The discovery of cosmic ripples from the birth of the Universe is evidence beyond reasonable doubt of the Big Bang theory first proposed by Fr George Lemaitre.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” (Genesis 1:1-3)
My friend, Augie, likes to stop by to compare notes about our favorite TV shows. We’ve been mesmerized by the return of Jack Bauer’s “24,” and we’re eagerly looking forward to this week’s return of “Falling Skies.” Earlier this week when Augie came to my door he asked, “What do you think of The Big Bang Theory?” I was so glad he asked. I launched into a 15-minute analysis of the science of modern cosmology and the meaning of the so-called Big Bang for both science and faith. When I finished, Augie looked dazed and said, “Umm…I meant the TV show!”
Then Mike Ciresi stopped by and asked, “What are you writing about this week?” “The Big Bang Theory,” I replied, hoping for another chance to spout off my explanation of the Cosmos. “Oh, I LOVE that show,” said Mike as he made a hasty retreat.
Okay, what have I been missing? Despite it’s being the most watched show on television, I had never seen an episode of the CBS hit, “The Big Bang Theory.” So I watched a few reruns. The show turned all social science on its head. I had no idea nerds were now “in!” And they even have girlfriends! Nerdhood has sure changed since I studied physics!
Alas, however, it’s the OTHER Big Bang theory that I’m taking on this week, but I implore you not to click me away just yet. I MUST write about this, and I hope you’ll read on. I’m not as funny as Sheldon, Leonard, Howard and Raj, and of course Penny! I can only be that funny when I’m trying hard NOT to be funny! Like now!
I must write about the Big Bang theory for two reasons. First and foremost, a new discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation was big news a few months ago because it lends evidence beyond reasonable doubt to the truth of the science behind the Big Bang, a discovery first proposed by a Catholic priest who turned Twentieth Century cosmology on its head. I want to write about what this means for both the science of cosmology and the faith that we have all invested into a notion that this Universe was created by God. I’ll get back to that.
Finally, I must write about this because I was somehow thrown into the ring of debate about what it all means. My name showed up on the Facebook page of www.TheMindUnleashed.org, a quantum physics website. Mary Anne O’Hare posted in response to an article about the implications of so-called parallel universes and the “Many Worlds” theory:
“Gordon J. MacRae is one of the best authors who melds science with faith. Would be interested in his feedback.”
Thank you, Mary…I think! However, the ego bubble you built was burst just moments after I read your remark. TSW reader Liz McKernan from England sent me a clipping from the (UK) Catholic Herald. It reminded me that my paranormal quest for science and truth from behind these stone walls is dwarfed by another priest, the U.K.’s Father Andrew Pinsent, who is without doubt the most accurate and prolific contemporary writer and bridge builder in the realm of how science impacts faith. Liz McKernan’s clipping detailed Father Pinsent’s presentation to a packed room at the Newman Forum on “The Alleged Conflict Between Faith and Science.”
ARE SCIENCE AND FAITH MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE?
My post, “Lumen Fidei: The Science of Creation and a Tale of Two Priests” had a very nice graphic advertising that very same U.K. symposium on Science and Faith. In that post, I profiled the work of Father Andrew Pinsent – who also (Ahem! Ahem!) happens to read These Stone Walls. You might recall that the post also revealed a connection between the great Father Georges Lemaitre and our friend, Pornchai Maximilian Moontri whose Godfather, Pierre Matthews, was a close friend of Father Lemaitre. The post has a photo of them together. Pornchai is probably the only person on earth who can say that his Godfather’s Godfather is the Father of the Big Bang.
Before I delve further into Father Andrew Pinsent’s defense of the truth about Catholic contributions to science, however, I want to comment on another television show I awaited with great anticipation. The FOX -TV production of “Cosmos” hosted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is terrific despite one very unfortunate and inaccurate anti-Catholic slur in its first segment:
“The Roman Catholic Church maintained a system of courts known as the Inquisition and its sole purpose was to torment anyone who dared voice views that differed from theirs.”
It seems the “Cosmos” writers have been reading far too much of the sort of shoddy revisionist history put forth by novelists like Dan Brown. As the University of Dayton historian, Thomas Madden, pointed out, the Inquisition formed at a time when much of European society was in a perilous state of disorder, and the order it brought to anarchy saved thousands of lives. More importantly, Madden wrote, “The Catholic Church as an institution had almost nothing to do with” the Inquisition.
The insinuation by a “Cosmos” background writer was that the Catholic Church has been hostile to science, however the truth about the relationship between science and faith in the Twentieth Century demonstrates that just the reverse has more often been the case. For much of the later Twentieth Century, a fringe but vocally dominant number of scientists have been far more hostile to religion.
