Will the ‘God Particle’ Change Theology?

This image, from a sensor at the particle accelerator at CERN, is an example of the data signature a Higgs particle might generate.

According to numerous news outlets, scientists are about to unveil the Higgs boson — aka, the God Particle. Here’s NPR:

King Arthur had his quest for the Holy Grail. Physicists hope they are hot on the trail of the Higgs particle. You might call it the final puzzle piece, needed to complete our picture of how all the fundamental particles make up the universe.

Joe Lykken at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois has been part of this quest since the early 1980s.

“Our former director, Leon Lederman, called the Higgs particle the God Particle,” Lykken says. “It was not meant to be a religious comment, it was meant to express our understanding of how the universe works. We think without a Higgs boson you can’t have a universe in the first place.”

At the very least, the universe would be incredibly boring. That’s because the Higgs particle, or Higgs boson, is supposed to explain why the atoms in the galaxies, the stars, the earth at our feet, and in our bodies, have mass. If they didn’t have mass, we wouldn’t exist as physical beings.

We think the Higgs boson is a manifestation of the fact that the universe is filled with a force that we haven’t been able to detect yet, that gives other particles mass,” Lykken says. (via Is The Hunt For The ‘God Particle’ Finally Over? : NPR.)

I think that profound scientific discoveries always make doing theology more challenging, and therefore more fun, so I look forward to learning more about Higgs boson for my next book — after Why Pray? — which is tentatively titled, Wild God.

How do you think Higgs boson will challenge theology?

Where Is God’s Wrath Burning Now?

In the past couple years, John Piper has been outspoken about any number of tragedies, from earthquakes and tsunamis and hurricanes to the collapse of a freeway bridge. However, he’s been conspicuously quiet this summer, even as Colorado burns.

Aerial photograph of the Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs, Colorado between June 24, 2012 and June 27, 2012 show the destructive path of the fire. Photo by John Wark, www.johnwark.com 

Meanwhile, just a few hundred miles away, we in Minnesota got enough rain to destroy parts of Duluth and to raise Lake Superior 3 inches — that’s estimated to be 17 trillion gallons of water.

Vermilion Road in Duluth after flooding within Tischer Creek drainage. (Photo by John Goodge/MPR)

The problem with Piper’s outbursts — theologically speaking — is that he portrays a God who is entirely arbitrary. God’s wrath burns against our sin, always and unremittingly — that’s Piper’s argument. God’s grace usually holds back God’s wrath, thus protecting us from tragedies of all sorts. But on occasion, God allows his wrath to burst through, and then people die horribly.

This is a very primitive view of God. To think that God uses weather to punish people for sin is right up there with thinking that a man was born blind because of his parents’ sin. (While Jesus rejected this kind of thinking, I don’t find his response — “this happened to that the works of God might be displayed in him” — much more palatable.)

The Greeks and Romans feared a built temples to appease the gods of Mt. Olympus, gods who were known to be arbitrary. They fought each other, fell in love with humans, and otherwise behaved like teenagers — and humans paid the price.

I’d like to think that the God of Israel is a good deal better than that — that YHWH/Abba is a God who is reasonable and understandable. That the true God is worshipped by us because we love him, and because he’s made himself understandable to us.

I don’t think God uses the weather to punish us.

Nor — with all due respect to my Colorado friends who are praying for rain — do I think that God sends rain as a result of prayers. Because you can’t have one without the other. If you believe that God sends rain in mercy, you’ve also got to believe that God sends wildfires in his wrath.

What’s at Stake in the Doctrine of Creation

(photo by Courtney Perry)

A week from now, I’ll be canoeing through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness with ten Fuller DMin students, Brian McLaren, Courtney, and a couple guides from Boundary Waters Experience. Our conversations will center on Christian Spirituality and the Doctrine of Creation.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading and thinking about the doctrine of creation in preparation, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the doctrine of creation is like an onion: you peel away one layer, and you find an equally significant layer underneath. Another metaphor is dominoes: knock the first one down, and lots more begin to fall.

I’m so intrigued by this that I think my next book after Why Pray? will be on creation. And I see my thoughts falling under these major categories:

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Scott Paeth Responds to the Process Theologians

Scott left a lengthy comment defending himself. I am hereby promoting it to a post:

Well, this is what I get for opening my big mouth! Having read through the thread there’s no way I could possibly do justice to all of the insights that Tony’s other readers are offering here. Let me offer a few off the cuff remarks to put some of what I wrote on my blog in a bit more context.

1. First of all, I should clarify that I do appreciate a lot about process theology. I think that its emphasis on the divine immanence can be an important corrective to theology that overly accentuate the divine transcendence, and to that degree, it serves an important theological role that I in no way want to deny. It’s also among the most fresh and creative approaches to theology to emerge from the 20th century and I appreciate it if for no other reason than simply that it’s interesting.

2. My own position could probably be best described as “panentheistic” in the Moltmannian sense of the term, which, at least as I read him, depends on the idea which is rooted in Anselm’s ontological argument that God’s being does not depend on the contingency of the world, but that God chooses to enter into the contingency of creation as an act of divine self-emptying for the sake of creation. What this approach offers is a way of understanding divine immanence that does not rely on a necessary God/world connection as does the God of process theology. God is, as one commentator noted, both within creation and transcendent, and God’s being is not in that sense reliant on creation, but God in love chooses to descend within creation, ultimately even unto death.

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