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What is the case against the theory of cosmic evolution?

  1. Jun 15, 2011 #1
    Hi all,

    I'm new here so please forgive me if this has been explained somewhere already.

    Lately I've been reading about cosmic evolution and I find it hard to understand how it cannot be a generally accepted theory within the scientific community. At least according to wikipedia it seems that it is somewhat speculative still.

    I know that biological evolution is generally understood to not describe the origin of life (abiogenesis). And, going further back, I understand that we haven't fully understood the complete process from the early universe to formation of amino acids. But still, isn't it clear that certain states in the cosmos has evolved into other states? And that evolution by natural selection in the biological life on Earth is just the mechanism by which the universe has evolved during a certain time at a certain place (irrespective of how it has evolved in other places at other times)?

    In other words, if someone does not believe in cosmic evolution - i.e. that our cosmos has continuously evolved from the Big Bang until today - what do they believe?

    Please note I'm not asking about multiverses or about whether black holes can give birth to other universes and such. To me that still is a form of speculation. I would just like to understand if the scientific consensus that we have biological evolution on this planet can be extended to a consensus that we have evolution in our universe. And if not, why not?

  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 15, 2011 #2


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    Are you talking about this WP article? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmic_evolution

    The article states that "Cosmic evolution is the scientific study of universal change." However, it seems clear from the article that there is no actual science involved. Just saying a bunch of stuff -- even stuff that most people would agree with -- is not the same as constructing a scientific theory. Since you used the word "theory" in the title of the thread, I would refer you to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_theory . If the WP article is a fair representation, then it seems clear to me that this is not a scientific theory.

  4. Jun 15, 2011 #3
    Thanks. Fair enough that it's not a theory that yet can be tested etc.

    Perhaps my question is more one of history than one of science then (so maybe this is not the right forum). I'm just asking historically, given what we know about the laws of physics, how can anyone not believe that our cosmos has evolved since the Big Bang. What is the realistic alternative to cosmic evolution (that doesn't involve supernatural intervention and such)?

    It's not a scientific theory either that I grew up in Europe. But that doesn't make it less true. It's a historical fact that can be verified by a lot of scientific evidence.

    Can we say the same about cosmic evolution?
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2011
  5. Jun 15, 2011 #4


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    There is no question that the universe has "evolved" since its origin in the sense that it has changed. Maybe it is the way they explain things that people have issues with? I don't know as I haven't seen much of this.
  6. Jun 15, 2011 #5


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    This may be relevant: https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=506993

    But the whole thing seems a little ridiculous to me. I could create and promote a "scientific" "theory" stating that the common cold is caused by viruses and that gout is caused by crystallization of uric acid. I could call it the "Cold Viruses and Gout Crystals Theory" and say it was very scientific. I could ask why in the world any silly people could doubt my wonderful Cold Viruses and Gout Crystals Theory. I could write a wikipedia article on it, create a web site for it, etc. But it wouldn't actually be a new, valuable, or interesting scientific theory. It would just be a lumping together of some randomly chosen scientific facts.

    This whole thing smells to me like the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sokal_affair" [Broken].

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  7. Jun 16, 2011 #6
    I don't think there is any serious arguments against the observational fact that the Universe has evolved over time. While the Cosmological Principle states that the Universe (on the large scale) is homogenous and isotropic...that is to say that everywhere the Universe is the same, at any given moment in time. The Universe is homogenous and isotropic in Space, but NOT in Time. Observational evidence for the time evolution of the Universe (beginning with the Big Bang up through present time) is numerous and comes from multiple, independant lines of observational study.

    As you know, when we look farther out into Space, we look farther back in Time. There is no question that Galaxies and Galactic structure is markedly different at high redshifts (farther look-back distances). Radio sources and quasars were more numerous in the past than at the present. The farthest galaxies show unmistakable differences from those nearby: i.e., at high redshift, the Universe was different at early epochs, versus present day. And of course, at the farthest limits of current observability, we reach the Recombination era, which is the source of the Cosmic Background Radiation, and precedes the formation of the first stars and galaxies.
  8. Jun 16, 2011 #7


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    Cosmic evolution isn't a term frequently used within the physics community. The theory which describes most of how the universe has changed in time is the big bang theory, which is very strongly evidenced and widely accepted within the community. You can read more about the evidence behind the big bang theory, as well as what the theory itself is at this link:

