The James Webb telescope: an eye onto a universe, infinite in time and space

Thirty years after the launch of the Hubble telescope, its successor, the James Webb telescope is now operational. Big Bang cosmologists expected it to show young galaxies just a little after the universe’s own ‘beginning’. But having peered deep into the cosmos, the James Webb telescope is sending back images that defy the established cosmology, and point to a universe that is infinite in time and space. This article is included in issue 39 of the In Defence of Marxism magazine, click here to buy a copy and subscribe!

The images being sent back from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) have amazed the world. These are the sharpest and most far-reaching images of the universe yet obtained by humanity. As one might expect, one Jesuit astronomer working at the Vatican’s own observatory described these pictures as, “God’s creation being revealed to us, and in it we can see both his astonishing power and his love of beauty.”[1]

But far from exalting God’s creation, the JWST is now beginning to send back data that poses serious difficulties for that modern creation myth: the Big Bang theory. As it looks deeper into space, it is beginning to challenge long-held prejudices about the origin and development of the universe, and shedding a brilliant light on profound and important scientific and philosophical questions.

The JWST was put into orbit 1.5 million kilometres from our planet just last December, and after around six months of calibration and just 12 hours of full operation, it has produced the most dazzling images. With its powerful 25 square metre eye, capable of detecting a wide range of infrared light with one hundred times the power of its predecessor – the Hubble telescope – it promises to revolutionise our understanding of the universe and our place within it.

At a press conference, NASA released five amazing images.

In one such image we observe the Carina Nebula, located 7,500 light years from Earth: a mass of gas and dust that is a nursery for new stars. Here scientists will be able to precisely study the process of star birth. As NASA scientist Amber Straughn explained: “We see a vast number of stars where cosmic cliffs and an endless sea are observed. Baby stars are seen in the Carina Nebula, where ultraviolet radiation and stellar winds form colossal walls of dust and gas. We can see hundreds of new stars. Examples of bubbles and jets created by newborn stars, with more galaxies lurking in the background.”

Carina Nebula Image NASAThe Carina Nebula, located 7,500 light years from Earth shows a mass of gas and dust that is a nursery for new stars / Image: NASA

Another stunning image is that of the ‘Eight-Burst Nebula’. It shows a star in its dying moments, about 2,500 light years from our planet, surrounded by a giant sphere of gas that looks like a colossal amoeba with a bright star in eternal agony at its heart. In ‘Carina’ scientists can study the stars in their birth, whilst here we see them in their death.

Truly astonishing is the JWST image of ‘The Stephan Quintet’, about 300 million light years away. Five galaxies are captured in frame, of which four are orbiting each other, the first compact set of its kind ever observed. The colossal cosmic dance is apparently connected to the existence of a black hole, which emits gas with an energy equivalent to about 40 billion times the luminosity of the Sun. According to ESA astronomer Giovanna Giardino, “We can’t see the black hole itself, but we see it consuming the swirling material.” Using this latest data, scientists hope to uncover the kind of interactions that occur between galaxies, and the role such turbulent dances play in the birth of cosmic entities.

Quintette de Stephan Image JWST‘The Stephan Quintet’, about 300 million light years away, captures five galaxies in a single frame / Image: JWST

Just 1,150 light years from Earth, we observe a giant gaseous planet called WASP-96b, approximately half the mass of Jupiter but 1.2 times larger, within the atmosphere of which, evidence of water has been found. Water vapour, a primary precondition for the emergence of life as we know it, could be abundant in the universe. About 5,000 exoplanets (planets outside our own solar system) have been discovered since 1995. The James Webb telescope will help study them and determine whether some of them possess the conditions for life.

The new images show the spectacular variety of matter in all the many incredible moments of its evolution. They reveal a universe that is the scene of colossal processes of birth and destruction, of unimaginable tensions that generate stars and galaxies, and out of which the conditions for life emerge; stunning panoramas that show the evolving complexity of matter in its dialectical development.

