Thursday, 20 September 2012

Unbelief's Best Shot

The Mother of Invention

We recently began perusing The God Particle by Leon Lederman.  The author is a Nobel winning particle physicist with a gift for whimsical prose.  The intent of the author is to provide the lay person with a rough  general knowledge of arcane particle physics.  The book consists of a journey through the history of physics in general and particle physics in particular.

Lederman is a materialist.  All that exists is atomic particles and space.  So far, so good.  Below is his description for the layman of how it all began.

The matter we see around us today is complex.  There are about a hundred chemical atoms.  The number of useful combinations of atoms can be calculated, and it is huge: billions and billions.  Nature uses these combinations, called molecules, to build planets, suns, viruses, mountains, paychecks, Valium, literary agents, and other useful items.  It was not always so. 

During the earliest moments after the creation of the universe in the Big Bang, there was no complex matter as we know it today.  No nuclei, no atoms, nothing that was made of simpler pieces.  this is because the searing heat of the early universe did not allow the formation of composite objects; such objects, if formed by transient collisions, would be instantly decomposed into their most primitive constituents.  There was perhaps one kind of particle and one force--or even a unified particle/force--and the laws of physics.

Within this primordial entity were contained the seeds of the complex world in which humans evolved, perhaps primarily to think about these things.  You might find the primordial universe boring, but to the particle physicist, those were the days!  Such simplicity, such beauty, however mistily visualised in our speculations.  [Leon Lederman, The God Particle: If the Universe is the Answer, What Is the Question? (New York: Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006 [1993]), p.3]
Lederman is honest enough to give a hat tip to the speculative nature of the Big Bang theory ("there was perhaps one kind of particle . . . ").  This is materialist cosmology at its best--that is, the best that it can do.  Faced with these limitations and with a cosmology that can only proceed if it builds upon a theory of meaninglessness and randomness lying at the root of everything, Lederman cannot avoid "calling" upon concepts and realities that lie completely at odds with a random beginning upon which "evolution" worked its magic.  At the beginning of everything, he suggests, there was perhaps one kind of particle or a unified particle/force and the laws of physics

Pardon me.  How did the laws of physics get into this supposedly brutally random universe?  The self-deceit, the intellectual dishonesty is hard to credit.  These are school boy errors and inconsistencies, but necessary for materialist particle physics to maintain its Unbelief.  And, as we know, necessity has always been the mother of invention. 

Now it is one thing for scientists in general and particle physicists in particular to be faced with the unknown, when current hypotheses fail or paradigms reach their limitations or gaps in knowledge force agnosticism.  That we all expect.  It is part of the human condition, and the joy of inquiry.  Those who do not wrestle with what they don't know will never enjoy the "eureka" moment of discovery.  As Lederman himself observes, there are times when the hair stands up on the back of the neck when conducting experiments in particle physics. 

But it is quite another thing to clasp irrationality and fundamental rationalist-irrationalist dichotomies to one's bosom, insisting upon them, making them central to one's understanding of all reality, merely because one's religious world-view demands it and nothing else "makes sense".  It's curious indeed to see a leading particle physicist resorting to such just-so stories. 

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