Georges Lemaître, the Scientist and Priest who "Could Conceive the Beginning of the Universe"


(system) #1
One of the most important cosmologists of the 20th century was a devout Christian.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/guest/georges-lemaitre-the-scientist-and-priest-who-could-conceive-the-beginning-of-the-universe

(Stephen Matheson) #2

Don’t miss the excellent work of my friend John Farrell, author of The Day Without Yesterday: Lemaître, Einstein, and the Birth of Modern Cosmology. He has made an excellent video about Lemaître, which you can see along with lots of other great stuff at John’s Vimeo page.


(Phil) #3

Enjoyed the post. PBS had special about Einstein, presented how his thought experiments were instrumental in developing his theories, in a like vein. And of course Augustine had some pretty insightful things to say about time not existing before creation in a similar line of thought, also.


(Larry Bunce) #4

I really like this LeMaitre quote about Christian scientists’ advantage:
“But the believer has the advantage of knowing that the enigma has a solution, that the underlying logic is ultimately the work of an intelligent being, that, therefore, the problem posed by nature was posed to be solved, and that its difficulty is probably proportionate to our human abilities, be it today or tomorrow. This knowledge might not provide him with new investigation resources, but it will help him maintain the healthy optimism without which a sustained effort cannot long endure.”

The statement shows that belief in God makes us believers in intelligent design–the real kind, not the ID that pretends to exclude references to the supernatural to allow creationism to be taught in the public schools.


(Dr. Ted Davis) #5

Thank you for this very accurate, well researched piece, Dr. de Felipe. I’m encouraged to learn that you are preparing a complete edition of Lemaitre’s writings on science and Christianity. As you say, his views are not well known, yet some rank him among the 2 or 3 greatest cosmologists of the last century–and certainly a deeply committed Christian.


(Roger A. Sawtelle) #6

Einstein (who disliked such dynamic models of the universe for philosophical reasons

As indicated by the statement above, there are good philosophical reasons to reject the Big Bang. This is probably behind Christian reservations about it and the reason why some atheists like Dawkins are trying to get around the Big Bang.

We need more on the philosophical aspects of the Big Bang and the fact that Creation has a Beginning.

Lemaitre rejected the concordist views that he once held, and many theologians agree. However if the Two Books of Revelation theoology is real, then the fact that science and theology are in agreement over the Big Bang is an important confirmation of this theology. The fact that philosophy is at odds with the Big Bang and Creation indicates there is a big problem with philosophy that needs to be addressed by those who love the Truth.


(Pablo de Felipe) #7

Thanks for your comment as well as for the previous ones and the interest in the article. It had to be brief, so I did not have space to discuss Einstein’s objections. The main point is that Einstein was more or less pantheist and preferred a view of the universe as eternal. In this view some of the attributes that Christians reserve for God are applied to the universe itself. In 1917 he even tried the universe to be static. These views have a long tradition and we could go back even to Aristotle.
The Big Bang, much more than the expansion of the universe, brought a dramatic challenge to these views and strong resistances, in particular due to the suspicions of religious influence because Lemaître was a priest. That is why he always tried to keep the scientific discussion between technical boundaries and avoid mixing disciplines.
It is true that in some sense science and theology agree on the Big Bang, but we should be very cautious, as Lemaître was, as science is always on the move and the Big Bang is a scientific explanation that could change in the future. In addition, the idea of creation, as Lemaître defended, is something beyond science and the beginning of the universe. The idea/doctrine of creation can be compatible with different scientific cosmologies, and this should not surprise us, as the objective of Christianity is not to do our scientific ‘homework’ for us, another point stressed by Lemaître.


(Roger A. Sawtelle) #8

@Pablo_de_Felipe

Thank you for your excellent response.

The point I am trying to make is that there are three sources of Truth for Western civilization, theology, philosophy, and science. To have a discussion of truth that excludes one of these disciplines is impossible. Even Dawkins understands that to establish the grounds for his atheism he must make the philosophical foundation that Reality is monistic and physical. Once this is stablished the rest falls into place. Without it nothing fall into place.

It is clear that if the universe is eternal, then it must be self created or in effect God. The Greek philosophers believed that this is the case. Their philosophy is about a changeless eternal reality, which is uncreated. That put them at odds with Christianity which is about a changing historical reality which is created. Western dualism reached a modus vivendi between the two by making science or physics about change nature of the physical and metaphysics or theology about the unchanging divine.

