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posted by cmn32480 on Friday May 19, @10:23AM   Printer-friendly
from the i'll-give-you-your-God-if-you-give-me-my-billions-of-years dept.

The Daily Beast reports that astronomers met at the Vatican for a conference in honour of Georges Lemaître. Lemaître, a Catholic priest and astronomer, proposed in 1927 the notion of a "primordial atom" from which the Universe originated. His idea is now commonly called the Big Bang theory. The article notes that the words "God" and "religion" are absent from the titles of the presentations.

Slides (PDF) associated with the presentations are available from the Web site of the Vatican Observatory.

further reading:
official announcement
biography of Lemaître
The Cornell Daily Sun article about Lemaître

additional coverage:


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  • (Score: 2) by turgid on Friday May 19, @10:28AM (2 children)

    by turgid (4318) on Friday May 19, @10:28AM (#512109) Journal

    They'll catch up eventually.

    --
    Don't let Righty keep you down.
    • (Score: 2) by Gaaark on Friday May 19, @11:05AM

      by Gaaark (41) Subscriber Badge on Friday May 19, @11:05AM (#512115) Homepage Journal

      Just leave your youngest kids at home!

      --
      --- I wish i had a cig for every sig i've ever had: i'd have cancer and wouldn't you feel bad for looking here. ---
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 19, @01:14PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 19, @01:14PM (#512151)

      See the Catholic Church of Virgin Birth
      On its shell it holds the Earth.
      Its thought is slow, but always kind.
      It holds us all within his mind.
      On its back all vows are made;
      It sees the truth but mayn't aid.
      It loves the land and loves the sea,
      And even loves a child like me.

  • (Score: 2) by Dunbal on Friday May 19, @11:16AM

    by Dunbal (3515) on Friday May 19, @11:16AM (#512116)

    Can we expect more foot washing videos?

  • (Score: 3, Informative) by fraxinus-tree on Friday May 19, @12:04PM (2 children)

    by fraxinus-tree (5590) on Friday May 19, @12:04PM (#512127)

    Vatican Observatory is pretty serious institution in modern astronomy.

    • (Score: 3, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 19, @12:44PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 19, @12:44PM (#512141)

      Home Page Vatican Observatory » Who Are We? http://www.vaticanobservatory.va/content/specolavaticana/en/who-are-we-.html [vaticanobservatory.va]

      > The Vatican Observatory is one of the oldest astronomical research institutions in the world. Though we can trace our roots back to the reform of the calendar by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, the modern version of the Observatory was established by Pope Leo XIII in 1891 “so that everyone might see clearly that the Church and her Pastors are not opposed to true and solid science, whether human or divine, but that they embrace it, encourage it, and promote it with the fullest possible devotion.”
      >
      > Our headquarters are located at the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, outside Rome. We also have a dependent research center, the Vatican Observatory Research Group, is hosted by Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona, Tucson, USA. This group operates the 1.8m Alice P. Lennon Telescope with its Thomas J. Bannan Astrophysics Facility, known together as the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT), located at the Mount Graham International Observatory (MGIO )in southeastern Arizona.
      >
      > Our international staff include a dozen research astronomers (mostly Jesuit priests, but also including two Jesuit brothers and one diocesan priest) plus a number of support staff, emeritus staff, and adjunct scholars. We come from many different nations and cultures, representing nearly every continent.

      Unfortunately, light pollution from Rome limits the main location...
      http://www.vofoundation.org/blog/milky-way-lost/ [vofoundation.org] [text in Italian with English translation below]

    • (Score: 3, Informative) by butthurt on Friday May 19, @05:38PM

      by butthurt (6141) on Friday May 19, @05:38PM (#512274) Journal

      I wasn't trying to imply otherwise. I submitted this because:

      - I wasn't aware of Lemaître's work, which predates Hubble's, and thought it might be new to others
      - according to the Daily Beast article, the observatory's previous symposia have had a religious aspect to them that this one didn't have
      - prominent astronomers spoke
      - I thought someone might be interested in looking at their slideware

  • (Score: 5, Informative) by AthanasiusKircher on Friday May 19, @12:56PM (9 children)

    by AthanasiusKircher (5291) Subscriber Badge on Friday May 19, @12:56PM (#512144) Journal

    None of this should be at all surprising. For most of the past millennium the Catholic Church has been perhaps the longest-lived and most consistent supporter of scientific endeavors [wikipedia.org]. Many prominent advances in science have been made by Catholic clerics [wikipedia.org], not just the Big Bang theory. (You'll find some names of entire scientific disciplines in that list.) It's true that its modern social policies are frequently criticized and seem "out of touch" with modern culture, though most of the disagreements tend to be on moral or philosophical grounds, not scientific ones.

