Oh…sorry. Wrong picture. I meant the other big bang theory
In my previous post, I had discussed how Africa had independently developed the field of fractal geometry and applied it to all walks of life. I would like to discuss in this, and subsequent posts other areas of African scientific achievement.
One area of science that has particularly broad appeal beyond scientists themselves is the subject of cosmogony. Cosmogony deals with theories of how the world began or more accurately, how the universe began. Unsurprisingly, many human groups the world over have their pet theories of how the world/universe began, usually in the form of creation myths. One that I find particularly impressive emanated from the African Kingdom of Kongo.
The Kingdom of Kongo was founded around the 13th/14th century and which by the 15th century, was a centralized and well-organized kingdom . The kingdom was modeled not on hereditary succession as was common in Europe, but based on an election by the court nobles from the Kongo people. This required the king to win his legitimacy by a process of recognizing his peers, consensus building as well as regalia and religious ritualism . In other words, the kingdom of Kongo practiced a system of government closer to modern forms of democracy than what typically obtained in Europe at the time. During the “Scramble for Africa” in the late 19th century just prior to colonization, the French, Belgians and Portuguese divided Kongo among themselves. The French part became what is today called the Republic of Congo and parts of Gabon, the Belgian part became the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) and the Portuguese part became parts of Angola.
Kongo Cosmogony bears a striking resemblance to the “Big Bang Theory”, the reigning cosmological model of how the universe began that is generally accepted by scientists. It almost certainly was developed independently, as evidence exists of Kongo’s cosmological beliefs having existed before European contact in 1482 , whereas the observation leading to the Big Bang Theory was only first made in 1929 by American astronomer Edwin Hubble. The people of Kongo (called the Bakongo) believed that in the beginning, there was only a circular void of nothingness, called mbûngi. Then the creator god Nzambi Mpungu summoned a spark of fire, or Kalûnga, that grew until it filled the mbûngi . The Big Bang Theory states that the universe expanded from an initial state of high density (in essence of all matter condensed into a tiny point, where the concept of space has no meaning) and temperature. The heated force of the Kalûnga produced a storm of projectiles, kimbwadende, which when cooled, fused and solidified to form the earth and other heavenly bodies . The Big Bang Theory states that after the universe’s initial expansion it cooled sufficiently to allow the formation of sub-atomic particles and later atoms, which then later coalesced through gravity, forming early stars and galaxies. Kongo Cosmogony makes accommodation for stages in the evolution of the universe that a scientist would appreciate. According to the Kongo, planets go through four stages of evolution. The first stage is the emergence of the fire. The second stage is the red stage, where the planet is still burning and is without clearly defined shape or form. The third stage, the grey stage, the planets are in the process of cooling and so cannot support life yet. The final stage, the green stage, the planet breathes and is able to support life . Kongo Cosmogony is even sophisticated enough to make room for the possibility of aliens in outer space, or at least the possibility of man inhabiting other planets other than earth . I personally find the parallels simply remarkable.
It is possible that you might be asking, why is the Big Bang Theory is the gold standard anyway? To answer that a little history lesson might be in order. In 1929, Edwin Hubble, observing the universe through large telescopes located at the astronomy observatory where he worked, made a startling discovery. In every direction you looked, the universe was receding further and further away. If you are having trouble visualizing this, imagine a white deflated balloon. Now let’s assume that we have used a black pen to mark the deflated balloon with lots of black spots. As you inflate the balloon, you will notice that each black spot is moving away from every other black spot as the balloon expands. So the first point scored by the Big Bang Theory is that, it isn’t just a clever argument. If you have a powerful enough telescope and know what to look for, you can see this expansion for yourself.
Now by logical reasoning, it was inferred that if every region of the universe is moving away from every other region, all those regions must have been closer to each other at an earlier point in time. To take the inference to its logical conclusion, every part of the universe must have at one time been collapsed together in a single point. That point being the “Big Bang”, the moment of the universe’s creation. Interestingly, the label “Big Bang” was originally meant as an insult by a skeptic but as is often the case, proponents of the Big Bang Theory eventually adopted it as a badge of honor.
