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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.”

  • karlf

    Not really. God lets people die in the most horrible ways all the time. The reason for avoiding murder is to avoid depriving someone of life.

  • Graham

    Just waning to stick my two penneth.
    KarlF you seem to be missing the point, mate.
    You love to bleat on about how Christians and other believers are somehow blinded by the faith, but where does this get you?

    I mean, what I’m willing to discuss in all your extensive rebuttals is what happens when YOU die.

    See I will have eternal life…so…where are you going with your “scientific” god?

    Three score and ten then gone forever?
    How depressing.

  • karlf

    It may sound depressing, but if that is what happens what can you do? Of course it would be great if there was a ‘heaven’ to go to after we die, but I can’t force my self to believe something that appears to be highly improbable. If, however, it does turn out that we live forever in some alien form I’ll eat my words. Otherwise neither of will exist, and therefore will not be able to care.

  • Acleron

    You might consider the reverse. People who consider this is the only life we have live more vividly with the intent to enjoy ourselves in whatever way. Whereas afterlife believers put up with the misery and suffering so loved by your leaders (for you of course, not them), all on the promise of a better afterlife. How disappointing, especially when the only evidence you have of such an afterlife is zero. 

    Of course you could be playing the Pascal bet but the odds are severely against you. I do feel sorry for you, but the solution is only in your hands.

  • Graham

    Acleron,

    You should be aware that I have alot of experience in “debating” the issues between atheism and theism on YouTube channels.

    It usually unnecessarily polarises debate, which defines the childish nature of some atheists.

    The mature person will not be drawn either way, but simply converse about their own personal experiences.

  • Graham

    KarlF you are displaying your limited perspective you seem to be requiring evidence to confirm.

    This is not really drawing on your own experience just the communal preconfirmed experience of others’ proven evidence.

    Your discussions are not about a mature perspective on the human condition regarding faith.

    Consider this: Record of dates are measured from some well know event in history. If it never happened or was nothing significant, why?

    Also consider this: M-theory postulates an extra-reality “mulitverse” beyond this one which is generally accepted as untestable so will never have evidence, why do physicists still claim it is science.

  • Graham

    JP,

    I personally think that there is a difference between the being “infinite”  by some measure (time, size, etc) and existing in “eternity”.

    To me it helps to think of “eternity” as being a separate dimension as it where, external to this reality and governed by different physical laws.

    In physics one could describe the universe as we perceive it to be born out of eternity, which might be the stuff of M-theory, or before the big-bang, etc.

    Hawkings gives a good lecture about this, in a sense, when dealing with the birth of the universe.

    He doesn’t talk of “eternity” per-se but you can see where it would fit into his thinking.

    Things such as infinite time and space are properties arising from within this universe, but kind if erk to the connection between our reality and the greater eternity.

    Not sure if it is actually the Oxford definition, but I find it just makes more sense to think of them as distinct.

  • karlf

    a)Christianity
    b)Ask a physicist
    Concerning the notion of an afterlife, our knowledge of the human mind gives us quite a lot to go on. Our whole personalities can be altered by physical and chemical changes of the brain, showing that our personalities (i.e. us) are produced by the brain. If there is a part of our minds that can exist as a “spirit” it would not resemble that which we consider as ourselves.
    In heaven do all people become equally intelligent? Equally able? If not why? If so, everyone would be the same. What would these heaven creatures that we become look like? Would we retain animalistic behavioural instincts, such as anger, hunger, and sex? etc. etc.

  • Graham

    KarlF,

    I have a question:

    Is you interest in supernatural beliefs acedemic or existential?

    It actually seems more the former, with a hint of entertainmentism.

  • karlf

    Supernatural beliefs

  • Graham

    Which dictionary are you using?

    OED: Faith is…

    “Complete trust or confidence in someone or something”
    e.g. Faith in science …to provide answers.

    “Strong belief in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual conviction rather than proof”
    e.g. The Christian faith.

    Woody has faith his description of faith is correct.

    Either that or he’s trolling.

  • Graham

    KarlF,

    No Woody is wrong, which make you wrong too.

  • Graham

    God declares that other gods are false and if you go worship them you burn in hell, or summat.

    Is there anything in the Holy Bible or Holy Quran which states the other is not the same person?

    It is only stated you must worship the guy who is the one creator. If this is the same entity (from the Bible/Quran/ whatever), nobody is doing anything wrong.

