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The Belgian priest who invented the Big Bang theory shows up the modern canard about faith and science

The father of cosmology was wedded to science and the Church

By on Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Mgr Georges Lemaître chats to Albert Einstein in California in 1932 (Photo: PA)

Mgr Georges Lemaître chats to Albert Einstein in California in 1932 (Photo: PA)

I have just been reading a very well-researched and well-argued book entitled Heresy by Michael Coren. Coren, for those who don’t know of him, is a Canadian writer, biographer and broadcaster – and a very eloquent Catholic apologist. He has written, among numerous books, Why Catholics Are Right last year (a definite must-read for all sceptical blog posters to the Herald) and this year the book on Heresy, which he subtitles “Ten Lies They Spread about Christianity”. These errors include “All the clever people are atheists, or Christians are stupid”, “Hitler was a Christian”, “Christians and Christianity supported slavery” and “Christians are opposed to science”. All these will be familiar to Catholic bloggers.

I recommend the whole book (especially to all those sceptical blog posters referred to above), but just wanted to draw attention right now to the chapter on science. Coren starts by saying, “The idea that Christianity is somehow opposed to science and that individual Christians cannot reconcile their faith to scientific discoveries, is a relatively modern canard, but successfully and damagingly promulgated, usually by people who know very little about science and its history, or about Christianity and Christians.”

He points out: “The history of Christianity is actually one of great encouragement of scientific research and has been responsible for many of the most important scientific advances.” He mentions Francis Bacon, Keppler, Copernicus and Newton as particular Christians – and scientists – in the early centuries of the development of the scientific outlook; and, among others, Max Planck, Kelvin, Louis Pasteur, Alexander Fleming, and Gregor Mendel for the relatively modern period of scientific advance. In other words, there need be no conflict between the Christian faith and science – except, obviously, in the minds of certain modern atheists. (Coren also explains clearly what the dispute with Galileo was all about, but I’ll leave that for another blog.)

I mention all this because I happened to listen to the Heart and Soul programme on BBC Radio 4 last week, presented by William Crawley – and it was all about the work of Mgr Georges Lemaître, a Belgian priest-astronomer and known as “the father of modern cosmology”. He is also mentioned in Coren’s chapter on science, which is where I first heard of him. It was Mgr Lemaître who first proposed the Big Bang theory. According to Crawley, he showed unusual intellectual precocity as a child and decided aged 10 that he wanted to become a Catholic priest. After fighting in the Great War he was ordained in Belgium in 1923 – and a month later came over to St Edmund’s, Cambridge, to study for a doctorate. Then, after further study at Harvard and MIT, he became professor of physics at Louvain University in Belgium, where he remained until his death in 1966.

According to Crawley, Mgr Lemaître was not happy with Pope Pius XII’s belief that the book of Genesis had been vindicated by his cosmological discoveries, and that “Fiat Lux!” (“Let there be light!”) coincided with his Big Bang theory. This was not because he rejected Genesis but because he felt the two disciplines, theology and science, should be studied separately without requiring mutual confirmation. Lemaître met Einstein several times at conferences, and the latter applauded his lecture at a seminar in California in 1933.

Knowing all this about Mgr Lemaître, I am now no longer stuck when the facetious question comes round: “Are there any famous Belgians?” He is rightly celebrated as one of the greatest scientists of the 20th century. Somehow I doubt if he would have wanted to join a televised “debate” with our own dubious national treasure, Professor Dawkins of Oxford. A modest man, wedded both to science and the Church, he would have disliked the limelight, repudiated the false dichotomy set up by Dawkins and his pals, and would have felt his time better spent on cosmological calculations.

My own revision of the fatuous slogan that graced the sides of London buses a few years ago would now be: “God is not a suitable subject for atheists. Now stop worrying and start your physics homework.”

  • Acleron

    Your lack of ability to understand complex questions is amply demonstrated.

    The concept of conciousness is very slippery, without knowing how you define it, debate is useless.

    So, do you have a definition or not?

  • Graham

    TreeonPoet says: Wikipedia says ”Depending on the religion, faith is belief in a god or gods or in the doctrines or teachings of the religion” and you conclude that atheism is a faith! In what way is agnostic atheism a religion?

    See this is a good example of someone assuming something then making more assumptions based on that assumption.

    Assumption: When I posted that atheism is a belief this poster assumed the word “belief” is the same as the word “faith” even though the actual word I actually typed for everyone to read is “belief”.

    Assumption: This poster also assumes the words religion and belief are also interchangeable.

    So the poster then moves on to insult me based on something I neither posted nor meant.

    Atheism is a BELIEF that there is no god.
    There is no proof there is no god so this is a BELIEF.

    If you wish to say it is a “lack of belief in god or gods” you are saying that same thing.

    It’s like saying “I have a lack of belief that train-spotters collect stamps.”
    I am saying I don’t believe this or I believe they don’t.

