On 20 August 2001, Frederick Hoyle, (1915–2001) passed away in Bournemouth, UK. An important 20th century astronomer, he had coined the phrase “Big Bang,” and then later advocated for an alternative theory of cosmic expansion, the ‘steady state theory,’ in which the density of matter remains unchanged in the expanding universe due to a continuous creation of matter.
He also authored original papers on the triple-alpha process—nuclear fusion chain reactions from helium-4 to carbon-6, the B²FH theory—outlining several possible processes explaining the synthesis of elements in their natural relative abundance, and the Hoyle-Narlikar theory—a theory of gravity based on Mach’s principle compatible with the “steady state theory.”
When working to fit data to mathematical analysis, Prof. Hoyle and his collaborator Raymond A. Lyttleton (1911–1995) had observed the following with regard to their methodology:
“I don’t see the logic of rejecting data just because they seem incredible. It is often held that scientific hypotheses are constructed, and are to be constructed, only after a detailed weighing of all possible evidence bearing on the matter, and that then and only then may one consider, and still only tentatively, any hypotheses. This traditional view however, is largely incorrect, for not only is it absurdly impossible of application, but it is contradicted by the history of the development of any scientific theory. What happens in practice is that by intuitive insight, or other inexplicable inspiration, the theorist decides that certain features seem to him more important than others and capable of explanation by certain hypotheses. Then basing his study on these hypotheses the attempt is made to deduce their consequences. The successful pioneer of theoretical science is he whose intuitions yield hypotheses on which satisfactory theories can be built, and conversely for the unsuccessful (as judged from a purely scientific standpoint).”
Perhaps critically applying these precepts of a scientific method to the evaluation of religious texts, he and collaborator Chandra Wickramasinghe (b. 1939) later wrote:
“In the language of religion, it is the facts we observe in the world around us that must be seen to constitute the words of God. Documents, whether the Bible, Qur’an or those writings that held such force for Velikovsky, are only the words of men. To prefer the words of men to those of God is what one can mean by blasphemy. This, we think, is the instinctive point of view of most scientists who, curiously again, have a deeper understanding of the real nature of religion than have the many who delude themselves into a frenzied belief in the words, often the meaningless words, of men. Indeed, the lesser the meaning, the greater the frenzy, in something like inverse proportion.”
―Hoyle, F., and R. A. Lyttleton. “On the Internal Constitution of the Stars.” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society .102 (1942). Quoted in: Kragh, Helge. Cosmology and Controversy: The Historical Development of Two Theories of the Universe. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999), 194-195.
―Hoyle, Frederick and Chandra Wickramasinghe. Our Place in the Cosmos. (London, UK: J.M. Dent Publishers, 1993), 14; partial text at: wikiquote. Image: “Frederick Hoyle’s Pursuit” (1952), mosaic by Boris Anrep (1883–1969), © National Gallery, London.