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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.”

  • JByrne24

    ” Occam’s Razor concerns the whole of rationality, not just the scientific.”

    A fact that all should keep in mind when, for example, considering the statements of young girls who say they have seen, and listened to, the words of the mother of God.

  • JByrne24

    “Some of the greatest scientific minds have been spiritual”

    Yes, but many have been “spiritual” within a broader understanding of the word than that often allowed for in various religions.

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

    You are not serious, evidently. End of discussion then.

  • karlf

     What makes you think I’m not serious?

  • JabbaPapa

    Occam’s Razor helped me to determine, specifically and logically, the truth of the divine intervention that led to my conversion.

    It is utterly useless for the purpose of guessing stuff about situations and circumstances that one has no knowledge of.

  • JabbaPapa

    What, is it direct lies now ?

    I asked you 1) If demons exist where do they live? 2) How come they
    have God like powers to go about unseen and manipulate people’s minds?
    3)Why do they never get tired of doing this, even after thousands of
    years? 4)Why do they like being nasty? 5) Why doesn’t God smite them? 6)
    What do they look like? 7) Why do they get wrongly blamed for all those
    things that were clearly the result of other causes?

    Did you answer a single one of these questions? no you did not.

    You have asked none of these questions until now !!!

    1) If demons exist where do they live?

    If demons exist, they are immaterial beings that “live” (they’re not actually alive) in the immaterial.

    2) How come they
    have God like powers to go about unseen and manipulate people’s minds?

    These are angelic powers, not “god-like”. Basically, it’s because we ourselves are incarnated spirits/souls, that they can interact with.


    3)Why do they never get tired of doing this, even after thousands of
    years?

    Why should immaterial entities get “tired” ?

    And who says that they don’t ???

    4)Why do they like being nasty?

    This is an imponderable, given that it relates to the nature of Evil. I don’t know.

    5) Why doesn’t God smite them?

    I have no idea what you mean by “smite”.

    Whatever it means, please demonstrate that He hasn’t.

    6)
    What do they look like?

    They look like the possessed.

    7) Why do they get wrongly blamed for all those
    things that were clearly the result of other causes?

    There really are two answers to this question …

    a – demons do cause harm

    b – you are nevertheless correct in your suggestion that demonic influence is often wrongfully alleged, particularly in some cases of anatomically or biochemically induced violent paranoid schizophrenia. The teaching of the Church is that MOST alleged cases of demonic possession are explained by delusions occasioned by such disorders of the cognitive functions. The exorcists say the same.

  • Jon Brownridge

     Karlf – cast not your pearls…Jabba and Benedict love to engage in sententious rhetoric. If you are serious in your comments you are surely barking up the wrong tree.

  • JabbaPapa

    That isn’t “evidence” — it’s conjecture !!!

    There’s nothing in that post of yours that could be tested in a science laboratory.

  • Jon Brownridge

     Surely you are not serious. Can you really believe something you know to be false?

  • JabbaPapa

    It is a profound philosophical question whether God is capable of change, because that will mean that God lacked that change before it took place, implying that God is less than infinite.

    Wrong, but you do pinpoint the *philosophical* difficulty.

    God, being omnipotent, is necessarily imbued with the power to change.

    The fundamental error in that philosophical position is that it seeks to subject God to various logical limitations.

    God is not the slave of logic — and it’s actually very hard to provide a true statement about God beginning with the words “God is not”.

    And really — do you honestly think that God is incapable of what we ourselves do in every single micro-instant of our existence ???

    Not only is the very Act of Creation His most fundamentally powerful Act of Change — but Scripture shows many times, either in Gospel or in the Book of Job for example, that God certainly can and does change His mind when He should so desire to.

  • JByrne24

    Very useful in deciding probabilities. Ranging from a virtual “dead cert” to almost totally unlikely in a million billion years.

  • JabbaPapa

    Mathematics determine probabilities, not Occam’s Razor.

  • JabbaPapa

    That’s a completely different question, as I’d hoped you would have been able to understand prior to someone else pointing it out to you.

