Education

'God particle' refudiates religious right


By Robert Becker

Is “Higgs boson” a creative particle or energy field? Can we thus infer an “anti-God particle,” as anti-matter opposes matter, or dark energy battles gravity?

Any covenant with Godhead, in my book, comes down to Creation. Genesis, the source of time, space, and being; in short, existence. Especially our piddling existence. Without creation as we know it, we’d be deficient in mass, not even rocks; or with multiverse speculations, we could also be someone else, who knows where, gabbing with utter aliens. Because we esteem existence (over all the sorry alternatives), let us greet the New Year by honoring the force that could well have made something real out of, well, something not. The “God Particle.” Hallelujah!

If this particle is a particle. Could be more an energy or force field, but let’s not quibble yet about what stabilizes mass, from atoms to black holes. Hark, this herald angel sings, glory to the brand-new king, the Higgs boson “God particle,” as the media (and some scientists) sing forth. And good news, too, for all of our enlightened defiance against the noxious rearguard, a.k.a. Biblical literalism — folks “born-again” looking backwards, stuck in an outdated 2000 year-old, flat earth-centered time warp.

Without creation, what sort of enduring covenant could exist between the consciousness that dies, in short us, and something greater, higher, farther out? And more permanent we hope than rocks. Science is “tantalizingly close” to explaining man’s ultimate free-lunch quandary — what makes something from nothing (or chaos)? Fundamentalists, beware — here’s an ever-present catalyst that refudiates that humanized, Old Testament figure notorious for bad temper, non-negotiable demands, and playing favorites. On the line, if physics identifies the source of creation, boom goes the creditability for our most famous creation myth, part of our cultural, moralistic dogma to make tribes pray, shamans honored, and offspring obedient.

Outside is inside

Happily, the God Particle evokes no impatient, abstract father figure but the very catalyst that facilitates mass, as the glue-like Higgs boson, per one scientist, “surrounds us and penetrates us, binding the galaxy together.” Does not reality depend wholly on something that gives mass to the otherwise massless? Not Darwin, Freud nor Einstein introduced this ultimate root of the root, delivering a big-time, dope-smack to outdated Bronze Age creation fables.

Alas, even this breakthrough will not free fundamentalists from their most onerous fallacy. How can one tribe’s assemblage of texts, inscribed by fallen men as specified by the Eden story, be declared inerrant because they say so? How can anyone take on faith alone what every century since 1500 has progressively discredited as fable? Not only is the earth not fixed, flat nor immobile, we’re not the center of anything (except human ego); further, there’s no “up there” there for heaven, no species (with or without souls) that was created perfect and immutable, and DNA stamps our link to all other life. We are, in defiance of zealotry, the offspring of this earth, linked by proteins (and atoms, thus Higgs) to everything, and especially to everything that reproduces. All else is noise.

What rational being proposes a humanoid first mover who “in the beginning” out of the void “created the heavens and the earth”? That’s just so Old Testament, signaling the true “void” was human knowledge, lacking the technology, mindsets, and hard-won evidence that conveys orderly creation. We don’t look to the Bible for medical cures, shape of the earth, structure/motion of our solar system, genealogical precision, geographic accuracy, nor historical veracity. Why then swallow its take on creation hook, line and sinker?

Epic Battle: Knowledge vs. Ignorance

First breakthrough insight from the God particle: truth is not “out there, up there or far away,” but inside our elemental core, every atom, and every process that ultimately defines what human means. We exist only because quantum stuff, like quarks, got ordered into the push-pull of strong and weak forces in universal play. We think because something like the God Particle (or its cousins) organized energy (or fields) into mass, starting the pinball game of life, its own “ineluctable modality of the visible,” in James Joyce’s phrase.

The Bible isn’t only wrongheaded about the origin and structure of the universe, for me it presents an intellectual dead end. If some humanoid simply created everything — as a gift to his self-regard — then creation becomes an effect without an engaging, revelatory cause. Science now suggests “creation” is far older, and far more bewitching, than today’s novelty, that 19th C. marvel called Creationism. In the epic, unending battle between knowledge and ignorance — the only battle truly worth fighting for — science now takes on Creationists and the Rapture. The real, adult intellectual and spiritual action is not fixating Genesis, but distinguishing reality from delusional, solipsistic leaps of faith.