    Simply living by a different worship system as it were.

  • karlf

    How is he wrong?

  • Acleron

    Enlighten me, just what does your being a youtube warrior have to do with the debate?

  • TreenonPoet

     One does not need to go beyond Christianity, let alone monotheism, to see that there are multiple definitions of the deity called ‘God’. For example, is the God to whom a revelation is attributed the omnipotent God, or the God who ceded some power to mankind? Is the revealed God the perfect God, or the God who not only needs to be worshipped, but fails to reveal exactly which God He is? Etc. There are so many versions of God that I wonder whether any two Christians agree exactly on the attributes of their version, even after collusion.

    My suspicion is that God only exists in the imagination and in works of fiction. God Himself is not real, but the effects of believing that He is real are all too real.

    By the way, to whom did God say “let there be light”?

  • Woodie

    “Strong belief in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual conviction rather than proof”  like pretending to know that demons exist just because the church tells you to when you don’t really know it at all, for example. 

  • scary goat

     I am not miserable in this life. I am happy with Church teachings….not just waiting for  an afterlife….I like what the Church teaches for the here and now. And forget my religion to enjoy myself?  How does that work?  My religion doesn’t stop me doing any of the nice things I enjoy doing.  The only things it stops me doing are things which would either make me miserable or make others miserable.  Atheists always come up with this….heaven is wishful thinking, and it’s better to enjoy this life. But we Catholics do enjoy this life…very much…probably more than you if you only knew.

  • Acleron

    I’m glad to hear that, but it isn’t true of the whole church.

    For instance, why do you have people like Bojaxhiu who denied dying men pain killers because in her words, it is better to suffer? Of course she boarded an airplane and went to Rome for her own treatment.
    Or the poor in Germany who are expected to supply some of their meagre  income to the church while the bishop builds a palace, I doubt they are very happy.

    Or the AIDS victims in Africa who are infected because the church tells lies about condoms, are they happy to be dying?

    But in general, when some one has been convinced of an afterlife, they will always be looking at it as a way out to better things, that’s only human nature. So I’d much rather my life than yours :)

  • Graham

    The answer to your question has already been added.

  • Graham

    So I’m drawing from my own personal experience here…

    I have had many discussions with Christians and Muslims and the consensus is that the God of the Bible is the same as the God of the Quran.

    I’m simply saying that this may well extend to other religions, where the god of which they speak is in fact the same entity as that of Christians and Muslims.

    Pretty much all religious texts speak of a jealous god, but if it is the same person there is, in fact, no conflict, just a different mechanism of worship.

    The point I’m making is that to say there are 4,000 religions as Dawkinists state is not to say there are 4,000 deities.

    And to answer your second question, God was speaking to God’s creation, which translates to the universe as it was then.

  • Graham

    c) both a) and b): Ask a christian physicist
    You require evidence -which translates to other peoples experience- because you are still learning about the world.
    This is OK and questions (even loaded ones) are invited, but don’t be arrogant about it.
    Do not think that you can convince someone with a lifetime of their own experience that they are wrong, because it is just not going to happen.
    Your questions about heaven, presuming, of course, that it exists, can only in reality be answered by someone who has been there.
    I have not so I cannot answer your questions.
    You put enphasis on intelligence and ability, also you refer to some emotions or instincts. Maybe it’s like that or maybe not.
    Maybe it’s what you want it to be, who knows really.
    Simply to say, well I don’t believe it exists so no one else should, is arrogance.

  • Graham

    You really need to get more original material than Dawkins book.

    Why would it make a negative difference to entertain the idea of an afterlife.

    I might point out that many atheists believe in a natural afterlife, not created by or resident to a deity but a part of the universe.

    People suffer hardship as the result of other humans, not as a result of their belief in an afterlife.
    This says more about the other humans than the believer themselves.

    Pascal’s wager is about accepting there may be an alternative to this limited existence.

    There so much we do not know about this reality that it is foolish to discount something based on the trivial evidence before us.

  • Graham

    It means I have met the arguments you put before.

    I call them Dawkinist arguments because they my as well be read from his book.

    Mostly arrogant and conceited as the author.

  • Graham

    JB,

    Would you consider your self still a Christian?

  • Graham

    Faith is belief without proof.
    Period.No dictionary make any representation about the truth.You are making stuff up to win an argument.

