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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.”

  • teigitur

    Excellent posting. Lets hope the regular Church-bashers on here take note, and perhaps even read that book!

  • Peter

    For thousands of years up to the beginning of the 20th century, atheist philosophers and scientists maintained that the universe was eternal, with no beginning, which did away with the need for a creator.

    However, backed up by Einstein’s equations and subsequently verified by Hubble’s observations, Lemaitre demonstrated that the universe had a beginning with the big bang.
    Atheists, not to be undone, responded that our universe is one of an infinite succession of universes in a multiverse, and that an eternal multiverse has no need for a creator.

    But an eternal multiverse would by necessity have to be infinite in size and diversity.

    Science has ridden to the rescue again.

    M-theory shows that the number of possible universes with different laws in a multiverse is unimaginable vast but not infinite.  The multiverse is therefore finite in diversity which means that it cannot have been eternal.

    So even the multiverse, which represents everything there is, must have had a beginning out of nothingness.

     

  • Tom Dawkes

    It’s good to have attention drawn to this broadcast – which was in fact on first a few weeks ago.
    Just a remark on ‘false dichotomy’.  It seems to me that a lot of the discussion on religion and Catholicism in particular is exctly in terms of dichotomies: “we are right and anyone who differs from us is wrong”.  Whether all discussion should be coduced in completely open forums is questionable, but there is undoubtedly a tendency for all of us to adopt a ‘black and white’ approach.  The book you mention -Why Catholics are right – seems to imply this by its very title: but as I haven’t seen it I am almost certainly misjudging it. 

  • karlf

     Thanks to your last article Francis, I have learned that the Catholic Church still believes in the actual existence of not only the Devil, but  demons as well. How can such primitive beliefs be anything but a hindrance to our understanding of reality?

  • Lewispbuckingham

     “is one of an infinite succession of universes’
     Things seem to become most complicated once the talk gets to cosmology.One of the frustrating things is that once a model is proposed there usually is no way of verifying it by empirical experiment.
     Recently ,after the discovery of the boson, it was shown that there is no sign of matter in a state other than that proposed by the standard theory.
     This would seem to rule out string theory and M theory.
     Of course you could build a much bigger atom smasher to try and detect such supersymmetry, so it may yet be testable, but so far things are not too hopeful.
     The idea, or model of an infinite progression of universes cannot also be tested empirically, as such universes are unobservable.
     One of the interesting consequences of the theory of an infinite number of universes is that anything that may happen already has, somewhere.Therefore little green men, aliens, warp drive and God must all exist somewhere.
     Not that this God is that of Abraham Isaac and Jacob, but a being that is,in its own world, supreme.
     If you believe in an infinite number of universes, logically you must believe in some sort of God.

  • Peter

    The rationale behind positing an eternal multiverse, just like an eternal universe before it, is that it never had a beginning and therefore does not need a creator God to have created it.  This makes a creator God redundant and therefore unnecessary to exist.

    This has been the motive of atheist philosophers and scientists since classical times.

    What you have done is highlight the logical inconsistency of an infinite multiverse which must by its nature contain everything including an infinite entity such as God.

    There are those who go so far as to say that the infinite multiverse/universe is one and the same as the infinite God.  They are pantheists.

  • scary goat

    Don’t be silly Francis.  This cannot be.  All the clever people are atheists.  The atheists said so.

  • teigitur

    There is nothing primitive about the Devil and his works. You have just proved that.

  • karlf

    Please explain what you mean by “You have just proved that”

  • Lazyguy

    I believe he is referring to the saying that “the greatest thing the devil has ever done, is to make the world believe he does not exist”.

  • awkwardcustomer

    Your arrogance proves it.  Typically, you pronounce belief in the Devil as ‘primitive’, suggesting that your lack of belief is somehow enlightened, advanced, evolved.  The Devil fell through pride. 

  • awkwardcustomer

    Trouble is, they won’t.  Arguing with a confirmed atheist is like trying to persuade a Marxist that Stalin wasn’t a good guy. 

  • karlf

     So my reasoned opinion that the devil doesn’t exist is PROOF that he does!! How wonderfully childish!

  • awkwardcustomer

    That’s right.  They think they’ve moved up a rung on the evolutionary ladder from the unenlightened and the superstitious.

  • karlf

    Of course it is a primitive belief. Such belief in devils and demons go back as far as human history is recorded. Are you arrogant for dismissing all the other aspects of these ancient and primitive religions? Watch out for that pride!

  • karlf

    Of course it is a primitive belief. Such belief in devils and demons go
    back as far as human history is recorded. Are you arrogant for
    dismissing all the other aspects of these ancient and primitive
    religions? Watch out for that pride!
    My arrogance is PROOF that the devill exists? You really believe that??

  • Damon

     You evidently haven’t read Amorth, etc.

  • Damon

     Reasoned opinion? I don’t see any reasoning behind it.

