Monday, 21 December 2009

God in the Telegraph

There's a short piece by me in today's Daily Telegraph, on the Higgs Boson, God, science, and religion. Quite a lot to squeeze into 500 words. It's accompanied by a longer piece by George, Cardinal Pell, which I thought rather good: forthright, thorough, and reasonable (albeit uncompromising).

These mini-essays appear as part of a series on religious matters that the Telegraph is running for four days this week.

(For the record, for those who have read my bio in the print version: “top physicist” is a bit strong; and yes I work at the Large Hadron Collider, specifically on the experiment called ATLAS, but I have not played a key role there. The experiment where I've arguably played a key role is called Belle, at the KEK laboratory in Japan.)

UPDATE: The two other pieces (not three, as originally stated) were also double-headers:

Rabbi Raymond Apple and Sheik Hersi Hilole

Prof. Brian Schmidt and Archbishop Peter Jensen

I thought them all reasonable presentations of their respective positions, and reasonable in other ways. I also felt that there was some disparity of standing between these gentlemen and myself.


Toby said...

Someone left a copy on my bus seat this morning. It was the first time I'd read the Telegraph in over a year, so was amused to find you gracing its pages.

Bruce Yabsley said...

Hey Toby. So how did I do? And what did you think of the Cardinal's piece?

Toby said...

Good job. It's ingenious and brave enough to get the gig in the first place! You explained things well, I understand much more about Higgs bosons than I did before. Why do you expect it to be double the mass of a copper atom (in simple terms!)? Your doctor/parent analogy was new to me, and seems useful (it also seems like a scenario most would have sympathy with). A sentence or two on why you're a Christian would have interested your readership.

I'm afraid the bus journey wasn't long enough to read Pell as well - I rifled through most of the paper to find your article in the first place. I do still have it, so I'll try to find some time if you think it's worth reading his comments.

Bruce Yabsley said...

I'm glad you found the Higgs explanation helpful: most of the popular explanations on the market are pretty useless in my view. Of course I'm making it easier on myself by not actually attempting a fundamental explanation, but pointing to a more familar phenomenon and saying "it's like that". I'd claim that that's not a cop-out, because the resulting explanation is true as far as it goes, rather than being a travesty.

I would have liked to speak more about my own position, but found I just didn't have space. I'd been approached as a scientist: my being a Christian was incidental in that sense, although I did think it important to mention. I guess I would also say that my Christianity is not especially interesting as such — no more than anyone else's — whereas in a piece like this the way one relates scientific and religious matters is very important, so that's what I devoted my word count to.

I'm happy that you liked the doctor/parent thing, as that's original: I would have been glad of another hundred words to develop it further. I do think it gives some purchase on the situation.

As for Pell's piece: it is worth a read. There is nothing surprising in it, or rather, nothing that should be surprising: a foursquare piece of apologetic in the Catholic style. But since many people relate to the RC via stereotypes rather than familiarity, it might be surprising to some. As I say, he's an uncompromising fellow, but he writes well. And it's a more reasonable form of uncompromisingness than one finds on our side of the fence.

Bruce Yabsley said...

Forgot to mention about the Higgs mass: basically, because if it were any lighter than that we'd have already seen it; and because lower masses are otherwise favoured over higher masses, so it's expected close to the current limit. That is, if we are talking about a Standard Model Higgs. If there is something else going on at the TeV scale, it will in general have a more complicated Higgs sector (or maybe even no fundamental Higgs at all) and any statement becomes model-dependent and complicated.

Toby said...

If you do want to elaborate on doctor/parent, your blog would be a great place for it - that way I can be reminded when I forget it! :)