Writing

  • God and the Higgs Boson particle

    Richard Randerson 18 July 2012

    God and the Higgs Boson particle

     

    By now you will all have heard the story about the Higgs boson particle (HBP) that walked into a church one day, only to be told by the priest that HBPs were not permitted in church. “How then,” said the HBP, “ can you have mass?”
     
    The discovery of the HBP in the Large Hadron Collider at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland is indeed a major scientific discovery. The Collider is a circular tunnel, 27kms in circumference, at a depth underground from 50-175m. Particles travel around it in opposite directions at the speed of light, colliding with each other and fragmenting into sub-atomic particles, one of which is now believed to be the HBP.
     
    The HBP is named for Professor Peter Higgs, a British physicist, now 83, who theorised 48 years ago in 1964 the existence of a particle to which other particles adhered to form mass objects such as stars, planets and even life itself. Prof. Joe Incandela from the university of California has said: “ We're reaching into the fabric of the universe in a way we've never done before”.
     
    Claims such as the latter have led to the Higgs boson being dubbed “the god particle”, without which life as we know it could not exist. While there may be some who would regard the HBP as evidence for the existence of God, I would not put myself in that category, for two reasons:
     
    First, in a recent TV programme Stephen Hawking describes the process of the Big Bang in which the universe began when a single piece of matter spontaneously exploded forming the universe in the amazing manner we are just beginning to understand. A traditional religious view is that God must have pre-existed in order to cause the Big Bang.
     
    But Hawking points out that that theory depends on two premises: (i) that of cause and effect that says everything must have a cause, so something must have caused the Big Bang; and (ii) the concept of linear time, that says there must have been something before the Big Bang.
     
    The fault in both arguments, says Hawking, is that both concepts belong to the universe as we know it after the Big Bang. The concept of a creator deity that pre-existed and caused the Big Bang is not a logical conclusion insofar as it is   based on cause/effect and linear time premises that only exist after the Big Bang. “I have no need of that theory”, says Hawking, referring to God. And I agree.
     
    The second reason why I don't believe the Higgs boson can be adduced as evidence of the existence of God is because I have come to an experience of God that does not require a belief that the God I know must have been involved in the physical creation of the universe. I believe that the eternal truths about God belong within the world as we know it, however created, and not outside it.
     
    We need to start with our own experience of God. Ask yourself how do you experience God, and how would you describe it? My own faith and experience of God arises from a sense of being part of something bigger than myself, an otherness that transcends human experience but yet holds all humanity and all creation in an inseparable unity. Here is mystery, something in the face of which we stand in awe, and an antidote to any tendency to self-centred arrogance. Psalm 8 captures it in the words 'O Lord, our governor, how wonderful is your name in all the earth;…. who are we that you are mindful of us?'
     
    Then I have a sense that life and creation is a gift, unmerited goodness and grace, and that all life is to be treasured and sustained. I feel a sense of connectedness to God and all life: all of creation is part of God's one family, and hence even in the darkest of times we are never alone. Nor can we ever abandon our calling to care passionately for every other member of God's family, which includes caring for the earth itself.
     
    But yet we have to find a way of talking about this central mystery of life, and the image of God as a supernatural being is the traditional expression the Church has chosen. In making that choice we resort to anthropomorphic images, in other words we describe God in human form, albeit super-human form.
     
    A good analogy arises from the words of the Greek philosopher, Xenophanes, who wrote around 500BC that “if the horses wanted a god, they would choose a horse.” Of course, a horse-god could not be any old nag that whinnied and wheezed, grew old and died. It would have to be a super-horse endowed with the finest qualities of eternal youth and energy, wisdom and power.
     
    Xenophanes is satirising our human tendency to create God in our own image. Having created an image of a supernatural being we then add all the finest qualities we can think of, and these include 'pre-existent'. Once we have moved to 'pre-existent' we are now bound to find a place for God in the physical startup of the universe, and carve out a theory of how God relates to the Higgs boson and the Big Bang.
     
    It is in my view an unnecessary exercise. I defer to Galileo, Stephen Hawking and Peter Higgs, Ernest Rutherford, Paul Callaghan and Albert Einstein, and the whole array of great scientists who have taught us so much about the world in which we live, and whose inventiveness delivers so much to us of the things that make for health and life and goodness in this world.
     
