A man was searching for something at night just outside his front door. His wife stepped out, wondering what was going on. He said, “I have lost my keys.” “Where do you think you dropped them?” she asked. He told her, “About halfway down the driveway.” Confused, she said, “Well, why are you looking for them on the front porch?” “Because the light is so much better up here!” he said.
When it comes to searching for something more complex, like the origin of the universe, it is very tempting to make the same choice as the man looking for his keys. People often feel drawn to look for answers where the light seems the brightest—where they can see and measure–even if it does not get them closer to solving why there is something instead of nothing in the first place.
Two simple ideas shape how we approach this question of where everything came from. And they are mortal enemies…The first one assumes we learn about the origin of “stuff” by looking only at the stuff itself. The other premise assumes nothing comes from nothing, so “stuff” must have come from something other than stuff.
The Higgs-boson particle is the latest theory that begs this question. Popularly, it has been dubbed the “God Particle,” because it seems to be the final piece of the particle puzzle. It is presumably the smallest bit of stuff out of which everything else is made. For those who consider only what is measurable (where the light seems brightest) to explain the origin of the universe, this discovery is the final nail in the coffin of faith. For them, it suggests that stuff is just, well, stuff.
However, there is a very basic principle of science that gets ignored when it comes to how we approach science itself. It is called the Heisenberg principle, which in a layman’s terms says that our observation of something has an affect on what we are trying to observe. For example, while hiking in western NC, I stumbled upon a group of falcon researchers. Their great challenge was to observe without being noticed so that the falcons would behave naturally.
Like those researchers among the falcons, our assumptions influence the conclusions we draw about the origin of the universe. So, I wonder why a true scientist would rule out the possibility that stuff may have been created? To dismiss this idea simply because it cannot be measured colors the things we can measure, like the Higgs-boson. It tends to turn new data into proof of what is already assumed. It shoots the arrow first and then draws the target later.
According to Heisenberg, shouldn’t we question the affect of our assumptions upon what we observe? It would seem more intellectually honest to do so.
Don Warrington says
I think many people in the physics community rue the day that the Higgs Boson was dubbed the “God Particle.”
No doubt, Don. Thanks for your comment. And I don’t want to paint scientists with too
broad a brush. At the same time, science is so stuck in the doctrine of naturalism. I understand
it is tough to get traction in academic science w/o kowtowing to the gods of earth, wind, and fire!
The term, “God Particle” is much more popular with media, struggling to hype something way too complicated for their readers to understand, than it is with actual scientists.
No scientist out there is attributing divine properties to this particle…it is simply the final piece of the puzzle in the Standard Model – a schema that allows scientists to try to explain what matter really is. The Standard Model has been a long for a long time and scientists have had an idea of what types of properties and behaviors this “God Particle” would have long before the recent “discovery”. This is in no way firing an arrow and painting a target around it. The target has been there…we just haven’t had equipment sensitive enough to see the arrow.
I have toes in both camps, science and Christianity. I’ve found that the most stubborn, biased, and inflexible people live in the church because they are told over and over that science = Satan. Learning about how God made matter is put together is somehow blaspheming the One who put it all together.
Are scientists perfect…no. Are Christians perfect…no. They are both searching for the truth in a world that is too big and complicated for our feeble minds understand. They use different means and many times draw different conclusions…but I think the areas in which they truly conflict are far fewer than both sides would admit.
Thanks Chris. Very good observations and context. To clarify, the image of drawing a target after shooting an arrow explains how assumptions tend to color our view of new discoveries. I’m confronting the false premise that equates good science with the worldview of Naturalism. Naturalism discounts even the possibility that things like irreducible complexity in nature may have been designed. Discounting the possibility of design is simply a reflection of a set of prior assumptions, not evidence. I’m glad you weighed in.