The Big Bang

Perhaps the most spectacular and widely circulated photograph, has been that of an amazing vista of distant galaxies known as Webb’s First Deep Field. According to Bill Nelson, director of NASA, it represents: “a tiny portion of the Universe, the size of a grain of sand held on the finger of an outstretched arm.” Countless galaxies of every imaginable shape can be observed in this vanishing portion of the sky: elongated, flattened, round; others so bright that they overshadow their neighbours. “The Universe overwhelms us,” said Nelson. “We are unable to conceive it and imagine its immensity. Better with a photograph? There is no image that can represent it in all its greatness, but from this week we have the closest thing. All week we have been looking with emotion at the first photo that the James Webb telescope has captured. How Carl Sagan would smile today if he could have seen this image!”

Webbs First Deep Field Screenshot Image NASAThe most spectacular image released so far has been named Webb’s First Deep Field – showcasing an amazing vista of distant galaxies / Image: NASA

The most distant of these galaxies – which appear as infrared arcs due to their so-called ‘redshift’, and gravitational lensing, which distorts their apparent shape – emitted their light more than 13 billion years ago, according to preliminary calculations: just a few hundred million years after the moment that the entire universe was supposedly created 13.8 billion years ago, according to the Big Bang theory. Observing more and more galaxies at times that barely succeed the supposed origin of the universe raises serious questions about the viability of the Big Bang theory. How could bright, fully-formed galaxies exist at what in cosmological terms would be regarded as a mere moment after the universe came into being? It is like watching an adult emerging fully formed from childbirth. According to the most widely accepted models of galaxy formation, giant galaxies are formed from small, faint clouds that gradually coalesce through cosmic mergers. This process takes billions of years.

At a time when the universe was supposedly in its infancy, the theory predicts only the faintest dwarf galaxies, so small and faint that we would barely expect to see anything at all. Only later would giant galaxies form from cosmic mergers. And yet here, in the very first images sent back by the JWST, we are already confronted with galactic behemoths: giants that simply could not have formed in the time allotted to them in the established theory of the Big Bang.

Observations preceding those of the JWST were already filling some astronomers with niggling doubts. In 2016, the galaxy GN-z11 was discovered. According to the established theories, its light would have been emitted 13.4 billion years ago, a mere 400 million years after the supposed origin of the universe. In astronomical terms, 400 million years is but a sigh. In 2020, the oldest black hole yet observed was discovered, at 12.8 billion years old. But how could a black hole arise at a time when matter was supposedly as yet too diffuse to cause gravitational collapse? Becky Smethurst, a junior researcher at the University of Oxford and a specialist in black holes, says:

“Let's assume the very first stars formed black holes around 200 million years after the Big Bang. After they've collapsed, you've then got about thirteen and a half billion years to grow your black hole to billions of times the mass of the Sun. That's too short a time to get it that big just with accretion.”[2]

Again, it was only in 2021 that the galaxy BRI 1335-0417 was discovered, a spiral galaxy 12.4 billion years old, about a billion years earlier than the time thought possible to form this type of complex galaxy, according to the Big Bang theory. “We have discovered ‘mammoths’ in the Universe at a time when it seemed like they shouldn't exist. Now we need more data to know how they got there,” said physicist Guillermo Barro of the University of the Pacific.[3]The JWST promises to shed further light on these questions. But we predict that new data will only create further problems for the proponents of the Big Bang theory.

