If you’re sure about something, you don’t need faith. It’s when you have the doubts that faith kicks in. And that’s true in science as well as anything else. – Guy Consolmagno
Already arriving at peace with the magnetizing mystery in the interplay of science and religion, Guy Consolmagno can console himself, knowing there is a God and maybe, aliens, too. Yet to many of us who are used to running in the notion that science and religion can’t coexist, we might have forgotten that the foundations of science, too, are often laid out by religious scholars. In the 20th century, a historical achievement in astronomy was made by a priest when he proposed the Cosmic Egg – or now we call it the Big Bang theory, a theory akin to the Creation story.
In January 1933, in the advent of Third Reich’s rise, Einstein fled Germany to California. Together with him, was Father Lemaitre, a Cardinal and an astronomer who later hypothesized Cosmic Egg or, The Big Bang. For years Einstein and many other notable scientists, such as Edwin Hubble and Arthur Eddington, ridiculed the idea.
The Creation idea goes beyond the concept that a Being created the Universe; it centers on the notion that there is a beginning, time zero, where spacetime began and the universe sprang out of nothingness. If we begin our life when we leave the womb, then perhaps universe too was once ‘didn’t exist’. From the Bible’s Genesis to numerous origin stories in Hindu, the creation idea persists.
Yet in the 19th century, scientists believe that the universe has always been constant and ever-present. If there’s gravity, there must be anti-gravity. Before Hubble’s Telescope noticed the expanding universe, Einstein wrote hypothetical lambda, the cosmological constant; the stable element in the changing universe.
In 1931, applying Einstein’s general theory of relativity, where spacetime can stretch and expand from a tiny seed, Lemaitre concluded that the universe itself, then, must have come from a very dense and hot beginning, thus The Big Bang. The biggest evidence is the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation, the afterglow of Big Bang, that was detected in 1964 by Robert Wilson and Arno Penzias (or watch this Drunk History’s version).
Ever since then, Lemaitre’s Big Bang discovery has become one of the more popular science stories that highlight the delicate interplay between seemingly ‘conflicting’ values and ideas; where religion inspired one of the greatest scientific breakthroughs. For centuries, the church has also embraced science and accepting the interdisciplinary thoughts that are generated through the strengthening of one and the other. Because often, beliefs spark imaginations, that drive speculation, that generate calculations.
But as Einstein wrote back to a little girl asking if scientists pray, and Guy Consolmagno can agree on:
Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that some spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe, one that is vastly superior to that of man. In this way, the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort, which is surely quite different from the religiosity of someone more naive.
Currently, Lemaitre’s Big Bang theory is at the brink against Einstein’s lambda that is making a comeback due to the discovery of dark matter and energy. Yet even when proven wrong, this won’t diminish anything for the scientists and the religious. Science moves on and religion will move along, but the dance between the two won’t stop, at least waltzing together in that mysterious depth beyond our consciousness. Because science and religion “ask different kinds of questions altogether, probing and illuminating in ways neither could alone.” And at the heart of it, both science and religion infuse us with a more mindful and humble exploration; the first within the physical Universe and the latter within ourselves.