    If you also want to talk about the formation of galaxies and other objects in the universe, that is connected to the big bang theory, but it is difficult to fit the massive complexity of the physics at work within galaxies and the overall expansion of the universe into one single theoretical framework.
  9. Jun 17, 2011 #8


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    I'll risk some guesses.
    I think the WP article could be a bit slimy but still not an intentional hoax.
    Look at how much the article cites Frederick Turner.
    There may be an aspect of unintended self-parody here, yet not outright hoax.
    I don't know enough about the origins of "cosmic evolution" to say more. I suspect a large dose of "Natural Religion", mixed with sincere enthusiastic/syncretic free-association. I gather Turner teaches humanities at the U of Texas at Dallas and may lecture about things like the virtues of Capitalism and the harmony of the Free Market with God.
    Here is a 2000 review of a book of his relating Shakespeare to Market social theory.

    Capitalism's Poet Laureate

    Shakespeare's Twenty-First Century Economics: The Morality of Love and Money, by Frederick Turner, New York: Oxford University Press, 223 pages, $35.00

    Turner puts forth the audacious claim that Shakespeare was in effect the poet laureate of capitalism.

    ...Turner, a REASON contributing editor and a professor of arts and humanities at University of Texas at Dallas, senses that the time is ripe for a re-evaluation of Shakespeare's view of commercial activity. The collapse of communism has discredited Marxist theory, and the worldwide success of market reforms has forced even professors of economics to take a fresh look at how capitalism works. Turner sees that the virtue of the free market goes beyond merely economic considerations; it encompasses a whole range of ethical and political goods.

    "The market is the place where one can begin to communicate with strangers, where one can negotiate...where defeat does not mean extinction but the opportunity to pull a better deal another day," writes Turner. "It encourages a basic level of civility and requires of those who would profit by it a preparedness to take risks in trusting others....The Shakespearean theater was a kind of marketplace; and that market was one of the preconditions for the emergence of democratic politics."

    Thus, when Turner looks at Shakespeare's plays, he is prepared to find the economic and ethical realms, not at odds as in so much academic discourse, but in harmony, as the playwright creates a continuum between our material and our spiritual values. (Turner presented many of these ideas in his March 1997 REASON article, "The Merchant of Avon.") For example, Turner shows that in Shakespeare's treatment of marriage, he does not divorce financial considerations from emotional ones, as a Romantic poet would. In Shakespeare, the successful marriage is a very practical matter and unites emotional and financial well-being. That is why he ultimately focuses on the marriage bond. Turner makes much of such dual meanings in Shakespeare, when such words as trust, interest, debt, redeem, and venture have at once spiritual and financial significance.

    In an elegant and closely reasoned discussion of The Merchant of Venice, Turner shows how the heroine Portia uses her wealth for positive purposes, making harmony prevail in a community divided by religion. Decades of literary criticism have conditioned us to expect that any discussion of economics in literature will be Marxist in nature. But Turner repeatedly turns the tables on Marxist critics. Consider, for example, his discussion of the comic moment in Merchant when Launcelot Gobbo's old father cannot recognize his own son on the street:

    "It would be easy to give a Marxist view of this episode: that the new impersonal cash and commodity exchange economy alienates family members from each other and creates a society of isolated selfish individuals. But this interpretation is too facile for the wise Shakespeare....It only takes a few minutes for Old Gobbo to recognize his son, so the alienation of city workers from their country ancestors is not really so terrible. Thus Shakespeare is implying that the mercantile city affords greater opportunities for new personal relationships, without necessarily damaging the old ones--a conclusion quite contrary to those of most critics of capitalism."

    Turner's book is filled with this kind of sanity and clarity, moments when he makes us take a fresh look at a scene we may have read or viewed dozens of times without appreciating its significance. But his book is something far more than a series of new readings of familiar scenes; it adds up to a fundamental reconception of Shakespeare.

    Turner writes, "This book makes three arguments, following Shakespeare. First, that human art, production, and exchange are a continuation of natural creativity and reproduction, not a rupture of them. Second, that our human bonds with one another, even the most ethical and personal, cannot be detached from the values and bonds of the market. And third, that there is a mysterious dispensation according to which our born condition of debt can be transformed into one of grace. These three arguments may be taken as refutations of the three reproaches to the market offered by its critics: that the market necessarily alienates us from nature, from each other, and from God." Thus the challenge of Turner's book is twofold: It invites us to rethink our view of Shakespeare, but perhaps more important, it invites us to rethink the relation of our economic to our spiritual life.

