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Friday, March 7, 2014

Theology and Particle Physics

Theology and Particle Physics
(Written in 1999)

By Jim J. McCrea
What can science tell us about the nature of God, and of ultimate reality? What is the relationship between God and science. In this article, a perspective will be given on scientific investigations into the deepest structures of matter, as understood by theoretical physicists. This will focus on scientific theories and discoveries on the subject of particle physics. The relationship between particle physics and metaphysics shall be explored. Let us start with an exposition on particle physics and the nature of matter and energy in general. We have all learned in school that atoms consist of a nucleus of protons and neutrons, surrounded by a cloud of electrons. There are umpteen levels of knowledge deeper than this, that science now has, of the structure of matter. At these levels a phenomenal level of order and beauty reveals itself that points to a divine creator of all things.

Physicists know that the neutrons and protons which form the nucleus of the atom, consists of quarks. The proton consists of two "up" quarks and one "down" quark, and the neutron consists of two down quarks and one up quark. ('Up' and 'down' do not refer to the orientation of these. They are simply names. They could have been called 'Fred' and 'Mary') In the field of subatomic particles four more types of quarks are known. The down and up quarks belong to the first generation of particles. Quarks given the quixotic names "strange" and "charm," belong to the second generation. The "bottom" and "top" quarks belong to the third generation. (Again 'bottom' and 'top' are merely names. They are not indicative of position).
If quarks form one class of particles, what is known as "leptons," form the other class. Leptons also come in three generations, which correspond to the three generations of quarks. The electron is a lepton in the first generation. The muon (a sort of a fat electron) is in the second generation, and the tau (an even heavier sort of electron) is in the third generation. Each of the three leptons mentioned so far - the electron, the muon, and the tau - have a corresponding neutrino: the electron neutrino in the first generation, a muon neutrino in the second generation, and a tau neutrino in the third generation.

All of the particles discussed above, belong to a general class known as "fermions." These are particles which consist of what we would call matter. There exists an entirely different class of particles called "bosons." Bosons carry the fundamental forces of nature so that the fermions (or matter particles) can interact with each other. The first type of boson is the "photon." This is the boson that we are most familiar with in the real world. It carries the electromagnetic force. This is responsible for all electromagnetic radiation (i.e. radio waves, micro waves, infrared radiation, visible light, ultra violet light, x rays, and gamma rays). The photon also carries ordinary magnetic and electric fields. Eight types of gluons carry the "strong nuclear force." The strong nuclear force holds protons and neutrons together in the nucleus, and hold quarks together within protons and neutrons. W-plus, W-minus,and Z-zero particles carry the "weak nuclear force." This is responsible for some forms of radioactive processes. The hypothetical graviton carries the gravitational force.

Many of these particles are quite massive compared to the proton and neutron, and require particle accelerators miles in circumference to produce them for detection. The final fermion, which is the top quark was, because of its mass, only discovered in 1995 in Fermilab's super-conducting Tevatron, in Batavia Ill. The Tevatron is a ring which is four miles in circumference. Protons travel around the ring in one direction, and anti-protons travel around the ring in the opposite direction (protons are the antimatter counterpart of protons. Antimatter does not just exist in Star Trek. It is real). The two particle beams collide, and from the energy of the collisions, exotic massive particles are created. New particles are materialized out of the energy liberated by the collisions between protons and anti-protons. This is because Einstein's famous principle E = mc~2 applies in which mass and energy are interchangeable.

At the European center for particle and nuclear research (Straddling the Swiss-French border, near lake Geneva) a dual beam pipe, which will enable the collision of protons on protons, is being installed (for three billion dollars, and will be online in 2004) in the 17 mile circumference tunnel, which now houses the Large Electron-Positron Collider. The proton beams will be steered in their circular path by superconducting magnets (superconductors have absolutely no resistance to electricity), cooled to below 450 degrees below zero by liquid helium. The super cold conductors allow the electromagnets to be much more powerful than that of conventional electromagnets. This allows for a much more powerful particle beam to exist within a given accelerator circumference.