  • Damon

    People have believed in gravity, the existence of life and death, and the warmth of the sun since as far as human history is recorded. Would you reject these primitive beliefs?

  • karlf

     No. Nor David Icke

  • karlf

     Gravity??
    We exprience life and death and we see and feel the sun. Explaining human behaviour in terms of Devils and demons is totally irrational when with all the wealth of knowledge available today.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PTKN2NO47JJJJKXYN3DDJNVH6I charles

    Well, Catholics and all Christians believe in the existence of the devil and demons. Jesus Christ believes in the existence of devil and demons too.

  • awkwardcustomer

    You’re trying to slide out of the argument.  What you originally said was:  ‘How can such primitive beliefs [in the Devil and demons] be anything but a hindrance to our understanding of reality?’

    That is an arrogant statement, in that you associate such belief with being unenlightened, superstitious and unevolved, unlike yourself of course.  If pride is not evidence of the Devil himself, then it is evidence of his works.  Teigitur’s original post referred to both, which admittedly my reply to you didn’t.

    Pride and arrogance are also evidence of man’s fallen nature, which the Devil plays on, persuading human beings that they are above such things as a belief in God, and that they have no need of God’s Grace to restore their wounded nature. 

  • awkwardcustomer

    Arrogance again.  It pours out of you.

  • awkwardcustomer

    Yet more disdain and arrogance.

  • karlf

     Well, for starters, I reasoned that there was no good evidence that a devil existed and the works attributed to him could be far more plausibly explained by other means. But there are so many other reasons for not believing in such things, as you must know from doing the same sort of reasoning when it comes to other sorts of supernatural, superstitious beliefs.

  • karlf

     I consider the belief in primitive superstitious fallacies to be a hindrance to the understanding of reality, and I would imagine you do too. The only difference between us is that I reject all of these superstitious beliefs as folly, while you reject nearly all of them as such. This is not about arrogance and pride, but of what we consider to be true – our opinions, which are based on what we experience through life.

  • karlf

     I was being accused of being a puppet of the devil!

  • nardialop

    I disagree or at least I hope you are wrong. It always amaze me that many atheist and anti-Catholics  are always watching and commenting in Catholic blogs. That means that deep inside they have doubts or they are restless, at least they are looking for something they have not able to find.

  • Nesbyth

    Excellent post.

  • Nesbyth

    Read C.S.Lewis

  • Nesbyth

    I think Karif might be a troll.

  • Cjkeeffe

    What is reality!

  • Fr. Thomas Poovathinkal

    ARGUMENT IS NOT THE BEST TOOL FOR DISCOVERING THE TRUTH, GOD. SEEKING IS, IF DONE WITH THE PROPER DISPOSITIONS.

  • awkwardcustomer

    I’m sorry, but I’ve known a lot of diehard atheists. I was brought up by them, after my lapsed Catholic father died. You can’t shift them and I’ve even heard them say that if, after death, they are proved wrong, they will still refuse to accept God. Not everyone will be converted. Some refuse point blank to be.  It’s hard to take, I know, but what did Christ say to the Apostles when He sent them out to do their work? That if the Apostles came to a town which refused to accept His Word, that they should ‘shake the dust off their feet’ and move on. (Luke 9:3-5)

    There’s no guarantee that the atheists and anti-Catholics who post relentlessly hostile comments on this blog are ‘looking for something they have not been able to find’, as you put it.  Instead they remind me of the idealogues I used to know so well – utterly convinced that they are right and deeply hostile to anyone who doesn’t agree with them.

     

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PWZKI7JBARE4DDT3NQ22RWMOJE Benedict Carter

    The modern origins of our technical mastery lies not in the Enlightenment nor in the Industrial Revolution but with the medieval monasteries who were the first to apply physics (to metalworking and agriculture) and came up with various labour-saving machines. 

    I myself have no interest in science at all, but I do enjoy its fruits, like most people. I simply cannot understand those people who seem to make a god of science or who think that it can answer all questions.

    Scientists seem to me to be clever car mechanics, but nothing else. They fiddle inside the engine and tune it up a bit better in this way or that way, but they can create nothing out of nothing. I reckon God laughs at their presumption and at our stupidity in giving them undue respect. 

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PWZKI7JBARE4DDT3NQ22RWMOJE Benedict Carter

    There is no other reason for him being here.

    He asks questions he either already knows the answers to, or which he could easily find out with a few clicks on google if he was genuinely seeking answers. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jason-Clifford/641376480 Jason Clifford

     That 1 + 1 = 2 is absolutely primitive. It is also absolutely true.

    That the devil is very real is primitive and the same can be said for demons and angels. It is also true.

    That something is primitive is no hindrance to a complete understanding of reality if it is true.

  • JByrne24

    So far as the religious beliefs of scientists are concerned, I must tell you that the position has changed very markedly during the last century and a half, and also noticeably since the 1940s.

    During the 17th century, and prior to that, religious belief was wide spread among intelligent and educated people in all walks of life, including the natural sciences. This is not the case today, nor has it been for at least many decades.

