Thursday, May 31, 2007

Over at Evolution News, Michael Egnor is straining--and I mean straining to score a point:
Ironically, we owe much of our modern understanding of the universe to pro-intelligent design astronomers. Georges Lemaître was the astrophysicst who pioneered the Big Bang Theory. Fr. Lemaître (above, with Einstein) was a Belgian Roman Catholic priest, honorary prelate, and a professor of physics and astronomy. He famously described the moment of the Big Bang as “the day without yesterday”, referring to the first day of creation in Genesis, and he was explicit in his belief in the evidence for God’s design in the universe. His Big Bang theory met with considerable opposition because of its religious implications.
First, Lemaître was not referring to the day without yesterday as the first day of creation in Genesis. I'm sure it will surprise no one that Mr. Egnor offers no quotes to support his contention. In fact, let me offer a quote from Lemaître to affirm exactly the opposite.

As far as I can see, such a theory remains entirely outside any metaphysical or religious question. It leaves the materialist free to deny any transcendental Being. He may keep, for the bottom of space-time, the same attitude of mind he has been able to adopt for events occurring in non-singular places in space-time. For the believer, it removes any attempt at familiarity with God, as were Laplace’s chiquenaude or Jean’s finger. It is consonant with the wording of Isaias speaking of the “Hidden God”, hidden even in the beginning of creation. . . . Science has not to surrender in face of the Universe and when Pascal tries to infer the existence of God from the supposed infinitude of Nature, we may think that he is looking in the wrong direction.
Lemaître said this during his presentation at Solvay in 1958: “The primeval atom hypothesis and the problem of the clusters of galaxies,” reprinted in Stoops, R., ed., La Structure et l’Evolution de l’Univers, Brussels: Coudenberg, 1958, pp.1—32.

Let me take this a step further. When Pope Pius XII tried to draw a direct connection between the Big bang and the 'moment' of creation, Lemaitre was not enthusiastic. Let me quote in depth from my bio of him: (this was in 1951)

Needless to say, the Pope’s statement made headlines. The December 3rd issue of Time Magazine, for example, was titled: “Behind every door: God.”

One physicist, predictably, who seems to have found the entire controversy an endless source of amusement, was George Gamow. Not only did he take a chunk of the Pope’s statement and append it to the introduction of a paper he wrote a year later, raising a few eyebrows as he hoped. He apparently wanted to continue encouraging the Pope’s incursions into the realm of cosmology and religion, by feeding him articles via an archbishop he knew would deliver his material directly to the Vatican doorstep. “He never had anything to do with the English article ‘The’,” Hoyle later remarked of Gamow, ”and he went through a phase when he was forever quoting the Pope: ‘Pope say this…,’ or ‘About mangan (manganese) Pope says that…’”

Lemaître was clearly upset. Having been appointed to membership in the Pontifical Academy by Pius’s predecessor because of his standing among cosmoslogists, he was understandably dismayed as to why he had not at least been consulted about the Pope’s address in advance. Within a few months, both Lemaître and the director of the Vatican Observatory, the Jesuit astronomer Daniel O’Connell, met with the Pope to explain that such blatant connections drawn between science and theology would not help the cause of the Church nor the progress of science. And less than a year later, when the Pope addressed a gathering of 650 astronomers at Castel Gandolfo, he this time refrained from discussing the religious and metaphysical implications of the Big Bang theory. To that end, Lemaître and O’Connell’s intervention seems to have succeeded.

If I may say so, too much of the heat generated by EvolutionNews is caused by misreadings, or in this case, non-readings of the very sources they would like to leverage for their rhetorical purposes.

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