    A book this ambitious is not going to be without flaws, and at times I found myself quarreling with Turner's understanding of both economics and Shakespeare. Turner's basic grasp of the virtues of capitalism is sound, and he makes many acute observations about how markets function and how they are superior to centrally planned economies. But his command of certain details of economic theory at times seems weak....
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  10. Jun 19, 2011 #9
    Thanks. This resolves it for me.
  11. Jun 19, 2011 #10


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    And just for the record, surely we need to be careful about this word evolution. We're not comapring the "evolution" of a system (such as the universe) with anthing like biological evolution are we?

    The state of my living room will "evolve" from cool to hot over the course of a sunny day, but that has nothing to do with natural evolution.
  12. Jun 19, 2011 #11
    That's exactly my point. Everything evolves. The mechanisms by which it happens just differ depending on which domain we're talking about. In biology, we call it natural selection. In cosmology we call it the big bang, inflation, formation of galaxies, stars, planets, etc.

    But at the end of the day it's all just evolution.
  13. Jun 19, 2011 #12


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    No, scientific terms have specific meanings. It's the same in other fields as well. If you want to work in a machine shop, you'd better know the difference between taps and threads. Evolution means a specific thing in a specific scientific theory: Darwin's theory of evolution of the species by natural selection.

  14. Jun 19, 2011 #13


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    Well, he's right in that systems do evolve. The term applies to most any thing that changes over time - star systems, galaxies, the universe, the temperature of my living room.

    I just wanted to make sure we were all clear that we are using the general, non-"natural selection" definition of the word, and that any hint that the universe evolved through some sort of natural selective process is crackpottery.
  15. Jun 19, 2011 #14
    Essentially whether we say the universe "evolved" or the universe "expanded over time due to inflation" as long as we are not making assumptions of any natural selection and higher order then any disagreement is merely a disagreement in semantics as we are essentially saying the same thing. Six and half a dozen..

    Given that, I think it good practice to use well defined terms in a given field of study. For example speed and velocity have very specific meanings in GR.
  16. Jun 19, 2011 #15


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    Sure, words often have lots of different meanings. In this case, "evolve" has multiple nontechnical meanings and multiple technical meanings. But "at the end of the day it's all just evolution" makes it sound as though the distinctions between those different meanings are unimportant -- or as though one can make a new "scientific" "theory" (as claimed in the OP) just by lumping them together.
  17. Jun 20, 2011 #16
    I think it is all a matter of clarity. I had an engineering boss once who got into me for calling a thin sheet of steel a piece of tin. As long as, like Dave said, what's being said or asked is clarified, especially when coming from a non-professional.
  18. Jun 20, 2011 #17


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    Re: What is the case against the *theory* of cosmic evolution?

    I think what causes some static here is simply referring to the religious philosophy of Cosmic Evolution as a theory, as if it were an empirically testable scientific theory.

    I can approve of CosmEv as a grand synthesis worldview or a religious philosophy with some relation to the thought of Teilhard de Chardin.

    George Ellis is a worldclass cosmologist (coauthored The Large Scale Structure of Space Time) and also a Quaker (I believe) who writes essays of a religious philosophical nature. His religious views are COMPATIBLE WITH BUT SEPARATE FROM his scientific views. He uses words carefully and maintains important distinctions. Someone I sincerely admire. People can do a mix of different things---they don't have to be only fulltime scientists---they can be parttime religious philosophers too.

    In a review in NATURE George Ellis PRAISED the 2002 book COSMIC EVOLUTION by Chaisson, which may be the highest expression we have so far of the CosmEv philosophy. But he did not call it a theory.

    The title of this thread is tendentious and subversive because it suggests that CosmEv is a scientific theory that scientists should accept as such. If they don't all go out at once and accept it then what is wrong with them :biggrin:.
    "What is the case against it?" Isn't it obvious? Heh heh.

    The thread would be better titled "Let's discuss the CosmEv religious philosophy! It's great stuff!"

    As such I would certainly be happy discussing CosmEv and reading what others have to say about it. Though not science, it is builds on valid science and is compatible and scientifically sophisticated AFAICS.