  • Acleron

    One correction for the author. Lemaitre was unhappy with the pope jumping on a bandwagon because the bandwagon could easily lose a wheel, Lemaitre knew his science, the pope didn’t. Lemaitre didn’t want the papacy ending up with egg on it’s face if another theory, prevalent at the time gained credence.

    One general point, Lemaitre was very careful to keep his science and his religion apart, there was no evidence that being a catholic made any difference to his science, but one could speculate on all else he could have achieved if he hadn’t spent so much time learning ritual.

  • Jon Brownridge

     Perhaps not so different. One cannot simply wake up one morning and decide to believe in, say, leprechauns simply because one has chosen to do so. Although surprisingly it does seem to happen among immovable, traditionalist Catholics. I believe x, y, and z, they say, regardless of whether they are true or not – don’t confuse me with the facts.

  • Acleron

    The ignorance is startling. Unfortunately for your thesis, scientists don’t evaluate their science in terms of whether it fits or doesn’t fit some probably imaginary being which anyway doesn’t affect the natural world.

    Yes, scientists are investigating the origin of our universe. But guess who doesn’t think they should even consider the question. 

    The only groups who are worried about science and its findings are the religious.

  • Jon Brownridge

     Karlf, here is the answer you need: The idea of devils and demons finds it root in ancient mythologies, predominately in Egypt. From the dawn of civilization, man has been conscious of a dichotomy between Good and Evil. When the crops grew and no one got sick, that was good and it was caused by the good Gods. When the crops failed and pestilence abounded, that was evil and it was brought on by the evil Gods. Personification was always a powerful instrument of figurative language and we end up with Go(o)d and (D)evil as the two main players. The ancient peoples were ahead of us somewhat, however, in that they could understand the symbolism of their mythology, unlike today where some intelligent men (astoundingly) believe devils are real beings.

  • Acleron

    What evolutionary ladder?

  • Acleron

    The extraordinary claim is that something that doesn’t affect reality in any way whatsoever actually exists. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. You have consistently failed to produce the evidence. The ball is very much in your court.

  • Acleron

    No, he’s still around, he steals meatballs.

  • Woodie

    you’ll be bringing out the ducking stool next!

  • Woodie

    Faith is pretending to know something that you do not know

  • Guest

    How laughable! You may as well be talking about the Daleks or Vampires

  • Guest

    Exactly! It’s all so full of holes and collapses on it’s own daft ‘logic’

  • Woodie

    Exactly!

  • Woodie

    Why couldn’t these events be recorded as Karlf suggests? 

  • Woodie

    So Russell’s teapot does exist! Hoorah!

  • Peter

    Unless you are a materialist who believes that mind is the product of physical processes, the act of changing one’s mind does not involve any material change.

    Mind is spirit and God, from whom human mind is fashioned, is pure Mind and pure Spirit which is immutable.

    As pure Mind and pure Spirit, God is omniscient and omnipresent, in a word, infinite.

  • JabbaPapa

    No it isn’t.

    Faith is believing something that you do not understand.

  • JabbaPapa

    I just answered his questions, regardless of whether people would like the answers or not.

  • Steve

    At first I found some of the comments on this page interesting and enlightening. But as usual, after any prolonged discussion, people fall back into entrenched positions. If there are people out there who are genuinely seeking answers, rather than just trying to ridicule the beliefs of those who disagree with them about the existence or non existence of God,then the best person to ask is God Himself.  

  • TreenonPoet

     If that is meant to be a joke, then it is in bad taste. There are children in this world being tortured and killed because their parents have been taught religion rather than science. Do you think that it is a good thing that those parents have opened their mind to religious lunacy rather than be entrenched in reality?

    Congratulations to karlf for getting a number of Catholics on this thread to admit that they believe in the Devil and demons while also admitting, by evasion and invention, that they have no proper evidence to back them up. This example demonstrates how utterly unscientific Catholic thought can be, in common with religious thinking in general. The cases of ‘demons’ being driven out of children show how dangerous such thought can be.

  • Acleron

    Just asked, no reply.

  • JabbaPapa

    There are children in this world being tortured and killed because their parents have been taught religion rather than science.