    Of course, we need to tread carefully where images of God are concerned. No image can be right or wrong. We must each find an image of God that works for us and best expresses our experience of God. For myself, faith is about the experience of love in our lives, of grace and gift, of justice and truth, and of discernment to ensure that the great scientific discoveries that surround us are used to bring life and not death. The universe is an awesome place, but it can also be cold and distant if not warmed by the compassion and the love we experience as part of God - a divine reality who, while mystery, is yet the eternal source of a love that heals and warms and draws us to a lifestyle centred in Jesus Christ.
     
    So let's not fight with science about how the world was made: issues of physics, mass, Higgs boson particles, space and energy, belong in the realm of science. Religion is a complementary truth, one that marvels in the physical universe but seeks to discern the eternal wisdom and trust that is essential to the well-being of the human race, and the preservation of all creation for the good of ourselves and those who come after us.
     
    Bishop Richard Randerson is currently Priest in Charge at St Peter's Church, Willis St, Wellington
    This sermon was preached there on 15 July 2012.
    We're delighted to have him contributing to Moments.

     

  • Mr Wistful

                 Mr Wistful

    Mr Wistful? No
    not one of our
    regulars
     
    comes in often
    enough though
    sits there, shy
     
    easy not to notice
    between the lines
     
    deep in thought
    always looking
    a bit moonstruck
     
    as if he'd rather
    be somewhere
          else
     
    © the Revd James M McPherson
     
    Maryborough Q
     
    Written at Vaughan Park 19 September 2008
     
    Wistfulness is a melancholy born of displacement: either nostalgia, or loss of previous joy (the present has displaced the past); or melancholy born of hopefulness (the future will displace the past). In my VP Scholar's Lecture in 2008 (titled “A Wistfulness in Worship”), I explored a Eucharistic wistfulness. This poem was written at Vaughan Park at that time – a tentative resumption of my poetry-writing after a lapse of many years.

     

  • Church free liturgy

    Susan Smith 4 July 2012

    Church free liturgy

     

    June and July see people in Whangarei heading off to plant native trees, flaxes, grasses and shrubs on DOC or Regional Council land in an effort to provide better habitation for endangered fauna and flora. I usually make my way to Matakohe Island, a small island sanctuary in the harbour near Onerahi. Matakohe Island provides a predator-free sanctuary for young kiwi, native lizards, and other native birds.
     
    On our first Sunday which was quite cold and showery, there were ten of us planting native flax in a swampy area which would then become a more suitable home to matata or fern birds. They like swampy vegetation. As you can see the matata looks a little like a sparrow and is about that same size although its tail is much longer.
     
    The following Sunday was clear though very cold and there were more than forty of us-–oldies, children and their parents and some younger people including one young fellow who was doing community service. He had been caught with his dog on a DOC track! We left Onerahi in the boat at 9.00 a.m. and returned to the mainland around 1.30 so it is quite a long morning. It is a great community occasion, a type of liturgy.
     
    Before leaving we have to examine our bags and shoes to make sure we are not taking anything dangerous to the island. Argentinian ants are a particular threat, and they are there in Onerahi. We then have to listen carefully to the ranger so we know what to do. We start working–thankfully spades and gloves are provided by Golden Bay Cement.  We then share or break bread together at lunch time. There is something liturgical about the whole morning for me.
     
    Our Eucharistic liturgies invite us first of to reflect on the week that has been. Are we carrying anything into our Sunday liturgy that would be better left behind? That moment of reflection allows us to listen more attentively to the Word of God so that we understand what is being asked of us. We break bread together and talk with people some of whom we have not met before. Community is created. And we work together for a greater good. This all reminds me that God's first revelation is through the world created in love for us all.

     

  • What are you worth?

    Cherry Hamilton 4 July 2012

    What are you worth?

     

    Slim pickings
     
    Mexican telecoms tycoon, the ironically named Carlos Slim, is one of the richest men in the world, described as having a net worth of around $74 billion.
     
    I'm sure Carlos has done some hard work in his life, but is he really 'worth' that much money? Is the homeless man outside the off-license worth nothing?
     
    It got me thinking about our intrinsic value as human beings.  Do we have any and, if so, where can it be found?
     
    Our physical body
     
    So I completed an online test, giving details about my hair length, physique and how many glasses of wine I drank per a week. Apparently, dead, I am worth $5825.   Must cut back on that wine.
     
    Other values for humans range from a measly $1 for the sum of our chemical elements to an impressive $45 million for useful parts from live donors.  (The latter being illegal, probably impossible and unlikely to result in sufficient health to enjoy the accumulated riches.)
     
