Bulletin Banner

Return to July/August 2013 articles.

Understanding the God Particle

If you want an interesting word search to do on your computer, go to the Web and search under the word “nothing.” Depending on your search engine you will get millions or even billions of results. It seems that mankind has struggled with the concept of “nothing” for a very long time, and we have learned more and more about nothing until we know almost everything about nothing!

A person with a bunch of questions.The current leading book in this subject area from an atheist viewpoint is A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing by theoretical physicist and cosmologist Lawrence Krauss of Arizona State University. One of his lines is “Forget about Jesus — the stars died so you could be born.” One of his major supporters is atheist biologist Richard Dawkins whom we have discussed in this journal in the past. Krauss and Dawkins made a documentary movie in April 2013 titled The Unbelievers to help promote their atheistic agenda. By mixing a number of new proposals with a heavy dose of atheist philosophy, Krauss leads his fellow atheists into familiar waters. In fact, when I was active in atheism some 50 years ago, I was arguing that science is advancing so fast that ultimately all present mysteries will be solved and mankind will understand how the creation came into existence from nothing.

It is not our purpose here to review Krauss's book, which is well written, interesting, and explores some difficult, theoretical, and controversial areas of science. What we would like to do is explore this subject area with an eye to giving a common sense, easy to understand foundation to the questions being raised by followers of Krauss. Our basic theme in this journal and in our ministry is that faith and science are not enemies — they are friends. New experiments and new understandings may modify what we believe, but properly understood all scientific facts will support faith. If there is a God and if he created the creation we observe, and if that same creator gave us an explanation in the Bible of what he did, then our faith in God can only be strengthened by a better understanding of the cosmos. Those whose sole purpose is to get people to “forget Jesus” are not educating us, but are salesmen promoting their own religious agenda — which in this case is atheism or agnosticism.

A sign with words meading nothing.POINT 1: THE DEFINITION OF NOTHING IS AN ISSUE. The word “nothing” is obviously “no thing” — or the absence of “something.” Webster's dictionary adds that nothing contains no part or trace of anything. In the early days of science, understandings were based on what the five senses could detect, and it was believed that the universe was only made of what could be sensed. As new tools became available to science it became obvious that there were things that could not be sensed by the five human senses, but were very real. “Nothingness” would have to include the absence of detectability and no one knew what that limit would be. At the beginning of the twentieth century Einstein gave us E = mc2 indicating that matter and energy were just two forms of the same “something.” This meant that not only would we have to talk about matter when speaking of what nothing is, but we would also have to speak of a complete absence of energy since mass was simply a concentrated form of energy.

This has been a problem with some writers in the twenty-first century. The modern concept of vacuum fluctuations or quantum fluctuations suggests temporary changes in the amount of energy in a point in space. The assumption is that as long as the products of any reaction adds up to zero we have nothing becoming something and then becoming nothing again. Some have even used matter/antimatter interactions to support this view saying that if matter collides with antimatter they destroy each other and produce nothing. That statement is patently false. What happens is that energy is produced obeying E = mc2 and in theory that energy could be re-formed back into matter. Trekies will remember the “beam me up Scottie” line in which this was theoretically done.

It has become increasingly obvious as quantum mechanics has advanced that there are dimensions beyond our own three-dimensional world, and that these dimensions have connections to the cosmos as we observe it. Scientific proposals such as string theory and brane theory have incorporated these ideas in their models. The biblical account and the concept of God creating the cosmos does not deal with these modern discussions of nothingness. The Hebrew word reshith translated “In the beginning” in the Bible implied to the readers thousands of years ago the same concept that it does today — that is, the creation of the physical world.

