Acton Institute Powerblog

Science, Faith, and Our Place in The Universe

Share this article:
Join the Discussion:

In Acton’s newly published monograph, Catholicism, Ecology, and the Environment, Bishop Dominique Rey explores the relationship between man and the created world. In the book’s foreword, written by Acton’s Director of Research Sam Gregg, Gregg summarizes the Catholic view of man’s relationship to created matter:

Man is understood as intrinsically superior to the natural world. He is charged with dominion over it in order that it may be used to promote integral human development.  However, man’s dominion is not absolute. We cannot literally do whatever we wish with animals and nature. Absolute dominion belongs to God alone. Moreover, he desires that we use the natural world responsibly and therefore in ways that facilitate human flourishing.

The Church, Rey argues, is not ant-science, but rather views man as co-creator with God, but restrained by God’s authority.

At Gizmodo, author Matt Blitz remarks that some people think religion and science go together like “mayonnaise and marshmallows.” And against this backdrop of “it’s either science or religion, but not both,” Blitz introduces us to a man he calls, “the greatest scientist you’ve never heard of.” Further, Albert Einstein said of this man’s work, “This is the most beautiful and satisfactory explanation of creation to which I ever listened.”

Georges Leimatre, a Catholic priest from Belgium, is the man who garnered such praise from arguably the best-known scientist of the 20th century. Leimatre earned degrees in mathematics and philosophy before becoming a priest and continued to study science in his spare time. His superior, noting his giftedness, allowed him to study at MIT, where he earned a Ph.D. in physics.

It was at this time that Lemaitre came up with a profound theory that still impacts our study of the universe today. In 1927, he published his article “A Homogeneous Universe of Constant Mass and Increasing Radius accounting for the Radial Velocity of Extra Galactic Nebulae.”

In it, he proposed and described his theory of an expanding universe. Using Einstein’s theory of relativity as a guide, Lemaitre speculated that space is constantly expanding and, therefore, the distance between galaxies is also increasing. Later, Hubble would demonstrate the same thing and even to this day is generally given credit for coming up with the idea. Further, Lemaître discovered what has since become known as “Hubble’s law,” a rate of expansion related to the galaxies’ distance from Earth. Lemaître also derived what is now known as “Hubble’s Constant.” In both of these instances, he did this before Hubble published his work concerning these same revolutionary ideas. Hubble’s real contribution in this case was to provide the observational basis for Lemaitre’s mostly mathematically-based theory.

Unfortunately for Lemaître, his Nobel Prize-worthy paper (though at the time astronomers couldn’t win Nobel Prizes for their work in astronomy as it wasn’t yet considered part of Physics) had little impact on the scientific community due to it being published in a journal hardly read outside of Belgium. But one man in particular read it, Albert Einstein.

Einstein was impressed with Lemaitre’s work, but argued that his physics was faulty. Lemaitre continued his work, coming up with a theory he termed, “the primeval atom,” which we now know as “the big bang theory.” While Lemaitre had his detractors, the Pope was not one of them:

Pope Pious XII proclaimed in 1952 that the big-bang theory affirmed the notion of a “transcendental creator” and, therefore, was in harmony with Catholic dogma.

Blitz says that science and religion do not need to be enemies, and Lemaitre’s work bears that out.

Read “Georges Lemaitre: The Greatest Scientist You’ve Never Heard Of” at

Elise Hilton Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.