    If a person is really saying “I never really thought about it” or “I’m not committing to a decision about my belief”.

    That’s not atheism as by that definition the person could equally be considered a theist.

    Just as someone is undecided in their belief that train spotters also collect stamps.

    They may believe they do in the fullness of time or they may believe they don’t.

    Once again a well educated person should know this, unless they are just trying to improving their book sales.

  • Graham

    Yes I do.

    I define consciousness as the “image” God uses when God created me.

    It is the part of me which is eternal and leaves my body when I die.

    But you employ an irrelevant diversion device by requiring some definition or something not part of the argument.

    I was providing argument from the absolute position of fact: whatever consciousness is, it definitely exists.

    Like I said I have met these arguments before and you are not simulating enough.

  • TreenonPoet

     You posted ”Ah, by that definition atheism is a faith”. Why lie about it and why make up things about me?

  • TreenonPoet

     ‘Real’ is not a derivative of ‘reality’.

    The (full) OED definition of ‘Reality’ begins ”1. The quality of being real or having an actual existence”. It uses the word ‘real’ in a number of its definitions of ‘Reality’ and there is nothing wrong with that.

    You say you are educated, but you do not seem to know what a ‘circular definition’ is.

    To take the definition that you supply, a ‘greater reality’ would be a greater state of things as they actually exist – i.e. nonsense!

  • Acleron

    Only you could draw that conclusion from what I said.

    OK, probably a waste of time, but lets look at it from a different point of view. Japan invaded China in 1937, 17 to 22 million civilians were killed. This makes Emperor Hirohito a mass murderer. But Hirohito was religious, after all he was a god emperor, does this mean he was a mass murderer because of his belief? Of course not, this was a war for resources. In the same way Stalin’s actions were for power, not because he was an atheist.

  • Acleron

    Definitively the Dunning-Kruger syndrome.

  • Acleron

    Then you have no debate. Like most theists you assume god exists and from that assumption try to prove god exists.

    Sorry not to be stimulating enough for you, perhaps it’s because I’m used to talking to people who at least know something.

  • Graham

    Not withstanding Hirohito was, a you say, a mass murder just like Stalin, hw did not enforce conversion to or from any religion.

    Stalin did so this makes it a “religion” war.

    In Stalin’s case it was a war on religion in general because he believed the state should be worshipped so had people killed if they worshipped something else.See what you are doing is tarring all with the same brush.Hirohito was not a Christian he was Shinto so this has no relevance on a Christian website, which is what this is.
    This is a typical straw man argument or the athiests.

    You may as well say he’s like the Germans because he is not English or American, then start lumping him with Hitler.

    But that’s OK.
    You carry on showing your lack of education.

  • Graham

    Your attempts at insults are amusing.

    Of course, I then set a trap for you by answering your “conscious definition” question in such a way as to invoke a reaction to my belief.

    You walked right into that one.Predictably, you obviously do not understand the argument I put earlier.This does NOT presume God.It says a natural extrapolation of consciousness arising from complexity is that the universe itself could be a conscious entity.That’s 2nd law stuff.Any more traps of mine you want to walk into?

  • Graham

    Yeah, right.

    TreenonPoet: “Depending on the religion, faith is belief .. or in the doctrines or teachings of the religion.”

    Graham: “Ah, by that definition atheism is a faith”

    (Obviously using TreenonPoet’s definition and words)

    TreenonPoet: ‘You posted ”Ah, by that definition atheism is a faith”. Why lie about it and why make up things about me?’

    Assumption: When I posted that atheism is a belief this poster assumed the word “belief” is the same as the word “faith” even though the actual word I actually typed for everyone to read is “belief”.Assumption: This poster also assumes the words religion and belief are also interchangeable.–Graham (responding to Acleron):I certainly not telling anyone that they should believe in atheism.
    That would be you.Acleron: “Atheism is not a belief, a common mistake by theists who seem to believe that everyone needs to blindly believe this and that. It purely is a word that describes a state.”Graham:So like theism then….no hang on theism is belief.So not like theism then….no hang on theism is just describing a state.So like atheism then.

    There may be a lie somewhere, but I can’t see it.

    I can see someone who doesn’t read other posts on the same forum.

    Bit narrow minded that isn’t it.

    Have fun trying to insult people since it seems the only way you can illicit a response.

  • Acleron

    I didn’t think it necessary to mention that a god emperor may not be christian, why they must be ten a penny in the bible.

    Stalin had a problem with religion, they contested his power and were tainted with from their habit of hob-nobbing with the old aristocracy. He could see they might easily become a focus of rebellion against his rule so he eliminated them. They were a minor issue, many millions of Russians went the same way.

  • Acleron

    Your reading skills require attention. I didn’t even bother to question your belief, just pointed out the futility of arguing with someone who thinks the height of intellectual endeavour is the circular argument.

