March 25, 2009

Four Elegant Words

2009 1509 page6 capONSIDER THIS HYPOTHETICAL CASE: YOU LEAVE FOR A TWO-WEEK vacation, taking your house keys with you. You return home to find your doors securely locked—just as you left them; but inside you discover the dining table lavishly set with freshly cooked food.
When you recover from the shock, your mind goes into overdrive formulating theories as to what might have happened. But I suspect that among those theories would never be the idea that the set table and the piping hot food simply came about by chance or accident or “natural” development over time—even if your vacation had lasted 50 million years, instead of just two weeks.
Yet here we are, confronted by a vast and exceedingly complex universe, infinitely more astonishing than a mysteriously set table in a locked house. And isn’t it astonishing that it’s those who dare to believe intelligence had to be involved who find themselves on the defensive today?
2009 1509 page6This year is the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his historic book, The Origin of Species, and we’ve been deluged by coverage in the press, with more than 11,000 Christian clergy in the U.S. joining in the celebrations. Last December, in advance of the anniversary, Adventist Review published a major article on the evolution challenge (see the December 11 cover feature); and now, in a continuing attempt to respond to the swirling debate, this issue presents a three-article cover cluster on creation, evolution, and related themes (see pp. 18-25).
The summer of 2008 saw a world media filled with talk about something called “the Higgs boson” (an expression many of us were hearing for the first time). As a Time magazine online article explained, scientists over many centuries have been on a quest for the “single particle responsible for imparting mass to all things—a speck so precious it has come to be known as the ‘God particle’” (see,8599,1729139,00.html. Italics added). To find it would be to discover the one unifying agent that holds everything together—what makes the universe tick, so to speak. It would be like discovering what some have called “a theory of everything.”
For more than four decades now—since 1964—that quest has been the passion of British scientist Peter Higgs, so much so that the elusive particle has come to bear his name—“the Higgs boson.” To find that particle, physicists set up at the CERN laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland, “the most powerful particle accelerator ever constructed: the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) . . . a 17-mile underground circuit that took 25 years to plan and $6 billion to build” (ibid.). The aim is to discover what happens when particles collide at fantastically high speeds. The huge experiment was to probe a phenomenon so radically elemental that (as some readers will remember) it set off fears about the end of the world.
I confess the word “boson” was so new to me that at first I couldn’t even hear it. I looked it up and found the following definition, among others: “Any of a class of particles . . . that have zero or integral spin and obey statistical rules permitting any number of identical particles to occupy the same quantum state” (
Gobbledygook? For most of us, yes. But what I noticed was how that definition provides indirect acknowledgment of the mathematical intricacy of the basic stuff of the universe—and how the significance of finding a set table with fresh food in a locked house pales in comparison. It’s breathtaking to contemplate God’s astonishing creation.
The whole boson project also shows how difficult it is to function without a God hypothesis or something equivalent to it; and how far people are prepared to go to discover (and perhaps control) this elemental thing, this “God particle.” Which explains, in large part, why we’re so dreadfully afraid to confront the implications of those four elegant words that commence the Bible: “In the beginning God . . .”
Roy Adams is associate editor of the Adventist Review.