Tarantula Nebula Image JWSTThe Tarantula Nebula / Image: JWST

It is still early days, and much more rigorous analysis is necessary to confirm the initial observations, but some already believe that the JWST has imaged the oldest galaxies yet discovered: GLASS-z11 and GLASS-z13, dubbed ‘Glassy’.[4]According to preliminary analysis, these galaxies formed just 300 million years after the Big Bang. By comparison our planet is 4.5 billion years old, and it takes 200 million years for our galaxy, the Milky Way, to complete just one rotation! The classical theory of galaxy development cannot explain how these galaxies might have formed in such a short time. And this is just the beginning. Other pre-publication papers are making claims of having identified even older galaxies. In the words of one science journalist:

“In fact, astrophysicists are already finding the early universe might be a lot busier than they expected. Stars may have started forming at a much faster rate than some models have predicted. How did matter coalesce and start to form these galaxies early on? We don't know yet. But Webb is, seemingly, already rewriting what we thought we knew about the beginning of, well, everything.”[5]

Referring to ‘Glassy’, the same article continues, “astronomers are basking in the possibility of Glassy, which, on top of being a potential record-breaker, is also far weirder than they’d imagined. Astronomers have always thought that galaxies couldn’t have gotten very big so early in the universe’s history, and would start bulking up on stars about 500 million years out from the Big Bang. But Glassy is extremely luminous, suggesting that it holds an abundance of stars, which together are 1 billion times as massive as our sun.”[6]

It isn’t just the size of these galaxies that poses a problem to the established theory. So too does their composition. The stuff they are made of typically suggests it has been recycled over many generations of star formation. Big Bang theorists calculate that after the initial explosion that created the universe, all that existed was Hydrogen and Helium and tiny amounts of heavier elements. But we already find a surprising abundance of heavier elements and dust, produced in earlier stars, in these early galaxies. Again, in the words of a scientist studying such early galaxies in 2020:

“From previous studies, we understood that such young galaxies are dust-poor. However, we find around 20 percent of the galaxies that assembled during this early epoch are already very dusty and a significant fraction of the ultraviolet light from newborn stars is already hidden by this dust.”[7]

The question of galaxy formation – enormous agglomerations of swirling gas, dust and stars – is only the tip of the iceberg. Observational astronomy has uncovered far, far larger structures that completely confound Big Bang cosmologists. According to the assumptions that form part of Big Bang cosmology, no cosmic object can be more than 250 million light years wide.[8]And yet, every year astronomers are discovering larger and larger megastructures that are billions of light years wide.

In 2021, astronomers identified a structure dubbed ‘The Giant Arc’. Although it is far too faint to be seen with the naked eye, it covers a region of the sky that spans 20 full moon diameters in length. Yet this enormous string of galaxies is located a mind-boggling 9 billion light years away, and is 3.3 billion light years long. There is no doubt that the JWST will continue to discover other mammoth structures, and perhaps some that loom even larger than ‘The Giant Arc’.[9]

Light itself would take billions of years to traverse such a structure. The freefall collapse of matter under gravity would have taken aeons.

These discoveries are weighing down on the Big Bang theory. There is only so long that the theory’s defenders can continue moving the goalposts, in the manner that they have done for decades, to force observations to fit their preconceived view.

Genuine science progresses as theories are devised to explain our observations. An accumulation of inexplicable observations at a certain stage demands the revision of a theory. Certainly there is a disconcerted mood among astronomers. “Panic!”[10]reads the title of one pre-publication paper. “Right now I find myself lying awake at three in the morning and wondering if everything I’ve done is wrong,” tweeted Alison Kirkpatrick of the University of Kansas.

The consciousness of the elites of the scientific community is quite conservative however. Therefore, rather than question the underlying theory – the theory of Big Bang cosmology – they are denying galaxies their infancy. Given the evidence of galaxies almost as old as the universe itself, proponents of the Big Bang assume that early galaxies formed faster than initially theorised.

There is no reason to assume that the history of the local universe was not punctuated by periods of sudden development. There may well have been one or more booms of galaxy formation. The universe abounds in abrupt and sudden dialectical processes. The attempts to adjust the birth rates of galaxies, however, have less to do with explaining the birth of galaxies, and everything to do with saving a theory that is quickly coming into question in the light of new discoveries.

