Thursday, September 27, 2012

The God Particle

According to St. Thomas, “God is simply the act of existing,”[1] and this makes clear the idea that God as the most perfect being means that God is the First Cause. Without a God as prime mover, everything in the world would only be contingent. Contingent beings have one necessary attribute, and that is they start as non-being in the beginning, hence they lack the requisite perfection, and as such, they must be created by something that already is. If everything is contingent, as St. Thomas’ third proof would suggest, then nothing could come to exist.

Science and Religion

The recent report regarding the discovery of the Higgs boson may put theology and philosophy to task. The claim of the ardent followers of theoretical physics is that this latest scientific achievement may finally resolve the answer to the biggest question out there – the beginning of everything. This paper discusses this basic insight. More importantly, it will consider the moral ramifications of the same and in particular, its relation to the problem of evil.

However, the discovery of the "God particle", now the crowning glory of particle physics, presents a strong case against St. Thomas, for scientists at CERN may have finally put that final piece of the greatest puzzle out there – the very origin of the universe, one that seeks to bridge the gap between ‘being and non-being’, between ‘nothingness and reality’.

The discovery of the “Higgs boson” will indicate that matter may come from anti-matter or that is, non-being producing something. This latest development in particle physics may shake the very foundations of what we believe about God as the Alpha and Omega. If proven, it will mean that the universe has no beginning, and ergo, will continually expand through eternity. St. Augustine, for instance, would argue that in the beginning time does not exist, for there can only be God as the source of all that is.

Now, the proof for the existence of the Higgs boson is the climax of quantum physics, in fact, the very soul of the theory of everything. The Big Bang theory, which suggests that the universe grows bigger in infinite space, means that it all began as something that was infinitesimally small. This requires, however, some “power” to start the process. The atom smasher does the experiment of finding how the Big Bang could have commenced.

The idea of a First Cause appears prominently because the chain in the series of causes would otherwise fall into an infinite regress without it. An uncaused, therefore perfect being, would be necessary or else nothing would actualize all beings, all possessing mere potentiality in the beginning, as we have stated at the outset. We cannot create matter out of nothing, so to speak. However, the Higgs boson renders this conjecture wrong.

In understanding the ramifications of the above, I believe that we have to go back to the basic presuppositions on the relationship between science and religion. Blaise Pascal, in Selections from Pensees, points out that there exists an infinite distance between the known and the unknown, saying that “if there is a God, he is infinitely beyond comprehension, since having neither parts nor limits, he bears no relation to ourselves. We are therefore incapable of knowing either what he is or if he is.”[2] While it is valid to say that science does not have an answer for almost every question, that inner drive for curiosity takes science to task in order to look for the answers to the world’s deepest mysteries. Nevertheless, the fact of the matter is that any theologian can always argue that there are questions that are simply beyond the domain of science and its methods.

However, the ‘God hypothesis’ is useful because it is the most convenient answer for whatever it is that man finds himself speechless or empty handed in terms of an intelligent reply. It is not necessary to bring the ‘god of the gaps’ into the system, as JAT Robinson famously argues. The secular is not really in conflict with religion. One can be an engineer or a scientist and yet remain prayerful at the same time. But theology truly needs to respond to the resurgent assault by science. Theologians and philosophers cannot rely on the Holy Spirit for some guidance. Governments spend billions of dollars to advance the cause of a secular world.

But do we actually need the God hypothesis? Miracles do not happen in life. However, this does not diminish the power of the human will to establish the very structures that protect the freedoms of people and enable them to pursue their happiness here on earth. Thomas Paine, in denouncing Christian mysteries, prophecies and miracles, advanced the cause of the marriage between reason and religion, suggesting that belief in God is the same as believing in the happiness of men and of doing what is good for others, and in emphasizing on the intrinsic rights of man, he suggests that the power to govern does not emanate elsewhere except through a representative democracy, saying that, “all hereditary government in its nature is a tyranny.”[3]

We can posit religious claims without having to conjure them with “the turning of water into wine” or “Lazarus rising from the dead”. Perhaps, if science may finally provide the final equation with regard to our deepest questions on the origins of the universe, then we shall have put the issue on the First Cause or the Unmoved Mover to rest. Some will argue that there is no way to prove miracles anyway, as David Hume has protested a long time ago: “There is not to be found, in all history, any miracle attested by a sufficient number of men, of such unquestioned good sense, education and learning, as to secure us against all delusion in themselves.”[4]

Still, I would like to opine that we cannot simply go into the most advanced laboratories to put into the rack and examine underneath the microscope some aspects of our humanity, at least theoretically. Tolerance of others, in terms of their faith in some being beyond, will still be the proper and only way possible for all of us in this world to live in peace. The value of human life is way beyond any method to encapsulate. Science may not understand the great feeling of being a parent for the first time or when a father goes up the stage to witness his daughter receiving a medal, or when a mother hears the first word of a son, or that self-less gesture of giving some bread to a stranger that mortals like us often shun.

While Baron Holbach says that “religious opinions have no foundation” the fact of the matter is that we have to respect people in terms of their belief and their own way of life. We do acknowledge the power of science but science just could not examine the strength of human emotions and the passion of people with respect to their faith. It may be unreasonable to the western mind, but there will always be people who will choose to sacrifice their lives and die in the name of faith. The problem does not seem to be God at all. The problem is how some philosophers put the problem of God’s existence in their own worldview. Thomas Lennon notes in Theology and the God of the Philosophers that in discussing God, philosophers seem to reveal less about God than about themselves or at least about the world as they see it.[5]

The discovery of the Higgs boson, hence, does not put to rest that insatiable thirst for knowledge in every man. If anything, it proves that there is more to know about reality. The truth is, what we know about the world is something that is made possible by that inner desire deep inside us. The concept of the absolute is not one that comes to us fully in terms of what Charles Hartshorne calls a notional assent. God sometimes presents himself in a fully empirical way, though experienced rather differently, for instance, when our conscience bothers us for not sincerely reciprocating the kindness of a stranger or the sincere commitment of one you so dearly love.

