Dearie me. Look what somehow and inexplicably made it into Nature magazine this week:
Sometimes science must give way to religion
The Higgs boson, and its role in providing a rational explanation for the Universe, is only part of the story, says Daniel Sarewitz.
The problem is, I don’t think Sarewitz actually means that, and what he might have wanted to express is more down the lines of “Looking at great pieces of art or architecture like the temples of Angkor Wat can create in humans an emotional response and a feeling of transcendence”. But the way the headline is written, the conclusion I draw is that Sarewitz gets his starting premise wrong and simply confuses art or skillful architecture with religion. It gets worse, though.
Not only does he bring up that old howler of the “God Particle”, which the author who coined that unfortunate name for the Higgs boson, Leon Lederman, actually wanted to call the Goddamn Particle, but the publisher refused, but he also says this:
For those who cannot follow the mathematics, belief in the Higgs is an act of faith, not of rationality.
Is an act of faith required for anyone unfamiliar with the equations of Newtonian mechanics to drop a can of coke down a building and trust that it will actually fall? I may not be able to follow the mathematics of general relativity either, but I know that my GPS works. We have evidence that science works, from microwave ovens to the Curiosity Rover. Most people are unable to “follow the mathematics”, but it is reasonable to assume based on previous experience that scientists have arrived at their conclusions by gathering evidence and testing their hypotheses. The scientific method works, and no faith is required.
Yet, whereas the Higgs discovery gives me no access to insight about the mystery of existence, a walk through the magnificent temples of Angkor offers a glimpse of the unknowable and the inexplicable beyond the world of our experience.
How so? What is meant by “unknowable” here? Christian religion as it is today has its basis in 2500 year old texts, and nothing that wasn’t known at the time when those texts were compiled has made it into them since. Not dinosaurs, not bacteria, not the temples of Angkor. Religion is not equipped to make any forays into the unknown, in fact it is always satisfied to declare things “unknowable” and let the matter rest. And what is a “mystery of existence”? The universe has no purpose, humans are not god’s creation on a secret mission, the mystery is rather how it all works, and it is extremely exciting to see how science is making more and more advances towards understanding how the universe came to be. How it came to be, not “why”.
How this confused piece ever made it into Nature is really beyond me.