Doppler shift

Big Bang cosmology has suffered many such ‘adjustments’ in its history. This cosmological theory originates from perhaps the most absurd extrapolation in the history of science. In the 1920s, the astronomer Edwin Hubble discovered that the further a galaxy is from us, the redder it appears. This reddening can be explained by referring to something known as the ‘Doppler effect’, whereby the light spectra of objects moving away from us appear redder. From this, astronomers concluded that the observable universe appears to be expanding. However, this was drawn to its extreme and absurd conclusion: if everything is moving away from everything else, at some time in the history of the universe, all matter must have been in a single point, which the defenders of the Big bang call a ‘singularity’, no bigger than a single hydrogen atom. At that time not only did all matter and energy come into existence, but the very fabric of space and time supposedly came into being too.

But the Doppler shift is, at best, evidence of the expansion of a sector of the universe, not of a singular and absolute beginning to time and space. Here we have an unfortunate example of a fact being pushed to its absurd limit and literally making a cosmic leap. The Big Bang is not so much a matter of scientific evidence, but of the philosophical interpretation of the evidence. That a part of the universe within our narrow horizon appears to be expanding does not authorise us to affirm that the entire universe is doing so. Even less can we extrapolate from this fact, that all of this results from a point of singularity where space and time mystically came into existence.

Some deny that the Big Bang means a beginning to time. They claim Big Bang cosmology merely postulates that the universe existed in a hot, dense state in the past. Yet prominent modern cosmologists do in fact defend a beginning to time. “[The] universe has not existed forever,” explained Stephen Hawking. “Rather, the universe, and time itself, had a beginning in the Big Bang… The beginning of real time, would have been a singularity, at which the laws of physics would have broken down.”[11]Frankly, alternative Big Bang theories that attempt to avoid a singularity (a ‘Big Bounce’, collisions of membranes, etc.) are no less speculative or absurd than the notion of a singularity.

Stephen hawking Image elhombredenegroStephen Hawking is one of the prominent modern cosmologists who do in fact defend a beginning to time / Image: elhombredenegro

The astronomer who first proposed the Big Bang hypothesis in the 1920s, Georges Lemaître, certainly had no problem with the idea that cosmic redshift somehow proves that the universe was created ex nihilo. This was because, being an ordained priest, it was obvious to him how a universe can be created from nothing: it was brought into being by God the Creator. Lemaître won the effusive laurels of the Vatican for this contribution to the faith.

Nevertheless, it may seem impressive that this theory, first proposed in the 1920s, has survived the test of observational astronomy for a whole century. But the Big Bang theory as it exists today bears only a passing resemblance to Lemaître’s original hypothesis, precisely because of its repeated failure to tally with observational findings. The only observational ‘success’ of Big Bang cosmology in the last century was the discovery in 1965 of the so-called Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (CMBR) – black body radiation that permeates space, and has a temperature of 2.7K.

But even this find didn’t tally with predictions. After all, if the universe is expanding, the light that reaches us from one part of the sky was emitted by a source that could never have been in causal contact with the region emitting light in the directly opposing part of the sky. And yet, somehow, they are the same temperature. To take account of this and other unexplained observations, the so-called ‘inflaton field’ was invented: a period of break-neck expansion in the universe’s early history. There is no known mechanism for such a phase of miraculous expansion. It was simply invented to save the theory. It is one of a number of purely mathematical devices for which there is no physical evidence, that cosmologists have invented to save the theory. Others include dark matter and dark energy, which cosmologists have never seen but which they claim make up 95% of the stuff in existence. The latest story about galaxies and their improbably truncated childhoods is just the latest mathematical add-on to a theory that is beginning to groan under the weight of its contradictions.

Georges Lemaître Image Katholieke Universiteit LeuvenThe astronomer who first proposed the Big Bang hypothesis in the 1920s, Georges Lemaître – being an ordained priest – had no problem with the idea of a a universe being created from nothing / Image: Katholieke Universiteit, Leuven

The idea of time, space, matter and energy coming into existence from nothing, is completely incompatible with a materialist outlook on nature.

