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Science

Life, Matter and the God Particle

Maya Bohnhoff | Oct 10, 2020

PART 15 IN SERIES Would You Vote for Science or God?

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Maya Bohnhoff | Oct 10, 2020

PART 15 IN SERIES Would You Vote for Science or God?

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

Many atheists believe that no Creator has ever existed—that instead, humans have invented a supernatural God to worship.

In the course of defending that atheist worldview during an Intelligence Squared debate several years ago, theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss and his teammate, Michael Shermer, advanced the motion that science actually refutes God. Krauss then offered an observation about his terminology:

“… the motion isn’t science disproves God. It’s science refutes God. And that’s very important because you can’t disprove a notion that’s basically vague and unfalsifiable.”

Laurence Krauss
Lawrence Krauss is an American-Canadian theoretical physicist and cosmologist who previously taught at Arizona State University and Yale University,.

According to the Oxford American dictionary, to ”disprove” is “to refute…” meaning “to prove (a statement or theory) to be wrong or false; disprove“. The words are synonyms. If science does not disprove God, it does not refute Him either, unless one decides that the word “refute” means something else here, which changes the footing of the dialogue.

Krauss also offers the opinion that God is a “notion that’s basically vague and unfalsifiable.” Of course, I could argue that the existence of the Higgs boson (ironically dubbed the “God Particle”) is equally vague and unfalsifiable; after all, the existence of such a sub-atomic particle, much like the existence of God, was posited only through inference, defined only by its attributes, and described only by experts in the field. In fact, the Higgs boson is not directly knowable even by experts—it can only be measured by its impact on particles that are knowable. Scientists have never seen it—they only know it exists by inference, by studying its effects.

Dr. Krauss and I share a significant belief that inference is a perfectly good scientific tool. Though neither of us has ever seen nor is likely to ever see a Higgs boson, we must trust that the specially-trained and equipped scientific authorities have measured it in some way. We must trust their testimony about the existence of the “God Particle” if we have faith that they do, in fact, possess the expertise to give that testimony.

Knowledge from authority is an idea familiar to people of faith. Krauss may object that authorities in physics proposing the existence of an unknowable God Particle is different than authorities in metaphysics proposing the existence of an unknowable God. But that is merely his opinion. The messengers and prophets claim a rather more direct experience with God than Higgs and company claim with the particle they proposed. Even I have a better chance of fact-checking claims of divine subject matter expertise than I do most scientific claims; and I can do it by applying the same tools that Krauss would use: observation, experience, experimentation, logic and rational inference.

Ironically, Krauss himself wrote an article on the Higgs boson that lays out the problem the find entails. I take the liberty of including a brief excerpt here:

In physics, too, we are uncomfortably close to what many of us would consider the nightmare scenario. The initial buzz of the Higgs discovery has faded, and now we face a monstrous hangover: What happens next? Briefly, the Higgs is an elementary particle predicted 50 years ago during the development of the standard model of particle physics. The standard model beautifully describes three of the four fundamental forces in nature and is one of the most remarkable theoretical constructions in the history of science. Specifically, the Higgs was predicted in order to provide a natural mechanism to explain what now appears to be an amazing cosmic accident: the fact that some particles have mass and others don’t. – The Higgs Boson Hangover, Slate, January 4, 2013. (emphasis added)

So, the existence of the “God Particle” was predicted (that is, inferred) to provide an explanation for something for which there was seemingly no explanation—a “cosmic accident.” But that is precisely what Krauss would be among the first to criticize religion for—predicting God as an explanation for certain features of the universe, such as natural laws and human intelligence.

Moreover, Krauss refers to the Higgs as a “remarkable theoretical construction” because the Higgs’ existence is not an empirical fact. Scientific propositions that are highly theoretical are often among the most important, because a number of other propositions depend on them—but they are also among the least supported by empirical knowledge.

Another significant case Dr. Krauss tries to make is that there are many faiths but only one physics. It’s true that there is only one real set of physical laws that we know of, but the interpretations of them by different “sects” of scientists vary. This is so much a parallel to religion that I was surprised that Ian Hutchinson—a physicist representing a religious point of view in the debate—failed to comment on it.

The scriptures of the Baha’i Faith teach that there is one God and one religion, progressively revealed. Even religions we have come to think of as polytheistic insist that there is One Supreme Spirit above all else. The ancient Egyptian Papyrus of Ani relates that:

God is one and alone, and none other existeth with Him—God is the One, the One who hath made all things….

Krishna, in the Bhagavad Gita, speaks in similar terms: “God is pure and ever one.…” The Buddha stated that “there is one truth, not two or three” and that all things are ”developing according to one Law”. Muhammad observed further that: “Knowledge is one point, which the foolish have multiplied.”

In other words, the reality of the universal laws and/or the universal Lawgiver are one; it is our conceptions of them that vary. The Baha’i teachings uphold that ancient wisdom:

The essentials of the divine religion are one reality, indivisible and not multiple. It is one. And when through investigation we find it to be single, we have a basis for the oneness of the world of humanity.

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Comments

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  • Coriolano Guarani-Kaiowá Correa
    Oct 12, 2020
    -
    Excellent article but I wish you could elaborate more on the clarification of the apparent difference between politheistic and monotheistic religions.
    • Oct 12, 2020
      -
      That's actually a great idea for an article and on one of my favorite subjects!
    • Oct 12, 2020
      -
      That's actually a great idea for an article and on one of my favorite subjects!
  • Coriolano Guarani-Kaiowá Correa
    Oct 12, 2020
    -
    Excellent article but I wish you could elaborate more on the clarification of the apparent difference between politheistic and monotheistic religions.
  • Michael Cavitt
    Oct 10, 2020
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    Thank you. This is a wonderful piece. I had a similar piece written by William Hatcher "The Scientific Proof of God".
  • Steve Eaton
    Oct 10, 2020
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    A super article, Maya. It's hard for me to see how anybody can ignore the preponderance of
    "suggestive" evidence of God. For me it far outweighs the limiting mechanistic measures of truth.
  • Shahin Sean Eghanian
    Aug 25, 2017
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    Very interesting. Just want to add that there is an important difference between the idea of God and the idea if the Higgs boson. People don't worship the Higgs boson and don't kill or ostracize the its nonbelievers, so the consequences of its non-observable character bear no moral dimensions.
    • Oct 12, 2020
      -
      If you've followed scientific discovery, you'll know that "heretics" are punished and ostracized in that are of human life as well. This is something humans do, regardless of the application.
    • Shahin Sean Eghanian
      Aug 25, 2017
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      Its nonbelievers*
      No moral dimensions when compared to God*
  • Hooshang S. Afshar
    Feb 24, 2017
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    Now we want to know what is the point of believing in God, that God is a real being? Does He have a plan for His Creation to have peace and justice for evermore?
  • Terry Tibando
    Feb 24, 2017
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    In other words, you can't prove a negative!
  • Feb 23, 2017
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    Love this article Maya, astute, clear, logical and irrefutable in many ways. You've described what is by its existence, regardless of the method by which we know it exists (such as God),
  • Marsha Waren
    Feb 23, 2017
    -
    Thank you for giving me a scientifically-based framework for thinking and talking about this increasingly important topic.
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