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Lemaitre and Hoyle: Contrasting Characters in Science and Religion

S & CB 24 (2)
October 2012


Georges Lemaitre was a jocular Roman Catholic priest and Fred Hoyle a bluff Yorkshireman who despised organised religion. Both were giants of twentieth century cosmology but espoused diametrically opposed cosmological models. This paper explores the extent to which ideology, and particularly religion, played a part in the controversies over the Big Bang and steady-state theories. A significant problem for many cosmologists, including Hoyle, was posed by the idea that the universe had a temporal beginning: an eternal, unchanging universe seemed metaphysically preferable. And Hoyle was highly polemical about religion in his popular writings. In contrast, Lemaitre saw no theological import from the Big Bang, and never entered a debate about its theological implications until, perhaps unexpectedly, he took issue with an address given by the Pope. Hoyle's seminal work on stellar nucleosynthesis led him to speak of a 'superintellect monkeying with physics' though this was never identified with the God of classical theism. The work of both Lemaitre and Hoyle resonates with more recent debates concerning cosmology.

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