Whichever may be the current seven wonders of the world, there is now a new entrant. The Large Hadron Collider, built by the Cern laboratory at Geneva, was scheduled to start operations on 10 September. Potentially it could change our whole picture of the universe and take us right into the heart of what happened at the Big Bang.
The LHC is a particle accelerator, a 27 kilometre ring, designed to bring about collisions by protons travelling near to the speed of light. Such collisions will yield particles, or traces of particles, some of which have been foreseen but never seen, and perhaps others of whose existence we presently have no clue. The premier quest is for the Higgs boson, sometimes called the “God Particle”. The Higgs boson should explain how the basic building blocks of matter acquire mass. The LHC is an extraordinary feat of engineering and science: in itself a tribute to the massive potential of the human brain. If its initial runs have not started a chain reaction which destroys the universe (not impossible) we must still expect months and years of work before solid results can be analysed and established.
The phrase “God particle” makes us think. Do we, or others, suspect that one day we will know of a universe which does not require the creative hand of God? Some may remember Yuri Gagarin’s return from the first manned space flight in 1961, which apparently proved that there was no Heaven since he had failed to find it. But we may take some consolation from the fact that the proponent of the Big Bang theory, in the teeth of scientific orthodoxy, was Georges Lemaître, a Belgian Catholic priest.
Another wonder of the world, intellectual rather than monumental, is the Darwinian theory of evolution. There seems to be little doubt that it provides the spine of our understanding how living matter and the different species came about. Of course there are missing links because of lack of fossil record, but the number of these reduce, as new discoveries are made.
Meanwhile our recent ability to chart the genome of different organisms has provided much new evidence to support the theory. Its mechanisms are considerably more complex than Darwin thought, or as the popular mind understands it. The ways in which the genes interact are difficult to unravel, and we are really only on the threshold of exploring the gene modifiers, which can make identical genes behave in dissimilar ways. Scientists are beginning to understand the part that viruses (effectively little roaming packets of genetic material) play in the process, and there are credible theories about how they may have brought about the initial formation of cellular life. All this has led many to infer that our own species is no more than an outcrop of the higher apes, and that human intelligence and faculties are just the latest – but not necessarily the last – stage of the basic evolutionary process. God has become a surplus hypothesis.
No less startling is our growing understanding of the brain, which has been much facilitated by new methods of scanning its operation. Our temperaments, our tendencies, our emotions, our perceptions, our decisions are all being charted in the different and connected functions of the brain. It would seem that all we call human – from freedom of the will to our aspirations towards the true and the good – are no more than the outcome of synapses firing at the behest of this vastly complicated organ fashioned by evolution. And what we have not yet charted we will chart at an accelerating pace in the future. Is God part of the picture?
To which of course the answer must be: no.
Think of the relationship between a picture and its artist. In the picture the artist expresses himself in many ways. But he remains outside it, or perhaps we could say that he transcends it. If the characters in the picture could, in our fancy, observe and think, they might glean some limited ideas about the artist. They could even discern some simple facts about him: that he must exist or they would not exist might be such a fact; that he has a sense of colour and harmony might be another. But although the conclusions may be true they are crude and indirect – the true nature of the artist can never be understood by the characters which he has created.
You can see where this analogy is going. We are the characters whom God has painted, and we can no more see God in his divine nature than the characters can see the human nature of the artist. Of course the analogy is not complete because God has communicated with his characters through Revelation, and most particularly through the Incarnation. But there are still limits. When Jesus says to Philip, “He who has seen me has seen the father”, Philip cannot see the divine nature directly. What he can see is the fullest image of the divine nature that is accessible to man, through the person of Jesus.
So we delight in the work of the Hadron Collider because it will tell us more about how the divine artist painted his picture. We welcome the deeper understanding of evolution, and the construction of the mind – wondering at the ingenuity and economy of the process of creation. But most of all we are aware of a privilege never given to the character in a painting: we are offered a reciprocal relationship with the artist who created us. Today we see him darkly: one day it will be face to face.
I wonder whether Secondsight readers find this analogy helpful. Analogies are always limited, and you may be able to think of a better one. Sceptics think that we believe that God is just the ultimate superhuman, and part of the universe. Does the way we speak of God contribute to this misunderstanding? And it may be that our scientifically trained readers can contribute more information to this topic.