    The reason why most people assume the Catholic Church has been anti-science has to do with revisionist historians of the 1800s, who came up with the Conflict thesis [wikipedia.org] that religion and science had been antithetical historically. Really, it was a bunch of anti-Catholic propaganda written by Protestants, but it became the popular view -- until actual historians of science started looking into it again and found it was completely bogus history. No serious historian of science for the past 50 years has bought into the idea that the Catholic Church has been pervasively anti-science historically. It simply isn't (and was never) true.

    As for the whole Galileo thing (which has already been referenced in this thread), I'd suggest skimming over material in The Great Ptolemaic Smackdown [blogspot.com] for a thorough, entertaining, and pretty balanced historical account of what actually transpired. Obviously Galileo's writings shouldn't have been suppressed, and he shouldn't have been put under house arrest, and any free-speech advocate would argue that such decisions were deplorable actions by the Catholic Church. On the other hand, on the actual science as understood at the time, Galileo's case was a lot more complicated and murky.

    The reality is that we like to construct historical narratives with clear "winners" and "losers." We like to imagine all people in the past who don't subscribe to our modern belief systems must have been ignorant fools. We don't like teaching scientific complexity; it's easier just to indoctrinate. And that's sad (to me), because science is better than that. When scientists oversimplify history and distort it to avoid actually discussing legitimate past historical scientific debates, they ignore "teachable moments" about how scientific progress actually occurs. And we lose an opportunity to show how human conflict happens in science and why that sometimes can be an impediment within the scientific community.

    P.S. I'm not a Catholic, nor do I think religion is a helpful influence in modern science. But historically, the "conflict" didn't really exist, and institutions like the Catholic Church strongly promoted scientific endeavors and methods as a way of understanding "God's creation."

    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by kaszz on Friday May 19, @01:03PM (5 children)

      by kaszz (4211) on Friday May 19, @01:03PM (#512146) Journal

      The whole Galileo thing, the belief first and actual investigation secondly, forcing kids into belief systems they didn't approve of and all those priest abusing kids. It makes it really hard to establish trust with the institution.

      • (Score: 4, Informative) by AthanasiusKircher on Friday May 19, @01:14PM (4 children)

        by AthanasiusKircher (5291) Subscriber Badge on Friday May 19, @01:14PM (#512150) Journal

        Look at the link or don't comment on Galileo -- the "belief first and actual investigation secondly" is a stronger description of Galileo's methods in this case than his opponents.

        As to child abuse, note that the rate of child abuse among Catholic priests hasn't been shown to be significantly higher than it is among Protestant ministers, scout leaders, coaches, school teachers, etc. What the Catholic Church did worse was use its hierarchy to shield priests and shuffle them around, though similar things happened with public school teachers, etc. over the years too. And that should obviously be condemned as evil. But it's much easier to do an investigation when you have a large hierarchical bureaucratic organization that keeps detailed records than it is to investigate millions of other more isolated cases of abuse.

        • (Score: 3, Interesting) by AthanasiusKircher on Friday May 19, @01:36PM

          by AthanasiusKircher (5291) Subscriber Badge on Friday May 19, @01:36PM (#512159) Journal

          By the way, if you need some more info about abuse, here's a Newsweek article [newsweek.com] that came up in the first few hits of an internet search. There's other stuff out there, but the reality is that it's much easier to quantify abuse statistics for the Catholic Church due to its records. Given that the Newsweek article quotes people like leaders from National Center for Missing and Exploited Children as well as insurance companies who offer sex abuse riders for multiple denominations -- and they don't see more abuse cases coming from the Catholic Church -- I'll trust them since they're mostly likely to actually know something about abuse stats.