    Whatever we might believe about the value of human life, most of us know that, as Aristotle said, “The whole is more than the sum of its parts”.
     
    Our capabilities
     
    Meanwhile, Plato famously claimed, “Only in the contemplation of beauty is human life worth living.”
     
    Maybe it's our intelligence and experience that makes us more valuable than horses, cats, mice, ants and bacteria.  But, what if a chimp is more intelligent than a baby or someone with a disability?  
     
    Perhaps dolphins while away long hours contemplating the beauty of the oceans.
     
    Our good deeds
     
    Certainly, dedicating one's life to feeding famine victims or discovering the cure for cancer could be seen as a valuable thing.  
     
    Yet the harsh truth is that, if human beings don't have value outside of our altruism, then our good works may do nothing but increase the problem of over-population.  
     
    Our popularity
     
    When a friend or family member dies, even a much-loved dog, we know they had value; they were valuable to us.  
     
    But we, givers of worth, also live and die.  
     
    Yet, I think we're getting closer.  If our value doesn't come from ourselves then it must come from that placed on us.
     
    Our God
     
    Without God, our options for measuring human worth are pitiful.  
     
    In God we are valuable, not because of our wealth, attributes, capabilities, altruism or the capricious affections of other humans, but because our creator has placed a value on us.  He chose to make each of us in his image, challenging us to love each other as he loved us.
     
    And that's a tall order.  Jesus forgave his enemies, made friends with outcasts and valued us enough to pay the ultimate price of death, giving us the opportunity to come back to him.
     
    It is humbling and strange, disconcerting yet reassuring, to think that I am worth as much as Mother Theresa, yet no more than Robert Mugabe.  If I am to try to love others like Jesus loved me then I need to start by seeing each fellow human according to his or her true worth – priceless.

     

  • Sacred Kingfisher

    Sacred Kingfisher

    dressed
    to kill
    silent, still

    intent upon
    the watercourse
    beneath

    to see
    to swoop
    to seize

    and bring
    the prey
    up to eat:

    totemic

    ___________________________________________________________
    The Sacred Kingfisher (Todiramphus sanctus, fam Halcyonidae) is found in Australia and New Zealand and other areas of the southwest Pacific. I had never seen one until staying at Vaughan Park, when I occasionally saw one on a power line over the creek near the old homestead. Returning to Maryborough where I had moved as Rector in 2008, I have been delighted to see them occasionally in the surrounding bushland and wetland.

    Because of its quiet and solitary nature (although I once saw three or four of them skylarking in a tree), I feel quite an affinity to this particular kingfisher and am always delighted to see one. Hence this poem.

    Alan Fear (http://www.fluffyfeathers.com/index.php?showimage=926) has a delightful photograph of a Sacred Kingfisher on an electric wire – appropriate, since one of my parishioners calls them “electric wire birds” because that’s the only place she ever sees them.

    © the Revd James M McPherson

    Maryborough Q

  • Queen Charlotte Sound: On Retreat. A Trilogy.

    At Punga Cove

    Bees in beech,
    blackened trunks
    diffuse gentle light,
    raking steep sides
    of mountains resting
    in dark water,
    along
    narrow reaches.
     
    Bay to bay opening to sea and
    linking land.
     
    The quiet of sounds
    calling nature's name,
    evoking silence to meet
    my mind
    quieting
    my heart to hear
    the calm of life,
    along
    narrow reaches.
     
    Bay to bay opening to sea and
    linking land.
     
     
    A Lament for hope
    The hills fall into sounds,
    my heart sinks
    with sorrow;
    Leaves descending
    in water's dark depth.
     
    Anxiety depletes
    withering hope.
                    Silent sound
    absent God;
    earnestly, longingly, certainly
    called.
     
    For fish
    fallen leaves
    becoming   food;
    sorrow feeding
    unspoken depth.
     
    The Trees
    These priests stand together,
    each in need of the other;
    rooted in earth
    to freely move
    in air
     
    Grace the means of life
    rises within to inform
    heaven and earth
    of their need.
     
    These priests
    rooted in earth
    to freely move
    in air
     
    © John Fairbrother.
    Vaughan Park, June 2012.
     
    These poems are a reflection on memory of a five day retreat taken in the mid 1990's, while serving at that time in Wellington City as a Vicar along with various other diocesan roles.
     
    John, an Anglican priest, has been director of Vaughan Park since 2003.