The result of quantum physics experimentation still requires interpretation and there is the rub. A Wikipedia entry states the following:
“An interpretation of quantum mechanics is a statement which attempts to explain how quantum mechanics informs our understanding of nature. Although quantum mechanics has received thorough experimental testing, many of these experiments are open to different interpretations . There exist a number of contending schools of thought, differing over whether quantum mechanics can be understood to be deterministic, which elements of quantum mechanics can be considered “real”, and other matters.”
“Most physicists don’t think quantum mechanics needs interpretation. More precisely, they think it only requires an instrumentalist interpretation. In the philosophy of science, instrumentalism is the view that concepts and theories are merely useful instruments whose worth is measured not by whether the concepts and theories are true or false (or correctly depict reality), but by how effective they are in explaining and predicting phenomena. This is really interesting because this was the ancient Greek approach to science to simply “explain the phenomena.” eg. cycles and epicycles of Ptolemy to explain the motion of the heavens.”
“But it is also true that most physicists consider non-instrumental questions (in particular ontological questions) to be irrelevant to physics. They fall back on David Mermin’s expression: “shut up and calculate” often attributed (perhaps erroneously) to Richard Feynman.”
Are these sub-atomic particles which no longer obey the laws of Newtonian physics and are presented via complex/abstract mathematical formulae real? Is there any ontological substratum and what is it? Of course this involves the nature of mathematics and what it reveals about reality? What is being measured in quantum physics? An aspect of matter? The experimental system? How much of these mathematical formulae are simply beings of reason useful for prediction and real only in that sense?
Moreover in terms of God how would any substratum of matter yield a “God-particle” which would be a self-sufficient explanation of all other matter? Where did the “God-particle” come from? By its very nature these tools of physics are useless in terms of spiritual being. You certainly do get the impresssion that in the world of science and in the culture of academe that the God-question is irrelevant or settled but again these are often enlightenment prejudices which start from a materialist a priori wherein it is assumed science explains itself by its “results.”
Certainly it’s a good analogy, Quentin. Dorothy L. Sayers uses a similar one, with God as playwright (and actor-manager?). We are told these days that the universe, though beginning with the ‘Big Bang’, didn’t necessarily have a first moment (no, I can’t make sense of this, either): also, that the universe is the kind of thing that might arise spontaneously in accordance with physical laws. But this still leaves the physical laws, as well as the substrate to which they apply, to be accounted for: and the older idea of God continuously creating and maintaining the world (as opposed to starting it off and leaving it to get on with things) fits well here.
Why is the Higgs boson nick-named the ‘God particle’? I suspect it’s just because verifying that it exists will supply a missing part in the “Theory of Everything”, thereby reducing the need for supernatural explanations of natural phenomena. It’s a kind of ‘particle of the gaps’. It’s not a good name, because it oversells the particle’s importance (maybe not to physicists, but to the world at large) and downgrades God.
Yes, I think “God particle” orginated as a kind of tabloid popularisation. Higgs, of course, is still alive – but retired. Although he was the orginal proponent of the need for such a particle, he gives much credit to the other physicists who did all the hard work that came later.
If one assumes that there was nothing before the Big Bang, then it makes sense to say that it did not occur in an instant of time, since time has no meaning in nothingness. Time, in our perception, starts then with the Big Bang.
I was very taken with Frank Sheed’s account (Theology and Sanity) of creation. Ordinary things tend to persist, subject to the second law of thermodynamics, because they are made out of material, e.g., wood, metal etc. So even if they were destroyed they would revert to their original constituents. But God made creation through his will out of nothing. Thus, were God to withdraw his will, the universe would revert to its orginal substance: nothing.
I wonder how Professor Dawkins would feel about the thought that his existence depends, from moment to moment, on the active will of God.
Good point about the God Particle being a media hook. The Big Bang started absolutely Everything, and the universe has been winding down ever since. Even finding the elusive boson will only be the latest piece in the puzzle, I think.