        • (Score: 2) by kaszz on Friday May 19, @01:47PM (2 children)

          by kaszz (4211) on Friday May 19, @01:47PM (#512166) Journal

          Unlike church(es) Galileo didn't force anyone to believe anything.

          As for the sex abuse. The exploitation potential and danger comes from that the church is so ingrained and able to shield offenders.

          • (Score: 2) by AthanasiusKircher on Friday May 19, @01:59PM (1 child)

            by AthanasiusKircher (5291) Subscriber Badge on Friday May 19, @01:59PM (#512172) Journal

            As I said in my initial comment: "I'm not a Catholic, nor do I think religion is a helpful influence in modern science." And I completely agree with you that, as a matter of free speech/expression, the treatment of Galileo was deplorable and should absolutely be condemned. (Though that could basically be applied to EVERY social/governmental/religious regime at that point in history, who all tended to suppress speech they disagreed with.) But the fairy-tale version of the Galileo story does more harm than good.

            • (Score: 3, Insightful) by bob_super on Friday May 19, @05:15PM

              by bob_super (1357) on Friday May 19, @05:15PM (#512260)

              > nor do I think religion is a helpful influence in modern science

              I'll propose one lonely exception: Religion-driven cultural norms preventing scientists from slicing and stitching all kinds of living things together, just because now they can.

    • (Score: 4, Insightful) by bzipitidoo on Friday May 19, @02:22PM (1 child)

      by bzipitidoo (4388) Subscriber Badge on Friday May 19, @02:22PM (#512185) Journal

      The way I read matters is that the Church positioned itself as the stewards of Ultimate Truth, the Meaning of Life, and all the Answers. Medieval public acceptance of that stand gave them a lot of power. They supported scientific research not because they were especially interested in science and discovery, though of course many were, but because they couldn't refuse such a challenge to their self-appointed authority. They would have lost too much credibility. The medieval public also had a sense that the ancients, especially the Romans, had a better life, and they could recover that life if only they could rediscover the Lost Secrets of the Ancients. That added to the drive to do research. No doubt some church leaders were banking on the thought that scientific discovery could bolster their position by confirming their dogma that the Earth was the center. When it didn't work out that way, the church leadership took the foolish course of persecution and suppression. That was hardly the first time they tried force to stop advancement. They also had a difficult relationship with the Gutenberg Press, even going as far as burning William Tyndale at the stake for printing English translations of the Bible. Even before the press, they were blaming translations of the Bible for causing wars and troubles, and severely persecuted those involved in such work.

      I agree that legitimate debate has suffered. A nice succinct way I heard it put is "thinking is vulgar". Research papers are written to present answers, no more. Mention of wrong turns and wrong thinking is discouraged. No room for it, for one thing, got to squeeze those results into that 10 page limit. No time for it either. And that's a shame.

      However, we shouldn't have to entertain bogus, manufactured controversies that are clearly motivated by a hidden and very unscientific agenda. Perhaps the biggest example currently is the fake controversy between Evolution and Creationism/Intelligent Design. It's good to understand how Creationists get it wrong. At its root, their arguments are not against evolution, but science itself. But to entertain their nonsense and outright lies from the propagandists among them as if it is worthy of serious consideration does a disservice to honest science.

      • (Score: 5, Informative) by AthanasiusKircher on Friday May 19, @07:52PM

        by AthanasiusKircher (5291) Subscriber Badge on Friday May 19, @07:52PM (#512331) Journal

        That's a really interesting spin you put on all the facts. Excuse this long post, but if you're not going to look at the link I offered, I guess I'll have to try to explain a very complex situation here.

        Look: I'm really not trying to be a contrarian. But some of my research actually involves the history of science. It's one of the few fields where I'll actually claim some authority (though that is no reason to listen to me, which is why I put links before). And when I first started that research in grad school, I thought pretty much what you do (or maybe even worse) about the Catholic Church. So I'm absolutely sympathetic that what I'm saying challenges fundamental elements of your worldview -- it certainly challenged mine. Then I started reading original documents from the time of the scientific revolution. I discovered the huge number of Jesuit astronomers (and other scientists) who were actually doing research actively at the time of Galileo. I read what some of them wrote and was surprised at it. That led me to look for what modern scholars (not "Catholic scholars" -- mainstream history of science scholars) now say about this stuff, and I was surprised that the entire narrative of most educated scholars in the history of science has shifted in recent decades as people actually went back and started reading original treatises, rather than spouting "history" that originated as anti-Catholic propaganda without questioning.

