Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Georges Lemaître and the creation of the universe

Georges Lemaître (1894-1966)

Monsignor Georges Henri Joseph Édouard Lemaître (1894-1966) was a Roman Catholic priest in Belgium. Our Lord gave him faith and also some extra brain capacity: he was a professor of Physics in the Catholic University of Leuven and a gifted astronomer.

Lemaître was a pioneer in applying Einstein's theory of general relativity (1916) to cosmology. In 1931 he published in Nature his hypothesis of the primeval atom - a theory about the origins of universe, cosmogony, that is better known as the Big Bang. This catchy term was coined by the British astronomer Fred Hoyle in 1949.

G. Lemaître, The Primeval Atom - an Essay on Cosmogony (1950)

Catholic University at Leuven, Belgium

Please, notice the timing. This Belgian priest is thinking on the lines proposed by Albert Einstein and suggests Big Bang in 1927. This pipe smoking American publishes the velocity-distance facts observed in Mount Wilson in 1929 confirming Lemaître's basic ideas with accurate and reliable facts about star from distant galaxies.

Who is this guy?

Does anyone know that a priest was the first one to propose that there was a Big Bang?

His parents sent the boy to the classical Jesuit school, Collège du Sacré-Coeur in Charleroi in Wallonia, western Belgium. He was a brilliant student and already at the young age of 17 he was accepted to the University of Leuven to study civil engineering.

13 pounders at Ypres in 1917

But then something happened - First World War broke out and Georges was sent to the front as an artillery officer to keep the Germans out. It was nasty business. It was very nasty business.

Although he returned physically intact from the front decorated with Military Cross with palms, the man had changed. He left civil engineering and was now determined to become a priest. In addition to Theology he studied physics and mathematics in Leuven University getting a doctorate in 1920. In 1923 Doctor Georges Lemaître was ordained priest.

Our Lord guided the young priest with round eyeglasses to Cambridge where he studied the heavens above us as a graduate student. Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington (1882 - 1944) was an important English speaking scientist who introduced Einstein's German work on general relativity to the hostile people licking their awful war wounds in the British Imperium. In 1919 he successfully tested Einstein's idea of the effect of gravity on light during an eclipse of the sun. Lemaître was captivated by this gifted teacher's views and adopted himself the great interest in Einstein's theories that were a hotly debated novelty at that time.

Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington (1882 - 1944)

Now Georges wanted to see the things by himself and took a steam boat across the Atlantic. From Cambridge to Cambridge, Massachusetts travelled he and there in the Harvard College Observatory studied the skies with the guidance of Harlow Shapley (1885-1972).

Pope Pius XII with professor and Mrs Harley Shapley 1952

They may have had much to talk besides Einstein's general theory of relativity and the discoveries made by Hubble with Hooker - for Georges was a priest and Harlow was deeply interested in the issues of religion and science. To his credit we can say that Shapley was an ardent critic of Immanuel Velikovsky. He was an active member in The Institute on Religion in an Age of Science (IRAS) and published in 1960 his Science ponders religion.

Ten scientists explained how they thought scientific and religious knowledge could be integrated... While there were a number of both scientists and clergy who held that religious truth was hardly susceptible of being approached by scientific beliefs, there was a strong recognition that today we can increase the scope and validity of our understanding of our destiny and our relationship to that "in which we live and move and have our being," not only by reading ancient texts, but also by building up the science of theology in harmony with other science. Science October 1 issue 1954

Space science and theology
Lemaître lecturing at Leuven

Well, back to home he travelled and back to work with a wealth of ideas in his mind. They matured in his remarkable publication in the 1927 issue of Annales de la Société Scientifique de Bruxelles. The paper was called Un Univers homogène de masse constante et de rayon croissant rendant compte de la vitesse radiale des nébuleuses extragalactiques and introduced the theory of the Big Bang.

By the way, Albert could not find any fault in his mathematical reasoning but was still against the idea of expanding universe. Georges boy was right, Einstein was wrong. Of course, he changed his mind later after meeting with Hubble at Mount Wilson and seeing the evidence first hand. But Lemaître was already there. Some priest we have here!

"Lemaître was then invited to London in order to take part in a meeting of the British Association on the relation between the physical Universe and spirituality. There he proposed that the Universe expanded from an initial point, which he called the "Primeval Atom" and developed in a report published in Nature. Lemaître himself also described his theory as "the Cosmic Egg exploding at the moment of the creation" (wikipedia)

I dunno.

Somehow it just feels good that the Big Bang theory was first proposed by a priest.

And God said "Let there be light!"
Genesis 1:3

1 comment:

  1. I've never seen the picture of Shapley with Pope Pius XII. Thanks!