Some of the silliest atheistic nonsense comes from an inability to conceive of absolutely nothing: can you imagine no time and no space? It’s like asking, ‘What part of a cone is beyond its point?’, and probably the closest Physics gets to a Zen koan. But I digress.
Stephen Hawking imagines singularities springing in and out of existence like bubbles in boiling water, providing the necessary iterations to allow for our universe to arise by chance. Bubbles of what? In what medium? How do the bubbles not run into each other? What ensures that they all vary? What created the time, space and energy necessary for the existence of the bubbles? There are no answers to any of these questions, but the multiple universes idea is duly trotted out again and again, by rabid religion-haters all over.
Even worse is when someone says, ‘The universe exists because otherwise we wouldn’t’ (though it’s never put so baldly), which is just confusing enough to seem profound. At first sight.
Much simpler to follow the evidence where it leads: We can’t tell what there was before the Big Bang, because there wasn’t a ‘before’ – therefore whatever caused the primordial Event (and it’s at least logical to assume there was a cause), must necessarily be outside of all space and time – which just happens to be the diefinition of God. Dawkins’ question ‘What created God’ becomes utter tosh. If the universe has a cause, we could not possibly know anything about it unless it was revealed to us somehow, by that cause itself.
Another problem is that there are certain questions raised by observations which are carefully ignored by currents of thought within the science industry: the relationship between the mind and the brain, for example, which is rife with cosy hyoptheses derived from carefully contrived data.
No doubt some will say I’m being cynical. I prefer to think I’m accounting for original sin.
It is a search for the material.
I don’t believe God created the universe. God is just there.
Quentin raises 3 points and asks “Is God part of the picture?”
Evolution is simply a way of understanding HOW God created (or might have created) animals and man.
The theory parallels the account in Genesis quite closely. (I don’t see the point of ‘Creationism!’.)
The Big Bang.
The ‘Big Bang’ is a way of describing HOW the universe developed (or might have developed) into what we see today and may see tomorrow. The Higgs Boson is simply a very important part of that description.
However when we start to think of ‘time’ as a dimension then we start thinking ‘outside of time and space’ – as James H says ” – which just happens to be the definition of God.” (Well not quite but I get the picture).
[btw Quentin – “But God made creation through his will out of nothing. Thus, were God to withdraw his will, the universe would revert to its orginal substance: nothing.”
From a point of view outside of time this doesn’t make sense!]
The functioning of the Brain.
As I have already indicated I am not worried by “. . . at the behest of this vastly complicated organ fashioned by evolution.”
Nevertheless any discussion of the functioning of the brain leads to a discussion of ideas like ‘consciousness’ and ‘free will’ and these are not readily dismissed as merely HOW God created the brain.
At this stage I think that God must be introduced as ‘part of the picture’.
I agree with your point about time. There is a disjunction between our experience of time (from moment to moment) and God who is constant in his will. But I don’t think it’s possible to express this in human terms.
Consciousness, free will (and I would add our perception that we have the obligation to follow the good and reject the evil) are not, I would hold, elements which can be explained through brain biology, although brain biology is a necessary vehicle in our current state. The divine artist paints his characters in his own image and likeness. But these are presented to us in the ways in which we can, in limited ways, be truly like God. But being like is not the same as being identical, which would be pantheism. This is natural man of course. Redeemed man, as I implied in the column, is an aspect in which my analogy shows its limtations. This requires further thought; perhaps you could come back on this.
If we all go to the sun after we die and become one, sustaining those living with saints becoming the stars granting the dreams of the living then the experiments calling the universe this or that don’t seem to take in the fact that rocks here on earth breathe . Keeping the sciences of seeing and physics connected for reasons such as following the good feeling leads to technical torturing. Where does the soul of a lab rat end ? Usually back in a white coat.
Consciousness and free will are not elements which can be explained through brain biology.
I agree and that is what I meant by saying “At this stage I think that God must be introduced as ‘part of the picture’.”
When studying brain functioning even in a strictly secular and scientific way some fascinating controversies arise which are connected with our perception of time.
Kornhuber’s experiment [ Deeke, L., Grötzinger, B., and Kornhuber, H.H. (1976) “Voluntary finger movements in man: cerebral potentials and theory.'” Biol Cybernetics, 23, 99]
EEG records from human subjects who were asked to flex the R index finger suddenly at a time of their own choosing show that a potential builds up a second or more before the willed act.