Few living scientists have done more than Father Andrew Pinsent to refute the attempts of this anti-religion fringe to replace faith in God with faith in science by always pointing to the “irrationality of believers.” I am sad that the otherwise excellent series, “Cosmos” fell prey to that slur.
Father Pinsent has helped redeem science by exposing the truth about the great contributions to science by Catholic priests. His examples include the Jesuit Astrophysicist, Fr Angelo Secchi, the father of the science of genetics, Msgr Gregor Mendel, and of course the astronomer and mathematician, Fr Georges Lemaitre. In this list, I cannot exclude Father Andrew Pinsent himself who holds advanced degrees in theology, philosophy, physics, and particle physics, and is currently Research Director of the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion at Oxford.
SCIENCE FROM EAST OF EDEN
Still, I greatly respect and admire Neil deGrasse Tyson who went on in “Cosmos” to repair the damage somewhat by giving Fr Georges Lemaitre due credit as a foundational theorist of modern physics and cosmology right along with Albert Einstein.
The description of Father Lemaitre’s discovery as “The Big Bang” actually began as a term of mockery of his idea. The term first appeared in 1949, more than two decades after Lemaitre first proposed it. The prevailing winds of scientific thought for the first half of the Twentieth Century had settled on a belief that the Universe was not “created” at all, but had always existed, had no beginning, and will have no end. In that sense, for science, the Universe itself replaced God as eternal and without an origin. This was the accepted view, even by Einstein.
It was this predominant view that relegated the Judeo-Christian understanding of creation to the shelf, treating it, and all religion, as a quaint anachronism stubbornly clinging to bygone days of scientific ignorance. Science attempted to remove all rational belief from our Biblical Creation account, and declared it to be a myth in the way we popularly understand myth. In mid-Twentieth Century science, God was obsolete, and some in philosophy were soon to follow with “God is dead!” Many in science held that if science could so undermine the very first awareness of man that God is Creator, all the rest of Judeo-Christian faith would eventually crumble.
LET THERE BE LIGHT!
Then along came a brilliant mathematician-priest who subjected the conclusions of science to the rigors of mathematics. I wrote about the challenge this priest posed to the prevailing winds of science in “A Day Without Yesterday: Father Georges Lemaitre and the Big Bang.” Father Lemaitre was much respected by Albert Einstein, but far more for his mind than for his faith. At a 1933 conference in Brussels exposing his Theory of General Relativity, Einstein was asked if he believed it was understood at all by most of the scientists present. Einstein replied, “By Professor D. perhaps, and certainly by Lemaitre; as for the rest, I don’t think so.”
However, Einstein also had a fundamental disagreement with Father Lemaitre, though one – to the consternation of many in science – that was short-lived. Lemaitre used mathematics to present a model of the Universe based on Einstein’s own Theory of General Relativity which proposed that mass and energy create curvature of space-time causing particles of matter to follow a curved trajectory. Gravity, therefore, would bend not only matter, but light and even space itself. This had profound implications for science and was radically different from the reigning Newtonian physics which held that space is absolute and linear.
Even while demonstrating relativity, Einstein held to a “Steady State” theory of the Universe as being eternal, without beginning or end, and static. Using Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, Father Lemaitre created a mathematical model for the origin of the Universe concluding in 1927 that the Universe – including space and time – came into existence suddenly, some 13.7 billion years ago, from an explosive expansion of a tiny singularity that he called the “Primeval Atom.” The Universe, and time, were born on a day without yesterday. Suddenly, a created Universe was back on the scientific table.
Father Lemaitre conceived of nothing in existence but a tiny speck into which was contained all matter and energy that we now know as the Universe, and in a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second, the Universe came into being in a moment of immeasurable heat and light. The resistance to this view within the scientific community was enormous. As Father Andrew Pinsent once wrote to me:
“As late as 1948 astronomers in the Soviet Union were urged to oppose the Big Bang theory because they were told it was ‘encouraging clericalism.’ People tend to forget that the world’s first atheist state in effect banned the Big Bang and genetics, both invented by priests, for more than thirty years.”
Einstein studied Lemaitre’s 1927 paper intensely, but could find no fault in the mathematics behind his proposal. Einstein would not be a slave to mathematics, however, and simply could not conceive of his instinct about the mechanics of the Universe being wrong. “Your mathematics is perfect,” he told the priest, “but your physics is abominable.” Einstein would one day take back those words.
Two years later, in 1929, the astronomer Edwin Hubble – in whose honor is named the Hubble Space Telescope – demonstrated that the Universe was in fact not only not static, as Einstein insisted, but expanding. This lent scientific weight to Father Lemaitre’s primeval atom because if the Universe is expanding, then logic held that in the far distant past it must have been much, much smaller while containing the same matter, mass, and energy. In fact, Physicist Stephen Hawking would decades later calculate the density of the Primeval Atom in tons per square inch to be one followed by seventy-two zeros.