It is important to understand that all modern theories about creation assume a pre-created matrix for whatever interaction is being described. The “God particle” advocates assume that the Higgs boson exists, and that the Higgs field exists. String theory assumes that 11 dimensional superstrings exist and that there is a matrix in which they could collide. The Hebrew word for God in Genesis 1:1 is Elohim which was used when the Hebrews were emphasizing God's power and creative capacity. The Hebrew word for create is the word bara which is reserved for an act that only God can do. The Hebrew word translated “heaven” is the word shamayhim which most literally means “heaved up things” and is involved with the cosmos being “stretched out.” There is no conflict between what our experiments show and what these words say. Science will change, expand, and come up with new models that work better than the existing models, but redefining “nothing” to try to exclude God from being the designer and creator of all we see is an exercise in futility. The question of whether God is the designer and creator of things like the Higgs boson can be debated and certainly will be, but it is not a debate over nothing.

POINT 2. UNDERSTANDING GOD'S METHOD DOES NOT NEGATE GOD'S EXISTENCE — AND IS WORTH DOING. Laymen may wonder why anyone wants to engage in these types of research and discussions. If the sole purpose of such work is to discredit Christianity and cause people to “forget Jesus” such a challenge might be valid. The fact is however, that any research into the cosmos can provide benefits to humanity. There was considerable religious resistance to surgery when modern surgical methods began. I have been told that a doctor decided to remove a baby that had died late in a pregnancy and whose decaying body was poisoning his mother. The doctor's life was threatened by local people who felt this was God's domain and man should not invade it. That kind of ignorance has existed in a number of scientific areas, but this is human ignorance and has nothing to do with God's existence. By understanding how our bodies work we are now able to correct and cure a huge range of physical ailments. While such knowledge can be misused, it can also bring great blessings to mankind. Most doctors will tell you that they can only do so much and that there is much that goes on with curing medical problems that is outside of what our technology can do.

A binary stream.Knowing how the solar system works, how the sun functions, and how the moon interacts with the earth has great benefits. Such knowledge not only fills us with awe at the wisdom and power involved, but also helps us predict events that affect us so that we can prepare for them. It also helps us to find energy and mineral resources. Understanding how the atom has been built and how charge and mass function has given us modern technology and the solution to all kinds of problems. Krauss' statement that “the stars died so that you could be born” is easily understood to be simply a methodology that God has used to create us and the world in which we live. If God created the Higgs boson and the Higgs field as a means of producing mass, that is again just an understanding of the methods God used and is not related in any way to God's existence.

Knowing how light is produced has given us the laser. Discoveries that allow us to understand how gravity is produced and how it can be controlled have huge positive possibilities for mankind in the future. The more we know of the creation, the closer we get to the creator and an understanding of his incredible wisdom and power. It should never cause us to question his existence. “The heavens declare the glory of God; / And the firmament shows His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). Romans 1:20 has a remarkable choice of words on this subject: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power … .” Science helps us comprehend these “invisible attributes” by helping us see “the things that are made,” be it a tree or a Higgs boson.

POINT 3. THE BIBLE IS WRITTEN FOR A VERY WIDE AUDIENCE — NOT JUST TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY COSMOLOGISTS. Mankind seems to forget the scope of the readership of the Bible. The date of Genesis can be debated, but no one doubts that it was long before the birth of Christ. Can you imagine writing something today that will make sense 3,000 years from now? Recent conflicts in Moslem countries have driven home to most of us in America how difficult it is for people to reach across cultural lines. A while back someone in the United States made a very bad video which gives a scathing denunciation of Mohammad. The content of the video is not the issue here, although I found it to be poorly done and in bad taste. My discussions with Muslims whom I am studying with through our e-mail program have revolved around their belief that the United States government has produced the video. The idea that an individual could produce this on his own and that the government would not approve, sanction, or promote it is beyond their understanding. In their country anything public has to be government approved, and an individual does not have the right to express such a view.

The Genesis account was written in a particular language at a particular time in a particular culture. Trying to explain a quark to high school students in basic physics classes has always been a challenge to me as a teacher. Trying to do it to people who have never seen an electric device would be far beyond my ability. People have a tendency to forget that writers of Genesis and Job were not modern scientists. What they wrote had to make sense to the ancient shepherds in the hills of the Middle East and for people who were not scientifically literate in all cultures throughout thousands of years; and yet had to be testable for scientifically literate people in the twenty-first century. The Genesis account does all this and whatever conflicts arise are due to human failure to take the Hebrew words literally or a misapplication of what Genesis says.

