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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.”

  • Graham

    Sorry, Peter, I didn’t mean to post above yours.

  • karlf

    To say that it is good reasoning to believe in an afterlife because you want one is plainly ridiculous. Because we want to believe something is real, it does not make it real. Why can’t you grasp this?

  • Acleron

    If you have previously met the arguments, it is telling you have no answer.

  • Graham

    So you can’t answer a simple question.

    “Because [I] want to believe something is real, it does not make it real.”

    So if you want to believe when you die you cease to exists that doesn’t make it real.

    You have problems with grasping it too.
    There is no evidence either way so you are own with that one.

    By the way, I see you are pretending to speak for others again.

    _Your opinion_ is that it is ridiculous.

    Just yours.

    I’m sure to you in your world it makes no sense whatsoever, but other people have different opinions.

    People who have much more life experience that you.

    Anyway I’m done with you now since you are not debating a topic, just attempting to convince others they are foolish but can’t prove it.

    Have a good life.

    By the way, I’m a Christian, but not from the catholic Church.

  • TreenonPoet

     

    …”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.

    Exactly – no people, no animals, no planet-dwelling beings, etc. The universe itself does not have ears or any other speech receiving devices, so what is the point of speaking to it? I was not suggesting that there was a second god doing the donkey work any more than I am suggesting that there was really a god saying “Let there be light”. I was reacting to your suggestion that one god common to different religions is the guy who is the one creator by wondering, if He was acting alone, why He should say anything.

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

    I am glad to hear it. My guess would be that the command “Let there be light” was a metaphor for whatever process was required to bring about light. If you had said that, I would have pointed out that it does not match the Qur’an.

    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.

    This does not answer my point that the same God cannot have contradictory attributes (such as the God who has ceded some power to man as opposed to the God who is all powerful).

    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.

    If the Catholic religion is ambiguous when it refers to a “perfect God”, then it covers a range of beliefs. Which, if any, is the true one? As you say, it is subjective. Science has an objective method of approaching the truth.

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

    Sorry. I was referring the the common God that you were postulating.

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

    Sadly I have to do the best I can with what intelligence I have, but I see from this site that the bar is set very low.

  • Graham

    Doesn’t really tell you anything other that I’ve debated this before with the children you find on youtube.

    You are making assumptions about my knowledge based on replies I have not made.

    I have answers, but sometimes it’s up to the questioner to formulate the question in a mature way.

    Usually with all the preconceived ideas removed first.

    Anything else is usually just entertainment.

  • Graham

    “…  (according to you) …”

    You have proof that I said that, of course, or even that it happens.
    Did I mention Stalin too.

    Have a good life.

  • Graham

    So:

    “…got all huffy on me…”

    Really? pot/kettle/black.

    “… tell people to believe…”

    A common mistake.
    Members of some religious organisation may present what they believe and the basis.

    If you do not wish to believe it they don’t fine you or put you in prison.

    I certainly not telling anyone that they should believe in atheism.

    That would be you.

  • TreenonPoet

     Just because karlf did not directly answer your question does not mean that he cannot. What he did instead was more intelligent. He took a step back from your comment to analyse the thinking behind it. By attempting to tackle that thinking, he would hopefully show you why your question was irrelevant.

    Your reply is basically ad hominem and judgmental. Didn’t Jesus say something about judging others? (Actually, he said some contradictory things.)

    The thing about rational thought, as opposed to religious thought, is that the same conclusions can be reached independently. A person who claims that 7 is a prime number is not just speaking for himself. Likewise, it is a universal truth that to wish something was true does not make it true. To suggest otherwise is ridiculous, though perhaps not quite so plainly ridiculous that those whose rationality has been damaged can see it.

  • Acleron

    Have you read any booksby Dawkins?

    You have found a web site that speculates with some misinterpretationsof modern physics. So no evidence.

    How do you know that knowledge is infinite?

  • Acleron

    Lol, you mean  sound maths such as ‘division by infinity’? (clue: infinity is not a number)

  • TreenonPoet

     (Sorry for delay: Disqus did not report your comment to me properly.)