        No doubt some church leaders were banking on the thought that scientific discovery could bolster their position by confirming their dogma that the Earth was the center. When it didn't work out that way, the church leadership took the foolish course of persecution and suppression.

        That's simply not in any way an accurate depiction of what happened.

        There's no doubt that the Catholic Church set itself up as authoritarian. (So did most religions and governments of the time.) And the Catholic Church is famous for persecuting heretics, at times killing them. That's why Giordano Bruno was killed -- it wasn't because of his scientific speculation. (Nicholas of Cusa, among other Catholics and clerics in preceding generations, had spouted off even crazier speculations on science.) He was tried for teaching false religious doctrines.

        So, aside from Bruno, the ONLY case that tends to come out from centuries of Catholic Church dominance for persecution of a scientist is Galileo. That in itself is telling. The Catholic Church persecuted hundreds, probably thousands of heretics for religious beliefs over the centuries. But the same two guys get trotted out for EVERY argument about how the Church was anti-science, and one of those guys (Bruno) was truly a wacko even by standards of that day. (Not that that at all justifies killing him, but it doesn't make him a "scientist" either.)

        I didn't want to have to deal with rehashing the whole Galileo thing, which is why I gave a link [blogspot.com] in my first post. (There are some minor inaccuracies in that long account -- and I think it's at times a little harsh on the Copernicans, mostly snarky not inaccurate -- but it's mostly based on solid research.)

        Here's the problem. The empirical science of the day sided with the geocentrists. So did Aristotelean physics (part of your "Lost Secrets of the Ancients" that the church had helped revive). Among the many arguments:
            -- If the Earth is in motion, why do we not observe stellar parallax? (Turns out the stars were too far away, and parallax was not actually measured until the 1800s.)
            -- If the Earth is in motion, why do we not observe Coriolis forces? (Turns out that the experiments required a level of precision that again was not obtained until the 1800s.)
            -- If the Earth is in motion, why don't we observe shifts in stellar diameters and we get closer and farther from them? (Again, stars were much farther away than ANYONE thought at that time.)
        There were a lot more arguments, but these were some of the biggest ones that became cemented as major obstacles to the heliocentrists. Note all of these depend on empirical observation, not church "dogma."

        There's a lot more to the Galileo saga, but essentially what happened is that Galileo insisted on the TRUTH of the Copernican model -- not just a mathematical method for calculating orbits -- even though it was demonstrably wrong. (Kepler's elliptical orbit model was actually correct, but Galileo rejected Kepler's ideas and insisted on perfect circles that still required lots of epicycles -- so, contrary to popular belief, the "math wasn't easier" for Galileo's model either.) The ONLY "empirical" argument Galileo could produce was on the basis of a theory of tides, supposedly caused by the sun, thereby proving that the earth was in motion. Except his theory required there to be only one tide per day, and for that high tide to occur at noon. But anyone who had been to the beach back then knew what he said was idiotic, but that was the ONLY empirical evidence he had. (Galileo again firmly rejected Kepler's -- correct -- theory about the moon causing tides.)

        Meanwhile, Catholic scientists were happy to accept new ideas when they agreed with empirical evidence. Tycho Brahe's alternate model for the solar system (where Mercury and Venus orbit the sun, but the Earth is still center) gained acceptance among many Catholics, since Brahe was basing his arguments on solid empirical science and the math actually WAS made significantly easier in his model at least for the inner planets.

        NONE of this justifies Galileo's ultimate treatment by the church, which seems to have been the result of Galileo acting like a jerk, a few misunderstandings, and some external political squabbles. (Well, more than that -- there was a war going on.) But the Church would likely have been happy to modify their "dogma" that the Earth was the century of the universe if there were actual EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE for it.

