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Seth Zenz | Imperial College London | UK

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For the Higgs, No Theological Assistance Required

I like talking about science. I like talking about religion. I even like talking about the relationship and boundaries between the two. These are all fascinating subjects, with many questions that are very much up for debate, so I am very pleased to see that CERN is participating in an event in which scientists, philosophers, and theologians talk together about the Big Bang and other questions.

But this quote, at least as reported by the BBC, simply doesn’t make any sense:

Co-organiser Canon Dr Gary Wilton, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s representative in Brussels, said that the Higgs particle “raised lots of questions [about the origins of the Universe] that scientists alone can’t answer”.

“They need to explore them with theologians and philosophers,” he added.

The Higgs particle does no such thing; it is one aspect of a model that describes the matter we see around us. If there is a God, CERN’s recent observations tell us that God created a universe in which the symmetry between the photon and the weak bosons is probably broken via the Higgs Mechanism. If there is not, they tell us that a universe exists anyway in which the symmetry between the photon and the weak bosons is probably broken via the Higgs Mechanism. It doesn’t raise any special questions about the origins of the universe, any more than the existence of the electron does.

There are many interesting philosophical questions to ask about the relationships between models of scientific observations on the one hand, and notions of absolute Truth on the other. You can also talk about what happened before the times we can make scientific observations about, whether there are “other universes” with different particles and symmetries, and so on. Theologians and philosophers have much to say about these issues.

But in regard to searches for the Higgs boson in particular, the people we need to explore questions with are mostly theoretical physicists and statisticians.

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  • http://www.inklingbooks.com/ Michael W. Perry

    You’re right. The real issue has little to do with Higgs and I suspect those who called it the God Particle were only stressing the importance of finding it rather that it proved or disproved the existence of God.

    Far more directly relevant is the concept of a fine-tuned universe, which Wikipedia defines as:

    the proposition that the conditions that allow life in the Universe can only occur when certain universal fundamental physical constants lie within a very narrow range, so that if any of several fundamental constants were only slightly different, the Universe would be unlikely to be conducive to the establishment and development of matter, astronomical structures, elemental diversity, or life as it is presently understood. The existence and extent of fine-tuning in the Universe is a matter of dispute in the scientific community.

    And:

    The premise of the fine-tuned Universe assertion is that a small change in several of the dimensionless fundamental physical constants would make the Universe radically different. As Stephen Hawking has noted, “The laws of science, as we know them at present, contain many fundamental numbers, like the size of the electric charge of the electron and the ratio of the masses of the proton and the electron. … The remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life.”

  • Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    I OTOH hand is very unpleased. What can science learn from the barren fields of philosophy and theology? On the other hand there is a lot of respect lost. “A discussion looks good on your CV, but bad on mine.”

  • Stephen Brooks

    How about the fine-tuning of position, which people never seem to realise is fine tuning? We happen to exist in the tiny habitable volume of space of the Earth’s biosphere (easily 10^-50, probably less, of the volume of the universe).

    Now you may say that gets better if you choose by mass rather than volume (although you still end up inside stars a lot of the time), and is solved by the mechanism whereby offspring are always born nearby their parents.

    So massive fine-tuning measured in a parameter can just mean there’s an extra mechanism we haven’t accounted for yet, rather than implying anything theologically.

  • r hake

    broken symmetry, fine tuning, higgs shows its face,it is all so interesting. let’s keep going and find out more, no need to hang it up in myth. if the philosphers and theologins dare, let them come along. i want to know what herr einstein is saying. seance anyone? call the theologin …

  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

    The universe of matter is explicitly left-handed via the Weak interaction and parity violation – as it is observed. The universe of God is explicitly right-handed for personal honor and toilet practices – as it is written. Test of faith.

    The Higgs mechanism is the 1960s’ Anderson-Brout-Englert-Guralnik-Hagen-Higgs-Kibble-‘t Hooft mechanism. Leon Lederman originally called the scalar field quantum the “goddamn particle.” His editor entered a course correction.

    Massive W (80.4 GeV/c^2) and Z (91.2 GeV/c^2) vector bosons have exceptionally short ranges. The even more massive Higgs (125 GeV/c^2, larger than a cesium atom) scalar boson is so “different.” One doubts that massless boson f(x) = f(-x) photon vacuum symmetries are rigorously those of fermionic f(x) = -f(-x) matter. Parity violation can be a trace chiral anisotropic vacuum background selective toward fermionic matter. The “Higgs” detected might not be the Higgs derived.