The whole experience of humanity demonstrates that not a drop of matter can be created or destroyed. Matter is its own cause: combining, dispersing and recombining for all eternity. To posit an act of Creation poses the question: what is its cause? If it was not a material factor (and, according to Big Bang cosmology, it could not have been a material factor as matter itself came into existence with the Big Bang) then it must have been an immaterial Creator: God.

The date of Creation might have been pushed back from 6,000 years ago to 13.8 billion years ago, but this does not diminish its absurdity. No, as materialists we reject the idea of matter being created from nothing. The material universe is infinite and evolving. Certainly this poses new problems: by definition an infinite universe will always contain more to be discovered. As old problems are solved, new, higher ones are posed. But just as the Creation myth of Genesis only appeared to ‘solve’ the problem of where the Earth came from, a problem that was insoluble until Earth’s nebular origins were discovered in the 18th Century; so the Big Bang’s own act of Creation only appears to ‘solve’ problems such as the Doppler shift and the CMBR.

We are not cosmologists. We by no means pretend to offer complete solutions to such problems. But we are confident that new discoveries and observations – like those of the JWST – will confirm the materialist outlook and overturn the idea of a moment of Creation.

A Copernican revolution

When we step back and survey the present state of modern cosmology, we are reminded of the crisis that wracked the geocentric (‘Earth-centred’) cosmology of the 15th Century. Like today’s Big Bang theory, the geocentric view of the universe had been around a long time – a lot longer, in fact, than the Big Bang theory! Anaximander subscribed to such a theory in the 6th Century BC. Aristotle gave it a more worked out form by 350BC, with the sun, moon, stars and planets orbiting the Earth along circular paths. But it was the Alexandrian astronomer, Ptolemy, who gave the theory a finished, even somewhat elegant expression by the 2nd century AD.

In this ‘Ptolemaic’ universe, the sun, moon and stars were fixed to crystal spheres that rotated around the Earth. The motion of the planets was always a bit more contrived. In order to explain their retrograde motion, they were placed on celestial spheres, called epicycles, within other spheres, called deferents. For all its contrived elements, this model of the universe did a very good job of describing the observations that had been made until that point in time. However, new, more accurate observations accumulated with the centuries. Excellent astronomical work was conducted on the basis of this old, now ossified cosmology, but the old theory struggled to incorporate its results.

Instead of throwing out the old theory, astronomers invented new spheres within spheres. Eccentrics, epicycles and deferents were multiplied ad absurdum in order to make the new facts fit the theory, much like today’s ‘inflation’, ‘dark matter’ and ‘dark energy’. By the 15th Century, the old theory was in a state of crisis and awaiting the coup de grâce, which was duly delivered by Copernicus in 1543, when from his deathbed he released his opus, De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (‘On the orbits of the heavenly bodies’).

Copernicus Image public domain 2Copernicus brought about a profound revolution in astronomy, and the real starting point of modern science in Europe / Image: public domain

According to Copernicus, far from the Earth being a fixed centre-point of the universe, it moves along with all the other planets, along near-circular orbits around the Sun. This was a profound revolution in astronomy, and the real starting point of modern science in Europe. But the negation of the old theory did not mean its complete destruction. In fact, Copernicus’ theory was not at all mathematically dissimilar to the old Ptolemaic view, as the Danish astronomer, Tycho Brahe, subsequently showed in his rearguard struggle against Copernicanism. In fact, whenever a scientific theory supplants an older theory, it will always incorporate that which is rational in the old theory, in a dialectical process of negation, which never means the complete annihilation of the old in favour of the new.

The old, ossified Ptolemaic view refused to die of its own accord either, and it had many very powerful supporters a long time after Copernicus’ death. It had become an integral part of the official worldview of the Church, whereby the Earth (and Man) sat at the centre of God’s Creation, surrounded by the perfect celestial spheres. These Heavens were home to a complete hierarchy of angels, archangels, and, of course – in the highest celestial sphere beyond the stars – God himself. The old Establishment fought off the new theory with the terror of the Inquisition, which silenced Galileo and put Giordano Bruno to the stake.