Confirmation of the Higgs boson (or related forces) complicates creation in all the right ways, without demolishing what we already know. Further, the Higgs, by informing mass, advances the great, remaining mystery — what causes gravity — allowing tantalizing peeks inside the inside. For those mystic-minded, the God particle reinforces notions of supersymmetry, proposing every known type of particle has an undiscovered twin. That helps physicists explain how elemental forces behaved when the universe was young. We’re not talking 5000 years ago either, but when stuff tussled across primordial, contending battlegrounds — some forces favoring connectedness (the order of the cosmos) and some “darker,” expansive, more entropic backing random movement.

Science the Great Unifier

This discovery so transcends Genesis we could have a whole new narrative bridging science with philosophy, even religion, for we embrace the architecture of order itself, with mass, direction, even implied values called meaning. Intriguingly enough, finding this God particle answers to predictions from the 1960s, just like anti-matter, predicted in 1928, was confirmed by 1932. Of course, attributing god-like attributes to quanta doesn’t disprove the existence of an ultimate power (a galactic force field) but we happily leave behind that paternalistic master of ceremonies evoking light and day and night as if a stage director with an infinite budget.

I have for years made noises that Godhead relates to electro-magnetism and atomic valance, for I come from an industry (high end audio) that applies electricity, electron flows, and shifting energy fields. Loudspeakers, for example, translate tiny electric pulses into the physical motion of sound waves re-created in your very room. Now we explore well beyond to ponder special catalysts, without any big guy in the sky, but how sub-atomic smithereens became you and me — and even those rigid fundamentalists down the street. Now that’s a unifying, reassuring winter solstice miracle that gets my blood flowing and my head reassured we may be more than just chemicals colliding. We are insightful creators ourselves.

18 replies »

  1. Robert, if you made an argument in all that mass of words to support your headline, I’m afraid I missed it. Would you kindly explain without all the highfalutin, flowery prose just how the discovery of the Higgs boson would repudiate the religious right and Genesis (at least, more so than astronomy, geology, and a host of other sciences already have)?

  2. Thanks for the good question (except that stuff about flowery prose, well I declare).

    Genesis attempts, with a now discredited fable, to explain how something came out of nothing, or a void, presumably once without mass, order or organization. I find it a dead-end story that starts and begins with Godhead, no questions asked. I object that people still believe it in a literal way, occurring 6000 years ago.

    Here, finally is the God particle scheme, a scientific hypothesis that does what hasn’t been done yet— explain the shift from energy fields (even if it’s a particle), from no-thing without mass or gravitational pull into mass and stuff visible to us. In short, one is an anti-science Creation narrative, provably distorted, and the other is a refreshingly testable narrative with immense promise to flesh in what Creation (in all practical terms for us) is about. Thus, science refudiates a wrong Creation story taken by those oblivious to metaphor as fact, in deed, as inerrant fact, whatever that is. Pick your poison. No, I agree, other scientific finding also refudiate bad religion, too. The more the merrier.

    Flowerless enough!:)!

  3. One more point-

    “Can we thus infer an “anti-God particle,” as anti-matter opposes matter, or dark energy battles gravity?”

    “Hark, this herald angel sings, glory to the brand-new king, the Higgs boson “God particle,”

    What you call flowery I call my attempt at wit or humor, or silly jokes. Levity, like wise thrift, cannot be overdone.

  4. Maybe we should look further than our western / middle east culture. If we look carefully in the traditions india was able to keep for several thousand years, we would find no contradictions between recent scientific discoveries and the sacred intuitions of the vedic literature. It’s just an invitation to look closer at a culture that invented the decimal system, the zero, and didn’t make mistakes thousand years ago in their calculation of the distances between earth and sun or moon. Their cosmology ( takes a few years to understand deeply) is beautifully consistant. But we do not need to change our culture. We just need to read again the Bible after understanding symbolic keys common in both east and west culture. Then only one might open the text, and rediscover the lost tradition. This tradition is totally compatible with science discoveries, since it links human mind structure and world structure. Einstein, Whitehead and Edison knew that.
    Have a look!

  5. Have a look where? What are one or two “symbolic keys” that will “rediscover the lost tradition”?

    I have no trouble with alternative Creation narratives, especially ones more aligned with today’s major belief system we call science, the experimental, observation method, and confidence in empiricism. I still find scientific horizons and breakthroughs more fascinating and with more reality than even less inaccurate Vedic imagery, poetry, whatever.

