Google’s “doodle” for Tuesday, July 17 celebrates the 124th birthday of the Belgian priest who formulated the Big Bang theory.
Fr Georges Lemaître was professor of physics at the Catholic University of Leuven and proposed a theory that said the universe was constantly expanding from a single first point. He named this the “hypothesis of the primeval atom”, or the “Cosmic Egg”.
Fr Lemaître (“leh-mate”) produced work that interacted with the research of other leading scientific minds of his time, including Einstein, Hubble and Friedmann.
Intellectual gifts and spiritual devotion manifested themselves early in Fr Lemaître’s childhood, when he studied at a Jesuit school and then joined the seminary, after serving in World War I. He won a scholarship to Cambridge University, going on to study at Harvard while completing a PhD at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Fr Lemaître has come to symbolise the harmony between science and religion. He was not motivated by religion in his research on the Big Bang theory and was somewhat embarrassed by Pope Pius XII’s enthusiasm for it.
“As far as I see, such a theory remains entirely outside any metaphysical or religious question. It leaves the materialist free to deny any transcendental Being,” Fr Lemaître said.
Pope John XXIII asked Fr Lemaître to join an important commission investigating contraception but died before the commission delivered its report to Pope Paul VI.
This month marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical letter Humanae Vitae, which is synonymous with the Church’s teaching on contraception and fertility.