In their book, Cosmic Horizons: Astronomy at the Cutting Edge, Stephen Soter and Neil deGrasse Tyson, write: “It is tempting to think that Lemaître’s deeply-held religious beliefs might have led him to the notion of a beginning of time. After all, the Judeo-Christian tradition had propagated a similar idea for the millennia.”
“Yet, Lemaître insisted that there was neither a connection nor a conflict between his religion and his science. Rather, he kept them entirely separate, treating them as different, parallel interpretations of the world, both of which he believed with personal conviction. It was his firm belief that the scientific endeavor should stand isolated from the religious realm.”
Lemaître’s parallel careers in cosmology and theology were kept on separate tracks in the belief that one led him to a clearer comprehension of the material world, while the other led to a greater understanding of the spiritual realm. He himself commented: “As far as I can see, such a theory [exploding egg] remains entirely outside any metaphysical or religious question.”
The Wonder of It All
From the very beginning, almost fourteen billion years ago, the cosmos was tailor-made for humankind. This means that “if the precise details of [its] expansion and contraction had been even minutely different from its present calculation, there would be no galaxies, no stars, no life. Men and women would not exist.” (John Haught, “God in Modern Science,” NCE 18: 179).
The Galileo Case
In the sixteenth century and against universally-accepted theory, Copernicus had speculated that the sun, rather than Earth, was at the center of the solar system. Galileo also advanced this theory, and his work was praised by Clavius the Jesuit. On Galileo’s visit to Rome, Pius V honored him and his discoveries. However, the views of Copernicus and Galileo stood as hypotheses and not as yet objectively proved. Galileo insisted that the Copernican theory was literally true.
The Church had to consider the argument of the Protestants. They had faulted the Church with insufficient attention paid to the literal meaning of Scripture, which seemed to contradict the findings of the two astronomers.
Galileo was asked not to publish the theory until it could be objectively proven. He refused but was eventually proven correct. The Church’s naming him a heretic can be explained but not defended. (Thomas Woods, How the Church Built Western Civilization, 70ff; New Catholic Encyclopedia 6: 250ff). In 1979, John Paul II conceded that the Church had erred in the Galileo incident, and in 1984, all the Vatican documents about the case were made public. There is no contradiction between science and faith, church leaders have insisted. Nor is the Bible a book of science. Catholic faith and science, working together, can reinforce the mystery of creation while offering a reasonable grasp of how the mystery arose in the first place.
Guy Consolmagno, S.J., an astronomer and planetary scientist, notes that “religion needs science to keep it away from superstition and keep it close to reality, to protect it from creationism, which at the end of the day is a kind of paganism.”
In 1996, John Paul II addressed the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, reminding the conveners that “the Gospel truth can shed a higher light on the horizon of your research into the origins and unfolding of living matter. The Bible in fact bears an extraordinary message of life. It gives as a wise vision of life inasmuch as it describes the loftiest forms of existence.”
(Column continues below)
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The Big Bang in the Arts: Two Examples
One visual depiction of the Big Bang takes the contemporary mind back to a thirteenth-century French Bible (Codex 2553) in which a picture of God the Father is portrayed measuring the world with a compass at the time of Creation. In the High Middle Ages, the compass was the only standard of measurement.
When Franz Joseph Haydn (d 1809) composed his oratorio, “The Creation,” his response was remarkable. At the words, “And then there was light,” he was overcome with tears. Pointing upwards, he exclaimed, “This music came from heaven.”