  6. I understand, though I do not completely agree. First since I think these sources of knowledge are complementary and both necessary I do not oppose them. I like science when it is about discovery, but as soon as it gets atheistic or militant it becomes a philosophical point of view and it stops being science. Same for religion, as soon as one reduces the symbolism of the tradition to an “objective” or materialistic understanding ( which is an interpretation shared by literalist fanatics or atheist militants…). it becomes superstition or worse, moral dogmatism.
    But one has to be fair. You cannot accept to take years of school to learn math and physics and then think it’s smart and take only a few hours to read a sacred text and think it’s simplistic.

    I suggest one checks the advaita vedanta philosophy and the writings of the hindu philosopher from the 8th century Shankara. It is a good entrance to this very complex tradition. It’s interesting for our subject ( Higgs), since it describes how absolute reality emanates ( and not creates) diversity, how space-time becomes movement, energy and than “mater’ , paralleling these objects to the emanation of name and form ( concepts). A very important difference with our monotheistic religions, is that eastern tradition do not have this historical /temporal causality complex, and that they do not believe in a “beginning”. So for them real means permanent and illusory means ephemeral. So most of what ex-ists is “illusion” and what is is real. Then speculating on what is is not an end nor a goal, the goal is to experiment it. But vedanta is a gnostic system, so it believes like science that knowledge is the path. Morality if any, is only a way to “clean” the tool for knowledge that is the body, like one would take good care to clean the mirror of Hubble telescope.

    For the exemple you ask for. Genesis in hebrew is “bereshit”. It begins with the letter Beth ( B) which is also a number ( 2, meaning duality). It has the hieroglyphic shape of a house ( think about bethlehem). It is said that the whole Torah ( Bible) is contained in the Bereshit word and that the word is contained in the first letter… Bereshit doesn’t only mean “in the beginning”, it can also be translated by “in principal”. Creation’s principal is duality, opposition, male female, plus minus… beyond 2 is Kether : the crown. Kether is the link between 1 and 000 (or infinity -“en soff”). Then the word it self is a composition of Bayit and R’osh ( house -principle) and also Berit ( alliance) and ‘Esh ( fire), or Shît Bara ( light and darkness) …. I could continue for ever, the tradition is huge… ( I used here the jewish tradition, but the persian tradition gives a lot of clues too). This just to show that virgin doesn’t mean biologically without sex and that Eve doesn’t mean woman… ( just to remind new born christians, that the bible was not written in English….)

    sorry to be so long ( hard to be synthetic here)

  7. What is truly fantastic for me is that the lost tradition, is now being expressed in scientific terminology and methodology. There is no opposition between what the sages or the rishis understood and what is expressed in your article. But now, what was perceived inwardly, is now calculated and measured outwardly. It is a fantastic jump in our knowledge. But I insist in the use of both ( spiritual inspiration) and rational up to date information. We westerners keep on making fun of the ignorance of our ancestors. Why not feel rooted, and see this beautiful continuity between now and before? Involution and evolution are both happening. I hate this progress ideology ( which is just a jonction of industrial bourgeois positivism and messianism)
    Why no see that we are reaching a ” high resolution” era, where early mythology is “the story-line” and science the details and the explanation? I think it”s a good way to approach human existential identity needs, poetic food for the mind and enlightened rational perception of reality.

  8. Thanks for the lesson in symbolic etymology and subsequent implications. Such analyses were just not part of my Ph.D. literary training! 🙂 I do recall that Bible comes from book and Torah from law and teaching but also with a possible sense of flowing forth. Too detailed for my wider sweep, and rather complicated.

    Re, your comments:

    “But now, what was perceived inwardly, is now calculated and measured outwardly.”

    No doubt, but I am used to Emerson, Whitman and Thoreau and American letters that attempt to bridge outside and inside, reason and intuition, even folks like Joe Campbell.

    “We westerners keep on making fun of the ignorance of our ancestors.”

    I don’t think educated westerners scoff at geniuses of the past, whether Shakespeare or Darwin, Freud, Marx, Newton, Plato, etc. I still read Homer’s The Odyssey (Fagles, trans.) every year or so and consider the “genesis” of western literature and poetry, the single book I would take to that isolated island. Certainly, religious folks honor past prophets and we honor past great patriots. But I agree many ignorant of history don’t know what happened a decade or two, consider FDR to be truly ancient history. There is no question that it would be healthy for science to acknowledge its theological aspects (and limitations to what it cannot cover), especially if/when some of our backward religious devotes would realize knowledge about spirit must be reconciled with truthful statements about the visible world. So if we don’t destroy ourselves, I agree overlap and resolution would be beneficial. But probably in only special places, not for general currency.

