December 21, 2011

Explaining the God particle

Michael Gerson writes  The search for the God particle goes beyond mere physicsT

The God particle — really the Higgs boson — still resists confirmation, though scientists at the Large Hadron Collider recently reported “tantalizing hints” of its existence. They also reject the notion that their search has anything to do with God, which is only technically true.

Modern physics can explain just about everything, except why anything has mass. The Standard Model of physics, which emerged four decades ago, employs an elegant mathematical formula to account for most of the elemental forces in the universe. It correctly predicted the discovery of various leptons and quarks in the laboratory.

But the equation doesn’t explain gravity. So the Standard Model requires the existence of some other force that seized the massless particles produced by the Big Bang and sucked them into physicality. The detection of Higgs bosons would confirm this theory — which is why scientists are smashing protons into one another in a 17-mile round particle accelerator and picking through the subatomic wreckage.

 Cern Inside
The Large Hadron Collider at CERN

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Not only does the universe unexpectedly correspond to mathematical theories, it is self-organizing — from biology to astrophysics — in unlikely ways. The physical constants of the universe seem finely tuned for the emergence of complexity and life. Slightly modify the strength of gravity, or the chemistry of carbon, or the ratio of the mass of protons and electrons, and biological systems become impossible. The universe-ending Big Crunch comes too soon, or carbon isn’t produced, or suns explode.
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One reasonable alternative — the one advocated by Louis — is theism. It explains a universe finely tuned for life and accessible to human reason. It accounts for the cosmic coincidences. And a theistic universe, unlike the alternatives, also makes sense of free will and moral responsibility.

This is not proof for the existence of God. But the conflict here is not between faith and science; it is between the competing faiths of theism and materialism, neither of which can claim to be proved by science. Modern physics has accelerated smack into the limits of the scientific method. It raises questions it cannot answer but that human beings cannot avoid — matters of meaning and purpose. This is not a failure of science, just a recognition that measurement is not the only source of meaning.
Posted by Jill Fallon at December 21, 2011 6:19 PM | Permalink