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‘Lost’ interview of Georges Lemaître rediscovered

January 21, 2023 07:45 pm | Updated January 26, 2023 09:39 am IST

In February 1964, a broadcaster in Belgium aired an interview with a Catholic priest named Georges Lemaître (1894-1966). The footage was subsequently thought lost after it went missing from the broadcaster’s archives.

But on December 31, 2022, the broadcaster reported that it had rediscovered the video and that the video could not be found earlier because it had been misclassified.

It also published the 20-minute conversation on its website, prompting a flurry of interest across the world. But why?

Big Bang theory

It was because Lemaître was the originator of the Big Bang theory of the universe’s origin and derived an important law that cosmologists still use to understand the motion of galaxies away from each other.

The interview is likely to have been his Georges Lemaître’s public lecture, of sorts.

On January 17, researchers in the United States published a transcript of the original interview, in French, online together with an English translation.

Two tidbits from the interview are particularly interesting.

First, Lemaître discusses the arguments by which the Big Bang theory replaced steady state theory, under which Fred Hoyle and others claimed that the universe was static, that the galaxies that were there had always just been there.

Steady state theory

As Lemaître recounts with some dramatic flair, Hoyle had difficulty explaining the presence of hydrogen in the early universe. Hydrogen was required to form the first stars and galaxies and had to come from somewhere, but the steady state theory couldn’t say where. In Lemaître’s telling, Hoyle resorted to claims that Lemaître said he couldn’t picture.

Second, Lemaître responds to a question about what the Big Bang theory implies for his religious beliefs by focusing on the moment of our universe’s creation: “When one poses the problem of the beginning of the world, one is almost always faced with a rather essential difficulty: to ask oneself, why did it begin at that moment? Why did not it start a little earlier?”

His answer: “The beginning is so... different from the present state of the world that such a question does not arise.”

Lemaître also agrees vehemently with the interviewer when the latter says that god should not have to explain the movement of galaxies: “It goes without saying!”

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