The Big Bang Theory and Pope Pius XII

I’ve started reading A Universe from Nothing — $11.95 for the Kindle edition, not cheap for a short book but not ridiculous, I suppose.

The Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe was first proposed by a Belgian priest/physicist, George Lemaitre, in the 1920s. There’s some significance there, because religious people find the Big Bang very appealing.

Georges Lemaitre

During my endless commute I’ve been listening to a fabulous Open Yale course on Frontiers and Controversies in Astrophysics, and the professor, Charles Bailyn, notes that Catholic scientists tended to favor the Big Bang explanation, while atheistic scientists preferred the alternative Steady State theory.  The Big Bang was the one that finally received convincing empirical support in the 1950s, and here is Pope Pius XII exulting:

It would seem that present-day science, with one sweep back across the centuries, has succeeded in bearing witness to the august instant of the primordial Fiat Lux, when along with matter, there burst forth from nothing a sea of light and radiation, and the elements split and churned and formed into millions of galaxies.  Thus, with that concreteness which is characteristic of physical proofs, [science] has confirmed the contingency of the universe and also the well-founded deduction as to the epoch when the world came forth from the hands of the Creator.  Hence, creation took place.  We say: “Therefore, there is a Creator.  Therefore, God exists!”

Here is Pius XII, who always struck me as a pretty grim-looking guy:

Pope Pius XII

Pius’s approach is standard.  The belief comes first, and if there is corroborating evidence, the believer will embrace it.  He may even come to believe that it’s the basis of his belief.  In this case, the pope is delighted to embrace modern cosmology when it can be interpreted as confirming the Church’s teaching.  But of course the teaching was there before the cosmological evidence, and it has no empirical basis whatsoever.

It is Krauss’s contention that the cosmological playing field has now changed.  And this is going to cause problems for theologians who have been content with the Big Bang Theory.  He notes that, when he talks about a universe from nothing, they challenge his definition of the word “nothing” — that it’s not really nothing if something can spontaneously appear out of it.  Ultimately, he thinks they want to define it as “that from which only God can create something.”  Which may make theologians happy, I suppose, and people who want to hold on to their beliefs.  But not the rest of us.