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DONNIE Johnston, our own homespun raconteur, took on cosmology in his column of May 31, "What's big deal about Big Bang." His musings raise some interesting questions about both cosmology--the scientific study of the origin and structure of the universe--and our often troubled relationship with science.
His column starts with examples of ideas that were once "conventional wisdom," like the idea of a flat Earth, but later were abandoned when replaced by superior knowledge. His point? Conventional wisdom is always provisional. He then goes on to describe attending an event featuring a "learned guy spout[ing]" a lecture on the Big Bang theory. (I wonder if he describes his pastor as a "learned guy prone to spouting on Sunday morning"?) Anyway, at some point Johnston was moved to ask a perfectly legitimate question: If the universe is expanding, what is it expanding into? The "dumbfounded" lecturer had no answer.
Thereafter characterizing the Big Bang theory as "conventional wisdom," Johnston goes on to present an entertaining (if slightly off-kilter) description of the main points of said theory, finishing by laying out a chain of logic that I will attempt to paraphrase:
1. The universe is defined as encompassing all that exists.
2. If the universe is expanding, it must be expanding into something (like space) that already exists.
3. This is not possible because all that exists is already in the universe.
4. Therefore, the Big Bang theory is a load of old bollocks.
I was at this point not quite ready to concede that Mr. Johnston's case was ironclad. I was actually a bit surprised that the "learned guy" was unable to posit an answer to his question. Either there is no answer, or the "learned guy" had the answer but felt that attempting to articulate it would be the equivalent of attempting to explain the stock market to a poodle.