Lemaitre’s model traced the origin of the Universe back 13.7 billion years to a point of immeasurable mass and density that suddenly expanded giving birth not only to matter, but to the space-time continuum itself. Appearing at a symposium with Father Lemaitre in 1933, Einstein stood and applauded the priest declaring that his view – which is today called the Standard Model of cosmology – “Is the most beautiful explanation of creation I have ever heard.”
THE NEWLY DISCOVERED COSMIC RIPPLES
“Let there be light!” is back in the parlance of scientific truth. Though not many cosmologists were ready to embrace the Biblical account of creation as being the sudden appearance of immense light upon the command of God, the science suddenly supported a belief in a Universe with a genesis “created from nothing.” In 1965, Bell Laboratory technicians Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson detected the background radiation from the Big Bang. They were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their discovery of the background signature of Father Lemaitre’s expansion of the Universe on a day without yesterday.
Early in 2014, Astronomers announced the discovery of Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation permeating the Universe caused from the ripples left over from the moment of the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago. Even for the rigors of science and what constitutes proof, there is no longer reasonable doubt within reputable science that Father Georges Lemaitre was right.
But if you’re having trouble bending your mind around all this, please don’t ask what God did before the Big Bang. On that day, time itself was created so there was no “before.” That’s another post for another day. And as for those theories about multiple worlds and parallel universes that Mary Anne O’Hare wanted my opinion on, the idea is theoretical, entirely without evidence, and not technically in the realm of science.
In his terrific new book, Why Science Does Not Disprove God (William Morrow 2014) mathematician-author Amir D. Aczel described multiverse theory as a sort of “atheism of the gaps,” an attempt to plug theoretical scientific holes with anything BUT religious ideas. As G.K. Chesterton once said:
“People who do not believe in God do not believe in nothing. They believe in anything!”
For a masterful treatment of this story, see a fine article by Trent Horn entitled “The Heavens Declare the Glory of God” in the March/April 2014 issue of Catholic Answers magazine. It was sent to me by a friend and TSW reader, Bill Wendell, and it spurred me on to write this post. So, if you have read this far, you can thank Bill Wendell – or blame him as the case may be.
My friend, Jesse Pickard, just came by to ask what I am writing about and whether or not he will be in it. Finally, my moment had arrived! “What do you know about the Big Bang Theory?” I asked. Jesse pondered the question for a moment then said, “I like Sheldon the best!” I quit!
Editor’s Note: It is with profound sadness that we learned of the attacks on two priests of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter. Father Kenneth Walker, FSSP died of his injuries and Father Joseph Terra, FSSP is recovering. Phoenix Police have the suspect in custody.
In your kindness, please contribute to Father Walker’s Funeral Fund. This allows members of his large family to travel to the funeral. Proceeds not needed will be donated to the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter. Also, please arrange for Masses for the repose of Father Walker’s soul and Father Terra’s recovery.
(All times are given according to Central Time Zone)
Thursday, June 19, 2014
Father Walker’s viewing will be held from 2pm-5pm at Piper Funeral Home in St. Mary’s.
Piper Funeral Home
714 W. Maple St.
St. Marys, KS 66536
Later that evening the Most Holy Rosary will be offered for the repose of the soul of Fr. Walker at 7pm, at Sacred Heart Church in Paxico.
Sacred Heart Church
22971 Newbury Rd.
Paxico, KS 66526
Friday, June 20, 2014
Father Walker’s Funeral Mass will begin at 11:00am at Sacred Heart in Paxico. Father John Berg, FSSP, Superior General of the FSSP, will be the celebrant, and Fr. Eric Flood, FSSP, District Superior for North America, will assist as Deacon.
Sacred Heart Church
22971 Newbury Rd.
Paxico, KS 66526
Father Walker’s burial will follow Mass.
He is to be buried at Mount Calvary Cemetery in St. Mary’s, KS. Mount Calvary Cemetery is located on Mt. Calvary Rd, in northeast St. Mary’s. From Highway 24 in St. Mary’s, KS, turn north on Highway 63 for one half mile. Turn right onto Mount Calvary Rd. for one half mile. The cemetery is located on the right.
A reception will follow the burial in the Sacred Heart Church parish hall.
Sacred Heart Church
22971 Newbury Rd.
Paxico, KS, 66526
All are invited and encouraged to attend all events. For those who are unable to attend, we ask you in charity to join together in prayer for the eternal repose of the soul of Fr. Kenneth Walker and for the good of all those affected by his tragic death.
Requiem Aeternam dona ei, Domine. Et lux perpetua luceat ei.
Requiescat in pace.