Duplicating this study on myself, as far as I can tell by introspection, the change in the brain does indeed occur before the conscious decision to move the finger but it is very difficult to be certain exactly when the decision to flex is made.
A later experiment [ Libet, B., et al (1979) “Subjective referral of the timing for a conscious sensory experience.” Brain, 102, 193-224] on sensory rather than motor activity suggests that there is a delay of about half a second between a stimulus and conscious appreciation of it.
(I did not duplicate these latter experiments on myself because they require electrodes embedded in the brain! Nowadays I understand similar results can be obtained using fMRI techniques.)
Taken together [Penrose, R., (1989) “The Emperor’s New Mind” Oxford University Press, p439 et seq] these experiments suggest that it takes nearly two seconds to make a conscious response to an external stimulus – which is, of course nonsense – or is it?
This is interesting. By coincidence I had a similar experience this afternoon. I had been reading an interesting but dry book on a park bench and had got to a stage where I thought that I ought to stop soon, and return for tea. A few seconds later I found that I had clapped the book shut, but without any conscious decision at that moment. Is it possible that the brain prepares itself for action, and sometimes spills over into action with a decision being taken? It would be interesting to know of any studies involving, say, a sudden and completely unexpected noise, where the brain’s typical reaction to noise took place before it was heard. That would be strange indeed.
Whenever I start feeling like that I go to class and start sparring. With little kids ,women with experienced or inexperienced in form or not.
The fighters consciousness is prepared for everything the opponent can throw…then I get caught by a right sucker. Start all over.
The analogy of car design to different faiths …there’s a car lot near me sells Jags, LandRover’s and Aston Martins. I walk or bicycle everywhere but I love the Grand Design(s).
Along to the site comes Honda whilst waiting for their new site. Financial power oozing. The design is friendly , gentle and common. It fits in on this elite and elitist(?) site because of its original aim like others would not.
I get the same feeling as the 8:13 rectangle and the Principal Upanisads and the Holy Trinity -the intention is true always.
Libet’s later work, which extended Kornhuber’s observations suggests that freely voluntary acts are initiated unconsciously and this therefore might indeed “spill over into action”, without any conscious decision actually having been taken.
Peter Hankins quotes Libet as saying that when young he was convinced of the truth of determinist materialism, [but he] no longer believes that conscious mental activity is explainable by or reducible to, neuronal activity, although it certainly requires it.
All this work is about intentionality and consciousness.
Apropos the brain’s reaction to “a sudden and completely unexpected noise” taking place “before it was heard” – if by “brain’s reaction” you mean detectable electrical activity and by “heard” you mean consciously appreciated, this is what would be expected and the suggested delay between the noise (with its response, which occurs in about 100 milliseconds) and the conscious appreciation of the noise, is predicted to be about half a second (500 milliseconds)!
You yourself in a free state, daydream the conversation.
In probability, as its you dreaming, you are in charge 8:13 of the co operative dream.
When you moot something you withdraw the accusative , detatching it to the finished probable secenario.
The spoken answer is irrelevant and the 5:13 respondent is the only one who can unexpect a noise.
Horace, I think I’ve got you clear on this. It must take time, however minute, for a stimulus to travel from the sensory nerve to the processing system in the brain. What I was after, and didn’t explain very well, was the possibility of mounting an experiment which would test whether unconscious brain activity could precede a decision which had not at that time been consciouly made or even expected. If it were it would appear that the brain could “foresee” a decision, which might then become determined by it. That would be very odd.
Quentin, when you closed your book (sitting on the park bench) you already had the general intention of stopping reading and going home for tea “some time around now”. Looking introspectively for a moment of conscious decision may be looking for a mirage.
I also feel that these “voluntary finger movement” experiments are not very enlightening. They don’t resemble any sort of decision one makes in real life, – whether it’s a relatively trivial decision such as exactly when to stop reading and go home for tea, or a decision with a moral element to it such as whether to hit someone who’s annoying you or turn your back and walk away, or something which will have long-term implications for your whole life.
