Saturday, December 29, 2007

How a Catholic Priest Gave Us the Big Bang Theory

This is a rather interesting article on Georges Lemaitre, a Catholic priest who, this article claim, to have been the first who originated the "Big Bang Theory" of cosmology. You might want to read this and judge for yourself if it is accurate.

I have no issues with such claims. However, I do have a problem with the underlying tone of the article. It appears as if the author of the article tries very hard to imply that the Big Bang Theory itself has "religious" origins, simply because the first person who made such a scenario happens to be a catholic priest. That's as absurd as the Nazi during World War II trying to erase Einstein's Theory of Relativity because it had "Jewish" elements. It seems that Lemaitre was being just a good scientist and examined the evidence available at that time to come up with a scientific description, something that Galileo had done a long time ago. Even the article itself described this process:

Returning to Belgium in 1925, where he worked at the Catholic University of Leuven as a part-time lecturer, his big break came two years later in 1927 when he proposed his theory of an expanding Universe to explain the movement of the galaxies, published in the Annals of the Scientific Society of Brussels.

In other words, he came up with the theory to explain the observation, and not based on some pre-conceived religious view of the universe. The fact that he happened to be a catholic priest is incidental and irrelevant, at least from the story. I would bet that the paper that he published never cited any religious sources to justify the impetus for the theory.

Strangely enough, while the author wants christians to "take credit" for the Big Bang theory, he seems to have ignored the incompatibility between the cosmological age of the universe based on the Big Bang Theory, and the biblical age of the universe that various christians sects have stuck to. I mean, 14 billion years old is hugely different than 60,000 years old! Even if one were to fudge a few numbers here and there, and make rough estimates of many things, there's no way one can make those two numbers approach even remotely the same order of magnitude. To me, this also points to the "non-religious" origin of the Big Bang theory in cosmology.

To associate the origin and impetus of a theory simply to the religion of the originator is taking a rather large leap of logic. Unless one can specifically cite the exact impetus that subsequently becomes the theory, then simply using the argument that a theory has catholic origin because so-and-so is catholic is logically faulty.



Anonymous said...

umm Catholicism makes no claim to 60,000 years as the age of the Earth.

Anonymous said...

sounds like atheism at its finest to me...

A. L. Bruce said...

The article is correct that Lemaitre proposed what is now known as the Big Bang theory from reversing the Friedman Equations, but I don't think it is advocating religion as much as wondering why a theory which appears to conform to general religious ideas should be rejected by fundamentalists. By the way, the correct incorrect age is 6,000 yrs--which was Bishop Usher's idea; but the Catholic Church doesn't subscribe to that and hasn't since before Vatican II.

Aquohn said...

Atheists actually tried to reject the Big Bang model because, from Wikipedia: "In the 1920s and 1930s almost every major cosmologist preferred an eternal steady state Universe, and several complained that the beginning of time implied by the Big Bang imported religious concepts into physics; this objection was later repeated by supporters of the steady state theory. This perception was enhanced by the fact that the originator of the Big Bang theory, Monsignor Georges LemaƮtre, was a Roman Catholic priest."

In this light, such claims have increased credence.