Tag Archives: STEPHEN Hawking

Higgs boson and the death of God

Visual Higgs Boson

Visual Higgs Boson (Photo credit: Michael J. Linden)

So the shy Higgs boson has been found hiding beneath the snow-capped mountains of Switzerland.  Or something has been found that looks and acts the way we think the Higgs boson would, had we ever been able to coax it into the light before.

And a columnist in our local newspaper, Michael Worsnip, has got his gander up, and his newly found atheistic knickers in a knot, excitedly telling the world that this, at last, is the death of God.  Well he will have to join a rather long and distinguished queue, behind such luminaries as Nietzsche, the original “death of God” movement, Stephen Hawking, and, of course, Richard Dawkins, although to be fair, the latter never believed God was alive in the first place.

But, in spite of Worsnip’s excited claims, this is not the final nail in God’s coffin, nor final proof of the foolishness of the claims of all people of faith.  And I’m glad to see Worsnip include Muslims and Jews in his tirade.  So often they are left out, as if Christians were the only fools.

Over the years, at every turn of the scientist’s screw as it were, there has been a collective grin of triumph from the Worsnips of this world, and a collective gasp of fear from some Christians, both groups thinking, “This means there is no room for God.”  The discovery of gravity meant that there was no room to believe in a God holding us in place.  Well if that’s all you thought God did, I have news for you.  Similarly, Worsnip’s claim is that, because the Higgs boson is the “glue” that holds the universe together, belief in God as the coherent force falls away.  He seems to hope that Christians, Muslims and other foolish believers will do the honourable thing and quietly disband.  In reality, such claims are not a rejection of God, but of some small part of our understanding of what we thought God did.  If God is, then he is by definition, beyond our understanding and beyond our manipulations—and that is a word of caution as much to Christians as to atheists.

There will of course be Christians (I cannot speak for others) whose proverbial knickers will be just as tied up as Worsnip’s.  They will be confirmed in their condemnation of the entire scientific endeavour as a plot to destroy the credibility of belief in God.  Why we want to give scientists such power (which the best of them reject) I do not know.  God’s credibility, and the credibility of our faith, does not depend on the discoveries and interpretations of scientists or of anyone else, just as scientists do not need our permission to proclaim their discoveries. 

Nothing science has discovered disproves the existence of a benevolent (we say, loving) creator.  All they have done is to tell us something of how that creation may have taken place.  Equally, nothing of the Christian faith disproves the methodology scientists are discovering.  The Bible says nothing about the “how” of creation, and science has no handle on the “why”.

I summed it up in an earlier poem:

Quite soon there’ll be no hidden things; Higgs boson will be found,
And closed doors will be opened by this ‘particle of god’.
One question still remains beyond where scientists like to go.
“It’s not important, quite absurd.” But still we want to know.

The question that’s ignored is, Why? What purpose could there be
In you and me, in life and death, and all we do and see?
Some think the universe is fickle, some think it quite benign.
But could there be behind it a creative force, divine?

(You can read the rest of the poem here.)


Filed under Odds & Ends, Science & Religion

Stephen Hawking: A Question of Faith

This article was published in The Witness on Friday, 20 May 2011.  I offered them the poem, but they chose the prose.

STEPHEN Hawking has declared that “there is no heaven or afterlife … that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.” (The Witness, May 17.)

In his earlier book, A Brief History of Time, he accepted that a divine being was not incompatible with a scientific understanding of the universe — a sound agnostic stance. Now, however, he believes that developments in physics allow no place for a deity in theories of the origins of the universe.

Sadly, the church has too often in its history encouraged just such a fear of the dark in order to frighten men and women into its ranks. But such theology reflects a poverty of faith, rather than a search for the truth.

Hawking has lived most of his life in the shadow of death. He has endured motor neuron disease for 49 years — about 40 years longer than most who encounter the disease. He has probably given more thought to death and what comes next than most of us and I respect him for that. But Hawking goes beyond science in this new declaration.

I am intrigued by the discoveries of physics and the theories of the origins of the universe and human kind, but I’m a babe in arms. I can claim no knowledge of the arguments — I can hardly understand most of them. Some parts of A Brief History of Time were beyond me. More recent offerings are a foreign language.

Hawking, and others with his incredible grasp of such a wide range of subjects, can prove a great deal about our origins, some beyond reasonable doubt. He can describe how it all came together, but he can’t tell us why. Of course, if there is no divine being behind it all, there is no “why?” We just have a series of causes and effects. (That, mind you, might be a bit embarrassing if it took us back to the theory of first cause — just as the big-bang theory comes embarrassingly close to a creation moment.)

I, on the other hand, am not even an authority in matters of faith. I am only a witness. I can’t package my faith into proofs for the existence of God, as Thomas Aquinas did, but I’m not sure it would make any difference if I could. I can only speak of what has happened to me — much as Hawking is doing in his latest declaration. I can tell you a story of failure and forgiveness, of brokenness and healing. I can only make sense of that story in the context of a divine being whose creativity did not end on day six.

I have no proof, just an absolute (call it naive if you like) conviction. It’s a conviction based on my experience and the experience of countless others who are just as flawed and broken as I, that the inexplicable “why?” behind the universe is love.

Hawking may have begun to pierce the veil covering the origins of the universe, but (notwithstanding the experience of those who have returned from its outer chambers) the veil of death remains as tightly sealed as ever. That veil can only be pierced by faith or by death itself. Hawking’s own assertion about the nothingness beyond is itself a statement of faith, not an objective scientific discovery.

It is not fear of the dark that feeds my faith, but an awareness of the light. I have no more certainty than Hawking of what lies beyond the grave, but as long as light remains (here or beyond), I shall continue to revel in it and tell my story.


Filed under Articles, Science & Religion