Jean-Pierre Luminet on The Real Heroes of the Big Bang Revolution

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The discovery that the universe had a beginning was one of the most remarkable scientific achievements of the last century, sparking a cosmological paradigm shift and a radical new way to understand our world. But the three scientists most responsible for the big bang revolution are largely unknown to the public and underestimated by other scientists in their field. On this ID The Future, host Andrew McDiarmid begins a conversation with esteemed cosmologist Jean-Pierre Luminet, who sets the record straight on the real heroes of the Big Bang Theory with his new book The Big Bang Revolutionaries, available now from Discovery Institute Press.

In Part 1, Dr. Luminet kicks off the conversation by explaining the value of knowing the history of science. He cites 19th century French philosopher Auguste Comte, who wrote: “You can’t fully understand the science until you know its history.” For 30 years, across twenty non-fiction science books and eight historical novels, Luminet has shared the history of scientists and their ideas. With The Big Bang Revolutionaries, he unravels the twists and turns of the development of relativistic cosmology. Here, as in his book, Luminet tells the story of how three men — Belgian theoretical physicist Georges Lemaitre, Russian physicist Alexander Friedmann and the Russian-American physicist and cosmologist George Gamow — in the face of conventional scientific wisdom, offered a compelling view of a singular creation of the universe in what Lemaître termed a “primeval atom.”

The conversation then zooms into the chief architect of the Big Bang. In addition to his work as a theoretical physicist, Georges Lemaitre was also a Catholic priest. How did he manage the interplay between his scientific pursuits and his religious faith? Luminet shares what he has learned about Lemaitre’s attitude toward science and religion: “I would say that Lemaitre was a man of faith before he was a man of religion,” says Luminet. He saw no conflict between the two “because both are seeking the truth…”

Part 2

In Part 2, Dr. Luminet sheds more light on Georges Lemaitre, the Big Bang theory’s chief architect. Lemaitre demonstrated a rare humility, concerned more with pursuing an accurate understanding of the universe than with who got credit for the theory. Luminet explains why it took so long for scientists to accept Lemaitre’s theory over other competing theories of universal origins.

Luminet also shares insight into two other architects of the Big Bang theory – Russian physicist Alexander Friedmann and Russian-American physicist and cosmologist George Gamow. The conversation concludes with Luminet explaining the state of relativistic cosmology today. “We can now say really that we have entered an era of high precision experimental cosmology,” says Luminet, allowing us to fix the fundamental parameters of the universe to within a few percent. But a number of questions still remain about the nature of dark matter and dark energy. Meanwhile, the Big Bang theory has been in the news lately. Do Lemaitre’s core ideas about the origin and expansion of the universe continue to stand up to scrutiny? Watch to hear Luminet’s answer!