Hubble’s Biased Assumptions

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hubble{This article was originally published on the now obsolete darkcanopy website on 2/10/11. A friend reminded me of it today, so I have republished it below. Enjoy!}

Much of modern science’s view of the universe is based loosely on the work of Edwin Hubble (1889-1953). Hubble’s work on the observable redshifts in the cosmos have led to the current Big Bang model more than any other influence. His main discovery was that the redshift in the light observed from galaxies outside of our own increased with their distance away from us. This relationship came to be called “Hubble’s Law” and is the main principle behind the belief in an ever expanding universe.

While much of his work seems scientifically sound, it should be noticed that Hubble made at least one enormous assumption. When looking at the data, Hubble noticed that the results look exactly the same in all directions. It is exactly what one would expect to see if the Earth, or at least our galaxy, were at the center of the universe. Hubble rejected this special location in favor of the view that the universe will look the same wherever your observation point is located. This principle which predates Hubble is commonly called the “Cosmological Principle.” It is in many ways the most highly prized and sacred assumption of modern cosmology.

It is, however, 100% assumption.

Listen to Hubble explain his use of this assumption in his famous work, The Observational Approach to Cosmology:

Relativity contributes the basic proposition that the geometry of space is determined by the contents of space. To this principle has been added another proposition, formulated in various ways and called by various names, but equivalent, in a sense, to the statement that all observers, regardless of their location, will see the same general picture of the universe. The second principle is a sheer assumption. It seems plausible and it appeals strongly to our sense of proportion. Nevertheless, it leads to a rather remarkable consequence, for it demands that, if we see the nebulae all receding from our position in space, then every other observer, no matter where he may be located, will see the nebulae all receding from his position. However, the assumption is adopted. There must be no favoured location in the universe, no centre, no boundary; all must see the universe alike. And, in order to ensure this situation, the cosmologist, postulates spatial isotropy and spatial homogeneity, which is his way of stating that the universe must be pretty much alike everywhere and in all directions.1

Is it clear yet that this principle is entirely presumed, and not proven? Let Hubble explain it again:

The assumption of uniformity has much to be said in its favour. If the distribution were not uniform, it would either increase with distance, or decrease. But we would not expect to find a distribution in which the density increases with distance, symmetrically in all directions. Such a condition would imply that we occupy a unique position in the universe, analogous, in a sense, to the ancient conception of a central earth. The hypothesis cannot be disproved but it is unwelcome and would be accepted only as a last resort in order to save the phenomena. Therefore, we disregard this possibility and consider the alternative …2

The argument, if it can be called that, is historic in nature.  Since science was once wrong in assuming the Earth to be the center of our solar system, Hubble believes it would be equally wrong to assume that the Earth or its galaxy are the center of the universe. Could it be that Hubble is biased against the idea that humanity occupies a central or important place in our Universe merely due to philosophical reasons? Let Hubble explain himself further:

The true distribution must either be uniform or increase outward, leaving the observer in a unique position. But the unwelcome supposition of a favoured location must be avoided at all costs.3

“Avoided at all costs”? Why? He later describes this notion of the uniqueness of our location as an “unwelcomed, favoured position.”4 Is Hubble trying to tell us that he has rejected a scientific option for no other reason than that he doesn’t like it? Read my favorite Hubble quote:

Such a favoured position, of course, is intolerable; moreover, it represents a discrepancy with the theory, because the theory postulates homogeneity. Therefore, in order to restore homogeneity, and to escape the horror of a unique position, the departures from uniformity, which are introduced by the recession factors, must be compensated by the second term representing effects of spatial curvature.5

What, do you suppose, is the “horror of a unique position” and why is it “intolerable”? The most obvious reason to make these statements is an inexcusable prejudice against the notion of divine creation and the uniqueness of the human story in the universe. While in this article I will not claim that our galaxy is the center of the cosmos, I believe I can fairly say that developing a model for the universe that rejects that possibility for purely philosophical reasons is a flawed approach to science.

  1. The Observational Approach to Cosmology,¬†III.4, emphasis added. 

  2. Ibid. III.2, emphasis added. 

  3. Ibid., emphasis added 

  4. Ibid. III.3 

  5. Ibid., III.6, emphasis added. 

Follow Benjamin Williams:

Pulpit Minister for Glenpool Church of Christ (Glenpool, OK); BS in Astrophysics from University of Oklahoma; MDiv in Ministry from Oklahoma Christian Graduate School of Theology

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