Monday, April 29, 2013

Science, Religion and the Big Bang

Who is the priest standing next to Albert Einstein in the image to the left, and what is he doing next to Einstein? He is Fr. Georges Lemaitre, a Belgian priest born in 1894, who, although virtually unknown today, will probably one day rank with Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, and Einstein in the annals of science. Fr. Lemaitre took his doctorate in Physics at MIT, and it was his interest in Einstein’s Theory of Relativity that led him to the idea of the nature and origins of the Universe that now is popularly known as “The Big Bang.”

The accompanying video will give a good introduction to the work of Fr. Lemaitre. I don’t have the ability to go into the details here but will just say that Fr. Lemaitre came up with a solution to a fundamental problem in Einstein’s theory. The solution was based on Einstein’s theory but required a whole new way of looking at the universe. Lemaitre’s solution was originally scoffed at by Einstein but eventually new astronomical observations provided more and more confirmation of Lemaitre’s thesis. 
Basically Einstein accepted the idea of a static universe but Lemaitre argued that the theory of Relativity would fit better with an expanding universe. When astronomers discovered evidence that everything in the universe was moving away from us at an incredible speed, even Einstein had to admit that Lemaitre was correct.

Like most people I had never heard of Fr. Lemaitre even though I had always had an interest in the history of science. Last summer I signed up for a mini course at nearby Fairfield University entitled “God and Modern Biology.” Fairfield University is a Jesuit institution that has always had an interest in the local community. In this instance a Biology professor had received a grant from the Templeton foundation to offer a course on science and religion to members of the local Catholic community. About fifty representatives from Catholic schools and parishes in Fairfield County not only attended the five-week course but also participated in a number of workshops and lectures over the fall and winter.

For myself, I feel that I only scratched the surface when it came to subjects like astro-physics, micro-biology, and evolution. Nevertheless, as part of the course each group was asked to develop a program that we could bring back to our local parish or school that might serve to introduce others to the latest in science.

In our case we decided to look into a four part video series developed by Fr. Robert Spitzer, a Jesuit priest who also holds a doctorate in Astro-Physics. The series is entitled, “In the Beginning: Evidence for God from Physics.” The series is based not only on Fr. Spitzer’s own research but also on his extensive knowledge of the latest peer-reviewed and published scientific studies.

In the first video Fr. Spitzer discusses Fr. Lemaitre’s “Big Bang” theory and the subsequent scientific discoveries that confirmed his original thesis. In the second session Fr. Spitzer discusses the implications of the Big Bang. If the Universe is expanding and not static, it must have started or begun somewhere and sometime, and a beginning requires a creator outside of time and space. This is not just Jesuit theology but according to Fr. Spitzer, the conclusion reached by the latest scientific papers. In the final two sessions Fr. Spitzer goes on to discuss the evidence for the “fine tuning” that scientists are observing throughout the Universe.

In this series Fr. Spitzer concentrates more on science than on theology. He argues that the latest scientific findings not only contradict the assertions of ill informed but popular atheists, but also provide more significant evidence for the existence of a super intelligent Creator than the theological and philosophical theories of the past. Rather than science and reason being opposed to belief, he shows their fundamental compatibility with established beliefs. ###

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