(I have just looked back to see how we got here from the starting-point of God and the Big Bang… I am not much the wiser).
One element in my book-closing experience was that I was surprised by the clap of the book closing – without my conscious decision. Which doesn’t of course negate your explanation in any way.
Yes, I don’t know how we got here. But I have come to see this blog much as a group of friends discussing matters which catch our attention. And so we allow ourselves to wander a bit. I rather enjoy that.
The more I read about the Big Bang and all the scietific explanations of the unexplainable that go into the realms of fantasy and scientific goobledgook the more I appreciate that bit that Jesus spoke of when he gave praise to his Father for hiding these things from the wise and learned and giving them to mere children, ‘For yes, Father, that is what it pleased you to do.’
I know the purists among us will tell me he was speaking of something different but as he did talk about Adam and Eve and he was there from the beginning I think he just edges it over Darwin et al.
Time never has existed it is a purely human concept but it has been welded into a ready explanation of things unexplainable. It goes something like this : ‘When in doubt add a few more million years onto what was written in the last scientific journal on the subject. That should do it!’
The nickname ‘God Particle’ for the Higgs boson was always a scientific joke. The Higgs is, in fact, a deus ex machina. Without it, the other particles of the Standard Model would have no rest mass.
It is the Higgs Field, that is supposed to fill all of space, that gives particles such as electrons and quarks (the latter making up the protons and neutrons of atomic nuclei) their inertia. The Higgs boson is associated with this field in the same way that the photon is associated with the electromagnetic field.
Do any of these particles, or fields, exist? In spite of all their quantum weirdness, yes. After all, we exist, and we are made of them! In the mass, their weirdness settles down into Newtonian rectitude.
The Universal Clock read t = 0; the radius of the visible Universe was R = ct = 0 (where c is the speed of light). That was the ‘moment’ of the Big Bang. Physics and physical laws only happen after that moment.
But where do the physical laws come from? How come they are so conveniently logical, mathematical and comprehensible? And how come the laws and the values of the various physical constants and ratios are so precisely attuned to the development of life in the Universe?
Sir Martin Rees, the President of the Royal Society and Astronomer Royal, and those who think like him, argue that there are a multitude of Universes, and it’s just pot-luck that we happen to be in one that’s suitable for life. No need to invoke God.
Suppose, on the other hand, and applying Occam’s razor to all these unseen worlds, that it is God who set off the Big Bang, framed all the physical laws, fine-tuned all the physical constants, and keeps the whole thing in being? Professor Dawkins won’t have that, of course – he will rail and rant against the very idea.
I think you, Quentin, were being a bit over-generous to Charles Darwin and his view of evolution. Darwin’s theory is based on the idea of the natural selection of random mutations – Dawkin’s ‘blind watchmaker’. That makes evolution a matter of gambling in Las Vegas. If your luck is in, fine. If it isn’t, tough.
There is no question but that random mutations do occur – and there are virtually without exception harmful to the organism. The theory leaves God out of the picture. If we allow Him back in, where He belongs, we can see that an evolutionary process guided by the hand of God makes very much more sense than one that is simply left to pure chance.
As for the discussion of issues surrounding consciousness and intentionality – can I simply point out that a great deal of our mental activity is either un- or semi-conscious? For example, the goalkeeper making a save in a football match has to make a fantastic number of mathematical calculations in order to be able to make the save. His brain does it for him, rapidly, and he is totally unaware of the fact.
The human brain has 100 billion neurons, each one of which has an average of 7000 synaptic connections. It is an incredibly complex piece of biological machinery, and we are a long way from understanding all of its secrets. However, the brain and the mind are not the same thing, and those of us who advocate dualism have yet to come up with a satisfactory account of the way in which the two interact. Maybe Sir Roger Penrose is right, and quantum mechanics supplies the answer, but somehow I doubt it! (See his ‘The Emperor’s New Mind’ for an account of his theory of consciousness.)