    Question: Do you consider that there is a greater reality beyond this one?
    Physicists do, it’s called M-theory.
    They have no proof, so what to you call this?

    Do Physicists believe in the great god M, who’s theory bears his name?

    Of course, I’m being sarcastic here, but the analogy holds: there is no proof or either, but one is called faith, the other is called physics.

    And right now as I type there is no “truth” in either and according to Hawkins this is not going to change.

  • Acleron

    To which Dawkin’s book are you referring? A little known fact, well, little known to believers, is that many atheists think for themselves. They have had to after deprogramming the years of indoctrination.

    Many atheists believe in an afterlife? Any evidence or statistics for this?

    Suffering has many causes, your church revels in it.

    Pascal’s bet is a nonsense, it is popularised just as all the other death-bed conversions because it makes good copy.

    Please don’t don’t talk about evidence, when you have zero evidence. If your belief is based on what we don’t know, it is purely the god of the ever decreasing gaps.

  • Graham

    Our “mind” by any description is not material in nature.

    The brain may be the vessel on the mind, or not depending on your point of view (soul/spirit, etc), but mind could be considered as a pattern or program in the brain.

    This means it is not cells or hormones, but the application.

    Otherwise death would have no meaning, since you could just jump start the body after death again in the future and the person would still be there (if it were well preserved).

    If it were simple wiring and chemicals and entirely a physical aspect, death would not be an obstacle and resurrection would be commonplace.

    It seems the part of you, which make you you is something which leaves the body on (or shortly after) death and can never return.

    Where it goes depends, right now entirely, on your beliefs as there is nothing considered as scientific evidence to show this.

  • Graham

    *Cough* Dark matter/energy *Cough*

  • Graham

    You knew what he meant. 

    Making the next collider will be very dear.
    How much of Africa gets fed by the CERN project?

    Seriously.

  • Graham

    Are you referring to their mortal life or their eternal one?

    Ah, of course, you don’t believe in eternal life, silly me.:)

  • Graham

    I think BC is asking you to stop trolling and work out some stuff for yourself.

    If you just want to pick a fight there are plenty of immature users on YouTube for your entertainment.

  • karlf

    No – I’m putting forward questions to to obtain answers so I can demonstrate why I don’t believe, and to find out how others can.
    I am not saying anything is the truth, but you are, even though you admit to having zero knowledge about heaven.

  • karlf

    I’m referring to the facts that we know i.e. God watches over (according to you) as millions of people (children) experience the most terible and prolonged suffering.

  • karlf

    Why do you call someone who disagrees with your beliefs a ‘troll’?
    I asked BC to provide good reason for believing in demons, which he failed to do and got all huffy on me.
    The Catholic Church is a huge and extremely influential organisation, so surely I’m not asking too much for some justification of what they tell people to believe?

  • Graham

    The “Church” is not telling you to worship demons.
    You do understand that, don’t you.

    Seems more pedantically argumentative than evidential.
    Of course, we all know the source material.

    There’s no “we” in this.
    You are only speaking for yourself.

    I think you will find that atheists are opposed to any form of grouping.

    Ironically.
    Also, I guess I’m wondering why you care.
    Is this purely for entertainment?

  • Graham

    Yes K it’s simple mind boggling the Catholic Church was murdering people for being possessed and practising witchcraft.

    I saw it all over those articles.
    What an outrage.

  • TreenonPoet

     I understood the point that you were trying to make. I was trying to answer it by demonstrating that even amongst Christians there is more than one God. If jealousy is a perfect attribute, then you need to define ‘perfect’; if not, then you have demonstrated that your God is not the official Roman Catholic God.

    Re.Q2: If there was no-one in the universe to listen, why was God speaking to it?

  • karlf

    I said that the CC tells you to believe that demons exist – not to worship them.
    As I said before, I’m interested in supernatural belief.

  • Graham

    “We cannot choose what we believe simply because we wish it to be true”

    Well, ..we can actually.

    “One day I believe I will be a millionaire”

    I think your point is as below:
    You are foolish to believe something is true you know to be false.

    …or you are being argumentative or summat.

    The real point is in the knowing for sure.

    Do you know for absolute surety (no going back, rock solid) that there is nothing of you will survive your bodily death?

