Before the 18th century, most people believed that the universe and time began when God created it. But from the 18th century until the mid-20th century, many scientists doubted that the universe even had a beginning. The idea of a beginning to the universe was considered a religious belief. Typically, scientists accepted an eternal universe, of never-ending binding and unbinding atoms over an infinity of space and time. Listen carefully to the scripts of some old science fiction movies, and you will still hear the echoes from the eternal void.
Then, in 1927, an obscure Belgian priest and cosmologist, Georges Lemaître (1894-1966), an early follower of Einstein, proposed that the universe popped into existence between 10 and 20 billion years ago, beginning with a single point.
Lemaître's theory was revolutionary. It overturned a century and a half of science. Initially, many scientists did not like the theory much, and some, like Arthur Eddington (1882-1944), said so. His comment was: "Philosophically, the notion of a beginning to the present order is repugnant to me. I should like to find a genuine loophole." To most scientists of the day, it sounded too much like religion. Thus, Lemaître, a priest, was in the unusual position of trying to focus attention on the science that supported his idea, while many atheists were more concerned with the religious implications. This odd turnabout continues to the present day, as we will see.
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