Just as a footnote to the useful description above, and to an earlier question, I read in New Scientist this week that Leon Lederman (physicist and Nobel Prize) is credited with calling it that “godammed particle”. But his publisher, for reason of prudence and publicity, changed this to “God particle”. Can’t vouch for the truth of this, but it sounds plausible.
iona: When studying a very complex subject it behooves us to study the least complicated situations first and a voluntary finger twitch is about as simple as it gets!
claret: Science is not about explaining the unexplainable with fantasies but reliably describing how things work in the simplest possible way.
Perhaps we should remember that when Benedict XIV met Hans Kung in 2005 he “reaffirmed his agreement with Professor Kung’s attempt to revive the dialogue between faith and the natural sciences, and to assert the reasonableness of and need for ‘Gottesfrage’ (the question of God) to scientific thought.”
Apologies if I do science an injustice but can science really explain everything? Is there nothing left to discover?
Perhaps one of the things it cannot explain satisfactorily is the creation of the Universe or even the creation of the earth. Unable to do so ‘simply’ ( as you put it,) they do indeed fantasise, with time. ( When I was a at school the earth was supposedly, if I recall correctly , several hundred thousand years old.) Nowadays its age has been added to by several hundred million years and is still growing! While it is very impressive to read all the theories and mathematical calculations etc. I prefer to believe in a God who was always there rather than those scientists who would exclude him but weren’t there.
I might also add that the Catholic Church is wrong, in my opinion, to be so quick to accept the theory of evolution as though it was self evident, when science itself casts doubts on it.
The word was with God should be a good enough theory for the Church to adopt.
Is it useful, at this stage, to remind ourselves of the salient points?
1) I take it that we are generally agreed that God created the universe. He is transcendent to it,
2) If he willed the end, then he must have willed the means. What those means are is a secondary question.
3) The Genesis account is truthful but we have to remember that it was described in the terms of a pre-scientific people who had the natural habit of describing their understanding through stories. We should look for the inner meaning rather than a quasi scientific account, impossible to its authors.
4) The modern sciences give a plausible and well evidenced account of biological evolution. It is not complete – and probably never will be. It is the nature of science to converge towards the truth, but no good scientist will claim absolute and immutable truth. Anyone is free to put forward alternative theories (or variations on the generally accepted theories) but if they do not provide commensurate evidence such theories are gratuitous.
5) Science cannot explain certain questions such as how something came out of nothing, or spiritual concepts such as freewill and moral responsibility. This is because it can only deal with propositions for which empirical evidence can, in principle, be discovered.
6) Some scientists claim that no truths can be expressed meaningfully unless empirical evidence is, in principle, available. However this claim itself cannot be evidenced empirically so this position is philosophically untenable.
7) In relating God’s creative design to a theory such as evolution, it is well to remember that what is a random mutation to us, is not random to God. Nor does he have any truck with the Uncertainty Principle at the sub atomic level. We do not know the answer, and may never know it, but he does. We must be wary of applying our anthropomorphic explanations to the transcendent divine mind.
8) No believer should be afraid of good science. It can only bring us nearer to the truth. Bad science should be refuted by good science or good philosophy.
And I don’t know how a little face appeared instead of No 8. Nor do I know how to excise it!
Going back to Quentin’s experience of surprise when he found he had clapped his book shut: perhaps the explanation is that at any one time we have a great many projects on the go (ranging from minor short-lived ones such as going home for tea to major ones extending over years such as career development). Having made the decision about going home sometime soon, Quentin’s mind moved on to focus on something else, and the “going home” project ran its course.
(I’ve written this once already and somehow managed to erase it from the screen while pondering over a comment on one of Horace’s comments, so I’ll submit this one quick before it disappears)
Horace – on 20th September – (doesn’t time fly?) Agreed that voluntary finger movements are very simple examples of decision-making in action, but they don’t resemble “real” decisions; – the motivation is different; – in real situations we are motivated by wanting something or feeling we ought to do something. With voluntary finger movement experiments our motivation is complying with the experimenter’s request, not moving a finger as such.
Iona’s comment at 8:53 pm. I have read recently that the tendency in the mind to lose track of a sequence of thought becomes more marked with age. And I certainly qualify as an older person. I am fine when I am able to focus on a sequence of events (particularly if they are of consequence) but I find that distractions cause me to lose track much more than used to be the case. This seems to fit in with her explanation.