Friday, 28 October 2016

The Parlous State of Particle Physics

"I Know Nothing"

We came across a hilarious piece by David Berlinski the other day, lampooning the current state of particle physics.

But some background is in order.  Back in the day, Christians and Jesus Christ used to be lampooned by secularists and atheists for the "God of the gaps" reflex.  This was when secularist and materialist science was in its heyday.  The science v. religion paradigm was portrayed as knowledge versus ignorance.  Before the rise--and dominance--of the secularist paradigm, the ignorant explained what they did not know or understand with reference to a Deity.  "Why do rainbows exist?"  Answer: "I don't know.  God knows and He makes them."  But as more and more knowledge came into existence about the natural world of matter and how it works, the gaps in our knowledge shrank.  Consequently, the "God of the gaps" got smaller and smaller.

We don't need God any more to explain things, said the secularists and materialists.  They happily retired Him to the House of Lords, whilst everyone got on with genuine reality.
 Back in the real world, Christians with even just a modicum of understanding of the Bible never accepted the false dichotomy implicit in the "God of the gaps" paradigm.  Christians have always understood that the more we know about the Creation, its laws, its causes and effects, the more glorious God becomes to us.  We discover that we--and all creation--is fearfully and wonderfully made.  Instead of God growing "smaller", His glory--that is, our apprehension of it--grew, and grew, and grew.

The breathless wonder that David Attenborough stupidly attributes to inchoate, random, blind chance was amplified many times over in the heart and mind of the Church when attributed to the glory and power of the Creator God "who made all things of nothing in the space of six days and all very good".

But now the poor old secularists have been hoist on their own petard.  Particle physics--at least the scientific comprehension of it--is more perplexing and scientists more ignorant today than ever.  The more learnt, the less known, let alone understood.  It is a case of "secularism of the gaps"--and the more the secularists learn, the bigger the gaps in their knowledge.  Gone is the full-throated trumpeting arrogance.  Now it's a matter of, "We have no idea, and probably never shall."  After all, when cosmologists like Stephen Hawking have to presuppose the existence of an infinite number of universes to warrant the existence of our universe--or reality as the secularist knows it--things have come to a pretty pass.

Back to David Berlinski.  He describes the tortuous imbroglio of modern particle physics and its disconnection with ordinary reality.
We seem to live our lives in perfect indifference to the Standard Model of particle physics, the world we inhabit not only remote from the world is describes but different in detail, thank God.

Over there, fields are pregnant with latent energy, particles flicker into existence and disappear, things are entangled, and no one can quite tell what is actual, what is here and what is there, what is now and what was then.  Solid forms give way.  Nothing is stable.  Great impassive symmetries are in control, as vacant and unchanging as the eye of Vishnu.  Where they came from, no one knows.  Time and space contract into some sort of agitated quantum foam,  Nothing is continuous.  Nothing stays the same for long, except the electrons, and they are identical, like porcelain Chinese soldiers.  A pointless frenzy prevails throughout.  [David Berlinski, The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions (New York: Basic Books, 2009, p. 200f.]

Welcome to the wonderful world of particle physics.  It's a mess folks.  But, is that how we actually experience life?  If that's the "state" of particle physics over there in Bern, what is life actually like here?
Over here, space and time are stable and continuous.  Matter is what it is, and energy is what it does.  There are solid and enduring shapes and forms.  There are no controlling symmetries.  The sun is largely the same sun now that it was four thousand years ago when it baked the Egyptian deserts.  Changes appear slowly, but even when rapid, they appear in stable patterns.  There is dazzling  variety throughout.  The great river of time flows forward.  We anticipate the future, but we remember the past.  We begin knowing we will end.  [Ibid., p. 201.]
And here is the punch-line:
The God of the Gaps may now be invited to comment--strictly as an outside observer, of course.  He is addressing us.  And this is what He has to say: You have no idea whatsoever how the ordered physical, moral, mental, aesthetic, and social world in which you live could have ever arisen from the seething anarchy of the elementary particles.  It is like imagining the seething sea resolving itself into the Parthenon.  [Ibid.]
The "seething anarchy" of elementary particles versus the ordered world in which we live:  both are true.  Ah, but the secularist has a way of dealing with this gap, which is more like a yawning contradictory gulf.  The modern secularist pretends it away.  So, the dripping sarcasm of the secularist mocking the "God of the gaps" has been replaced by the bumbling ineptitude of Sergeant Schultz, spluttering: "I see nothing.  I know nothing.  Nothing."

The Word of God has already issued its indictment: "Professing to be wise, they have become fools."  [Romans 1: 22]

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