A Higgs Boson Walks Into Church…

Thanks to Steve Knight for alerting me to this joke, which has become one of my instant favorites. After all, it combines two things I dig: nerd humor and theology (also nerdy).

Yeah, yeah, you may be groaning, but you’re smiling while doing it. Admit it.

There’s plenty of chatter lately about the so-called “God Particle,” recently discovered , with some in the scientific field actually calling it the “goddamn particle,” because (at least as I understand it) the discovery opens up the possibility of something without detectable mass actually giving mass to other particles.

Kind of like: In the beginning there was nothing, and then…

Sound familiar?

Back to the Higgs boson for a second. Based on my very limited scientific understanding, I believe the gist of the discovery is of an energy field, and not an actual massive particle, per se. This field, called the Higgs field, has been theorized to exist for almost fifty years, but was only finally detected using the Large Hadron Collider and a butt-load of really big computers that weren’t available back then. The “boson” part of the name is for a particular excitation in the Higgs energy field that, given the proper conditions, seems to be able to give mass to these other particles we knew existed, but which we haven’t known where they might have come from before.

Enter the Science vs. Religion cage match. Church leaders assert that all matter was created by God, to which scientists say “nonsense.” So with the Higgs boson discovery, some in the sciences are effectively saying, “Here is your ‘God.’ You wanted something from nothing; here it is.”

What is likely to follow is a pattern we’ve seen for centuries. Some religious leaders will try to use various theological or philosophical gymnastics to tear down the scientific findings, arguing some tragic flaw in their work. Others will see this new discovery as an inevitable truism that cannot be ignored, and so, if their belief structure is to stand the test of time, it must adapt to accommodate this new knowledge.

Then scientists accuse the Church of blind opportunism and the Church fires back that their sole mission seems to be the death of God, rather than the birth of new knowledge.

For me, it seems that we’re confusing the purpose of the two distinct fields. While science primarily is focused on answering the universal question of “how?” philosophy and religion delve into the question of “why?” But human nature and our hubristic inclinations being what they are, we seem forever intent on overstepping the limits of our respective disciplines in an effort to offer a single panacea that will end the conversation in favor of our own side, once and for all.

My greatest consolation in all of this isn’t that we’re any closer to ending the dialogue between science and faith. As I said, they’re asking two very different questions. But I do find hope in the increasing popularity of postmodern thought, in which such binary, either/or dichotomies as the “church vs. science” mindset seem increasingly irrelevant.

As such lines blur, the boundaries between apparently discreet fields become more permeable, allowing those in the fields of science to think more imaginatively or even philosophically about their work. Einstein was a great proponent of this way of approaching science. He famously said “if I can’t picture it, I can’t understand it.” For him, creative imagination was not the bane of science, but rather was critical to his process of discovery. On the other hand, such permeability between the fields requires religious leaders to let go of some of their fears and desire to maintain permanent, rigid ideas of what lies at the heart of God and humanity.

I’m personally exhilarated by the new discovery, and I welcome the opportunity to enrich both my understanding of “how” and “why” in the process. Now, if I could only find a picture of Jesus holding the Higgs boson, blessing it and saying “This is my body…”

 

About Christian Piatt

Christian Piatt is the creator and editor of BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rick-White/100000091247277 Rick White

    I have a question for you, nothing has ever been broken as proof of anything. Is this statement true or is it false?

    • http://www.facebook.com/christiandpiatt Christian Piatt

      I don’t follow your question.

      • Ken Mabry

        Broken eggs=Omlet.

  • http://www.facebook.com/SGeagle Steven Grout

    This is fascinating. The only way I can wrap my head around the whole “church vs. science” or creation vs. evolution is, if we could scientifically prove that God created all matter it would take away from having faith in God and the Bible.

