Brian Cox – dream-boat physicist, not craggy-faced actor – recently said this:
Our civilization was built on the foundations of reason and rational thinking embodied in the scientific method, and our future depends on the widespread acceptance of science as THE ONLY WAY WE HAVE to meet many, if not all, of the great challenges we face. (here)
Well now. Them there’s fighting words. Therefore, I thought it was time to repost this from two years ago (see how cutting edge CTT is? Discussing Cox two years ago!)
Just watched this documentary on the Large Hadron Collider: “The Big Bang Machine.” (BBC4) presented by Brian Cox.
Here’s an extract from around 4:20 – 7:20.
Physics is stuck and the only thing left to do is recreate the universe as it was a fraction of a second after the big bang. That’s what the LHC is designed to do. To smash bits of matter together at energies never before achieved so that we can stare at the face of creation…
So here’s the aim – to stare at the face of creation.
And this is the means – to smash particles together.
Notice the disjunct between the stated aim and the means! Cox excites us about the scientific quest promising us a ‘face’ to creation. Of course “face” says communicative, conscious. It says personality. It’s no wonder that Cox wants to reach for this kind of language because at bottom it’s personal reality that we long to see. But all Cox can give us is particles. This is the trouble.
What do you say of a person who promises you a face but gives you only particles?
What do you say of an enterprise that can describe a face only in terms of its sub-atomic particles?
…Every civilization has its own creation story. The ancient Chinese, indian mystics and Christian theologians all place a divine creator at the heart of their creation stories. Science too has an elaborate story that describes the universe’s genesis. It tells us how the fundamental constituents of the cosmos took on their form. The difference with this story is that we can test it. We can find out if its true by tearing matter apart and looking at the pieces. All you need is a machine powerful enough to restage the first moments after creation…
This was the sentence that made me sit up and take notice: “Every civilization has its own creation story.” And Cox puts ‘science’ in there among Indian mystics and Christian theologians. Ok good. We’re all telling stories about the world around us – scientists included. But what does Cox say is the difference with science? Answer: “we can test it.” Hmm. How will science be tested? Tearing apart matter and looking at the pieces.
Well now that’s a very sensible test if you think that matter is what explains everything. If you have a story about the world that says everything came about via material means then test matter. Yes indeed that’s testable. But it’s not the only thing that’s testable. What if your story about the world says ‘Everything came about via the Word who was with God in the beginning and then became flesh and dwelt among us.’ Is that testable? You betcha! Every bit as much as the ‘science’ story. It’s just that you test this story in ways appropriate to its nature.
All science works by testing its object of study in accordance with its nature. You don’t do astronomy with a microscope – your means of testing is adapted to the thing tested. So if you think it’s all about matter, you study matter. But if you think it’s all about the Word then you study the Word. Theology in this sense is completely scientific. It is taking its Object of enquiry completely seriously and pursuing thorough investigation according the nature of the Word – ie it is listening obediently to Him. That’s good science. And it’s our only hope of actually seeing the Face that explains our world. Particles won’t get you to the Person – but the Person can help you explain particles…
In the beginning there was nothing. No space, no time just endless nothing. Then 13.7 billion years ago from nothing came everything. The universe exploded into existence. From that fireball of energy emerged the simplest building blocks of matter. Finding experimental evidence of these fundamental entities has become the holy grail of physics.
Notice first that this creation story is just as miraculous as any other. “From nothing came everything”. No explanations are given. None ever could be. This is the astonishing miracle at the heart of our modern creation story. It is not the case that only primitive ‘religion’ believes in miracles. The ‘science’ creation story is equally miraculous.
And again do you how science proceeds? It proceeds like theology. The scientific worldview says there must have been simple building blocks of matter that existed after the big bang. Of course we’ve never observed these. Nonetheless the worldview tells us they must have existed. Therefore science seeks after evidence of what it believes to be true even without the evidence. It has faith (an assurance of things hoped for (Heb 11:1f)) and from this faith it seeks understanding. That is the scientific pursuit and it is no more or less a faith-based enterprise than theology. And that’s no bad thing, it’s just the way things are. It would just be nice if scientists came clean about it!
The point is this – don’t let anyone tell you science is about matter not miracles or fact and not faith. The truth is we all have our creation stories.