Fred Hoyle and the Unsteady Steady State Theory

Fred Hoyle coined the name for the Big Bang Theory during a 1949 BBC Radio debate when he stated,  

“These theories were based on the hypothesis that all the matter in the universe was created in one big bang at a particular time in the remote past.”

Ironically, though he originated this term, Hoyle spent most of his academic career developing  an alternative mathematical model of the Universe called the Steady State theory. In this version of the Universe, unlike in the Big Bang Theory, matter is continuously created at a rate that keeps the average density of the Universe the same as it expands. Though this idea is discredited today, it pushed Big Bang supporters to back up their theory with evidence.

In a 1969 BBC special, Fred Hoyle reflects on his Steady State theory:

Rumor has it that the Steady State Theory was inspired by the 1945 ghost movie Dead of Night. The movie consists of a series of ghost stories, but the final scene contains a twist: the movie ends just like it began. The plot was circular, with no beginning or end–which, Hoyle and his colleagues proposed, was how the Universe worked. Instead of having a beginning or end, the Universe simply “was.”

Thanks to YouTube, I was able to find the full version of Dead of Night online, for anyone curious enough to watch:


While Hoyle was a viewed as a repugnant contrarian by his peers, he was warmly accepted by lovers of BBC radio. In the 1950s, the BBC decided to air science lectures every Saturday evening, to which Hoyle contributed five lectures. The series was called “The Nature of the Universe” and ended up mesmerizing the nation, inspiring the next generation of astronomers. (Listen to one of his radio lectures here.)

This post was largely inspired by Michio Kaku’s Parallel Worlds, which keeps my head constantly spinning. Pick up a copy; you won’t be disappointed. More contemporary BBC Science lectures can be found here via podcast.


4 thoughts on “Fred Hoyle and the Unsteady Steady State Theory

  1. Thank you for your piece on my father. I am not sure I would agree that he spent a large part of his life trying to disprove The Big Bang theory. He certainly reviewed any new new data against the cosmological models. He was much more interested in the truth and if the evidence showed The Big Bang to be correct he would have accepted this and then gone on to other ideas that interested him. He was never afraid of being proved wrong but he always felt the jury was still out on the origins of the Universe.

    • Hi Geoffrey,

      Thank you very much for your feedback. I’ll make sure to edit the entry so that it appropriately and accurately reflects Fred Hoyle’s work. The information that I gathered for this post was largely from the book I referenced at the end of the entry. Apologies if any of it was offensive to you–thank you for taking the time to write!

      Warm regards,


      • The predominance od departure doppler evidence in the spectra of stellar bodies has been misinterpreted to mean that the majority of such bodies are retreating from us and from each other. This misinterpretation was the basis for the “Big Bang Theory”

        All stellar bodies, relative to the observer, are approaching, retreating or in the process of passing from the approaching to the retreating stsge. All bodies exhibiting an approach doppler, if they continue in their path, must eventually pass and exhibit a retreating or departing doppler which will never change and add to the already enormous accumulation that has produced the pedominance of departure imagery.

        My more extensive paper on the subject was published in the January 2011 edirion of INTEGRA, the Journal of INTERTEL.

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