    CosmEv addresses the questions of WHY WE ARE HERE and WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN and WHAT IS LIFE and WHAT IS THE PURPOSE. It puts the earth and life and humanity and technological civilization into a coherent STORY. As a grand synthesis, it can contribute to mental (spiritual) health and peace and coherence and order. It can satisfy personal needs that earlier more primitive creation stories---cosmogonies---myths---did. These are not science but there is nothing wrong with them AFAICS.

    Prominent scientists besides George Ellis praised Chaisson's book. Like EO Wilson the sociobio'ist.
    EO Wilson also had a side-project of promulgating a quasi-religious ecology world-view (not science but a value-system consistent with scientific findings).
    Here are nice things Wilson and other notable people, like a Nobel laureate chemist, had to say:

    Chaisson got his "Cosmic Evo" book published by Oxford U Press. And got blurbed by EO Wilson and reviewed in Nature, by Ellis. It does not get much better, I think.
    Here is Ellis review, copied by a Teilhard de Chardin message-board:

    It starts this way:
    ==quote Ellis from Nature via Yahoo Teilhard board==

    'In Cosmic Evolution he examines the central question of why we are
    here, taking as the background the present understanding of our
    cosmological context. His intention is "to sketch a grand
    evolutionary synthesis that would better enable us to understand who
    we are, whence we came, and how we fit into the overall scheme of
    ". He focuses on the origins of structure and the spontaneous
    rise of complexity in nature, in particular, biological life and
    human intelligence.

    Chaisson analyses these issues from a traditional scientific
    position, under the broad rubric of "Cosmic Evolution ... an
    underlying ubiquitous pattern penetrating the fabric of all the
    natural sciences", claiming to provide "a unified scenario of the
    cosmos, including ourselves as sentient beings, based on the time-
    honoured concept of change".

    The key thing is that neither Ellis nor Chaisson call it a theory. Chaisson, the author himself, calls it a grand synthesis..[helping us]..to understand who
    we are, whence we came, and how we fit into the overall scheme of

    Here are the final words of Ellis review:
    Finally, how successful is Chaisson in producing the overall
    integration he intends? The energy-flow issue he focuses on is an
    important adjunct to the growth of complexity but is not, in my view,
    the central feature that makes it all possible. High energy-flow
    density is a requirement, but so are the accumulation of information,
    for example, and the growth of the ordered structures that make this
    possible. Indeed, his approach has no real capacity to characterize
    truly complex systems possessing massive hierarchical ordering, as
    opposed to less complex but very energetic systems such as the flame
    of an acetylene torch. The approach might perhaps have been given
    more substance by relating it to network thermodynamics in complex,
    hierarchically structured systems, but that has not been attempted

    The grand claims to deal with cultural evolution and to provide a new
    philosophy are, in the end, not fulfilled — but the journey is
    and thought-provoking, and the book will serve a useful
    purpose if it encourages others to think in a synthetic way.'

    Ellis closes by quoting at length a paragraph by Chaisson in which he insists that his book is not NEW AGE.

    That would seem to be a sore point. The CosmEv philosophy has at least on the surface a kind of similarity to some garden-variety or Chardin-variety NEW AGE talk. So Chaisson has to distance himself from that and make the distinction clear.

    I think it is obvious that we should not be discussing Cosmic Evo in the Cosmology forum. It belongs in Philosophy forum. But there is nothing wrong with it. If I had to choose between it and Buddhism I wouldn't hesitate for a moment. Go Chaisson!
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  19. Jun 20, 2011 #18


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    Re: What is the case against the *theory* of cosmic evolution?

    Yeah, don't think that's remotely possible. Don't see how you can claim believing things contingent upon the evidence available to support them can be compatible with believing things based upon faith.
  20. Jun 20, 2011 #19


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    Re: What is the case against the *theory* of cosmic evolution?

    It's quite possible. In fact, it's essential. Not sure why you would take such a narrow-minded stance.

    There are questions about which science has something to say.
    There are questions about which science has nothing to say.

    Having nothing to say does not mean there is nothing that can be said. Science simply pleads ignorance.

    Put another way: Occam's razor cannot be used to falsify possibilities. It is only a compass indicating likely solutions.
  21. Jun 20, 2011 #20
    Re: What is the case against the *theory* of cosmic evolution?

    It's not only possible, there a number who do, just as there are a number who can't. Not all people of faith have simplistic or fundamentalist views (which imo are the least compatible). I found a logical compatibility. What I found considerably less compatible is god vs religion.
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