God and the “God particle”

The Telegraph has an interesting short piece from Alistair McGrath today. He looks at the parallels between the faith in the Higgs boson and faith in God, both based on explanatory power rather than direct experiemental observation. He concludes:

“Some tell us that science is about what can be proved. The wise tell us it is really about offering the best explanations of what we see, realising that these explanations often cannot be proved, and may sometimes lie beyond proof. Science often proposes the existence of invisible (and often undetectable) entities – such as dark matter – to explain what can be seen. The reason why the Higgs boson is taken so seriously in science is not because its existence has been proved, but because it makes so much sense of observations that its existence seems assured. In other words, its power to explain is seen as an indicator of its truth.

“There’s an obvious and important parallel with the way religious believers think about God. While some demand proof that God exists, most see this as unrealistic. Believers argue that the existence of God gives the best framework for making sense of the world…

“There’s more to God than making sense of things. But for religious believers, it’s a great start.

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Read the rest of the article here:

Higgs boson: the particle of faith

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7 thoughts on “God and the “God particle”

  1. McGrath’s argument is turtles all the way down. There is no parallel to what believers think about god AT ALL, or there would be no need for additional empirical evidence being sought like with the Higgs boson particle. Yet there is a need for additional evidence because the kind of ‘trust’ in the Higgs boson hypothesis is not the same as the kind of ‘trust’ in the conclusion that god is. McGrath is being intentionally dishonest in his comparison… unless he himself only holds his ‘trust’ in god to be an equivalent hypothesis that may or may not be true but that can be increased by actively searching for stronger empirical evidence. Of course, he believe no such thing; his belief in god is not an equivocal hypothesis but a certainty, a conclusion already established impervious to anything the ‘natural order’ may or may not provide to its assumed truth value.

    • It’s possible you’re just operating on the assumption that “anything a Christian says must be wrong”, but still, you seem to have missed the whole point of the comparison.

      The parallel is not between building a supercollider to verify the existence (or not) of the Higgs boson and designing an experiment to “test” God’s existence. Of course we can’t do controlled experiments to test God’s existence – see my previous post for an in-depth discussion of why not, I won’t bother rehashing it all here.

      The point of the comparison McGrath is making is that physicists have operated for the last 40 years on faith in the existence of an unobserved particle with no direct evidence, because its existence would make everything else that they know about the world make much more sense. In very much the same way, although controlled experiments to test God’s existence are impossible, a Christian operates on a very similar faith in God, because acknowledging God’s existence allows us to understand much of the rest of the world (evil, suffering, beauty, love, science, mathematics, etc) that is much less comprehensible if we ignore God.

      • Yeah, I got that. My point is that it is not the same kind of faith whatsoever.

        Faith in carrier particles is based on very strong EMPIRICAL evidence explained here. Faith in god is based on an absence of strong empirical evidence. I don’t know why so many religious apologists seem unable to grasp this important distinction, which is why I keep pointing out that the ‘understanding’ you think you have in such areas as suffering, evil, beauty, love, science, math, etc., perceived through religious filters of faith-based beliefs is baseless. In other words, the understanding of suffering is not deepened by applying a thick coat of religious belief. If anything, religious belief acts as a barrier to understanding what’s actually true in the ‘natural order’.

        If you can show how a christian understanding of anything adds veracity to what’s true and knowable in reality, then I will be an interested audience but so far, after decades of searching for something – anything! – to justify this widespread assumption that by all appearances seems to be wrong, I’ve yet to find it. McGrath’s intentional misrepresentation of this supposedly similar kind of faith is absolutely typical as well as unhelpful.

      • Really, based on your responses, you haven’t got it at all.

        tildeb :

        Faith in god is based on an absence of strong empirical evidence.

        No, it’s not.

        “An absence of strong empirical evidence” is a ludicrous criterion for faith in anything.

        tildeb :

        I don’t know why so many religious apologists seem unable to grasp this important distinction

        Because it’s false.

        I’m sure those same people would be amazed that you can’t understand the similarities in how faith operates in different spheres.

        tildeb :

        McGrath’s intentional misrepresentation of this supposedly similar kind of faith is absolutely typical as well as unhelpful.

        And again with the “intentional misrepresentation”? You’re accusing him of deliberately, wilfully misleading people by saying stuff that he knows is false.

        I’m pretty sure he’s just saying something that he believes and finds to be true, but you have a personal disagreement with.

      • Sentinel, if you have strong empirical evidence that the god hypothesis is true, do tell. The world awaits…

        McGrath is trying to compare the trust that carrier particles exist (for which there is strong empirical evidence) with the SAME KIND of trust in the existence of god (for which there is no EQUIVALENT strong empirical evidence). He uses the term ‘faith’ as if it were the same KIND of trust in both cases when he knows perfectly well that that is not true and suggests that it is the ‘invisibility’ aspect that is really the same. But it’s not. And he knows it’s not. This is a misrepresentation. He does it intentionally. And yes, I am accusing him of doing exactly that: deliberately, willfully misleading people by saying stuff that he knows misrepresents what’s true in reality. These are NOT equivalent expressions of ‘faith’. His religious belief does not excuse this deliberate misrepresentation. What might excuse it is that he is so stupid and scientifically illiterate (which we know he is not) that he honestly doesn’t understand the difference, but as a scientist he most certainly understands the difference. So you tell me, Sentinel: what should we call this tactic?

      • To summarise your comment:

        tildeb :

        McGrath thinks that the two types of faith are similar enough to warrant comparison, but I disagree. Therefore, instead of saying that I have different opinion, I’m just going to call him a liar. Because that’s how I roll.

  2. The world makes sense without God. To say that a loving, powerful God presides over the indecent amount of human and animal suffering we see, when it is not necessary for him for any reason, is absurd.

    It means the world is a ghastly experiment run by a God who could have made any universe at all. We know there are many possible horrors that are not found in our world. It is reasonable to say that an omnipotent God could have omitted one more, such as anencephaly or Stevens-Johnson syndrome.

    But when we say that we live in an unconscious, unguided universe, suffering is expected. We are conscious animals competing for scarce resources in a risky environment. We can help each other, but can’t do it all. Natural and human evils will persist despite our best efforts. We are subject to rules we did not establish, but that no god did, either.

    A natural view gives us hope. To put God above it all makes us prisoners of a brutal realm. Our only hope is to try to get on his good side, with no assurance of staying there. Matt 7:21.

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