–a pagan story of origins
In 1927 Roman Catholic priest Georges Lemaître1 developed his theory of the expanding Universe and published a paper describing his theory,2 which envisioned a universe with all galaxies moving away from all other galaxies. At that time the Universe was considered to be static. Lemaître solved the gravitational field equations of Einstein’s General Relativity theory for the Universe, taking into account the work of Alexander Friedmann, who published in 1922 (but died in 1925). From that he concluded the Universe must be expanding or contracting. Nowadays that formalism for the family of models they produced is called the Friedmann-Lemaître solution describing the big bang universe. From that Lemaître developed the idea of the Universe having a unique origin at some past moment of time.
In 1931, Lemaître described the Universe as exploding from a ‘Cosmic Egg’, which was like a giant atom, with all the mass of the Universe. His idea was that the myriads of galaxies of stars in the Universe formed out of and expanded out from that initial state of the ‘Cosmic Egg’. Lemaître imagined that the Universe started from a fluctuation of his first quantum of energy (his ‘Cosmic Egg’) when space and time were not yet defined.3
You might think that Lemaitre looked to the Scriptures, to Genesis, for a clue here (for an origin in time) but his reasoning was man’s not God’s. His assumption was a finite unbounded universe, having no centre nor edge–that is, there are no preferred points in his universe. And by winding time backward one could imagine that all points would come to a common point at a finite period of time in the past. Thus he reasoned that this must mean that the Universe had a beginning in time—hence a creation at a moment in the past. Apparently Sir Arthur Eddington, a Quaker, found Lemaître’s idea of creation philosophically repugnant, as there was a prior belief among cosmologists at the time of the Universe eternally existing.
From his quantum of energy—which he called a “primeval atom”4—his theory predicted that this was the material from which all matter—the stars and galaxies—was derived. He predicted that some form of background radiation, even cosmic rays, would be found, the leftovers of that initial explosion of matter into all the Universe.5 That is not accepted by big bang astronomers today.
Eventually from his theory the origin of the Universe was formalised not from a ‘Cosmic Egg’ but from a singularity of zero dimensions with the Universe smoothly expanding out of it, and beginning in an intensely hot fireball stage. It wasn’t until 1949 that this was, in derision, called a ‘big bang’ on a BBC radio program by Sir Fred Hoyle, while discussing what his opponents believed. Hoyle was very much against any idea of a big bang universe, as he firmly believed in the steady state model.
Now the story so far, many people know. But do they know that Lemaître was cheated out of his claim to fame?6 Continue reading