    Studies at the end of the 20th century (1998 -1999), eg. by Larson & Witham, published in the leading scientific journal “Nature” (June 1998) showed that only 7% of American scientists, judged by their peers to be distinguished enough to be elected members of the US National Academy of Sciences, believed in a personal God, who is concerned with human beings.
    More recently, in the UK, among scientists who have been elected as Fellows of the Royal Society (the equivalent to the US National Academy), only 3.3% believed in the existence of God. 

    I do not consider Michael Coren to be a competent commentator on matters concerning science.
    Wikipedia says of him: “…[he is a] columnist, author, public speaker, radio host and television talk show host. He hosted the television talk show The Michael Coren Show on the Crossroads Television System from 1999 to 2011 when he moved to the Sun News Network to host an evening talk show, The Arena with Michael Coren.[1] He has also been a long-time radio personality, particularly on CFRB radio.”
    Coren has a degree in “politics”.

    It is true that Lemaître commented brilliantly on the primordial atom/egg idea. However Lemaître was wrong about many things, such as his idea that all matter in its present form was created from the primordial atom/egg. To credit him with the more recent “Big Bang” concept is quite unjustified. 
    The phrase “Big Bang” was itself coined by Fred Hoyle (I think around the late 1950s to early 1960s), and it was only possible for the concept to become science following-on from the work of Edwin Hubble in the earlier 20th century

  • Fr. Thomas Poovathinkal

     “This is not about arrogance and pride, but of what we consider to be
    true – our opinions, which are based on what we experience through life.”

    “what we consider to be
    true – our opinions”

    “our opinions”

    OUR OPINIONS  OF THIS SORT ARE ONLY TENTATIVE THEORIES. THEY NEED TO BE TESTED TO FIND OUT THE TRUTH. TESTING REQUIRES VARYING CIRCUMSTANCES.

    WHEN THE CIRCUMSTANCES CHANGE OPINION ALSO CHANGE.

    WHEN WE COME THROUGH EXPERIENCE TO AN UNCHANGING OPINION, IT CAN BE A FAITH TENET LIKE : GOD IS ONE ( AND NOT MANY). OR THAT THERE IS EVIL IN THE WORLD AT THE ROCK BOTTOM AND ALL OVER. AND THAT I CANT’T MANAGE WITHOUT A SAVIOUR LIKE JESUS THE LORD.

    THE SAME APPLIES TO THE EXISTANCE OF THE DEVIL OR SATAN. LIVE AND FIND IT OUT FROM A  FAITH FILLED ENVIRONMENT OR LET US SAY GO AND LIVE AMONG BELIEVERS.

    ENVIRONMENTS DO SERVE AS THE PREMISES OF A SYLLOGISM LIKE:

    ALL MEN ARE MORTAL
    ADAM IS A MAN (I.E. ONE AMONG MEN)
    THEREFORE ADAM IS MORTAL

  • JByrne24

    “I myself have no interest in science at all..” “Scientists seem to me to be clever car mechanics, but nothing else.”

    You are well qualified to keep silent on all matters pertaining to science.

  • JonathanBurdon

    “I do not consider Michael Coren to be a competent commentator on matters concerning science.”
    And how are you qualified to commentate on matters concerning science?

  • http://www.facebook.com/rusty.yates.7 Rusty Yates

    When I read this I am so glad atheists are gaining ground so fast. Our hope truly is in the young. When people honestly try to be come better by worshiping a megalomaniac mass murdering god and a ‘saviour’ that plans to torture billions, what else can you expect but the ‘logic’ in this article and the comments that follow. Catholicism and it’s pedophilia, mass enslavement over the centuries and mass murder is bizarre and beautiful in a strange and twisted way. Good thing I have a secular government that keeps you from burning me at the stake.

  • maxmarley

    a Noble Prize for you, son, for begrudgery

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PWZKI7JBARE4DDT3NQ22RWMOJE Benedict Carter

    Mr Byrne is an old, embittered former Catholic who has a blog which panders to all the usual atheist crap.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PWZKI7JBARE4DDT3NQ22RWMOJE Benedict Carter

    Science will not get me to Heaven.

    Why should I therefore be interested in it? It gives me things like IPods and a laptop. I’m grateful. But it doesn’t add anything to Revelation, does it? 

    Science is a god …. ! What a joke. 

    I’ll take the Blessed Trinity, thanks.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PWZKI7JBARE4DDT3NQ22RWMOJE Benedict Carter

    That was all a bit breathless, wasn’t it?

    Tell me, which atheist sect do you belong to? Are you a Sky Fairyite, a Bronze Age Sheep Herdist, an Invisible Friender or a Old Man in a Clouder?

  • teigitur

    Were you having a much deserved sabbatical?

  • teigitur

    Good thing indeed. People would be saving up firewood.

  • teigitur

    Have you not come across Mr Byrne before? We are so lucky he posts here, he is a world authority on absolutely everything.