Latest science news is that the researchers at CERN have verified the existence of the Higgs-Boson particle. This particle was believed to be that which gives everything mass, meaning it explains why there is something, rather than nothing.
Here’s a fun take on why that rattles some bones in the religion/science world (heads up if you are sensitive to profanity):
For a more serious, and infinitely more helpful overview of the higgs-boson, check out this MSN article: http://cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/07/03/12547980-the-higgs-boson-made-simple?lite
The short of it is that the “trump card” of religion against science has always been that God created everything “ex nihilo” or “out of nothing”. Science is really great at figuring out the ingredients of life and messing with those ingredients to “tweak” the recipe, but it still depends on the basic ingredients of life that religion claims originates in a Supreme Being of some sort. The Higgs-Boson has been looked to by many scientists as a more scientific explanation for existence.
Briefly, we need to define a few terms:
- New Atheists — Atheism, of course, is the belief that there is no Supreme Being. New Atheists are the evangelicals of this belief. They are a group of philosophers and scientists who have been very active in advocating for Atheism as the correct and ONLY way of understanding life on earth. They see all forms of religion as archaic, delusional, and dangerous to society. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a very poignant article summarizing who the main advocates are and what they core beliefs are.
- Agnostics — Agnostics are not atheists, at least not exclusively. Agnostics leave room for a Supreme Being to exists. Regardless of an agnostics belief or disbelief of a Supreme Being they tend to downplay it’s/his/her existence. If there is such a being, then it/she/he does not seem to be relevant to everyday life and therefore not worth fretting over.
- Scientists — It is important not to confuse Atheism with science. They have different goals and purposes. One can be a Christian or Muslim or Jewish or Hindu Scientist just as easily as an Atheist scientist. This is especially important to remember when discussing the Higgs-Boson and the researchers at CERN.
- Materialists — This is the phrase I tend to use most often when discussing debates around God’s existence. This term is more specific than “atheism” because it can encompass the views of atheists, agnostics, scientists, and the general public. Materialism simply believes that existence is only and purely what is observable and understandable by our human faculties and reasoning. If we do not fully understand something, then it simply needs more research and in time, humanity will understand the entirety of existence.
- Creationists — This is a phrase that politics and religion in the United States have corrupted almost beyond redemption. Nevertheless, it is still useful to describe the view that existence was created by a Supreme Being, not a particle or an explosion of energy. This view became a noun (Creationism) as a political tool in opposition to the materialist approach to science that is predominant in the U.S. public school system. Though I agree that calling it “science” is false and misleading, the view itself (stripped from it’s political agenda, that is) is valuable to understand and I do believe it can be taught in an unbiased manner just as any materialist science is taught — but not in the science class.
With all that in mind, some of the discussion that’s evolving around the Higgs-Boson is that existence is now understood as the energy produced from exploding Higgs particles. On the religion front, Muslims are ostracizing Muslim scientists who participated in the research that led to the Higgs-Boson. On the other hand, in a truly astute move, Vatican Astronomist (who knew the Vatican had astronomers!?) Guy Consolmagno wrote a very balanced opinion piece on how the Higgs-Boson leads us closer to God.
On the materialist front, some New Atheists are calling it another “nail in the coffin of religion”. An Arizona State University theoretical physicist, Lawrence Krauss, says that science is not trying to disprove God. Instead science seeks data about the universe which makes God redundant. He concludes by saying:
“That’s the difference between science and religion… We don’t require the universe to be what we want — we force our beliefs to conform to the evidence of reality.”
In Krauss’ view, scientists are seekers. When they find what they are looking for they adjust their views accordingly. In comparison — according to Krauss — religion seeks first to describe reality and force that description upon everyone else.
He obviously didn’t see Deepak Chopra’s youtube video, or read Guy Consolmagno’s article. Lucky you… you’ve got a leg up on him by reading thechurchstateguy!
So Why is this a Church/State Issue?
Basically, it informs the public dialogue around the issue of moral authority. Religion continues to possess a general sense of moral authority because it situates it’s authority in revelation/relationship from/with a Supreme Being. But what happens when the necessity of a Supreme Being is in doubt? Well, at a popular level, that mentality has been progressing in the public mind for quite some time. Western society is becoming increasingly materialist — not like needing lots of shoes, but like defined above (though the shoe thing is kinda outta hand too). More specifically, it is the nature of the State, specifically a democratic, anti-establishment State to be materialist.
Whether it’s “Creationism” in schools, abortion/contraceptives, embryonic gene technologies, or simple public diversity, religious institutions need to be forward- and cosmic-thinking in terms of what really matters. The Higgs-Boson matters because it’s about humanity, not local nativist politics. Do the various Evangelical denominations have a theology that can handle the questions that will arise around the Higgs-Boson? Does Islam, Judaism, Catholicism?
Another aspect that will come up that religious institutions need to be prepared for is that every new discovery of this magnitude is followed by new technologies. Unfortunately, scientists do not yet have a strong record for analyzing their discoveries through strong ethical lenses yet. Nuclear energy is just one of the latest and largest examples. Religious institutions need to recognize the potential for the Higgs-Boson to create a whole slew of new technologies — because “we have the science now” to do it, and no other reason. Will this technology create jobs or replace jobs? Will this technology heal or harm? If it can harm, it will, so how will it be controlled? Will it lead to “advances” in human genetic engineering, and if so, that debate will have to become pulpit material, not simply abstract blog material.
I’v gone on for too long on this, but simply because it’s significant, and I’m hoping we are all preparing for the tidal-wave-like repercussions that will follow.
- There’s lots of links in the article that are super important. Read those first.
- Website for the Large Hadron Collider: http://public.web.cern.ch/public/en/LHC/LHC-en.html
- Make sure to check out yesterday’s photoset on funny higgs-boson/religion meme’s.
- Great question/answer style video on the nightmares and dreams of the Large Hedron Collinder facility (where the Higgs-Boson was verified): http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/25356219/ns/technology_and_science-science/t/nightmares-dreams-surrounding-lhc/#.UAcWyLSe6So
- Deepak Choptra on Higgs-Boson being deep interconnectedness with God: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JfQSkaktJOc