  • Graham

    “I didn’t think it necessary to mention that a god emperor may not be christian”

    Really.”The Belgian priest who invented the Big Bang theory shows up the modern canard about faith and science”

    It’s way off topic mate.”why they must be ten a penny in the bible”I think when it comes to the Bible I would not trust the word of an argumentative atheist.

    So this will be the last response I give to you.
    You have had enough material for you to ponder.

    Have fun trying to insult people to illicit a response.

  • TreenonPoet

     I quoted a definition of religious faith from Wikipedia. The first time I did so, I also provided a link to that Wikipedia page, and said that it was in line with my own definition. Please do not claim that the Wikipedia definition is my definition and uses my words.

    Anyone interested in who wrote what in this thread can read the relevant comments and draw their own conclusions about your mendacity. Why did you not post your accusations in reply to the post in which I quoted Wikipedia? Now, in reply to me, you make an obscure reference to what Acleron wrote. This sort of practice does not seem to me to be good forum etiquette.

  • Acleron

    “I didn’t think it necessary to mention that a god emperor may not be christian”
    is answered by :-
    ‘Really.”The Belgian priest who invented the Big Bang theory shows up the modern canard about faith and science”‘

    Yes, you are right, not only off topic but completely off the wall.

    And if you had given any material it might have been worth pondering, but your informational content is about zero.

  • Graham

    Call the etiquette police.

    “Sir, Graham didn’t answer my question and he called me a bad name.”

    Like I said: have fun trying to insult people since it seems the only way you can illicit a response.
    You have had enough material for you to ponder.

    This is my last response to you also.

  • TreenonPoet

     You have provided plenty of material for a psychiatrist to ponder, but that is not my field. As a layman, your delusions of ponderworthiness reinforce my agreement with Acleron‘s diagnosis about the Dunning-Kruger effect (in response to one of your comments that has since been removed). I suggest that you ponder my response to that removed comment and why you did not acknowledge it.

  • Graham

    You walked into yet another trap.

    Most atheist objections to existence of God are resulting from claims of circular arguments.Since this is the starting point or my argument and it is a given (your are conscious, since you are reading and responding) this is not dependent on any assumption.This means the argument is not circular.Now if I were to say, “Start from the point of view that God exists, then…” and continue to project an argument about attempting to disprove this, you might have a point.Of course, to be stimulating you could show how it is impossible to extend the complexity leading to consciousness.Like you could refer to the density of matter, or show another system which is complex, like the internet, from which consciousness has not arisen.That would be stimulating.You didn’t do that, ergo it is not stimulating.And you walked into yet another trap.

  • Acleron


    Atheism is just an absence of belief. That you believe in something irrational and internally inconsistent has nothing to do with someone who doesn’t share your belief. 

    Conciousness is a very debatable phenomenon. Any measurable component of it extends far into the animal kingdom. Therefore without a firm definition of it, debate is useless. 

    You failed to provide such definition except as caused by a god, that god being the point you want to prove. 

    So circular argument.

  • Markus River

    “Atheism is a BELIEF that there is no god.”

    No it isn’t.  Atheism is non-belief in God(s) due to zero evidence to the contrary.

    “There is no proof there is no god so this is a BELIEF”

    So it’s a good job then that atheists don’t assert that there is no God.

    “If you wish to say it is a “lack of belief in god or gods” you are saying that same thing.”

    So what is your position with regard to every other God in the pantheon of
    religions?  Zeus? Odin? Ra?  Quetzalcoatl?  Do you lack belief in
    them?  Or do you believe in their non-existence?  And if it’s the
    latter, what evidential support do you offer to substantiate your

    “It’s like saying “I have a lack of belief that train-spotters collect stamps.””

    You could, I suppose, hold that position, but it’s easily refuted by simply
    asking a sample of train spotters, about their philately habits. The
    first train spotter that admits to also collecting stamps, demolishes
    your non-belief at a stroke.  Similarly, any public appearance by a
    deity, if suitably accompanied by a verifiable miracle or two, will demolish, at a stroke, non-belief in God(s).

  • Wanda

    … just an add on… Truth can only be found using both reason AND faith. God is not unreasonable, he is beyond reason. If one must understand to believe then no faith is needed, facts do not need faith. Believe then you will understand because God is beyond reason.

  • ZuzanaM

    The 20th Century Lutheran theologian, Paul Tillich wrote a short, very readible book, “Dynamics of Faith”. In it he explains his definition of Faith as that in which one has ultimate concern. He proposes, therefore, that everyone has faith, even an atheist whose ultimate concern would be that there is no god. The problem for most people who claim to have faith in the God of Christianity is that they are not able to make God their ultimate concern. Yet, isn’t this the message of Jesus Christ… that we must abandon everything and follow Him? It is also the greatest commandment… that we have God alone as our ultimate concern.