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If the Universe Is the Answer, What is the Question?

Hundreds of thousands of sweltering residents in Philadelphia and the  Washington DC area spent many days in darkness. Unlike the blackout of new York in 1977, which was brought on by several lightning strikes, Washington’s week in darkness was triggered by a severe storm and high winds. The 1965 New York blackout was cause by human error. A simple protective relay on a 230-kV line had been set too low and tripped as the current passed through to heat homes at the end of the day. Meant to protect the grid, it plunged the city into darkness. This added to the exodus of people leaving the city, which had already begun as a response to excessive taxation and corruption in the city’s politics. Everyone who could leave at least considered moving away from the city. You can see the change in demographics and city life, represented in the movies from the 1950’s, 60’s and then the 70’s, such as: North by Northwest or Breakfast at Tiffany’s verses movies like Mean Streets, Serpico, and more.

The people found, just as they did in the Katrina disaster, that they could not put their trust in government. People found they could not trust the men who ran for power nor the man-made systems that distributed the power, and so they left New York for the suburbs. Sprawling out in all directions, searching for safe place to live and raise a family — a trustworthy place they could have faith in.

New Yorkers saw the city in a different light. It’s interesting how our understanding effects how we see things. What was once as sure as City Hall, became as distant as someone else’s problem. Science is not immune. In 1667, Robert Hooke gave us the “matching-wave-front” explanation of reflection and refraction of light that is still found in most introductory physics texts. These waves must travel through the “aether.” He also developed a theory of color in which white light is a simple disturbance of “aether,” and colors are complex distortions of the basic simple white form of light. But in 1671, Isaac Newton destroys Hooke’s theory of color by experimenting with prisms to show that white light is a mixture of all the colors; and that once a pure color is obtained it can never be changed into another color. Newton argues against light being a vibration of the “aether,” preferring that it be something else that is capable of traveling through the “aether.” He doesn’t insist that this something else consists of particles, but allows that it may be some other kind of emanation or impulse. In Newton’s own words, “…let every man here take his fancy.”  Newton is not sure what light is, but he’s pretty sure its not what Hooke thought it was.

We’d like think science knows more than it does. We have gone through several theories to explain magnetic fields and electricity — fundamental things in our world today. When the old theory of rolling pins in “aether” was replaced with a better understanding and a description that matches reality more closely; we adopt the new definition and can scarcely believe we could have considered the previous idea plausible as it fades in to quaint history.

In 1964, Peter Higgs proposed a theory that would describe what mass was — the existence of the Higgs boson, and the associated Higgs field — to explain why the other elementary particles have mass. In other words they didn’t know! So science went on a search to try to find the particle that would fill the hole in their current theory. With a budget of 7.5 billion euros, they built CERN. CERN’s Large Hadron Collider is one of the world’s most powerful particle colliders. The other is Fermilab’s Tevatron near Chicago. They hope, by smashing atoms together at higher and higher speeds, they will simulate the environment in the early formation of the universe and observe one of the original particles. They want to understand not only the origin of the universe better, but the fundamental nature of mass itself.

Nobel Prize winning physicist, Leon M. Lederman, is Director Emeritus of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab). In his book (The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What is the Question?) Lederman said he gave the Higgs boson the nickname, “the God Particle,” because the particle is, “so central to the state of physics today, so crucial to our final understanding of the structure of matter, yet so elusive.”

Science could describe a great deal about how the universe works, refined by centuries of scientific method of proving other scientist wrong; but to this day only speculates about its basic building blocks. They don’t know, but hope, to have a better explanation soon, or at least a better working model.

A decade ago, Dr. Kane, professor of physics at the University of Michigan, wagered $100 that the Higgs boson would be found, and cosmologist Stephen Hawking bet that it wouldn’t. “I assume he’s a gentleman and a scholar and will now pay up,” said Dr. Kane to the Wall Street Journal. It looks like Dr. Kane was right and Stephen Hawking was wrong.

When CERN’s LHC is up and running, the total average power for the whole CERN site will peak during July at about 180 MW. Assuming 720 hours per month for June, 180 MW gives 130 GWh used. If they don’t trip any protective relays and cause any blackouts, we may get more data to narrow down their search for the God Particle. But that’s just a statistical probability that they observed an answer. What was the question? I am reminded of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a science fiction series created by Douglas Adams, where they create a huge computer named Deep Thought to calculate the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything. After generations of scientist served the computer, keeping it powered and maintained, the answer is revealed to be “42.” The computer explains that the answer is incomprehensible because they didn’t know what they were asking. So after 45 years and billions of dollars, we find a high probability a Higgs boson existed and then disappeared detected by the huge scientific instrumentation of CERN… but what was the real question? In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (HHGTTG), they find their question was wrong. Seven times nine does not equal forty two (7×9!=42).

God has been merciful to me. As a non-Christian physicist at university, He kept me up nights making measurements of the stars and planets in the night sky and calculating the obits, the gravity, the ballet of the heavens. In the day, He kept me busy studying the details of particle physics. I wrote papers on Grand Unified Theory and the Inflationary Universal model. I found the scientists were walking out theoretical planks — on theological principals — to explain the beauty of the universe in which we live. He was merciful and satisfied my intellectual curiosity all the while preparing me to understand Genesis 1:1.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

There is a God. I’ve done the math. Nothing else can explain what happens before 10-43 seconds after what they call the Big Bang. First there was nothing we can describe with the scientific understanding and vocabulary, and then everything was created. Everything that will exists for physicist to play with was created at that moment. Going back passed 10-43 slivers of a second after the universe and time itself was created is not a journey science can take. Science cannot answer every question, nor is it meant to. It is only one discipline for studying the world around us. It turns out that philosophy is good for something after all — it can go where science cannot, and is indeed the very planks scientist use to explore and experiment with the world around them.

With regard to philosophy I think  René Descartes is right and Richard Dawkins is wrong. In his Meditation III: Concerning God, Descartes proposed that there are three types of ideas: Innate, Fictitious, and Adventitious. Innate ideas are and have always been within us; Fictitious or invented ideas come from our imagination; and Adventitious ideas come from experiences of the world. He argues that the idea of God is Innate and placed in us by God; and he rejected the possibility that the idea of God is Invented or Adventitious.

Argument 1

  1. Something cannot come from nothing.
  2. The cause of an idea must have at least as much formal reality as the idea has objective reality.
  3. I have in me an idea of God. This idea has infinite objective reality.
  4. I cannot be the cause of this idea, since I am not an infinite and perfect being. I don’t have enough formal reality. Only an infinite and perfect being could cause such an idea.
  5. So God — a being with infinite formal reality — must exist (and be the source of my idea of God).
  6. An absolutely perfect being is a good, benevolent being.
  7. So God is benevolent.
  8. So God would not deceive me, and would not permit me to err without giving me a way to correct my errors.

Argument 2

  1. I exist.
  2. My existence must have a cause.
  3. The only possible ultimate causes are
    1. myself
    2. myself having always existed
    3. my parents
    4. something less perfect than God
    5. God
  4. Not a. If I had created myself, I would have made myself perfect.
  5. Not b. This does not solve the problem. If I am a dependent being, I need to be continually sustained by another.
  6. Not c. This leads to an infinite regress.
  7. Not d. The idea of perfection that exists in me cannot have originated from a non-perfect being.
  8. Therefore, e. God exists.

Descartes argued that he had a clear and distinct idea of God. In the same way that the cogito was self-evident, so too is the existence of God; as his perfect idea of a perfect being could not have been caused by anything less than a perfect being.

Meditations on First Philosophy: In which the existence of God and the immortality of the soul are demonstrated.”


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