistent with a more limited version of this principle involving space only. Unfortunately, the same theory emphasizes, in all other respects, how space and time are interwoven, which implies that BB is inconsistent with any version of the principle. There are more simple models being developed that obey the perfect cosmological principle, avoid the problematic, unobserved dark energy, etc. (B-E above), and meet the most recent Tolman test results (C above).

6.  Seeking a Viable Alternative

It is often claimed that we must stay with the Big Bang research program because there is no viable alternative. This claim is a self-fulfilling prophecy; there has been no significant research investment in alternative cosmology models for the past several decades. What is surprising in my view is the outstanding progress made by numerous independent scientists, despite lack of support, in developing elements of viable alternatives. Resources and publications by members of the Alternative Cosmology Group provide many examples of such alternative models. A continuing major alternative is the Quasi-Steady State Model (QSSM) (see Narlikar, cited in major issue #3 above). An earlier version of this steady state model was clearly falsified, which contributed to the recent success of BB, however, later developments with QSSM have overcome those earlier objections. Nevertheless, BB apologists frequently refer only to the earlier version of the steady state model.

There are many representatives of a plasma-based approach to cosmology that attempt to incorporate both fundamental long-range force fields, gravity and electromagnetism, in models at galactic and extra-galactic scale. Typically, cosmology models to date have assumed that only gravity is relevant. However, mainstream models for extra-galactic astrophysics are beginning to employ simple plasma models using magnetohydrodynamic (MHD), which has been well tested in solar-system space plasmas (see programs of NASA’s Heliophysics Division (http://heliophysics.nasa.gov). Further, basic plasma physics processes are known to be roughly scale independent.

It is widely recognized that electromagnetism (EM) is very effectively shielded out in most space plasmas, which allows gravity to generally dominate over long-scale lengths. Nevertheless, electromagnetism and plasmas can still be significant because there is typically a small but significant imbalance of charge in space plasmas, often on the order of 1 out of 105; further,

By definition, plasmas are an interactive mix of charged particles, neutrals, and fields that exhibits collective effects. In plasmas, charged particles are subject to long-range, collective Coulomb interactions with many distant encounters. Although the electrostatic force drops with distance (~1/r2), the combined effect of all charged particles might not decay because the interacting volume increases as r3. Magnetic field effects are often global with their connections reaching to galactic scales and beyond.” (Goedbloed and Poedts 2004, 23)

Thus, provided they are not fully shielded out, plasma processes could be relevant at effectively all scales.

In contrast, standard BB models assume that electromagnetic and plasma effects are 100% shielded out at essentially all scales. This claim has long been recognized as false for stellar-system scales (see generally, Schrijver and Siscoe 2011). Indeed, for my own research area of planetary magnetospheres and interplanetary plasma physics, gravity is almost always negligible for plasma dynamics. Further, the presumption that EM/plasma processes are fully shielded out is now known to be false at galactic scales and beyond with new observations of plasmas in intergalactic media, as well as with the increasing success of MHD approaches to modeling extra-galactic system dynamics (e.g., Keppens et al. 2008). A contrasting extreme to the 100% shielding presumption of BB models has been forwarded by advocates of an “electric universe” model in which EM/plasma effects frequently dominate (e.g., see http://www.electricuniverse.info). Unfortunately, although some good materials about space plasmas are provided by such researchers, their claims too often neglect the substantial shielding that most frequently allows gravity to play a dominate role in large-scale system dynamics, especially for neutral components.

In my view, in contrast to the extreme positions noted above, any realistic model for astrophysical processes, at all scale lengths, must incorporate gravity and electromagnetism (EM) and plasmas processes. Although incomplete, a possible approach to a competitive plasma-based model for cosmology, which would go well beyond Hannes Alfven’s early efforts on a “Plasma Cosmology,” would weave together results and modeling from the following references, among others. Although discouraged by the current focus on BB-only approaches to cosmology issues, implementing such an integrative model is an important project for future science.

A sampling of relevant resources for an integrative “gravity plus EM/plasma-based” approach to extra-galactic astrophysics and cosmology: 

Bonn, Raymond. 2009. Cosmological Effects of Scattering in the Intergalactic Medium. Vaughan Publishing.

Brynjolfsson, Ari. 2010. Plasma Redshift Cosmology. Brynjolfsson Article Archive. http://www.plasmaredshift.org/Article_Archive.html (accessed August 31, 2014)

Goedbloed, Hans and Stefaan Poedts. 2004. Principles of Magneto-Hydrodynamics: With Applications to Laboratory and Astrophysical Plasmas. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. 