    Example: Dark matter curve fits the Tully-Fisher relation between visible mass and the fourth power of galactic asymptotic circular velocity. The Noetherian connection between vacuum isotropy and conservation of angular momentum is trace leaky for fermionic matter. That leak, MOND’s 1.2×10^(-10) m/sec^2 Milgrom acceleration, is fundamental and universal. Dark matter is unnecessary, explaining its non-detection.

    If gods enjoy a singular shared property, it must assuredly be irony, from tests of faith to core collapse supernovae.

  • https://twiki.cern.ch/twiki/bin/view/Main/DamazioHome Denis Damazio

    Your article was very clear, simple and interesting, until the point where you state :
    “Theologians and philosophers have much to say about these issues.”
    This is quite likely to be the case, while science with its stupid paradigm of finishing to learn about something in order to stablish sound grounds to investigate further (I really mean, to work without magic leaps) and gets to such point of discussion.
    I advise watching talks by Lawrence Krauss…
    Any other thing, as very well stated by Larsson above (quoting RD) : ““A discussion looks good on your CV, but bad on mine.”

  • https://www.facebook.com/Physics.br edward Montenegro

    acredito infelizmente que a ciência e religião são coisas opostas, uma contradiz a outra e não pode existir duas opiniões diferentes sobre o mesmo assunto, neste caso sobre a origem do universo, ao meu ver a possibilidade de um deus sobre-natural ter criado o universo deveria ser totalmente descarta e começar a procurar na física a resposta para as perguntas sobre nossas origens!

  • http://invariant.org Peter Gerdes

    A couple quick points:

    First, IMO this whole idea that religion and science are different subjects and have separate spheres of investigation is hogwash. Both religion, science (and that part of philosophy that isn’t literature/self-help) are in the business of determining the truth. Religion also has other interests (saving souls etc.. but that isn’t relevant to this discussion).

    If creationism had been true it would have been the correct scientific theory of our origin. If angels and demons existed it would be science to investigate what rules control them. If genuine evidence of life after death was collected it too would be a scientific topic. There is no such thing as the realm of science, it’s a myth we follow some nicely defined scientific method. Quite simply science is in the business of discovering the truth and so is properly done philosophy (even if there is too little of it these days).

    This isn’t to say those educated as scientists, theologians and philosophers don’t have different approaches to discovering the truth and one can argue about whether some of those approaches are invalid. But you shouldn’t pretend that they are studying different things and can co-exist without stepping on each others toes.

    For purposes of public support and good PR, however, it is often necessary to pretend this way. It’s important that intelligent design isn’t taught in schools and the truth, “Intelligent design is a scientific hypothesis but one that has been thoroughly discredited” won’t fly in the US so instead we say that it’s not science (and it’s true the backers of ID aren’t engaging in science but that’s a different question than whether ID is a scientific hypothesis…plenty of good scientific theories were first advanced on religious grounds)

    ——–
    Fine tuning arguments are bunk. They start with the assumption that life has to be something vaguely like us and then infer that the universe is fine tuned. What we really want to know is how likely is it that we developed a universe that allows sufficient computational complexity (not being used in the technical sense). Sure, maybe in some universe stars wouldn’t burn, atoms wouldn’t be stable but maybe in that universe you could evolve complex computational structures that might not even be particularly spatially localized, e.g., beings consisting of computations caused by the interaction of subatomic particles over a large spatial area.

    If you want to talk about fine tuning and make a serious point you need to start by doing some serious math. Find some definitions that separate universes incapable of supporting complex behavior, e.g., purely uniform universes or ones that don’t permit enough error correction relative to incidence of random noise, and only then determine if most other choices of parameters are unsuitable to the kind of complex information processing phenomena we call intelligence.

    You can’t just insist that because a different paramters would make things very strange means nothing life like can exist there.

  • John Carter

    The multi-verse interpretation helps us understand the fine tuning problem… if it’s not strictly prohibited it must exist.

    another point…

    Do we have sufficient understanding to extrapolate, ‘some other tuning could not support life and self awareness – or at least the illusion of such’?

  • Polly

    Quite frankly, if there is a God and his existence or non-existence rests in whether there is mass or not, he is rather a dull chap. I’m not sure how much impact knowing more about what the universe has on theology. Theological and scientific truth are two very different things. Indeed, much classical Christian theology, informed by philosophy, is grounded in the premise that God is apart and separate from the universe. Consequently, much of theology worries about how something not of this universe can interact with it.