Lemaître & Einstein

Fr Georges Lemaître and Albert Einstein

The English astronomer, Sir Fred Hoyle, coined the term “Big Bang” to mock the theory proposed by Belgian priest, astronomer, and professor of physics, Fr Georges Lemaître, that the universe had a beginning. The scientist Hoyle died in 2001 never accepting that the universe had a beginning.

Albert Einstein also could not accept the clear conclusion of his own calculations that the universe was not static. So, in 1917, he introduced a “cosmological constant” to make his calculations fit his presumptions.

In the 1920s, Fr Lemaître worked with Einstein’s general theory of relativity, but he did not bring to it Einstein’s prejudices of a static universe that had always existed. Instead Fr Lemaître brought in the idea that the universe is expanding, from observations known as a ‘red shift’ – a Doppler effect, indicating that galaxies are moving away from us. Fr Lemaitre published his ideas in 1927. Most scientists just could not cope with his idea that the universe has a beginning. Scientists deal with cause and effect. And if the universe has a beginning…

Einstein’s response to Fr Lemaitre was, “Your calculations are correct, but your grasp of physics is abominable.”

Of course, observations over the years have shown Fr Lemaitre to be right, and Einstein acknowledged the blunder he made.

Pope Francis, addressing the Pontifical Academy of Sciences this week, said what to many of us is obvious, “The Big Bang, which nowadays is posited as the origin of the world, does not contradict the divine act of creating, but rather requires it. The evolution of nature does not contrast with the notion of Creation, as evolution presupposes the creation of beings that evolve.

Tragically, fundamentalist theists and fundamentalist atheists inadvertently cooperate together so that a Christian leader (in this case the Pope) accepting contemporary scientific positions is somehow newsworthy!

I am forever needing to explain that I think the universe began with a Big Bang more than 13 billion years ago and that we evolved. And that my first reaction to a story with a talking snake is to understand its genre to be fable! And I wonder with distress why everyone is so agile using metaphors and understanding language to be richly metaphorical except in religion and spirituality.

I have previously expressed my distress that not more Christian leaders, including our bishops, appear reluctant to publicly declare their acceptance of the science of origin – evolution is the elephant in the empty nave.

The Pope again: “God is not a divine being or a magician, but the Creator who brought everything to life.”

To me the way we should be reacting to what the Pope is saying is expressed well by The Eye of the Tiger (a sort of RC The Onion): “In a stunning break with centuries of Catholic teaching, Pope Francis announced today that the force of Gravity is real …and denied that every falling object is pulled downward by an angel created for that specific purpose by Jesus and Mother Mary.”

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