    So I’m guessing the answer is something like:
    “I don’t believe there is”, then go on to quote “evidence” which is inconclusive.

    You may well cite your right to your position, which is to believe what you like.

    I don’t think BC or anyone else on this forum is going to say you can’t, because that is what free will is.

    So go ahead and believe there is no afterlife.

    Think about this:

      Mathematically anything divided by infinity is zero.

      Knowledge is infinite.

      We do not know all this infinite knowledge.

      The proportion of this knowledge we actually have is mathematically zero.

    And that’s mathematics not belief.

  • karlf

    On what grounds do you believe that you will be a millionaire?
    You live your everyday life by evidence based reasoning. Why should your death be any different? suddenly everything becomes made of magic the minute your heart stops?
    Perhaps it would be more helpful if you stopped the psuedo scientific waffle and presented some sound reasoning for a belief in an afterlife?

  • Graham

    Firstly, Karl, questions are good, but don’t assume too much.

    The millionaire thing was to show that you are making statements which are easily contradicted.

    This can be interpreted as being argumentative.

    To make a statement like, “You live your everyday life by evidence based reasoning.” Is quoting again from the “Holy” book of Dawkins.

    It is preaching to the converted and doesn’t win any votes (or likes).

    My death be different and magic after death?
    It isn’t that’s the point, it’s the same for everyone.

    “…psuedo scientific waffle” there isn’t any, which makes that a troll device.

    You lose that one.

  • karlf

    Maybe you could try answering my questions. Rightly I can only concede to losing if you can successfully challenge my points.

  • Graham

    …”there was no-one in the universe to listen”.
    Read it again, I said God was speaking to the creation, the universe itself, not people in the universe.

    But it’s my interpretation, not some fact I’m quoting.

    There are as you should know 3 Christian gods: the father, son and holy spirit.

    All perform different functions and have different personalities.

    But they are part of the same God, like different personalities of the same person.

    It’s a bit like occupying different posts in the same firm.
    Still the same person, but having different roles.

    About perfection, well my perfection might not be your perfection, so I can’t define “perfection” in a way that is absolute.
    It’s a bit subjective.

    “my” god?

    There is no “my” god in the same way as there is no “my” internet.

    You need to be a bit more intelligent with your posts.

  • Graham

    “What is the sound reasoning for a belief in an afterlife?”

    Ok, this is good.
    A real cut to the chase.

    Do you want to die?

    Let’s take depression and suicide out of the argument and just speculate the answer is no.

    So the question is…  do you, at the point of mortal death want to:

    a) just cease to exist or 

    b) continue on in some form.

    You can choose (a) an accept there is nothing you can do about it save some miracle of science: maybe cryogenics or genetics or something.

    Or you can choose (b) and investigate the life after death stuff, including what various religions say.

    So, make your choice now and we will move on to the next question.

  • Graham

    “To which Dawkin’s book are you referring?”
    Yeah, right.

    “Any evidence or statistics..” A quick google came up with this:
    http://exreligious.com/life-after-death.html
    “…your church”? You assume too much.

    “…you have zero evidence”
    what have I personally claimed as evidence?

    And finally…

    “ever decreasing gaps.”

    Knowledge is infinite.

    Gaps in infinity are sill infinitely large.

  • Graham

    Yes you are wrong.

    You suffer from the same indoctrination that you accuse.

    Making statements like “immortal bogeyman” is like me making statements like “Karl is a bigoted immature small minded troll”

    It’s designed to illicit a reaction.

    You have the right to say that some deity is the “immortal bogeyman”, but you have to acknowledge it is your opinion.

    Other opinions differ, usually because their experience of life tells them something else.

    You need to respect that.

  • Graham

    Yes and 1 + 1 = 10 in base 2

  • Graham

    What you don’t remember your own posts:

    “I have an keen interest in supernatural beliefs..”Is you interest in supernatural beliefs acedemic or existential?

  • Graham

    JP,

    I’d ask the question the other way round:

    Prove that all this stuff doesn’t exist.

    You will get post after post of reasons why a person should not believe it exists, but not one bit of proof.

    Or the onus will somehow be placed (in this case) in the questioner to provide proof of their position ending in a standoff.

    Then usually follows the abuse etc.

    Yawn.

    I stick to arguing on maths and logic.

    It’s entertaining watching posters attempting to infer that sound maths and absolute logic is my opinion.