Here’s my latest Credo article – published in the Newark Advertiser today.
What do you think of it?
I think that I’ve mentioned before in this column that I have degrees in Theology and in Science. Because of this I’m fascinated by the interaction between these two ways of coming to terms with the universe we live in. It goes without saying that I don’t accept at all the view that we don’t need religion because science has all the answers.
One thing I’m certain I’ve never mentioned in this column is particle physics. Today’s the day. Stick with me.
I was really fortunate last week to be able to take a cruise to Norway to see the fjords. The scenery was incredibly beautiful. But you also have to get there and back up the North Sea – which isn’t quite so stunning. On the days the ship is at sea the cruise operators arrange things to entertain and divert the passengers, and on the last day a lecture was advertised about ‘Dark Matter’ – the 90% of the universe that astrophysicists know must be there, but have yet to find out anything about what it is. My wife shared my excitement in spending part of the last day of our holiday in a physics lecture. Or maybe she didn’t.
Towards the end of his talk the lecturer showed us a slide with all the elementary particles that have been identified by science. There are 17 altogether and everything that exists in the universe is made up of combinations of these. You might have heard of some of them: the electron and photon are probably familiar. You may have heard of the Higgs Boson – a particle that was predicted to exist but took 50 years to find. The tau neutrino, though, doesn’t crop up much in everyday conversation.
Then the speaker posed some questions:
Why are there precisely 17 of these particles – not, say, 14 or 21?
Why do the particles have the particular, precise characteristics they have in terms of mass, charge or spin?
Why is it that the physical laws that govern the universe are just right for the development of life – the so-called ‘Goldilocks Theory’?
There were several more – but the answer he gave to them all was the same – “No one has any idea”.
Science is incredible at explaining how things are. Identifying these particles, for example, has been a spectacular feat of the human intellect.
Let’s get back to the fjords. Why is the coastline of Norway so beautiful? Why does beauty exist? Why is there a universe at all and not nothing?
When it comes to these ‘Why’ questions science doesn’t have the answers. It’s not just the case that science hasn’t found out the reasons for things – it’s that science isn’t the right tool to use.
That’s what religions are for – to look for meaning in our existence, to wrestle with the ‘Why’ questions. If we are prepared to use both religion and science to explain things we will learn much more than using either on its own.