  • danalwyn

    Most scientists that I know hate the title “God Particle” and curse Lederman for coining it when he did.  Not only does it imply a divine nature in some cases to the Higgs boson, but it also gives it a primacy that it does not deserve.  Although the Higgs is important, you might as well call the electron or the photon the “God Particle”.  In a strange sense the Higgs may be the father of the main property by which particles are judged, but the title that’s been stuck to it has no real purpose except to draw the kind of attention that nobody wanted in the first place.  Of course it’s too late to try and make a new nickname stick…

  • http://www.bipolarlessons.com/ Mary

    Very good article. “Spot On”

    I have been seeing and sometimes participating in these debates here recently between fundamentalists (in the interest of being more respectful I will not call them “fundies”) and more liberal interpretations of the Bible. I have gotten angry, when maybe I should have been more tolerant. But I still hold to my opinions that the fundamentalist point of view has a lot of problems.

    First I want to say that I am not trying to disabuse anyone of their belief in God. I am not an athiest, although I have no argument with them because quite frankly they do have some valid points. Like Christian, I don’t believe that there is any conflict between science and the belief in God. Science can’t prove it one way or the other and as Christian pointed out, they are not even addressing that question anyway. They are only descibing how the natural world works.

    There is however a conflict between science and religion.  My point of view is religion and spirituality are in fact two different things.  My spiritual life has improved radically since I came to that conclusion. Spirituality means having a connection with God that trancends dogma.

    There are spiritual people who are religous and there are also spiritual people who are not. There are people who go to church every day and yet have no spiritual connection to God whatsoever.

    I don’t completely agree with this statement but it does make a good point. This is a quote that says that “Organized religion is a way of preventing a personal relationship with God.” Again I don’t completely agree with that statement but there are people who mistake a relationship with a church and theology to be a relationship with God.  No matter what religion or denomination they are in they will defend it to the death because they believe that if they question them they will forsake God. The problem with this is that the Bible is not consistant with it’s theology and therefore a case can be made for many points of view.  People will quote scripture only to defend their point of view and ignore the other parts that say just the opposite.

    I started this post to deal with science and religion and I got a little off track but these are some of the things I have been thinking about. In order to not make this too long I will start a new post on that topic.  

  • Dan

    I can’t see where the dispute with religion will arise. They can always claim that the Higgs Boson and other stuff must have come from God as well – it was his idea etc. I don’t see it as a pattern that has been repeating for centuries either; both science and religion have changed, both have grown up a lot. “Repeating for centuries” makes is sound like nothing has changed, when it totally has.

    Science is simply not an enemy of religion like it used to be, perhaps it is in the deep south of the USA, but then so is understanding French. That hardly represents what people with brain cells think. The compatibility of science and religion has greatly increased in the eyes of those people. That is the forum that counts. 

    • http://www.bipolarlessons.com/ Mary

      I would say that things are changing, but not as much as you think. You probably haven’t been following all the angry fundamentlists that have been posting here. And they’re not just in the South. I live in liberal CA and there are plenty here too. I wouldn’t have a big problem with them except that these people are so sure of their particular brand of religion that they want to force it on the rest of us. They want to make sure that creationism is taught in the schools and that gays and anybody else who doesn’t agree with them be denied their rights as American citizens. Have you paid attention to politics lately? There is a firestorm of people from the religious right who literally think that the world is going to end if we don’t vote for THEIR CANIDATES and of course vote against gay rights.

      • http://www.bipolarlessons.com/ Mary

        Sorry about the spelling.Tired (lol).

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1077510123 Wes Shank

      Dan, Dan….disparaging the “south”…really?

  • Dan

    “Then scientists accuse the Church of blind opportunism and the Church
    fires back that their sole mission seems to be the death of God, rather
    than the birth of new knowledge.” 

    I would hope not. Such a petulant viewpoint is not going to attract followers, but rather alienate anyone on the fence.

    “For me, it seems that we’re
    confusing the purpose of the two distinct fields.
    While science
    primarily is focused on answering the universal question of “how?”
    philosophy and religion delve into the question of “why?” But human
    nature and our hubristic inclinations being what they are, we seem
    forever intent on overstepping the limits of our respective disciplines
    in an effort to offer a single panacea that will end the conversation in
    favor of our own side, once and for all.”