        Instead, paradoxically, Galileo likely set back the cause of science through his ill-informed political rant, and the Church's overreaction to such insolence had the broader effect of suppressing public debate on heliocentric models in Catholic countries. (Note that Galileo was actually encouraged by the Pope himself to write a book debating these systems rationally; Galileo took that as license to overstate his claims, make his opponents look like idiots through unfair and irrational argumentation, and put the Pope's pluralistic message on science in the mouth of a character identified as a "fool.")

        Over the next couple generations, Kepler's theories gradually became more accepted (not the perfect circle Copernican ones Galileo promoted), and once Newton's theories put the Kepler model on a more solid theoretical foundation, heliocentric theories became more accepted among scientists. If you want to see ACTUAL scientific debate in the 1600s on this issue, you might look at Jesuit scientist Riccioli's arguments [arxiv.org] for and against the motion of the earth (49 for, 77 against). Riccioli spent 343 pages [wikipedia.org] discussing these in great detail, and it's an amazing document of scientific debate of the time. Unfortunately, unless you read Latin, only a summary is available in English, even though this was from one of the most popular astronomical treatises of the 1600s. Yes, some of the arguments deal with religious doctrine. A lot more deal with philosophical issues that today seem "unscientific" to us, but were legitimate concerns to scientists of the day. But the real barriers to Copernicanism were still empirical.

        Ultimately, in 1728-29 -- roughly a century after Galileo's trial -- the first actual empirical evidence for heliocentrism was discovered in Bradley's measurement of stellar aberration [wikipedia.org]. Within five years, Bradley's work had been translated into Italian, leading to a slightly amended version of Galileo's treatise being published in Italy in 1744 and Copernicanism being officially dropped from future banned books lists. All it took was some actual empirical evidence. In the early 1800s, more evidence finally came in regarding things like stellar parallax and Coriolis forces (the major objections to heliocentrism in the 1600s), resulting in the final allowance for teaching heliocentrism as proven fact in 1820.

        Again, I absolutely disagree with what the Church did to Galileo. But it wasn't out to prove its own "dogma" in this case, merely taking a somewhat conservative perspective on empirical science.

        That was hardly the first time they tried force to stop advancement. They also had a difficult relationship with the Gutenberg Press, even going as far as burning William Tyndale at the stake for printing English translations of the Bible. Even before the press, they were blaming translations of the Bible for causing wars and troubles, and severely persecuted those involved in such work.

        I really hate to burst your bubble, but this is also somewhat based on Protestant manufactured anti-Catholic propaganda. Again, this is something I too believed without question until I happened upon some other historical facts a few years ago. The Church actually encouraged and supported the many vernacular Bible translations [wikipedia.org] of medieval times. It persecuted heretical movements who taught against church doctrine, and yes, some of them created their own translations (sometimes more like "adaptations"). But legitimate translation? The whole idea that the Church widely suppressed any attempts at translation seems to be based on a modern scholar in 1920 misreading a single medieval papal edict.

        All that changed somewhat in the 1500s with the rise of Luther, etc. The Catholic Church overreacted strongly, and yes, large sections of Europe were ending up in religious wars at that time. So yes, they burned Tyndale, but not for the act of translation alone, but rather because of his controversial use of vocabulary and appended notes [wikipedia.org] that sought to undermine Catholic doctrine. The actual historical reality IS that dissidents from the church frequently created their "translations" that often were somewhat "creative" to undermine church doctrine.

        I'm not defending this action either -- just noting that the common belief that the Church wanted to keep everyone "ignorant" by disallowing all translation is false. The fact that many translations (and creative adaptations) were used for political and heretical acts, which the Church sometimes then persecuted, is true.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 19, @04:28PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 19, @04:28PM (#512240)

      You're only doing science if you're willing to follow the evidence wherever it leads. Faith is fundamentally incompatible with science.

  • (Score: 1) by butthurt on Friday May 19, @07:04PM

    by butthurt (6141) on Friday May 19, @07:04PM (#512304) Journal

    I neglected to search for related stories before submitting this. Here are a couple:

    Mapping With the Stars: Nuns Instrumental in Vatican Celestial Survey [soylentnews.org]
    Vatican Hosts Conference On Alien Life in Universe [soylentnews.org]

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