Was Life Begun By Chance?
Not a Chance

The life of astronomer Fred Hoyle, whose atheism was shaken by the indications of purpose he found in the universe.

Continued from page 1

At that time, Hoyle was a committed atheist. The Big Bang's discrete moment of creation sounded to him too much like what was described in Genesis. Indeed, though some on the religious right today rather curiously view the Big Bang as an idea that undercuts the biblical view of creation, in the mid-century the astronomer Arthur Eddington argued that evidence of a Bang-caused universe made "religion possible for a reasonable man of science." And even if similarities between Bang thinking and Genesis were just a coincidence, the Big Bang implied some majestic force, sufficient to call forth an entire cosmos. Hoyle the atheist couldn't stand that thought.

As an alternative to the Big Bang, Hoyle, Bondi and Gold proposed the "steady state" theory. The universe, they said, has simply always existed: it had no origin in time and needed none, because no condition other than existence is possible. To make up for the fact that stars are burning away their fuel, the three supposed, there must be a hidden "continuous creation" that supplies hydrogen for suns, keeping an eternal universe alight.

Detractors scoffed. Just where, they asked, does this mysterious continuous creation get its stuff? Of course, the Big Bang theory also assumes that stuff enigmatically emerges out of nowhere. So far all theories of the cosmos involve mystifying stuff-out-of-nowhere, with the dispute being whether it happens slowly or all at once. It's hard to imagine a theory of creation that doesn't entail something from nothing.

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The idea of an eternal "steady state" universe fell into disfavor when research of the 1960s began to confirm a Big Bang. Especially important was the discovery of "background radiation," a faint cosmic glow, present everywhere, that seems as though it could only have been caused by a primeval energy discharge far more powerful than all stars combined. Big Bang calculations predicted there would be background radiation, whereas steady-state calculations predicted there would not be. Over the years, as Bang thinking became the scientific mainstream, Hoyle, Bondi and Gold gradually softened their advocacy of the eternal steady-state universe, though maintaining the notion could someday make a comeback. Current ideas about "virtual particles" that pop out of nothing, and about an extremely potent "Higgs field" of latent energy that permeates the cosmos, suggest it may not be impossible that some natural force does replenish existence.

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Gregg Easterbrook
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