Curiously enough, today the scientific establishment has a staunch ally in the Catholic Church in defence of Big Bang cosmology. How old enemies have been reconciled! Fortunately, heretics against the Big Bang theory do not face the stake. However, they do face what are perhaps even more potent obstacles. Academic science is very big business – billions of dollars are invested in theories and institutions. A theory may have outlived itself, but if it carries millions of dollars in investments, it will not be easily overthrown. At the time of the dawning Scientific Revolution, capitalism was a revolutionary force. Today it hinders scientific advancement. The Big Bang theory lives on today because it is ‘too big to fail’.

There are many very technically capable scientists who have made all manner of sophisticated contributions to the field of Big Bang cosmology. We do not object to their capabilities, but to their philosophical interpretation of the evidence. Most scientists do not possess a conscious philosophy of their own. Inevitably, therefore, they will tend to adopt those scraps of philosophy that predominate in society, which reflect the interests of a decrepit ruling class, which in its decrepitude is reviving centuries-old mysticism.

Academia is tending in the direction of philosophical idealism, led there by a ruling class that clings to the ‘hand of God’, and of an academic aristocracy that fiercely defends its interests, prestige, budgets and scholarships. The sciences are no exception. The logical conclusion of idealism is world creation: matter coming into existence from pure nothingness. In the form of Big Bang cosmology, such a view has made its way into the respectable corridors of academia.

But this is just one tendency. In opposition to it, there are many scientists who wish to stand against the stream of idealism and mysticism in the sciences. Noteworthy is Eric Lerner, who has been ostracised by the scientific community for his brave stand against the Big Bang. We highly recommend his article The Big Bang didn't happen, commenting on the JWST’s results.

Marxists understand that the battle against decaying capitalism consists not only in a political and economic, but also in an ideological struggle. As Lenin explained, in that fight, Marxists must learn to find allies among “those modern natural scientists who incline towards materialism and are not afraid to defend and preach it as against the fashionable philosophical wanderings into idealism and scepticism which are prevalent in so-called educated society.”[12]

[NOTE: This article was first written before calibration issues with the telescope were noticed and corrected. These calibtrations have eliminated some high-red shift galaxy candidates but by no means all of these objects, which continue to confound the established cosmology.]

[1] Catholic News Service, Jesuit astronomer on Webb telescope photo: ‘This is God’s creation being revealed to us.’, America: the Jesuit Review, 14 July 2022

[2] P Barss, The mysterious origins of Universe's biggest black holes, BBC, 23 August 2021

[3] Editorial, Hallados los 'mamuts' galácticos del universo joven, La Vanguardia, 14 May 2019

[4] R P Naidu et al.Two Remarkably Luminous Galaxy Candidates at z≈11−13 Revealed by JWST, Cornell University, Preprint, 19 July 2022

[5] J Ryan, The Webb Space Telescope Might Have Already Smashed Its Own Record, Cnet, July 26 2022

[6] ibid.

[7] Editorial, Galaxies in the Infant Universe Were Surprisingly Mature, National Radio Astronomy Observatory, 27 October 2020

[8] J K Yadav; J S Bagla; N Khandai, “Fractal dimension as a measure of the scale of homogeneity", Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 405 (3), 25 February 2010

[9] C Wood, Cosmologists Parry Attacks on the Vaunted Cosmological Principle, Quanta Magazine, 13 December 2021

[10] L Ferreira et al.Panic! At the Disks: First Rest-frame Optical Observations of Galaxy Structure at z>3 with JWST in the SMACS 0723 Field, Cornell University, 19 July 2022

[11] S Hawking, The Beginning of Time, Lecture, 1996

[12] V I Lenin, “On the Significance of Militant Materialism”, Lenin Collected Works vol 33, Progress Publishers, 1973, pg 232


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