The problem with this is it does not really work. The Bible is about the changing relationship of humans with God. Science is about the eternal laws of nature.

What to do? If our philosophy does not work right, our theology does not work right, because both are to a real extent based on philosophy.

I think the clue to solving this dilemma is found in the fact that the universe is not eternal, which means that Reality is not Simple, it is Many or Diverse. By the same sign the universe has purpose and meaning, so it is also Unity or One. In addition the universe is rationally structured which unites the Many with the One, so we also have the “and” making Reality Three, rather than Two, or One.

To have a unified rational understanding of Reality it must be physical, rational, and spiritual. Otherwise we have chaotic thinking we have now, which makes humans vulnerable to radically false thinking like Trumpism and Dawkinsism…

Hopefully we are moving towards an understanding of Truth that includes science, philosophy, and theology.


(Pablo de Felipe) #9

Yes, in the end, science has philosophical foundations that many scientists do not want to know about. And those foundations are not open to scientific demonstration, as they are a priori. They are the rules of the game that have to be accepted BEFORE we can play (such as that there is a physical reality, that operates under laws, which are accessible to the human mind, and that mathematics and experimentation are crucial). Atheism is not a required rule for doing science, but sometimes we see it smuggled in. In fact, Christianity played an important historical part in stablishing these rules (as the history of the concept of natural laws itself indicates). However, we should resist ‘apologetic’ temptations of suggesting that Christianity is in some way required for science, as anyone can play today accepting the rules of science regardless of their faith or no faith. Still, was Christianity an historical necessity for stablishing the rules of science? Some have defended so, but most historians are very uneasy with such a simplistic and deterministic historical causality… In any case, the role of Christianity on the development of science is a fascinating topic!


(Roger A. Sawtelle) #10

The question as I see it is one of Truth. True rules lead to true facts, whether we are talking about science, philosophy, or theology. The first question is about reality. Of course there is a physical reality, but most atheists say that there is only a physical reality, and insist that methodological materialism is the only way to do science. This might work in the physical world, but science goes beyond the physical world to the organic world (biology) and the human world (economics, medicine, political science.)

If Reality is only physical, it is not rational, because the physical cannot think. If the physical cannot think, then from whence do natural laws come? Logically they don’t. If the physical cannot think, from whence do human minds come? Again logically they do not.

If math and experimentation are crucial, then it logically follows that nature must have a rational structure and thus must be considered to have a design, regardless of how often people say it does not.

Dawkins claims to a materialist because ne said the mind and body are one, both physical. The mind/body question is a key issue. Even though we might say that the brain is a part of the body and is thus physical, it thinks and thus in form it is rational or mental. We know what physical work is, and we know that it is different from mental work. We even make ma clear distinct between “blue collar” jobs and “white collar” jobs or work. Of course blue collar jobs are traditional jobs in plants and factories, and those who deliver tangible services like plumbers and delivery persons. White collar workers are managers, teachers, office workers, call centers, and customer service.

This points to the reality of separation of mind and body, but I see another group of workers which do not fall under the white blue collar rubric, just as the arts and humanities do not fit under the rubric of science, even though they are important aspects of human Reality. As I have often pointed out, if Dawkins is right about Reality being only physical, then music and the other arts have no place in life. This does not mean that musicians cannot be artists or enjoy art, but there is no place in their world view for the arts. Sports and the communication industry fit into this aspect of life also. Finally we have religious and government They provide not tangible product or service as physical work. They are not problem solving as does white collar work. These jobs are spiritual in that they give meaning and purpose to life.

So we have physical work, mental work, and spiritual work. Of source these categories are not mutually exclusive and all need to work together to produce a healthy and productive person or society.

According to this analysis Reality is not One, because both the physical and mental are Real. It is not Two because the Spiritual is also Real. It is Three because the physical, mental, and spiritual are all real and interdependent and relational.

Is Christianity needed to do science? No, but I would suggest that a Christian Trinitarian worldview is required to do a good job as a scientist, just as atheists say that a monistic physical worldview is required to do a good job as scientist. It might be noted that Islam rejects the view that natural law exists, as least since al-Ghazali. Hindus do not accept the reality of the physical. No, one does need to be a Christian to be a scientist, but I would say that one needs to be a cultural christian to follow the rules of science without violating one’s basic beliefs.

Christians are called to the ministry of reconciliation. We are called to reconcile the Truth of our faith with the Truth of science and this can only be cone through the Truth of philosophy, which is that the Truth of Relational. This is why BioLogos is very important to heal the divisions of our day. .