  9. The more I know, the more I know I don’t know, much of anything. I “feel” better as results of science. I drive my life based on the laws of physics, not on “rules of the road”.

    I do not express to my religious friends the fact that they may or may not have it right. Why would I try to take from them what makes them “feel” better?

    Every hundred years or so we all will look back and understand that we did nor understand.

    This earth centric view, the belief that this non descript pale blue dot and the life forms who live here are in any way special seems strange to me, but if that belief provides comfort to others, more power to you.

    We are so close to the primordial slimes we crawled up out of that to scream from the mountain top some great understanding of this or that is well……..

    I can only do simple math, like one and one equals two approximately.

    If you are still listening when I finish this perhaps you will “feel” better.

  10. Morally, we are still closer to belligerent, tribal animals (like a pack of lions protecting its territory) than the high-sounding religious readily assume, but we are also godlike in our use of science, tools and technology, One must be impressed at how much has been invented and how many millions live so much better than past kings, plus how much global damage we’ve done in, what, 200 years. We can argue trade-offs but the human-driven change is extraordinary in such a short time. I have been reading quotations from Carl Sagan, some applicable to your comment:

    “The idea that God is an oversized white male with a flowing beard, who sits in the sky and tallies the fall of every sparrow is ludicrous. But if by ‘God,’ one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God. This God is emotionally unsatisfying… it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity.”
    ― Carl Sagan

    “Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in an immensity of light‐years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty, and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual. So are our emotions in the presence of great art or music or literature, or acts of exemplary selfless courage such as those of Mohandas Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive does a disservice to both.”
    ― Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

    “How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant?” Instead they say, “No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.” A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.”
    ― Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

  11. Please leave the “word” “refudiate” where it belongs — on Sarah Palin’s ignorant tongue.

    Eschewing its use by the lettered will let it continue to serve as a flag to identify those who can’t even carry forward the elements of the spoken language.

    It is a frank bastard, born of the two parents “refute,” and “repudiate” — and it is quite unnecessary.

  12. Okay, how about God Particle a Death Panel to Genesis? With or without winks.

    Here I am writing about a theoretical thing, maybe a particle, maybe an energy field, that provides for me an enriched creation narrative — and you’re shredding my making fun of Biblical literalists who think the Garden of Eden, with talking serpent, was made 6000 years ago.

    By the way, half of me agrees with you. Refudiate is a vile phrase, as Polonious said about “beautifiedl”

    “That’s an ill phrase, a vile phrase. “Beautified” is a vile phrase.”

  13. Meh.

    The ongoing attempt to disprove and/or replace religion with science is a fool’s errand. First, it generally relies on a shallow understanding of religion; defining religion by Western Christianity of the last few hundred years and specifically American Christianity of the modern sort. Nico’s comments speak to this retarded understanding well, but fall on deaf ears in America where reading some Campbell qualifies as studying religion and book store shelves are populated by self-help Buddhism.

    The end result is that the crusaders for Science perpetuate the very same, fundamental flaw of the religion (i.e. modern, American Christianity) they battle against: anthropocentrism. It’s never acknowledged, buried beneath filigreed talk about beauty and complexity, but it’s there, encapsulated in the “We figured It out.”

    Returning to Nico’s comments, we simply figured it out differently than other people have figured it out long before us. Most of those who figured it out were religious thinkers, though not in our conception of religion because they weren’t plastering Jesus bumperstickers on their grocery getter. But our need to be the center of the universe gets expressed in the crowing about figuring it out with Science! So we should believe in Science, metaphysically speaking, because it will set us free or something. It’s modern and enlightened and empirical so long as we ignore some of the more profound teachings of science about objectivity.

    Which leaves us in the same position as the modern Christians who believe without practicing or understanding that which they believe in.

  14. We also don’t give our ancestors nearly the credit they deserve. We stand upon science to look into the past and declare known unknowns and unknown unknowns myth while relying on tiny slivers of evidence to declare our development as a species. And in most of the cases, we’re still relying on hundred year old science for the narrative of truth.

    Do we have a satisfactory answer for how our ancestors built the pyramids … and more importantly, the other, more technically difficult monuments in the vicinity? Uh, no. They cut, moved, and fitted with accuracy and precision considered too extreme for modern engineering. But they obviously didn’t understand Science like we do, because we’re the bestest monkeys evah!

    • Not sure I’m recommending, really. I’m only about 1/3 of the way through it and am wondering if there are people who know more about teh quantums than me who might afford me a reality check. He’s addressing some issues that are far from settled.