2003 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate: The Big Bang

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Despite its humble beginnings nearly seventy years ago, the Big Bang Theory remains the most successful idea ever presented for cosmic origins. Legendary is its capacity to describe the observable Universe, from its first three minutes through the present day. Still, some aspects of this model remain puzzling. Dark matter and dark energy, for instance, test the limits of our cosmic understanding.

Now alternative theories of cosmic origins challenge the fundamental notions of the Big Bang. The latest ground-based and space-borne telescopes are observing the cosmic microwave background with unprecedented precision. Armed with this new generation of data, we may begin to favor one theory of the Universe over the others.


  • Alan Guth—Professor of Physics at MIT; pioneer of inflationary cosmologies, which proposes that the expansion of the Big Bang was propelled by a repulsive form of gravity, where the very early Universe experienced a rapid, exponential growth in size; author of The Inflationary Universe: The Quest for a New Theory of Cosmic Origins.
  • James Peebles—Professor of Physics at Princeton University; proponent of the classical Big Bang cosmology and a keen observer of the subject's rich and diverse history; author of the graduate texts Principles of Physical Cosmology, and The Large Scale Structure of the Universe.
  • Lee Smolin—Researcher at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics; author of Life of the Cosmosand, co-inventor of loop quantum gravity, the leading approach to the quantization of space and time, and inventor of cosmological natural selection, a testable hypothesis that may explain the values of the fundamental constants in nature.
  • David Spergel—Professor of Astrophysics at Princeton University; he is the member of the science team for the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy (WMAP) satellite, which recently announced the latest and most precise measurements ever made of the cosmic microwave background radiation.
  • Paul Steinhardt—Professor of Physics at Princeton University; a theorist and a pioneer of inflationary cosmologies, he recently introduced the new cyclic theory of cosmic origin which is an explanation for the origin of the Universe that exploits recent developments in string theory. This novel idea has received extensive attention as one of the few viable competing theories to the Big Bang.

Host & Moderator

  • Neil deGrasse Tyson—Astrophysicist and The Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium.