Wednesday, September 10, 2008

BBC Radio 4's "Thought For The Day"

Revd Dr David Wilkinson

Knowing that I was a scientist and a Christian theologian, someone asked me last week whether the imminent discovery of the 'god particle' would cause a problem to my faith. While gently reminding this person that the term is a misnomer for the elusive Higgs boson, I said "absolutely not." As an astrophysicist who worked with high energy particles in the cosmic radiation, I am thrilled by the construction of the Large Hadron Collider and excited by the opportunity to study in detail some of the crucial questions of the composition and early evolution of our Universe. As a Christian I am equally thrilled by the gift of science which makes this possible, and excited by the prospect of knowing a little more about how God did it.

Kepler once said that "Science is thinking God's thoughts after him" - although a penny for God's thoughts has taken a lot of euros and 10 years of building! People of faith have nothing to fear by new scientific discoveries. The God of Christian theology is not a god of the gaps, an intelligent designer who can be proved in the places of our scientific ignorance. God is the One who holds the whole scientific story in existence by maintaining the laws of physics.

I hope the collider is successful in filling in some more of the story such the origin of mass, the nature of dark matter or the interactions in a quark-gluon plasma. If our current standard model is confirmed or even superseded by something more elegant and surprising, then we are still faced by the origin, the beauty, the universality and intelligibility of the laws of physics themselves. Many of us are struck by the question of why the Universe is so ordered in this extraordinary way. I am drawn to a phrase in one of the letters of the apostle Paul who wrote that "in Christ all things hold together or cohere". Behind the myriad of particles and the laws, the universe has a coherent story because it is creation.

In 1947 in a lab in the Pyrenees, George Rochester and Clifford Butler, with a relatively cheap but ingenious experiment, discovered in the cosmic radiation the tracks of the kaon, the first known 'strange' particle. This was a crucial step to the building of large accelerating machines to study energetic nuclear interactions - a journey that leads today to the Large Hadron Collider. When I was a physics student, the then retired Professor Rochester became a friend and we would sit together in our local church. I asked him once why he thought God had made a Universe with so many strange and exotic particles, to which he replied "Of course all particles are God's particles. The really amazing thing is that he gives us the gift of science to discover them."

This "Thought for the Day" can be heard

N.B: American visitors might like to follow the link and also read or listen to Sept 8th's "Thought for the Day" (But I'm not doing "THE" Election.)