    Imagine if you tried to explaining what science and religion were to someone only using the concepts of “how” and “why”. You wouldn’t get very far. “How/why” is a dichotomy that is relevant even within science, so it can’t explain the difference between science and religion. Science and religion have independent definitions that must be given. Only then can you start to explain the difference.

    In fact they ask, or have asked, many of the same questions. Think about it. If they hadn’t, why would there have been any conflict in the first place? 

    The conflict is resolved when science marches on, starts to explain things, and relinquishes some its authority, becomes more modern, thereby improving itself and becoming more liked by the general public.
     

  • Dan

    Sorry I meant 

    The conflict is resolved when science marches on, starts to explain
    things, and RELIGION relinquishes some OF its authority, becomes more modern,
    thereby improving itself and becoming more liked by the general public.

  • Dan

    The religious groups that do not relinquish authority, operate with higher authority than some others, but in a smaller power base. They do risk becoming isolated and irrelevant. 

    You say about Einstein:
    “Einstein was a great proponent of this way of approaching science. He
    famously said “if I can’t picture it, I can’t understand it.” For him,
    creative imagination was not the bane of science, but rather was
    critical to his process of discovery. ”

    Of course imagination, creative imagination, whatever you want to call it, is integral to science. It is particularly integral to physics, as well as to engineering and mathematics, other key subjects that CERN couldn’t exist without. Of course creativity and imagination is important in these subjects, each and every one.

    If everyone somehow had a Phd in one of these subjects, not a soul on this earth would think differently. Popular perception is an emergent phenomenon, explicable only through the eyes of the path most travelled, in thise case the path where you drop these subjects after high school.

  • http://www.bipolarlessons.com/ Mary

    Ok back to fundamentalism and science. Fundamentalists believe that everything in the Bible is exactly true with no errors whatsoever. There are many problems with this point of view and I will list them below.

    In order to believe this you have to deny science in every discipline. In fact you have to deny even YOUR OWN SENSES (Just to make things clear, I am not yelling. I use caps for emphasis).

    For instance, the Bible says that insects have four legs.  All you have to do is look at one to know that they have six.

    I don’t think the writers of the Bible were stupid. It is entirely possible that a tired scribe accidentally put four down and it got passed on. Imagine the difficulty of copying an entire manuscript word for word by hand. I can’t even write this without typos! Probably no one corrected it because after all, it was scripture and it wasn’t supposed to be tampered with.

    I have actually heard the argument that not only is science a Satanic conspirancy to lead people astray but that SATAN CONFOUNDS OUR OWN SENSES so therefore we can’t trust them.

    Ok some may say that there may be some minor errors, but that the whole of the Bible is correct.

    WRONG.

    I could go into some detail about the scientific errors of creationism but that would take an entire book. But here is a brief overview:

    1. The Bible says the earth is flat and that the sun, moon and the stars are suspended in spheres over the earth for light. Envision giant spheres of plastic over the earth and you would get the idea. In their world idea it was the spheres that moved over the earth, not the actual stars, planets, and moon moving independantly.  Of course they had no idea that the we actually revolve around the sun.

    One big flaw in creationism is that it has taken BILLIONS of years for the light from the farthest stars to reach us. That refutes the idea that God created the stars at the same time as the earth.

    2. THE STORY OF ADAM AND EVE CANNOT BE TRUE. A lot of Christians have hailed the scientific discovery of “Adam” and “Eve”. They misunderstand the science behind it. Women pass on what is called mitochondrial DNA through their line. “Eve” represents the matrilineal UNBROKEN line that is closest to us. There are other lines in existance today, but they were BROKEN by women having at least one son because they could could not pass on the exclusely female DNA. She existed long BEFORE the estimated age of the earth at 6,000 years by creationists. And she was not the “first woman” because there were other women alive at the same time.

