Rabbi Marc Gellman writes about religion for Newsday.
Q. Reportedly scientists in Geneva have announced the key discovery to authenticate the theory of all matter: The God Particle. New discoveries, in turn, create new analyses of the intelligent design of creation, and so the wheel of science study spins.
Perhaps this recent find is the divine intervention for modern science that no law of physics rules out. Scientists from the renowned European Organization for Nuclear Research collaborate on the Higgs boson subatomic particle finding as The God Particle. Thus, it is the footprint of the first step to all existence -- the divine missing link to all creation.
Could the discovery of The God Particle be the beginning, and thus, as it has been said, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth"?
-- S., Lindenhurst, via email
A. It is right to call this discovery a God Particle because it may be the very first scientific proof of the move from nothing to something in the universe. For some scientists, this is proof that God is unnecessary. The natural laws of physics can, so they believe, now explain everything. For some of them, God is just an ancient, extraneous concept, but I disagree.
I don't believe that science and religion need to be engaged in mortal combat. I believe, with the late paleontologist Stephen J. Gould, that science and religion are "nonoverlapping magesteria" (NOMA), each sovereign in its own domain of human thought and human hope.
It's Gould's position that science teaches us what is in the heavens and religion teaches us how to get to heaven. I think you are on the right track in speculating that the discovery of the Higgs boson merely takes us closer to understanding the mechanisms by which God created and continues to create the universe. Perhaps there is a force called dark energy in the universe that looks like it is nothing, but is really something that has the power to create the subatomic particles that are the building blocks of all matter.
However, the philosophical/theological first question remains: "Who created the dark energy that created the boson that created matter that created people and puppy dogs?" Either the dark energy and the boson are truly nothing, in which case, by definition, they do not exist, or they are something, in which case it/they had to be created by some previous thing (a boson's boson?).
The reason this question can't be answered by science is that it's not a scientific question. It isn't even a religious question. It is a logical necessity that the chain of causation that brought us to this moment in time had to have a beginning out of nothing, a creation ex nihilo.
If the chain of causation that brought us to now is infinite, we could never arrive at the present moment, since an infinite series can never be completed. So, logic demands -- and religion affirms -- that at some point in the distant past, something that was itself not created, created the first matter in the universe. That uncreated creator was called by Aristotle, "The Unmoved Mover." Religious folk call it God. It is the same idea.
As I explain this to children, "God created everything and nothing created God." The boson is not nothing. It is not a God Particle. It is a particle -- a something, and God is not a thing.
The proof for the existence of the Higgs boson is apparently a series of lines on a photographic plate. This makes me smile, because it reminds me of Einstein's explanation of his work to Gandhi, who had asked him in a brief letter, "Dear Einstein, What do you do?" Einstein wrote back, "Dear Gandhi, I trace the lines that flow from God."
Q. Every time a person whose life has been "miraculously" saved (in a situation where others have died) attributes their survival to God, aren't they implying that God CHOSE to save THEM because their lives were somehow more worthy than those of the deceased?
-- R., Plainview, via email
A. God's blessings to us are not a zero sum game. Because God blesses us doesn't mean that God cannot bless others. "Thank you, God" does not mean, "Thank you for not blessing others." It just means, "Thank you, God, for allowing me to see your blessings and to live a life of gratitude and charity as a way of honoring my debt to your loving kindness."
All people are equally holy and all blessings equally gracious.