One of the purposes of this European accelerator (called the Large Hadron Collider) is to verify the existence of what is known as the "Higgs" field. It is thought that the Higgs field pervades all of space. Matter gets its mass because of the energy with which the Higgs field binds to material objects. This binding energy is translated into mass because, again, the principle E = mc~2 applies. It is expected that the Large Hadron Collider will produce the Higgs particle, verifying the existence of the Higgs field. It is a principle of quantum mechanics that each type of force field requires a corresponding type of particle. The Large Hadron Collider is required, where the Tevatron will not do, because the creation of more massive particles requires a more powerful accelerator. The Higgs would be the most massive particle yet. It is called the "holy grail" of particle physics.

The theory of matter goes even deeper than what has been discussed so far. It is thought that the ultimate constituents of matter are "super strings." These are one dimensional objects which vibrate within an eleven dimensional space, which includes time. (dimensions five to eleven are folded in sub-atomic distances so that they do not appear in the universe that we can see) Depending on how a given superstring vibrates, would determine what type of particle it is. If a string vibrates one way it is a quark. If it vibrates another way, it is an electron, etc. When superstrings act and interact, they form loops, they join, and they separate. One dimensional superstrings follow two dimensional trajectories know as "world sheets." When viewed in space and time together, world sheets conform to a hyper-geometrical construct, that mathematicians call "complex manifolds."


Now this is where theology comes in. If complex manifolds are the ultimate geometrical descriptions of matter, they are just that - descriptions. They are not causes. There must be a sufficient reason why complex manifolds are the way they are, and not otherwise. Since something cannot be the cause of itself, it must have a cause outside of nature, which can be called God. God, therefore, would account for the properties of all the particles we have just discussed.

Stephen Hawking, in his book, "A brief History of Time," said that the laws of nature may be so compelling that they cause matter to exist. This is of course erroneous. A thing and the laws by which that thing must conform to are two different matters. C.S. Lewis gives an example: He said that if accounting were done to the end of time, not a single penny would be generated by that alone. Real money must be supplied from the outside, so that the laws of accounting have something to work on. I remember an atheist telling me in my first year of university, that God is not necessary because logic explains everything. I did not have the knowledge to answer that argument back then, but I now know that a universe might be perfectly logical, but could have nothing in it. Besides logic, a transcendental or "supernatural" component, in addition, is required. This component is "Being," or "Existence," or simply "What is" - an actuality which is at once ordinary and mysterious, in which its essence is to be the opposite of nothingness. The real being that the universe has, can only be caused by He Who Is Being Itself, who is God (St. Thomas Aquinas says that God's name is given in Exodus 3:14 as 'I AM' because God is Pure Being).

Many false theories abound today about the nature of the ultimate reality called "God." One version is by the 17th century philosopher Spinoza. Spinoza maintained that God is an infinite, self existing geometry. All things are a part of this god. It is not distinct from creation, and is rooted in a form of mathematical logic. It is beyond good and evil, and its power is demonstrated not in doing good, but by producing spectacular effects. Since this god is merely geometry, it has about as much love as geometry. It is beautiful but completely cold. (This, incidentally, is what Einstein believed in).

The problem with Spinoza's god, is that it is contrary to reason. If God is Being Itself (as is required if he is self existent, and himself does not have a cause), then he contains all positive attributes to an infinite degree. This is because he must contain everything that being can possibly imply (God would not contain evil, because evil is the absence of due being). Spinoza's god clearly does not fit this criteria. It lacks goodness, love, personality, and does not even have real intelligence. Spinoza's god stands to the Christian God, as a skeleton stands to a living person.

Another false doctrine that is popular among philosophers of science, is the idea that all phenomena in the physical universe
(including love, goodness, and intelligence), arises from the interaction of quantum waves in the fabric of space-time. This commits the fallacy of saying that the greater is caused by the less. Christianity maintains that goodness, love, and intelligence, comes from a God who has all of these, to an infinite degree, from all eternity. Christians take the more logical route in saying that a stream is fed by a source higher than itself.

Many top physicists are looking for an ultimate explanation of things in an entity they would call "God," in mathematics and physics. The problem is, is that they are looking DOWN to search for God - that is, they are taking the arrogant approach of looking for the ultimate cause of all things through their intellectual microscope, so that they can completely dominate it with their mind. The problem with this approach is that God can not be found by looking down, only by looking UP - through faith and humility - by embracing mystery with love.