The God Particle

Not long ago, CERN announced that the Large Hadron Collider produced evidence of the Higgs Boson, a fundamental particle Peter Higgs predicted in 1964, and was a major missing piece from the Standard Model. In order to explain mass, and thus why certain particles differ in mass, which in turn influences things like why the Weak Force (carried by particles that have mass) and electromagnetism (carried by photons, which don’t) are different forces with different properties. A big deal for physicists, but somehow it generated a lot more attention in the general media than such things usually do.

The reason for this is that Leon M. Lederman wanted to sell books. (Or maybe it was his co-author Dick Teresi. Either way, he jokes that the publisher vetoed his original title “The Goddamn Particle”) Lederman named his popularization of the relevant science, “The God Particle: If the Universe is the Answer, What Was the Question?” And so, people mistakenly thought the discovery implied something significant the Big Bang vs. Literal Genesis debate. It does provide one big piece of the Big Bang puzzle, it explains how a high energy “soup” too energetic to be thought of in terms of different particles divided the way it did.

But the discovery says nothing about Creation, despite rhetoric otherwise. The scientists who write such things (but I think most scientists are still theists or at least deists) are battling paganism. They think that we believe in Thor to get a handle on thunder and Poseidon justifies the moods of the sea. A “God of the Gaps” who is there to explain all the bugaboos of a world we don’t understand. And therefore they think that the more they explain scientifically, the less space is left for G-d.

Many Creationists defend their position by distinguishing between “science”, the stuff they can’t deny and depend upon for medicine and engineering, and “scientism”, the stuff they disagree with. Without a rigorous definition of “scientism”, that’s really all it can boil down to. So here’s my proposed definition:

Science is a methodology for reaching and testing theories about the empirical world, and the current collection of resulting theories. It has a limited domain of study — it is only the empirical and it only deals in the repeatable. Scientism is the belief that there are no truths outside of science’s domain of inquiry. In other words, it’s correct to say that belief in a Creator is unscientific, because G-d is neither empirical, nor is He constrained to follow natural law that we could repeat experiments in a laboratory to get predicted results. It is incorrect and becomes scientism when the person saying he thinks that saying “the notion of G-d is unscientific” has anything to do with the fact that there actually is One.

Thus, paganism’s “god of the gaps” is based on the same error as scientism; both are founded on the notion that religion and science are competing explanation systems. One overreaches religion, the other overreaaches science.

Science itself stands on the culture built by monotheism — the notion of One G-d, One Designer, One Maker, who had One Plan. There is no reason to assume a Grand Unified Theory or a Theory of Everything if it weren’t that even the atheists among them come from a culture that saw the Hand of G-d in creation. The main role of such religion is to explain “why” and what ought to be, though belief in One Creator is what led us to expect an elegant answer to “how” and what is.

And so, when science reveals more wisdom within nature, more design, gets one step closer to unity, it is actually reaffirming faith, not providing an alternative.

The Higgs Boson is like a beautiful sunset. An opportunity to gape open-jawed at the incredible Wisdom of the Designer. “מָה-רַבּוּ מַעֲשֶׂיךָ ה, כֻּלָּם בְּחָכְמָה עָשִׂיתָ; מָלְאָה הָאָרֶץ קִנְיָנֶךָ — How wondrous are Your works, Hashem!”(Tehillim 104:24)

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  1. Shlomo Argamon says:

    A great analogy due to Moshe Koppel, in commenting on a book by Daniel Dennett, one of the big atheism-boosters of our day, is that thinking that science obviates religion is like understanding how the lighting and mechanisms on a theater stage work and thus thinking that you understand the play.

    • micha says:

      A similar error is to think that knowing that it’s normal for 102 year old men to die obviates the need to explore why R’ Elyashiv happened to die just now and what is it Hashem is trying to elicit from us with it.

      • Bob Miller says:

        Micha, what would you suggest?

        • micha says:

          Wouldn’t the question on what Hashem is trying to elicit from us depend on who “us” is in ways I don’t know you personally well enough to answer? The gemara says “yefashpeish bemaasav”, it asks you to take an internal inventory of your actions, or perhaps omissions (the last possibility suggested in the gemara is bitul Torah). A quick-and-easy answer is inherently wrong.

          • Bob Miller says:

            So you’re saying that every Jew should react according to what he can determine about his own spiritual condition, but there is no way to generalize further?

          • micha says:

            What he can determine in light of how he reacts to the event. Yes.

            Many of us are not capable of this, and we need mentors. And many of us don’t have such mentors, so rabbis who lead communities might help a pathetic shadow of the ideal process along by speaking about reactions and issues he sees as common among those who choose to look to him.

            But I don’t think what I’m saying is novel. It’s the gemara that calls upon the person to explore his own deeds, not me.

          • Bob Miller says:

            I’m thinking of a sequence like this:
            1. Gut reactions to event
            2. Reflections as what personal corrections should follow
            3. React to reflections by doing something

  2. Shlomo Argamon says:

    Indeed. “maasav”, and not “maasei acherim” (others’ actions). A principle often overlooked.

    • micha says:

      I would say that’s the biggest of three mistakes people make.

      The second is that people just pick whatever sticks out in the mind, instead of an actual pishpush bemaasav and thinking about where the real problems lie.

      The third is to think that because I am obligated to harness my response to a tragic event constructively, to find what it motivates me to improve and make that improvement, that implies that there is some causal connection. That the sin I am looking to do teshuvah is being blamed as the cause of the tragedy.

  3. micha says:

    Y’all seem more interested in my earlier post He Should Inspect His Deeds, on the gemara I’ve been citing.

    This post intended to make a point that I don’t want buried, that understanding the world scientifically ought to bolster our faith, not challenge it. Yes, there is overlap with the idea of understanding disease medically and yet still treating it as an Act of G-d. But this post intended to be more positive than that.

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