(Dr. Edouard Belaga) #11

I am an admirer of Fr. George Lemaître personality, his service and his work. Still, the episode of his conflict with the Pape Pie XII needs a more personal understanding, and not just a constatation of the “error” of the Pape, “corrected” by Lemaître. It is clear from the story of his life that Lemaître was persecuted as a Christian and, in particular, as a priest, by atheist scientists, and only scientific objectivity of Einstein permitted Lemaître to officially “enter” the world of professionals. Such difficulties left a traumatic perception in Lemaître of Christian attempts to accommodate the scientific discoveries to the Biblical (not necessary Christian, Jewish as well) tradition. Pie XII was not even the first to indicate that the Biblical picture of the Creation of the world has found finally a plausible scientific parabola. Today we find many reasonable books, written by any sort of authors, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, agnostics, etc., on the subject.


(Pablo de Felipe) #12

Yes, Pius XII was not the first to connect the Big Bag with the idea of creation; he was inspired by other Christians in the sciences. I just wanted to point out that curiously the main promoter of Big Bang, even though he was also a committed Christian, disagreed with that connection, and that should make us think about why he was so reluctant to use his own science to support his own faith. Why miss such an opportunity? But… was that really a desirable thing to do after all?
Of course his personal experience could be a part of it, but I do not like to always use psychological explanations, without also look to the good reasons that Lemaître also offered when we look at his general approach to the science and Christianity relationships. Sadly Lemaître did not explain in detail his views on science and Christianity, and that is why his 1933 interview in the New York Times and his 1936 Lecture are so important, because they are the longest discussion by him of his general views that help us to understand why he did not want to make apologetics out of his science. This prompts us to consider the important topic of ‘concordism’ and its dangers.
In addition, in the 1950s Lemaîtres ideas were far from being confirmed. They were very speculative, and he always referred to his view as a hypothesis. To make things more complex, at this time the rival hypothesis of the Steady State was also popular, so I can sympathize with Lemaître’s concerns trying to avoid any strong Vatican support for a theory that could be wrong. Something that remains me of Galileo and his failed attempt in 1615 to avoid the Vatican condemnation of Copernicanism. Both scientists shared the view that theologians should avoid a dogmatic pronunciation about scientific theories, either for condemnation or for support.
It is true that Lemaitre was attacked unjustly for his ideas and in particular for his priestly condition. However, it is also true that most of those attacks came from, what he called in 1936 “second and third rate popularizers, who attack religion in the name of what they believe to have understood from science.” Eddington and Einstein, and other real experts, were key to give respectability to Lemaître’s ideas. That he was also able to get along so well with Hoyle, as to go on holidays once with him and his wife, is really remarkable and a real example.


(Roger A. Sawtelle) #13

@Dr.EB

Dr. BeLaga,

Thank you for that added note on Fr. Lemaitre. He was a great scientist and it had to be very difficult to get his view across when every one else agreed philosophically with the steady state view. i am glad they were willing to consider the facts and change their minds, which does not seem to happen around here. Thank you, Lord, for Albert Einstein.

I understand why he was very cautious in how he wanted to compare the Genesis view of the Beginning to the Big Bang, It is not one of Christianity over Science or Science over Christianity, Christianity and Science need to reconcile their views to one other, which means both need to give some so both can receive much. It is hard to underestimate the significance of the Biginning to both of these disciplines, Theology and Science, and we owe much of this to Fr. Lemaitre.

This is what Christianity needs to do with Evolutionary theory also. Both express important facts which are much more effective together than separate. This is why BioLogos can be most important to the future important of both Science and Theology if it can make this reconciliation real.


(Dr. Edouard Belaga) #14

pax

Thank you, M. Roger A. Sawtelle, for your friendly remark. To be more adequate, we need to understand that Einstein’s interest in Fr. Lemaitre work was also very personal.

To simplify the story, but still being more close to the scientific reality, than Dr. Pablo de Felipe, Einstein’s general theory of relativity is crucially depended on his cosmological equation, transparent and simple, but carrying a member introduced by Einstein for the only reason to guaranty the stability of his universe. The real achievement and the theological and scientific courage of Fr. Lemaitre are manifested by his idea that this member is not necessary, and the REAL universe should be always either imploding or, more close to the Biblical vision, exploding – which has be confirmed by Hubble’s phenomena. And Einstein has immediately understood this.