The genius behind the Big Bang theory is probably a forgotten hero in the history of science.

Arts and Culture, Music and Dance, Anatomy and Physiology, Science and Religion… wait! What?! Of all relationships that could ever be, it seems that the only non-controversial thing to say about the “science-and-religion” relationship is that, well, it’s pretty controversial. If you thought otherwise, then hold your thoughts. Ever heard of Georges Lemaître? It seems that’s the baby science and religion gave birth to (metaphorically speaking). You probably don’t know about him, but famously named Albert Einstein was a big fan.

Related media: Georges Lemaître, Monseigneur Big Bang

A Priest, Or An Astronomer?

You’re forgiven if you had no idea about him — because he was a priest, as well as an astronomer. Huh?

Georges Lemaître was born in Charleroi, Belgium in 1894. He served as an army officer in World War I and was later awarded a Belgian War Cross, but that’s not his most influential achievement. He later earned degrees in Mathematics and Philosophy at the Catholic University of Leuven, and was ordained priest shortly after. He also earned the title as a scientist, and had the opportunity to study at the prestigious Harvard Observatory. He later earned a Ph.D at the same time from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Now that’s one pretty awesome résumé.

Lemaître in the 1920s propounded the most (if not the most) revolutionary theory in all of the history of science that still has an impact on how we envision the universe today. Back in the 1910s, an astronomer by name Vesto Slipher (and that’s the coolest name for an astronomer ever) was observing spectra of the spiral nebulae, where he witnessed a mystery; and in 1917, he had observed that the nebula were redshifted, and couldn’t figure out why.

In a 1927 article Lemaître entitled “A Homogeneous Universe of Constant Mass and Increasing Radius accounting for the Radial Velocity of Extra Galactic Nebulae,” (no wonder such a paper proved the existence of the universe) it stated that the universe is expanding. Lemaître had explained what Slipher observed in the redshifts. After publishing this revolutionary paper, Lemaître later realize that he might have missed something. If the universe is always expanding, when and how did all that begin? Lemaître had just laid the foundation for the Big Bang Theory in a May 9, 1931 letter to Nature.

The Overshadowed Hero

Like that’s what really happened. By now, you might be wondering how on Earth in the history of science isn’t Lemaître a household name of science. How is he not given credits? Short answer: Sheer bad luck. We’d explain! That revolutionary 1927 paper in which Lemaître stated that the universe itself is continuously expanding, was worthy of winning a Nobel Prize, but unfortunately, astronomy was not yet as at the time considered a field of study in physics, which made Lemaître’s work ineligible for the award.

You might be saying in your thoughts, “like that’s not fair.” Yes indeed, we agree with you, its not fair at all. Maybe he had a little bit credits. No! That was credited with Edwin Hubble, though Lemaître did most of the heavy lifting — that’s to say math — Hubble got the credits for providing the observational basic (the concrete evidence) for whatever Lemaître crunched numbers on. The revolutionary ideas we owe to Lemaître include what we very well know today as the Hubble’s Law and the Hubble’s Constant — as well as the fact that the universe is expanding.

A Hero Admired By Albert Einstein

Astronomer Georges Lemaitre (right) speaks with Albert Einstein after a talk in Pasadena, CA, in 1932.

Today, the Big Bang model is surely a thing, as you thought. But during the age of Lemaître, it was seriously met with a ton of criticism. Of course, since science and religion tend to constantly butt heads, like duh. Since the scientific community was hesitant to go with an origin story that was put forth by a priest. Who says its only religion that’s refusing to accept science?

Later in 1952, The Vatican under the reign of Pope Pious XII pontificated that Lemaître’s work was indeed a proof of creation. Hmmm?! But spoiler, Lemaître didn’t agree with this interpretation, arguing with the Pope to pipe it down. But perhaps it was too little, too late for the scientific community of the time.

At least Einstein knew there was something to this guy. After Lemaître described his theories in January 1933 at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Einstein declared:

“This is the most beautiful and satisfactory explanation of creation to which I ever listened.”

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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Sun, Apr 14, 2019.


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