    The wiktionary definitions ofproof mention truth. Also note that I refer to ‘religious faith’ rather than faith in general. My definition is intended to express what I mean by the term, but it seems to be in line with the
    wikipedia definition which says ”Depending on the religion, faith is belief in a god or gods or in the doctrines or teachings of the religion.”. What ‘stuff’ am I making up?

    I do not consider that there is a greater reality beyond this one. Again, referring to wiktionary, the relevant definition of  
    reality (”The entirety of all that is real”) would seem to preclude the possibility of a greater reality. Can you link to a quote from a physicist who claims otherwise?

    Obviously physicists do not wait for ideas to be proven before coming up with the ideas, but I was under the impression that, until the ideas seemed to be well verified, they were only hypotheses and not scientific theories, and if there was no way to test them (at least theoretically) then they were not scientific hypotheses. Unless the idea can be verified by maths/logic, then it can never be proven 100% as it cannot be known that a single exception will never be discovered. In that case, supporting evidence is not proof, but the lack of 100% proof is no reason to reject the idea. The lack of any proper evidence at all is a good reason not to waste time on an idea.

  • Acleron

    above

  • Acleron

    Graham wrote:
    ‘Doesn’t really tell you anything other that I’ve debated this before with the children you find on youtube.

    You are making assumptions about my knowledge based on replies I have not made.

    I have answers, but sometimes it’s up to the questioner to formulate the question in a mature way.

    Usually with all the preconceived ideas removed first.

    Anything else is usually just entertainment.’
    Unfortunately for your argument, it is very easy to draw at least one conclusion from someone who replies with attempts at insults but with no substantive answers.

     They have no answer.

  • Acleron

    You make it sound all so reasonable with this:-
    ‘Members of some religious organisation may present what they believe and the basis.’

    One wouldn’t realise that young children who are incapable of debating the basis are being indoctrinated.

    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 I see you do not understand the response.

    You certainly do not understand about speaking to God’s creation. And have a very limited view of what a god is.I’ll ignore the childish insults for now.

    You are being very literal and analytical in my responses as if I am an authority.

    Not a problem in it’s own right, but I am not an authority in all things God related nor is anyone on this forum.

    There is an authority in these matters, but you choose to assume this person doesn’t exist and ignore them.
    This makes it impossible for you to find answers.I’m expecting a “perhaps God should this forum” response to that.”Science has an objective method of approaching the truth.”

    I think you will find that all science is based on some fundamental assumptions which cannot be proven.

    M-Theory anyone?

    Also the reverse is true.

    Quantum Mechanics is showing us impossible things which happen right in front of our very eyes.

    No one can explain how it works, but the amazing almost sci-fi theories are confirmed by experiment.

    What next? they’ll discover electrons and photons actually have intelligence so they are aware of being measured?

    -I’m expecting a quip about particles’ intelligence and the posters on this forum there.

  • Graham

    You believe the human brain lacked the corpus callosum at some point in evolution?

    Interesting to see your default position is that you must be mental.

  • Graham

    Yes, yes, and we will have populated all the planets and perhaps Alpha Centuri system at some point.

    Hmmm, you project a dichotomy within yourself.

    You wish to be rooted in the sciences perhaps requiring logical explain of this reality, and yet it seems you are hampering your own speculation of the beyond.

  • Graham

    Are you?

    Or are you interested in picking fights with “supernatural” believers.

  • TreenonPoet

     Victor J. Stenger said ”Science flies men to the moon, religion flies men into buildings.”. That is the way I see it too. You seem to be ridiculing the scientific knowledge that you rely on, while lauding an imagined being whose testament would have you believe that the Earth is flat were it not that you don’t really believe it to be as authoritative as you claim.

  • Acleron

    You seem to think that M theory is a well accepted physics theory. It isn’t, it is a speculative theoretical construct that may explain the origin of the universe. At the moment there is no evidence to support it over other theories (in fact they should be called hypotheses). The Planck may give us, thru better resolution of the CMB, this evidence.

    In general, science is fully aware of what can be backed up by evidence and what is lacking in evidence. M-theory is not put forward as any sort of Truth, it is merely an idea which may be better accepted if evidence becomes available.

    And QM experiments can never show you anything that is impossible, they have just shown the reverse, obviously.

  • karlf

    Sorry, I assumed you believed that God was always watching over us, and omnipresent. But what has Stalin got to do with it? He was an evil man, not a loving God.