Now simply having a reasonable argument even though driven by observation isn’t enough. So in the 1948, a cosmologist by the name of George Gamow, based on work done by his PhD students proposed that if the Big Bang really did happen, then in the outermost regions of the universe, there should exist what is referred to as the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation. This is essentially the remnants of the Big Bang explosion, kind of like the fragments left behind when you detonate a bomb or launch a grenade. He didn’t stop there. He went on to describe the exact characteristics that this background radiation should have. He had to wait almost 20 years for confirmation.
In 1965, two radio astronomers working at Bell Labs, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson who were carrying out research totally unrelated to the Big Bang Theory, detected a very faint radio noise that was uniform, in the sense that, in every direction they pointed their equipment, they could detect it. After eliminating every possible source of interference, including bird and bat droppings that Penzias described as “white dielectric material” in a report, it was suggested to them that they might have just discovered the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation. This was eventually confirmed to be true. It was also discovered that it had the characteristics almost exactly like how George Gamow predicted. Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson would be awarded the Nobel Prize in 1978. You have to discover on your own why neither Gamow, nor any of his students shared in the prize. Even the person who suggested to them that they might have hit the jackpot, didn’t share in the prize.
The Bakongo, in my opinion had come up with a remarkable hypothesis even from the vantage point of the 20th century, but if you want global recognition, you have to make global impact. Not that I am suggesting that global impact was the goal of the Bakongo. This is highly unlikely to be the case as in all likelihood, their cosmogony was developed centuries ago, prior to contact with Europeans. Also, because their cosmogony was bound up with their spirituality unlike the Big Bang Theory which is purely secular, they probably didn’t see much need of obtaining empirical evidence of their cosmogony beliefs. In any case, the technology to do so simply did not exist anywhere in the world at the time.
One more thing I would like to say about the Big Bang Theory. There is this conception that it is anti—religious or anti-God. No it isn’t. The Big Bang Theory neither confirms or denies the existence of God. On the subject of God, it is silent, making it a potential weapon of believers and non-believers alike. In fact, it hasn’t gone unnoticed that the implication of the Big Bang Theory, that the universe had a definite beginning, sounds somewhat similar to Genesis Chapter 1, verse 1. A rival theory called the Steady-State model, that was pushed vigorously by Soviet scientists (but not originated by them) which posited that the universe was eternal, without beginning or end, therefore making no room for the existence of God, had to be abandoned on the discovery of the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation because without a beginning, there could be no explosion, without an explosion, there could be no background radiation. Since there was background radiation, the Steady-State model had to be wrong.
To buttress the point about the Big Bang Theory not being anti-God, on November the 22nd, 1951, at the opening meeting of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Pope Pius XII declared that the Big Bang theory does not conflict with the Catholic concept of creation. In fact, the Big Bang Theory was partly developed by a Catholic priest by the name of Georges Lemaître . Mirza Tahir Ahmad, a former head of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim community, asserted in his book Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge & Truth that the Big Bang theory was foretold in the Quran . Faheem Ashraf of the Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc. and Sheikh Omar Suleiman of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research argue that the scientific theory of an expanding universe is described in Sūrat adh-Dhāriyāt (The 51st chapter of the Quran) .
I think it is important that people understand properly what they are opposing before they oppose it. We will explore more of Africa’s scientific history in subsequent posts.
BEFORE YOU GO: Please share this post with as many people and check out my book Why Africa is not rich like America and Europe on Amazon.
- Wikipedia article on Kongo https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kongo_people
- Wikipedia article on Kongo cosmogram https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kongo_cosmogram
- Kimbwadende Kia Bunsenki Fu-Kiau. 1980 African Cosmology of the Bantu-Kongo: Principles of Life & Living New York Athelia Henrietta Press
- Wikipedia article on Religious Interpretations of the Big Bang Theory https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_interpretations_of_the_Big_Bang_theory