Georges Lemaitre was astrophysicist and Catholic priest; he did not find a conflict between science and faith. He carefully distinguished between „physics“ and „metaphysics“. We can learn from him to see God’s actions as those from the “Hidden God”. Modern Cosmology does not make God redundant or degrades God to „just another actor in our cosmos”.
During the 1920ies, the Belgian astrophysicist George Lemaitre developed his cosmological theory postulating an abrupt beginning of the universe from an initial, superdense concentration of nuclear matter called the “primeval atom” that expanded rapidly building stars and galaxies. He was not only an astrophysicist – he was also a Catholic priest, ordained in 1923.
The cosmological model at the time was static, and both Albert Einstein and Arthur Eddington, Lemaitre’s teacher in Cambridge, did not like Lemaitre’s dynamic model. Eddington even said that “the notion of a beginning of the present order of Nature is repugnant to him”, as Eddington is quoted by Lemaitre in his 1931 letter to Nature .
Georges Lemaitre met Albert Einstein at the Solvay Conference in 1927 and presented his hypothesis to him. Albert Einstein was not impressed, but he told Lemaitre to consult Alexander Friedmann’s paper from 1922 called „Über die Krümmung des Raums“ (On the curvature of space) where he described the possibility of an expanding universe based on General Relativity. Friedmann had been a Russian physicist and mathematician who had died in 1925. Lemaitre had similar thoughts and had even progressed further on than Alexander Friedmann.
In 1929, Edwin Hubble did demonstrate that the galaxies were moving further apart over time, but he did not yet conclude on an expanding universe.
Einstein had accepted the idea of an expanding universe but he remained reluctant to accept an initial singularity, a beginning of the universe. Therefore, Einstein famous exclamation: “This is the most beautiful and satisfactory explanation of creation to which I have ever listened” at Caltech, Pasadena in 1933, might have been a bit ironical.
The name “Big Bang” that we use today was coined by Fred Hoyle, and was also meant ironically: he was convinced of a static universe and did not like Lemaitre’s ideas that reminded him too much of a Creator-God.
Nonetheless, the new theory gained influence in the following years. It was not until 1964, though, that the detection of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) provided experimental proof. Lemaitre was satisfied to learn of this discovery a few months prior to his death, when he was already seriously ill.
The Big Bang theory proposes a beginning of our Universe: an idea that suits theists well, and Christians are inclined to say: “OK, this IS the moment of creation!” But is this correct?