Georges Lemaitre – the Big Bang Cosmology and its metaphysical implications (II)

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This is the second of two part. You can read the first part here.

Lemaitre‘s Cosmology and Stephen Gould’s NOMA

NOMA stands for Non-Overlapping Magisteria, meaning that science and religion simply should not or do not overlap. Therefore, there is only one responsible level of explanation at a given time, either the scientific one, for example, when it comes to evolution, fossils, molecular genetics, or the religious one, which helps to understand what the meaning of life is, whether there is a soul, and Heaven. (This is of course simplistic). NOMA can be criticized, just because there are overlaps, especially when it comes to us humans: just that he can think about abstract concepts such as NOMA suggests that there is something that exceeds the purely materialistic sphere of science. While Christians complain that NOMA gives science too much competence (“it is always religion that has to give way”), Atheists see in NOMA a cheap excuse to introduce a bit of religion through the back door.

While NOMA wants to achieve a mere juxtaposition, that is not one of Lemaitre’s goals. He is concerned with the clear separation of the categories “physics” (meaning all scientifically detectable things) and “meta-physics”, and both categories (or levels) must not be blurred or mixed. He is firmly anchored in the Thomistic viewpoint, which distinguishes between the first cause (God) and the second causes (the creatures in the broadest sense), which act according to their inherent (and ultimately God-given) qualities and possibilities.

Lemaitre sees both categories simultaneously present:

“Physics does not exclude Providence. Nothing happens without its order or permission, even if this gentle action is not miraculous. Evolution, whether of the universe or of the living world, could be made at random by quantum leaps or mutations. Nevertheless, this chance has, from a superior point of view, been directed towards a goal. For us Christians, it was oriented towards the appearance of life. In what was done, there was life, intelligence and life was light in man and finally in humanity by the incarnation of the Man-God: the true light that illuminated our darkness.

Chance does not exclude Providence. Perhaps chance provides the strokes mysteriously actuated by Providence.” [5]

God’s providential actions will not be rendered superfluous or non-existent due to scientific insights. But Providence remains often hidden to us, similarly as God Himself remains “a hidden God”

“Truly, you are a God who hides himself” (Is 45:15)

God is hidden behind and in His creation. He is a “hidden God”, transcending all our knowledge and cognition. “Truly, you are a God who hides himself“, as we read in Isaiah [Is 45:15].  We will find this term and concept often in Lemaitre’s writings. Already in 1931, Lemaitre writes:

“I think that everyone who believes in a supreme being supporting every being and every acting, believes also that God is essentially hidden and may be glad to see how present physics provides a veil hiding the creation”.

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Georges Lemaitre – the Big Bang Cosmology and its metaphysical implications (I)

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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 [1].

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?

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Arthur S. Eddington and the Bending of Light

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arthur eddington 3Arthur S. Eddington (28 December 1882–22 November 1944) was an English astrophysicist. One of his major findings was the Bending of Light: Light bends in the presence of bodies with large masses. The amount of this shift had been calculated by Albert Einstein as double the value accounted for by Newton’s theory of gravitation.

During a solar eclipse on 29 May 1919, Eddington and his team confirmed the deflection of light by seeing the outward shift of the stars (as shown below) and found values near those predicted by Einstein. This provided evidence for the theory of General Relativity.

Eddington was also known for developing the first cosmological models that used the theory of relativity, and he contributed significantly to studies on the thermodynamic structure of the stars. He attempted to elaborate a unified theory capable of joining microphysics and macrophysics, seeking to obtain fundamental physical constants through deduction.

Arthur Stanley Eddington - Bending of light

Outside of mathematical physics, Eddington wrote on scientific epistemology, developing a neo-Kantian inspired deductive-idealist vision of the scientific method. In his work “The Nature of the Physical World” he wrote:

It is essential to our faith in a theory that its predictions should accord with observation, unless a reasonable explanation of the discrepancy is forthcoming, so that it is highly important that Einstein’s law should have survived these delicate astronomical tests in which Newton’s law just failed. But our main reason for rejecting Newton’s law is not its imperfect accuracy as shown by these tests; it is because it does not contain the kind of information about Nature that we want to know now that we have an ideal before us which was not in Newton’s mind at all. We can put it this way. Astronomical observations show that within certain limits of accuracy both Einstein’s and Newton’s laws are true. we are confirming a statement as to what the appearances would be when referred to one particular space-time frame. No reason is given for attaching any fundamental importance to this frame. In confirming (approximately) Einstein’s law, we are confirming a statement about the absolute properties of the world, true for all space-time frames. For those who are trying to get beneath the appearances, Einstein’s statement necessarily supersedes Newton’s; it extracts from the observations a result with physical meaning as opposed to a mathematical curiosity.” [1]

Eddington was also a teacher of Georges Lemaître (1894–1966), but did not like Lemaitre’s “theory of the Primeval Atom” (we call it today Big Bang theory) as he wrote in Nature in 1931. Lemaitre provided an answer in the article: “The Beginning of the World from the Point of View of Quantum Theory.” Lemaitre started with these words:

“Sir Arthur Eddington states that, philosophically, the notion of a beginning of the present order of Nature is repugnant to him. I would rather be inclined to think that the present state of quantum theory suggests a beginning of the world very different from the present order of Nature. Thermodynamical principles from the point of view of quantum theory may be stated as follows : (1) Energy of constant total amount is distributed in discrete quanta. (2) The number of distinct quanta is ever increasing. If we go back in the course of time we must find fewer and fewer quanta, until we find all the energy of the universe packed in a few or even in a unique quantum…” [2]

Sources:
[1] Eddington, Arthur S. The Nature of the Physical World: Gifford Lectures of 1927. Ed. H.G. Callaway (Newsastle, GB: Cambridge Scholars, 2014), 126-127.
[2] Lemaitre, Georges. “The Beginning of the World from the Point of View of Quantum Theory.” Nature 127, 706 (9 May 1931). Image: São Tomé and Príncipe stamp.

Pope Francis to Scientists on Lemaitre, Einstein and Aquinas

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Dear friends,

I extend a heartfelt welcome to you all, and I thank Brother Guy Consolmagno for his kind words.

The issues you have been addressing during these days at Castel Gandolfo are of particular interest to the Church, because they have to do with questions that concern us deeply, such as the beginning of the universe and its evolution, and the profound structure of space and time, to name but a few.  It is clear that these questions have a particular relevance for science, philosophy, theology and for the spiritual life.  They represent an arena in which these different disciplines meet and sometimes clash.

As both a Catholic priest and a cosmologist, Msgr. Georges Lemaître knew well the creative tension between faith and science, and always defended the clear methodological distinction between the fields of science and theology.  While integrating them in his own life, he viewed them as distinct areas of competence. That distinction, already present in Saint Thomas Aquinas, avoids a short-circuiting that is as harmful to science as it is to faith.

Before the immensity of space-time, we humans can experience awe and a sense of our own insignificance, as the Psalmist reminds us:  “What is man that you should keep him in mind, the son of man that you care for him?” (Ps 8:5). As Albert Einstein loved to say: “One may say the eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility.” The existence and intelligibility of the universe are not a result of chaos or mere chance, but of God’s Wisdom, present “at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old” (Prov. 8:22).

I am deeply appreciative of your work, and I encourage you to persevere in your search for truth. For we ought never to fear truth, nor become trapped in our own preconceived ideas, but welcome new scientific discoveries with an attitude of humility. As we journey towards the frontiers of human knowledge, it is indeed possible to have an authentic experience of the Lord, one which is capable of filling our hearts.

Greeting Address to the participants of the Conference organized by the Vatican Observatory,  Friday, 12 May 2017

Source: Vatican homepage 

 

 

Georges Lemaitre on Physics and Providence

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Georges LeMaitre on Physics Chance Providence

 

« Physics does not exclude Providence. Nothing happens without its order or permission, even if this gentle action is not miraculous. Evolution, whether of the universe or of the living world, could be made at random by quantum leaps or mutations. Nevertheless, this chance has, from a superior point of view, been directed towards a goal. For us Christians, it was oriented towards the appearance of life. In what was done, there was life, intelligence and life was light in man and finally in humanity by the incarnation of the Man-God: the true light that illuminated our darkness.

Chance does not exclude Providence. Perhaps chance provides the strokes mysteriously actuated by Providence. »

Georges Lemaitre, 1966

 

« La physique n’exclut pas la providence. Rien n’arrive sans son ordre ou sa permission, même si cette action suave n’a rien de miraculeux. L’évolution, que ce soit celle de l’univers ou du monde vivant, a pu se faire au hasard des sauts quantiques ou des mutations. Néanmoins, ce hasard a pu d’un point de vue supérieur être orienté vers un but. Pour nous chrétien, il a été orienté vers l’apparition de la vie. En ce qui a été fait, il y avait de la vie, de l’intelligence et la vie était lumière chez l’homme et enfin dans l’humanité par l’incarnation de l’Homme-Dieu : la vraie lumière qui a illuminé nos ténèbres.

Le hasard n’exclut pas la Providence. Peut-être le hasard fournit-il les touches qu’actionne mystérieusement la Providence. »

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Lemaître, « L’expansion de l’Univers: Réponses à des questions posées par Radio Canada le 15 avril 1966 », Revue des Questions Scientifiques, t. CXXXVIII (5e série, t. XXVIII), avril 1967, n°2, pp. 153-162, version revue et adaptée par O. Godart. In: Dominique Lambert, Georges Lemaître : repères biographiques. Revue des Questions Scientifiques, 2012, 183 (4) : 1-59

 

 

Georges Lemaitre on the Christian scientist

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He (the Christian researcher) knows that not one thing in all creation has been done without God, but he knows also that God nowhere takes the place of his creatures.
Omnipresent divine activity is everywhere essentially hidden.
It never had to be a question of reducing the supreme Being to the rank of a scientific hypothesis.

George Lemaître, Astrophysicist and Catholic priest