POINT 4. THE BIBLE'S MAIN THRUST IS SPIRITUAL, NOT PHYSICAL — THE OPPOSITE OF THE ATHEIST'S THRUST. When you explore the websites dealing with “nothing,” what you see is that they deal entirely with the physical realm. “Survival of the fittest” is a physical concept and when it is applied to moral and social issues the result is destructive. The classic example which we have mentioned before in this journal is Dr. Peter Singer, the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, who has suggested that people who are mentally ill and/or mentally challenged should be euthanized because they are a drain on society and they make no contribution to society. That suggestion is the result of viewing only the physical in nature — the naturalistic mentality. The suggestion that we live in a universe that came from nothing and that we should “forget Jesus” because of that is rooted in a naturalistic, materialistic philosophical orientation.

A zero hand gestureThe history of creation in Genesis 1 concludes with the statement, “Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. … Then God … rested from all His work which God had created and made” (Genesis 2:1, 3). In 31 verses of Genesis 1 we have been taken from true nothingness — no mass, no energy, no time, no space, no Higgs bosons or gravitons, and no fields of any kind — to a functional planet in a physical three-dimensional universe functioning within a segment of space/time. All of modern cosmology and quantum mechanics is an attempt to understand how God did all of that.

The second chapter of Genesis then turns us to the main purpose of the Bible — to show man’s ideal relationship with God and with woman. That relationship in both cases is not primarily physical. The stated purpose of the relationship between man and woman was a spiritual relationship because nothing else could be “a helper comparable to him” (Genesis 2:20). The concept of man and woman becoming “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24) was not just a sexual relationship. It was far more than that. Our obsession with the physical has caused us in recent years to denigrate marriage because the emphasis has been on a physical unity, not on the oneness that Genesis describes.

The third chapter of Genesis brings us to man’s corruption of his relationship with God. In the discussion between Eve and the serpent the break between the physical and the spiritual is made clear. God has told Eve, “ You shall not eat it [the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden], nor shall you touch it, lest you die” (Genesis 3:3). The serpent tells Eve that she will not die physically, but that the change will be spiritual, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4 – 5). Satan makes it clear that physical death is not what is involved, and verse 6 tells us that Eve knew it was “desirable to make one wise.” This was a deliberate rejection of God and did in fact result in death — spiritual death. God’s pronouncement was correct and Satan’s words were partly true.

Theologians like to argue about the literalness of this account, and volumes have been written to defend a multiplicity of interpretations. The fact is, however, that the rest of the Bible is about man's spiritual journey back to God. Jesus said “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Over and over Jesus taught people to focus on the spiritual arena and rebuild their relationship with God. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven … For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19 – 21).

A direction signing pointing to everything or nothing.Telling people to “forget Jesus” and then giving a reference to how the elements in our physical bodies might have been formed in the interior of an ancient supernova as the reason to do this involves being incredibly ignorant of the Bible's message. We need to avoid debates about nothing, and understand that the evidence is clear that God is the creator of the physical and the spiritual. We are special because we are created in his image with the capacity to love and serve in the same way that Jesus loved and served. Paul told the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers perhaps the most concise version of what we have tried to say in this essay in Acts 17:24 – 30:

“God, who made the world” (from true nothingness) “and everything in it … is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being … ‘For we are also His offspring.’ Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, … Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent.”

(Bible quotations are from the New King James Version.)

— John N. Clayton

Picture credits:
© skvoor. Image from BigStockPhoto.com
© Andy Dean Photography. Image from BigStockPhoto.com
© Mike_Kiev. Image from BigStockPhoto.com
© Tee man. Image from BigStockPhoto.com
© kikkerdirk. Image from BigStockPhoto.com