  • Graham

    *cough* Quantum entanglement*cough*

    And the different varians of M-Theoryare internally consistent which is why is has theory status even thoughit can’t be proved.

  • Graham

    It’s peoplelike you who give atheism a bad name.

  • Graham

    Acleron,

    Obviously you failed maths.

    “In mathematics, infinity is often treated as if it were a number”

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infinity

    Try again, troll.

  • Acleron

    You do like introducing non-sequitors as if they are some erudite knowledge when in fact they are just nonsense.. String theory is the attempt to combine quantum mechanics and gravity and hence entanglement. M-theory is an extension of string theory because there are so many different string theories. 

    The internal consistency of a theory is no criterion for acceptance as a full blown theory in science, otherwise godidit would be a scientific theory. Until evidence is found that demonstrates something that corresponds to M theory but contradicts existing theories it remains an interesting hypothesis and excellent maths.

    You have any evidence as I described? 

  • TreenonPoet

     Which is it: flat Earth or flawed Bible?

  • Acleron

    Wikipedia is occasionally incorrect. But you can prove this yourself, which infinity would you divide by?

  • Graham

    Karl you really, really are such a sheep.
    Gender in species (and hence sexual urges) is NOT as a result of evolution.Only an indoctrinated, stupid evolutionist would attempt to argue against that one.Asexual reproduction would have been the only mechanism to initiate any species.Mutation into gender would have not stood a chance as this would have hindered species population which totally flies against Darwin.This means sexual urges would have not been necessary to populate and increase species.To say anything else is just throwing common sense and logic out the window.

    Also it’s adultery and fornication which is the sin, not sex stupid.

  • Graham

    See maths fail.

    Read up on Calculus specifically solvingthe reciprocal gratient.

    If you can do that then you should see the error in your line of argument.

    I know it’s hopelessly way over your head since you don’t understand high school maths.

    Remember I said I’ve done this before?

    Please have a point of view which is not recycled.

  • Graham

    ‘Depending on the religion, faith is belief .. or in the doctrines or teachings of the religion.”Ah, by that definition atheism is a faithreality (”The entirety of all that is real”) would seem to preclude the possibility of a greater reality.Hahahah, your so funny.Using circular definitions.reality is … err … stuff that is considered real.By who?I consider this reality as a greater reality containing God.Hey everybody get TreenonPoet he is a Christian now since I’m defining reality.Next I’m going to argue that anyone called TreenonPoet is anything considered to be tree like.Sorry to all the intelligent readers, but sometimes to make the point you first have to learn the language (or lack).

  • Acleron

    Yes, you have said it before, you were wrong then as well, but good to see you are consistent.

    Worked out which infinity you would divide by yet? There are several so go on, take a guess. It doesn’t matter, all choices are wrong.

  • Graham

    OK, so what you are saying is that Karl can’t answer my question directly and he is asking a question I never asked, which means he is avoiding the question.

    Yes, thanks for that, I knew that.

    I am judging him? no.

    For instance If I was judging you I would say something like: “TreenonPoet is a brainless sheep who can’t fight his way out of a paper bag.”

    See that’s going down the judging route so I wouldn’t do that.

  • Graham

    You are correct, but this is an conclusion you have drawn for yourself.

    Whether it is the reality is entirely open for question, ironically.

    I believe this puts you in the “anything else” category as I have answers as stated.

    Incidentally I did not state I have the right answers.

    Of course this point of being right is very subjective due to the fully acknowledged (by all parties) lack of “empirical evidence”.

    Anyone claiming to have “empirical evidence” of the actual big bang and how it came about better have some pretty cast iron sources from which to quote.

  • Graham

    Apology accepted.

    You didn’t know about the cruel dictator who had people put to death in the name of atheism then?

    You should read about it. It might help you understand a thing or two about the flawless logic of atheism.

  • Acleron

    The conclusion drawn was that you had no answer, you have confirmed the correctness of that conclusion.

    BTW, did you get that hilarious comment on evolution posted? It demonstrated that  you have failed at biology, physics and maths so far. Fancy a stab at chemistry?

  • Acleron

    Stalin said it was in the name of atheism that he killed people? Did he really?  I like to see that.

  • 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.

