Oftentimes, science and faith may be viewed as opposing forces, but a new planetarium show that debuted this month at Ohio State University’s Arne Slettebak Planetarium highlights the fact that a Catholic priest thought otherwise.
Belgian priest and astronomer Georges Lemaitre was the first to suggest that the universe originated from a single point and then expanded to the size it is now and continues to expand to this day. This theory, developed by Lemaitre in 1927, is called the Big Bang theory and is accepted today as the leading theory of the evolution of the universe.
Lemaitre was younger than Albert Einstein, but the two knew each other and worked together. Priest proposed his theory using Einstein’s theory of relativity and after studying the work of American astronomers on the expanding universe, according to Britannica.
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Chris Urban, Assistant Professor of Physics at The Ohio State University’s Marion Campus, was fascinated by the intersection between faith and science here and created the 20-minute Planetarium Show About the Late World that will air on September 8 and 9 at 7 p.m. Free and available to book starting Thursday at planetarium.osu.edu.
“Georges Lemaitre and the Discovery of the Expanding Universe” Presentation Coming to Ohio State University’s Arne Slettebak Planetarium
For the past six years, Urban has been working on the show titled “George Lemaitre and the Discovery of the Expanding Universe” funded in part by the Patel Scholarship. Urban said this is the first show of its kind to feature Lemaitre, and the first in-person show at Ohio’s planetarium since COVID-19 hit the state in March 2020.
“I thought it would be good, interesting and useful to highlight the ability of a believer to make important contributions to the development of great cosmology,” Urban said. It is not widely known in the United States what happened.”
The impetus for creating the display was after visiting the Museum of Creation in Petersburg, Kentucky, which depicts the biblical story of Genesis and God created the Earth in six days as a scientific fact. Urban said he was determined to show an alternative theory of how the universe was created, and it turns out he didn’t have to look outside the realm of faith to do so.
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Studying Lemaitre Orban helped navigate his beliefs in both faith and science. He grew up in a Baptist church and was troubled by feelings that his faith had rejected large sections of the science that had fascinated him. He is now known as a progressive Christian and worships in a local Methodist church.
“Faith is a mystery to me, but I know it is important,” Urban said. “It gives me great pleasure to be able to connect an entire field of believing people with planetariums.”
He said the show “will highlight an interesting moment as a Catholic priest does some of the best science in the world.”
There aren’t many other shows like it.
Professor Jonathan Lunin, chair of the Department of Astronomy at Cornell University, said that many scholars in history believed in God, and some were and still are priests.
Lunin helped found the Association of Catholic Scholars in 2016, a public organization that works to show the harmony between faith and science, including the history of that harmony.
“The most important lesson is belief in God,” said Lunin; “One’s religious belief,[is]not related to one’s ability to accomplish a tremendous amount in the sciences.”
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Lunin said that Lemaître’s views are consistent with Catholic teaching. In fact, in 2014, Pope Francis said that the Big Bang theory does not conflict with the role of God. During Lemaitre’s life, in the early 1950s, then Pope Pius XII validated the theory.
The planetarium display includes a simulation of the Big Bang, which is supposed to be “God’s view of how the universe is expanding,” made by Urban.
Urban said the program is for those interested in not just science, but its history.
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“There aren’t many other shows like it,” he said, adding that many planetarium programs revolve around current discoveries and the latest scientific knowledge. “This is about going back to an earlier time where things were a little simpler. The question is, does the universe have a beginning? Is the universe finite? Is it infinite?”
After the show, Urban will provide more information on the topic and answer questions from the audience.
“The plan is for other planetariums to be able to use it,” Urban said. “I hope people across the country will see it, and it will spark conversations across the country.”