Hoyle was a British astronomer, notable for a number of his theories
that run counter to current astronomical opinion, and a writer of
science fiction, including a number of books co-authored by his
son Geoffrey Hoyle. He spent most of his working life at the Institute
of Astronomy at Cambridge, and was director of the institute for
a number of years.
Contribution to cosmogony
An early paper of his made an interesting use of the Anthropic
Principle. In trying to work out the routes of stellar nucleosynthesis,
he observed that one particular nuclear reaction, the Triple-alpha
process, which generated carbon, would require the carbon nucleus
to have a very specific energy for it to work. The large amount
of carbon in the universe, which makes it possible for life to
exist, demonstrated that this nuclear reaction must work. Based
on this notion, he made a prediction of the energy levels in the
carbon nucleus that was later borne out by experiment.
co-worker William Fowler eventually won the Nobel Prize for Physics
in 1983 (with Subramanyan Chandrasekhar), but for some reason
Hoyle’s original contribution was overlooked, and many were
surprised that such a notable astronomer missed out. Fowler himself
in an autobiographical sketch affirmed Hoyle’s pioneering
concept of nucleosynthesis in stars was first established by Hoyle
in 1946. This provided a way to explain the existence of elements
heavier than helium in the universe, basically by showing that
critical elements such as carbon could be generated in stars and
then incorporated in other stars and planets when that star "dies".
The new stars formed now start off with these heavier elements
and even heavier elements are formed from them. Hoyle theorized
that other rarer elements could be explained by supernovas, the
giant explosions which occasionally occur throughout the universe,
whose temperatures and pressures would be required to create such
Rejection of the big bang
While having no argument with the discovery of the expansion of
the universe by Edwin Hubble, he disagreed on its interpretation:
Hoyle (with Thomas Gold and Hermann Bondi, with whom he had worked
on radar in World War II) argued for the universe being in a "steady
state". The theory tried to explain how the universe could
be eternal and essentially unchanging while still having the galaxies
we observe moving away from each other.
theory hinged on the creation of matter between galaxies over
time, so that even though galaxies get further apart, new ones
that develop between them fill the space they leave. The resulting
galaxy is in a "steady state" in the same manner that
a flowing river is - the individual water molecules are moving
away but the overall river remains the same. The theory was the
only serious alternative to the Big Bang which agreed with key
observations of the day, namely Hubble's red shift observations,
and Hoyle was a strong critic of the Big Bang.
he is responsible for coining the term "Big Bang" in
a BBC radio programme, The Nature of Things while criticising
the theory; the text was published in 1950. Hoyle and other steady-statesmen
offered no explanation for the appearance of new matter, other
than postulating the existence of some sort of "creation
field", but argued that continuous creation was no more inexplicable
than the appearance of the entire universe from nothing, although
it had to be done on a regular basis.
the end, mounting observational evidence convinced most cosmologists
that the steady state model was incorrect and that the Big Bang
was the theory that agreed best with observations, although Hoyle
clung to his theory, mostly through criticizing the accuracy of
astronomers' observations. In 1993, in an attempt to explain some
of the evidence against the steady state theory, he presented
a modified version called "quasi-steady state cosmology"
(QSS), but the theory did not capture a significant audience.
evidence that resulted in the Big Bang's victory over the steady
state model, at least in the minds of most cosmologists, included
the discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation, the
distribution of "young galaxies" and quasars throughout
the Universe, a more consistent age estimate of the universe (for
some time, to the considerable embarrassment of the Big Bang theory,
the rocks in the earth appeared to be older than the universe)
and most recently the observations of the COBE satellite, which
showed that crucial disturbances in the early universe allowed
for the creation of galaxies.
Media appearances and
Hoyle appeared in a series of radio talks on astronomy for the
BBC in the 1950s; these were collected in the book The Nature
of the Universe, and he went on to write a number of other popular
science books. He wrote some science fiction; most interesting
is The Black Cloud in which it transpires that most intelligent
life in the universe takes the form of interstellar gas clouds,
who are surprised that intelligent life can form on planets, and
a television series A for Andromeda. In 1957 he was elected a
Fellow of the Royal Society, and he was knighted in 1972.
of chemical evolution
In his later years, Hoyle became a staunch critic of theories
of chemical evolution to explain the naturalistic Origin of life.
With Chandra Wickramasinghe, Hoyle promoted the theory that life
evolved in space, spreading through the universe via panspermia,
and that evolution on earth is driven by a steady influx of viruses
arriving via comets.
his 1981/4 book Evolution from Space (co-authored with Chandra
Wickramasinghe), he calculated that the chance of obtaining the
required set of enzymes for even the simplest living cell was
one in 1040,000. Since the number of atoms in the known universe
is infinitesimally tiny by comparison (1080), he argued that even
a whole universe full of primordial soup wouldn’t have a
chance. He claimed:
notion that not only the biopolymer but the operating program
of a living cell could be arrived at by chance in a primordial
organic soup here on the Earth is evidently nonsense of a high
compared the random emergence of even the simplest cell to the
likelihood that "a tornado sweeping through a junk-yard might
assemble a Boeing 747 from the materials therein." Hoyle
also compared the chance of obtaining even a single functioning
protein by chance combination of amino acids to a solar system
full of blind men solving Rubik's Cube simultaneously.
analogies have been rejected by biologists as a straw man argument.
Richard Dawkins, for example, wrote in The Blind Watchmaker:
he'd said 'chance' instead of 'natural selection' he'd have been
right. Indeed, I regretted having to expose him as one of the
many toilers under the profound misapprehension that natural selection
speculate that evolution of complex systems can occur by means
of a ladder of stratified stability. The Nobel Prize-winning chemist
Manfred Eigen (beginning in 1971 with an influential theoretical
paper) and his collaborators have considered in some detail how
a genetic code could get going.
Further occasions on which Hoyle aroused controversy included
his questioning the authenticity of fossil Archaeopteryx and his
condemnation of the failure to include Jocelyn Bell in the Nobel
Prize award recognising the development of radio interferometry
and its role in the discovery of pulsars. Hoyle played an important
role in determining the nature of the pulsing radio signals (from
the pulsar), but was also excluded from the prize. Hoyle had a
famous heated argument with Martin Ryle of the Cavendish Radio
Astronomy Group about Hoyle's Steady State Universe which somewhat
restricted collaboration between the Cavendish Radio Astronomy
Group and the Institute of Astronomy during the 1960s.