Kundt, Wolfgang. 2005. Astrophysics: A New Approach. Berlin: Springer-Verlag.

Lerner, Eric. 1991. The Big Bang Never Happened: A Startling Refutation of the Dominant Theory of the Origin of the Universe. New York: Random House, Times Books.

Lerner, Eric J. and Jose B Almeida, eds. 2006. 1st Crisis in Cosmology Conference, CCC-I, 23-25 June 2005 Moncao, Portugal. AIP Conf. Proc. 822. 

Peratt, Anthony L. 2014 Physics of the Plasma Universe. 2d ed. Berlin: Springer-Verlag

Potter. F., ed. 2009. 2nd Crisis in Cosmology Conference, CCC-2, 7-11 Sept 2008 Port Angeles, Washington. Astronomical Society of the Pacific Conference Series 413.

Ratcliffe, Hilton. 2000. The Static Universe: Exploding the Myth of Cosmic Expansion, Montreal: Apeiron.

Schrijver, Carolus J. and George L. Siscoe, eds. 2011. Heliophysics: Plasma Physics of the Local Cosmos. 2011. New York: Cambridge University Press.


Arp, Halton. 1987. Quasars, Redshifts and Controversies. Berkeley: Interstellar Media.

Barrow, John D. and Frank J. Tipler. 1988. The Anthropic Cosmological Principle. New York: Oxford.

Chalmers, Alan F. 2013. Theories as Structures II: Research Programs. In What Is This Thing Called Science? 121-137. 4th ed. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company.

Disney, Michael J. 2007. Modern Cosmology: Science or Folktale? American Scientist 95, no. 5 (September-October), 383.

Eastman, Timothy. 2010. Cosmic Agnosticism, Revisited (invited paper). The Journal of Cosmology 4: 655-663.

—–. 2007. Cosmic Agnosticism. Process Studies 37, no. 2: 181-197.

Epperson, Michael and Elias Zafiris. 2013. Foundations of Relational Realism: A Topological Approach to Quantum Mechanics and the Philosophy of Nature. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Finkelstein, David. 2004, “Physical Process and Physical Law”, in Physics and Whitehead, edited by Timothy E. Eastman and Hank Keeton. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 180-86.

Goedbloed, Hans and Stefaan Poedts. 2004. Principles of Magneto-Hydrodynamics: With Applications to Laboratory and Astrophysical Plasmas. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Keppens, R., Z. Meliani, B. van der Holst, and F. Casse. 2008. Extragalactic Jets with Helical Magnetic Fields: Relativistic MHD Simulations. arXiv:0802.2034v1 [astro-ph]

Kolekar, Sanved, and T. Padmanabhan. 2011. Action Principle for the Fluid-Gravity Correspondence and Emergent Gravity, arXiv: 1109.5353v2 [gr-qc] (December 8).

Kundt, Wolfgang. 2001. Book Review of A Different Approach to Cosmology: From a Static Universe through the Big Bang towards Reality by Fred Hoyle, Geoffrey Burbridge, and Jayant V. Narlikar. General Relativity and Gravitation 33, no. 3: 611-614.

LaViolette,Paul A. 2010. Subquantum Kinetics: A Systems Approach to Physics and Cosmology. 3d ed. Niskayuna, NY: Starlane Publications.

Lerner, Eric, Renato Falomo, and Riccardo Scarpa. 2014. UV Surface Brightness of Galaxies from the Local Universe to z ~ 5, International Journal of Modern Physics D 23, Issue 06 (May): DOI: 10.1142/S0218271814500588 [21 pages].

Narlikar, Jayant Vishnu. 2002 An Introduction to Cosmology. 3rd ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Ratcliffe, Hilton. 2000. The Static Universe: Exploding the Myth of Cosmic Expansion, Montreal: Apeiron.

Robitaille, Pierre-Marie. 2007. WMAP: A Radiological Analysis. Progress in Physics 1 (January): 3-18

Robitaille, Pierre-Marie. 2007. On the Origins of the CMB: Insight from the COBE, WMAP, and Relikt-1 Satellites. Progress in Physics 1 (January): 19-23.

Schrijver, Carolus J. and George L. Siscoe, eds. 2011. Heliophysics: Plasma Physics of the Local Cosmos. 2011. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Smolin, Lee. 2006. The Trouble with Physics: The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of Science, and What Comes Next. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Steinhardt, Paul. 2014. Big Bang Blunder Bursts the Multiverse Bubble. Nature 510 (June 5): 9.

Tegmark, Max. 2014. Our Mathematical Universe. New York: Knopf.