If only the "I f—king love science" crowd also f—king loved history.
The U.K. Independent attempted to mock the Roman Catholic Church with a story bearing the none-too-subtle headline: "Pope Francis invites scientists to the Vatican after Catholic Church realises the Big Bang is real."
The story's mean-spirited and patronizing tone is even richer than it seems, however, considering that a Roman Catholic priest, Monsignor Georges Lemaitre, was one of the early fathers of the Big Bang theory, and got a big (mostly unwanted) shout-out from Pope Pius XII for it.
Fascinated by physics at an early age, Lemaitre's love for the subject led him eventually to Albert Einstein's laws of gravitation, which was published in 1915.
Lemaitre "deduced that if Einstein's theory were true (and there had been good evidence for it since 1919), it meant the universe must be expanding. In 1927, the year he got his Ph.D. from MIT, Lemaitre proposed this theory, in which he stated that the expanding universe was the same in all directions – the same laws applied, and its composition was the same – but it was not static," a PBS biography noted.
"Others took notice and named his theory 'big bang,'" the report noted. In fact, that very term was coined by one of the theory's staunchest detractors — Fred Hoyle, an atheist and astronomer who mocked the theory as being too similar to a divine creation. ("The reason why scientists like the 'big bang,'" Hoyle said in one BBC interview, "is because they are overshadowed by the Book of Genesis.")
Amazingly enough, the Independent's snotty write-up of the Vatican conference, which was aimed at better understanding concepts such as "black holes and gravitational waves and spacetime singularities, actually noted much of Lemaitre's scientific contributions to the Big Bang theory.
The Independent article even pointed out that the conference was held explicitly in Lemaitre's honor, who, in the words of the Independent, is "considered one of the fathers of the idea that the universe began with a gigantic explosion."
It's worth noting here that the Church has never disputed or attempted to dismiss Lemaitre's many meaningful contributions to science, particularly his theories on the origin of the universe. It's also worth noting that Lemaitre's work in this area has never posed as a counterargument to the Catholic belief in a creator. Indeed, there is no inherent contradiction between Lemaitre's theories of the universe and the Thomistic "prime mover" argument. Also, the Big Bang is a theory, and the Independent does a disservice to the scientific discipline by giving it the all-too-simple and blunt "real" title.
The problem here is the Independent and its headline writers just couldn't pass up the opportunity to trot out the tired religion-as-anti-science trope. Unfortunately, it tried to deploy this tired device on a theory that was literally pioneered by a Roman Catholic priest.
So no, that slam-dunk is not always as easy as it looks.