    Apart from denouncing, again, this utter falsehood that religion is in any way contrary or antagonistic to science — I’ll just comment that it must be so much better for all those children in the world being tortured and killed because their parents have been taught atheistic nihilism rather than any religious values.

  • Woodie

    and you are pretending to know things that you do not know – that’s ‘faith’

  • TreenonPoet

     Religious faith is irrational. Science is rational. If you cannot see that they are contrary, then you are blinded by your religious faith.

    Religions reject valid scientific conclusions that contradict the religion. I what way is that not antagonistic towards science?

    I don’t know of anyone who is taught nihilism, and I don’t know why you think it would result in their children being tortured and killed (why would nihilists bother?), but if it were the case, why would it be so much better?

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

    Karlf has been directed to the next level of enquiry – and has refused the direction out of hand. 

    Why should one bother further? I won’t be. 

  • JabbaPapa

    Religious faith is irrational. Science is rational. If you cannot see that they are contrary, then you are blinded by your religious faith.

    Religion and Science are very very different to each other, and if you imagine them to be in some sort of “competition” with each other, then you are blinded by your atheistic bigotry.

    Furthermore, good luck trying to demonstrate that reality entirely obeys the laws and methods of rationality.

    (the suggestion that it does is just dogma)

    Religions reject valid scientific conclusions that contradict the religion

    This is complete rubbish.

    You are generalising the false ideas that are created by bad religion — if you want to compare bad religion with anything “scientific” at any meaningful level, then compare it with bad science — with Piltdown Man, aether, the Flat Earth Society, perpetual motion machines, ancient astronauts, and alien conspiracy theories.

    if it were the case, why would it be so much better?

    Your sarcasm detector is on the blink again.

  • JabbaPapa

    Probabilities are in fact determined solely by mathematics.

  • JabbaPapa

    you are pretending to know things that you do not know

    Wrong, and wrong.

  • JabbaPapa

    Our minds exist inside our bodies, and they are at least partially material in nature while we still live.

    Anybody who tells you that they can understand the nature of purely immaterial minds is lying.

  • karlf

     Woodie is right Jabba – you pretend to know things about devils and demons, and you pretend to know things about what God wants and does. It’s just the same with people of other faiths. You KNOW that people of other faiths pretend to know things that they don’t know.

  • karlf

    Thanks Jon. I am serious in my comments.

  • karlf

     Do you mean the books you recommended? I gave you  very good reason for not reading them with the expectation that you might challenge that reasoning, but you did not. If I were to read every book of unsupported fantastic claims, I’d be under a mountain of the things.

  • karlf

     Thanks TP. As Woodie said in one of his comments, ” faith is pretending to know things that you don’t know” and has been clearly demonstrated in some of the bizarre info on devils and demons that I have gleaned here recently.

  • TreenonPoet

     ‘Contrariness’ is not the same as ‘competition’.

    If a being is irrational, then the reality is that that being is irrational, and I have never suggested otherwise, but ‘reality’ is not a being with associated thoughts and so cannot be rational or irrational.

    By religious faith, I mean faith that something is definitely true when there is no evidence or even when there is contrary evidence. This can never be rational.

  • Peter

    There are billions of unborn babies being murdered because their parents have been taught science rater than religion.

  • Peter

    Don’t confuse the mind with the brain through which the mind interacts with the body.

    The mind is the soul or spirit and is purely immaterial.

    Our minds are in the image and likeness of the God, Who is Mind and Spirit.

    That is why we are capable of understanding the universe created by the Mind of God.

  • TreenonPoet

     The gist of your comment is good, though I would disagree with the exact wording.

    The rationality of killing the unborn is sometimes debateable – that is, there may be rational arguments for and against, and as far as I know at present, the weight given to some of the issues can only be subjective – in many cases science is not sufficiently advanced to allow an objective conclusion to be reached.

    However, killing for purely religious reasons is wrong because there is no such thing as a valid religious reason. The irrationality of religion invalidates its conclusions, whether or not the same conclusions can be reached rationally. For example, there may be good reasons for not terminating a particular pregnancy, but the sacredness of human life is not one of them.

  • Peter

    Is the sacredness of human life not a good reason for avoiding murder?