    The same situation applys to “Adam” by tracing male DNA. And he existed long AFTER Eve.

    It would take me a long time to explain all the evidence for evolution but I will say that modern science (including genetics) have confirmed it over and over again. And yes THERE ARE TRANSITIONAL FORMS. No one science can find all the evidence, but when you take them ALL TOGETHER you have a pretty airtight case.

    And don’t talk to me about the Second Law of Thermodynamics. What is says is that entropy cannot DECREASE in a closed SYSTEM without a corresponding INCREASE somewhere else. 

    What creationists try to do is rather than look at ALL THE EVIDENCE they like to poke holes in the theory. I would remind them that science is an ONGOING journey. For instance WE KNOW the Big Bang happened. Why? We have found the background radiation from it. Look up “WMAP” on the internet. Just because we don’t quite yet understand HOW it happened doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen! Science is based on OBSERVATION first. Then we come up with theories and test them. That is the only way to know scientific truth.

    3. NOAH’S FLOOD NEVER HAPPENED. Aside from the scientific evidence that there is not enough water on the earth for a world-wide flood it conflicts with all of recorded history. How can we explain that civilizations that existed at that time WERE NOT DESTROYED! How can we explain the logistics of gathering all the world’s animals, plants, and insects into one tiny ark from different continents and islands and them putting them back into their original habitats? What about the change of salinity of the ocean that would DESTROY BOTH SEA CREATURES AND FRESH WATER FISH?

    If a destruction of that magnitude happened if may not have destroyed all life on earth but we would certainly still be recovering today. Instead we see a complete biosphere that is thriving with humans, animals, plants, and insects.

    Before you fundamentalists come crashing down on me DO YOUR RESEARCH and NOT JUST FROM A CREATIONIST POINT OF VIEW. UNLESS YOU DO THAT YOU ARE NOT QUALIFIED TO COMMENT.

    • Tony

       Mary, you make some interesting points but actually your science is flawed; much of what you put is simply from a popular-science worldview which misses out much modern thinking. I’m sorry to not go into more detail; and I don’t want to try to make a point-by-point simply out of respect….. however just one point as an example: regarding the flood waters covering the whole earth, did you know that modern science believes that there is much more water stored in the deep rocks of the earth’s crust than we previously realised? Not wanting to promote the idea of the Flood covering the whole Earth – I don’t believe it did, if it happened – but my point is that there is more to reality than so many of us realise. Don’t declare something impossible unless it is intrinsically so; to do this is in itself bad science :)

      • http://www.bipolarlessons.com/ Mary

        Hi Tony,

        I certainly don’t claim to know everything about science, but I was just pointing out that there is no evidence that it ever happened. However I do understand your point that yes, there are times when science discovers something new. So one cannot say definitively that it would be impossible for a worldwide flood to happen. However, we can say definitively that Noah’s flood did not happen.

  • Daniel

    My oh my guys,
     
    I am sick of reading these intellectual debates of creationism vs. science…In the end it is just one person trying to sound more eloquent then the other and selling his interpretation or discovery to a willing audience.

    Faith is not about proving or disproving science to be correct or incorrect for that matter, it is something that happens within your heart – a bond between you and God.

    Please stop trying to sound smart!..because really we may think we are smart – having found the higgs boson (which I perceive to be a marvellous scientific fete), yet everyone – including YOU (yes you reading this) will have to die one day and no measure of science will be able to prevent that. Until science can explain what happens after death – for me it still remains but childsplay.

    I love you my God!!!

    • http://www.bipolarlessons.com/ Mary

      Hi Daniel,

      Actually I do agree with you that faith is about a bond between you and God. Perhaps I went a little overboard but I do get so sick of people telling me that my faith depends on believing in an inerrant Bible. While they defend themselves with Bible verses I defend myself in pointing out that you can’t take everything literally in the Bible. It is kind of a knee-jerk response against those who want to tell me what to believe.


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