A Newsweek article on one of the most important physics projects of the new millennium asks, “Will it change our views of the universe and our place in it?” Apparently the writer (and her sources) consider physics tantamount to religion!
Switzerland’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC), years in the making, is finally ready to begin its mission this summer: smashing matter together in the quest to find an “elusive” particle known as Higgs boson (a boson is one type of particle smaller than an atom). The Higgs boson is irreverently known as the “God particle” because physicists are hoping it will help us unlock a “grand theory of the universe.”
Newsweek’s Ana Elena Azpurua spoke to Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg of the University of Texas–Austin about the scientific and alleged religious import of the work that will be done (and discoveries that many hope scientists will make) at the new collider.
Though it’s the next to last question in the published interview, Weinberg admits that he’s an atheist, even while gibing at others by pointing out that he doesn’t “make a religion” or “organize his life” out of his atheism. That unsurprisingly colors his answers to several questions, such as:
As we come closer to developing an ultimate theory of the universe, how will this impact religion?
As science explains more and more, there is less and less need for religious explanations. Originally, in the history of human beings, everything was mysterious. Fire, rain, birth, death, all seemed to require the action of some kind of divine being. As time has passed, we have explained more and more in a purely naturalistic way. This doesn't contradict religion, but it does takes away one of the original motivations for religion.
When asked if the work at the LHC may upset religious believers, Weinberg suggests there will be “a little less for religion to explain” if the LHC research explains the origin of the big bang (when everything came from apparently nothing!). Weinberg also, in apparent congratulations, says that established Western religions have “learned to stop trying to explain nature religiously and leave that to science.” Sadly, Weinberg is accurate: many Christians have given up connecting any aspects of Christianity—including the basis of our faith that we have in the Word—to any part of “real life.” The mistake they make is that the definition of what is nature seems to grow and grow, and thus science squeezes religion out. Yes, if we only use religion to explain what science “can’t,” eventually there will be no room for religion. Christians who first let naturalistic science explain the origin of fossils by saying there was no creation now hear the same naturalistic science explain that there is no soul, no afterlife, no God, etc., by the same logic.
In actuality, there is no dichotomy between so-called religion and so-called science; rather, there are different worldviews, each that religiously hold an axiom by faith at their core, and build understandings of the world—scientific or otherwise—off of that axiom. In Weinberg’s godless worldview, the origin of the big bang is taken by faith, just as Christians accept God’s eternal existence by faith. “In the beginning the big bang created the heavens and the earth” might be the naturalist’s starting dogma. Even Weinberg, without realizing it, points out the faith required by both theists and atheists (in answer to, “You once said that even if we find that final theory, it will still be possible to ask why this one and not another.”):
Yes, it is true. What will be completely satisfying will be to show that there was only one kind of nature that was logically possible and derive the laws of nature in the same way that we derived the principles of arithmetic. I don’t think that will be possible, because we can already imagine logically consistent laws of nature that don't quite describe the world we see. We will always be somewhat disappointed. But people who believe in God have the same problem. They will never be able to understand why the God that they believe in is that way and not some other way. All human beings, whether religious or not, are caught in a tragic situation of never fully being able to understand the world we are in. [emphasis added]
Weinberg has made our case for us, in a way! Meanwhile, his nascent morality similarly belies his implicit agreement with the biblical worldview. In answering the question, “Are [religious people] also going to be disappointed about our position in nature, our purpose?” Weinberg says:
We don’t see any purpose dictated to human beings in nature. Human life does have a purpose, but it is a purpose that we invent for ourselves. It takes a certain act of courage to look at nature, not see any plan for human beings in there and yet go on and live good lives, love each other, create beautiful things, explore the universe. All these take more courage without having some divine plan that we discover, but one that we rather create for ourselves.
So what if the purpose I invent for myself is to not live a “good” life, to not love anyone, to destroy, etc.? Can an atheist show that such behavior is in any way “wrong”—for what does the term “wrong” even mean other than perhaps indicating a minority view of subjective morality? According to Weinberg, wasn’t serial killing cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer living just as “courageously” as Mother Teresa? But where did Dahmer get his “morals”?
If a person doesn’t think there is a God to be accountable to, then—then what’s the point of trying to modify your behaviour to keep it within acceptable ranges? That’s how I thought anyway. I always believed the theory of evolution as truth, that we all just came from the slime. When we, when we died, you know, that was it, there is nothing
Even prominent evolutionist Richard Dawkins agrees with us:
Jaron Lanier: “There’s a large group of people who simply are uncomfortable with accepting evolution because it leads to what they perceive as a moral vacuum, in which their best impulses have no basis in nature.”
Richard Dawkins: “All I can say is, That’s just tough. We have to face up to the truth.”2
Even recent school shootings, such as the eight killed in Finland late last year, remind us of the sort of “purpose” belief in evolution allows us to—as Weinberg says—invent for ourselves.
Finally, we come to the question of whether Weinberg is open to belief in God. “Could something found in the Large Hadron Collider or in future experiments make you change your mind [about God]?” Azpurua asks. Weinberg replies:
It is logically possible that something could be discovered that will make me change my mind, and it will be interesting to see if that happens. But I don’t expect it. It is always possible that we will discover something in nature that cannot be explained in the naturalistic way that we’ve gotten used to in science and that will really require divine intervention. That hasn’t happened.
We would argue that no bit of evidence—no scientific discovery—is going to make Weinberg change his mind; after all, there are plenty of unanswered questions in secular science that require divine intervention (e.g., origin of the universe, origin of life, origin of genetic information, origin of language and morality), but atheists hold on to their faith that science will provide them with a way around the God conclusion. If Weinberg doesn’t see enough to believe in God now, then he never will (from a logical standpoint).
After all, many misportray the debate as “which—science or religion—has more evidence to support it?” As we’ve said, that’s an incorrect view; both rest on faith, and both interpret their evidence through their worldview. There’s all the evidence and all the explanations anyone needs to adopt and be intellectually satisfied with the biblical worldview. Rejecting the biblical worldview, then, is never because of insufficient evidence, but because of a heart and mind turned against the one true God.