Religion and the Problem of Evil

One of the most difficult questions out there is the problem of evil. Indeed, even with this latest scientific achievement at CERN, people still ask this most basic question – If life is good, then why is it that millions of people suffer from the cruelty of the elite few? The choices we make define what becomes of life. However, the world is often a tragic story of abandonment and pain. So we ask, why is there is so much evil in the world? The existence of evil is not one that we can understand solely from a pragmatic end. Something so inane must have pushed man to take advantage of others instead of being of service to the least of his brethren.

The argument holds that if the Higgs boson dismisses the existence of God, then, there is so much evil because there is no God. If there is no God, one consequence is the arbitrary creation of values. As the Letter to Frederick William would attest, “if God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.”[6] Without a God, man need not be good. He need not be responsible for anything is possible. He can be evil for no one will punish him. Justifiably so, we can continually rile about the purpose of moral education. Christ teaches charity, and yet, the best Catholic schools are prohibitively expensive that it makes one think if God knows not the meaning of justice. In all these ranting, ‘The Grand Inquisitor’ comes to mind. God is a ‘useless’ proposition in a world where man, including the institutions that govern him, becomes the sole measure of things.

We can say that God has given man real freedom. Above everything else, freedom is good. Christ could have given man security, as Dostoyevsky argues, but that would not be good for man. Thus, if man chooses to be good, goodness herein becomes a mere existential proposition. Our elders claim that religious edicts guide people in terms of the right thing to do, like loving your neighbor, being faithful to your wife, or sacrificing oneself for others. Truth to tell, more often than not, whenever any man is to make his decision, in reality, he simply thinks of the consequences of his action in determining how he decides. Certainly, you are actually alone in making those judgments. In most cases, you choose what is most favorable to you. So the question lingers on – Where is the power of God amidst all these miseries?

The Higgs boson unravels more and deeper historical residues. All of them have moral implications. We can argue that tradition and religion determine the course of man’s moral action. For instance, a patriarchal system and a hierarchy define the Church. Orthodoxy demands obedience. This is symbolically counter-intuitive for a world that longs for freedom. It comes into play, for example, when in many cases a child often pays for the sins of the father. Why should someone so innocent compensate for the wrong she has not done?

I remember one story about a mother who was to take her daughter to town for the first time. The girl was, of course, all too excited. Her good mother was to bring her to a house where she will become a servant. What was the reason? She was to become the payment for her parents’ unpaid debts. The Holy Gospel says that, “blessed are the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of God”. If the poor are blessed, then why do they suffer? Why must poor children suffer all the drudgery that is life? Is it not preposterous that the poor continue to suffer even if God is by their side?

The discovery of the Higgs boson is not by accident. While many consider the discovery of penicillin or the X-RAY as accidental, their very purpose or use can only be a product of a very scientific procedure. We discover the value of things by design. The question, however, for the deeply religious is this: Is there anything that you can do if everywhere, the hegemonic structures of the world hold any person in chains? Indeed, there are impediments to our dreams. Can religion do something to eliminate these obstacles? The researches done at CERN will indicate one thing. Religion does not solve our problems. It simply obfuscates them.

The right thing to do

But we can still make the argument that the discovery of the Higgs boson offers no respite to many of the problems we have enumerated here. While this latest advancement in science may shatter some myths, it does not alter the fact that man is still in search for answers with respect to the existential dimension of his faith. Science cannot give us the definitive answer here. The problem of evil remains existentially rooted. “Is God the reason for all the evil in the world that we put the blame on him?” All I can say is that the critique against religion cannot be a critique against God.

What this means to me is that we are left with nothing but the life in which we live. To quote from Paul Tillich, this life is our only concern. We cannot be concerned of a heaven that might not even exist. We must not be fearful of hell. Sam Harris, in The End of Faith, would like to say that our faith in God is like waiting for some kind of an evidence, to believe now and to wait for the evidence later.[7] However, the point is that we have to do good things to others, help them whenever we can, for such defines what humanity is all about. There is no mystery here. We do not need a miracle to change the destinies of men. Faith too means doing what we good for others. As humans, we simply have to do the right thing. The discovery of the ‘God’ particle, which is also some kind of a waiting for an evidence for a ‘Godless’ universe, does not change this fundamental fact.

We have the freedom to choose. Can we not choose love instead of hatred? Can we not depend on hope instead of despair? Can we not trust each other instead of doubt? True enough, man must grow. He must realize that he no longer lives in the Dark Ages. He has to explore his vast possibilities and unravel his potentials. Man is no superhuman. However, this does not mean he needs to invent one. He simply has to use what he possesses. This means overcoming life or to put it more correctly, to defeat the enemies of life, by means of reason or love or whatever it is that you have within your moral powers.

[1] De Ente et Essentia, Chapter V
[2] Blaise Pascal, Selection from Pensees, in David Cooper and Peter Fosl, Philosophy: The Classic Readings, (West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), 980.
[3] Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man, in Philosophy:The Classic Readings, 1258
[4] David Hume, Of Miracles, in Philosophy:The Classic Readings, 1004-5.
[5] Thomas Lennon, Theology and the God of the Philosophers, in Early Modern Philosophy, 275
[6] See ibid.
[7] Sam Harris, The End of Faith, (New York: W.W. Norton, 2004), 66