    It made so much sense when you said it.

    And ..er.. young children always go to church on their own.

    You see that all the time don’t you.

    They don’t have parents to teach them about the world.

    That’s only done at church where they are being brainwashed by evil Christians, then returned to their parents under threat of death if they utter a word.

  • karlf

    He didn’t put people to death in the name of atheism. With your flawed logic, if it was proven that God did not exist, every murder would be in the name of atheism.
    Either God exists or he doesn’t. Whatever the case, the reality is the truth, no matter what people desire.

  • Graham

    Of course, you will draw your own conclusions and, of course, this is a repeat of my previous remark.

    And, of course, you will assume that everyone else thinks like you.

    And, of course, you make even more stupid assumptions from your own ill thought through assumptions.

    Like the fact that I know nothing or summat.

    Isn’t this exactly of what you are accusing theists.

    You are conscious and capable of formulating the questions.Now, move on from that to prove that you actually are conscious, with empirical evidence.Also argue, if you like, that consciousness arose from increasingly complex systems.Then move on to argue why the universe itself (which contains you and me and all the other complex conscious lifeforms) is NOT a conscious being in it’s own right.OK, let’s start again: The idea of a complex omnipotent conscious being is stupid because……anyone?

  • Graham

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Stalin#Religion

    You really are living in your own badly researched world separate from  the rest of the world.

  • Graham

    Errr…the flawedlogic would be yours

  • karlf

    How so? You said that Stalin had people put to death in the name of atheism, which is not true. He was an atheist who had people put to death.

  • Acleron

    First, rigorously define conciousness.

  • Acleron

    see above

  • Acleron

    @d962b439e4f0b23725bdb513d14594d1:disqus 
    Stalin was a tyrannical dictator, he saw the religious institutions as a threat and removed them, just as he did any other group that opposed him. Exactly the same techniques to oppress a population have been used by all such people, there are plenty of examples in the world today.

    Atheists don’t become mass murderers because they are atheists.

  • TreenonPoet

     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?

    I am not using circular definitions. To define ‘reality’ as ”the entirety of all that is real” assumes an understanding of the word ‘real’. Wiktionary gives ten definitions of the adjective, and none of them refer back to the word ‘reality’. Taking the relevant definition ”That has physical existence”, the wiktionary definition of ‘physical’ does not refer to reality; its definition of ‘existence’ does, but an equivalent is given that does not. The only circularity is wide circles that hardly justify the reaction ”Hahahah”.

    You are free to create your own definition of words for your own purposes, but do not expect people to understand you unless you state your definition because the default is to assume that your words have the standard definitions. (That is why it bothers me when scientists give a hypothesis a name like ‘M-theory’ when it is not a scientific theory.)

  • Graham

    Is that it?

    All this blustering about me not providing answers and when  I provide you with some genuine food for thought and that’s the best you can come up with?

    I haven’t even got to Quantum Mechanics and the observers’ influence implying sub atomic intelligence showing the possible fractal nature of consciousness leading to a genuine scientific theory.

    That being something which can be falsified by observation.

    And even pushing the envelope with the human perspective limited to the senses which puts both the subatomic and cosmological scale outside our ability to communicate with that entity in any meaningful way, restricting our ability to assess the entity as conscious by any definition.

    And again giving us something which could be falsified by observation, should such a test be formulated, giving us yet more scientific method in action.

    But what do I know, I am just some poor deluded theist who doesn’t think, just says God did it.

    I’m done with you, you have no original thought to add here.

  • Graham

    This is a joke, right?

    YOU describe an atheist who commits mass murder on theists then conclude atheists don’t become mass murderers.

    And you complain about others’ flawed logic.

    Have a good life.

  • Graham

    OK, you need to remember your English lessons you had a school.

    You do not define a word using that word (or derivative) as this is not defining it.

    It’s bad English (or American) to say “to define something is to provide a definition”.

    You should say something like: “to define some is to provide an explanation of what it is.”

    So you do not say “reality is stuff that is real” because that does not define the word “reality” it just says the word reality is derived from the word “real”.

    Well, duh!

    Now take the OED:
    “the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them.”

    See THAT is a good English definition.

    Anyone well educated, as I am, would know that.

    Since you are obviously not, I don’t see what you can add.