Update On Homosexual Parenting & The Higgs Boson


Last week I shared with you the study conducted by the University of Texas professor Mark Regnerus on the success of same-sex parenting and to the shock of many he found, as we saw, that in fact same-sex couples were not as effective in parenting as normal heterosexual couples. The children coming out of those sorts of families were severely disadvantaged in many ways.

Well, as you can imagine, this has raised a firestorm of controversy and protest. Most of the criticisms of Regnerus have been of a very personal nature. Epithets like homophobe, bigot, and hateful have been hurled at this professor. He has been roundly denounced in the most blistering of terms. I hope for his sake that he is tenured because the forces of political correctness will punish him if they are able. In fact, the University of Texas, I believe, has launched an investigation of his study which was published in a professional peer-reviewed journal to see whether or not the results are accurate.

It seems that in the minds of many, Regnerus has already been tried in the court of public opinion. For example, one of the headlines that I saw said “University of Texas launches investigation of flawed study.” And I thought about that. That is sort of like saying “The trial of the murderer will take place next week.” He has already been condemned even prior to the investigation. Another criticism that I saw struck me as odd. They criticized his study because it didn’t have an adequate sampling of stable homosexual families or households. Well, that was exactly the point in the study! According to what I have read, the number of male homosexuals who are in monogamous, long term, stable relationships are so tiny as to be statistically insignificant – not appreciably different than zero. So of course that would be reflected in Regnerus’ study.

For his part, he has said in the press that he stands by everything that his study says and is willing to see it investigated objectively. He says it was done rigorously and correctly. It seems to me that any objective observer ought to be able to assess the study objectively without these sorts of epithets and hateful denunciations. For example, suppose there were a study – I’m not saying there has been, just make one up – suppose there was a sociological study that claimed that children of morbidly obese parents are significantly disadvantaged in various ways. Surely such a study could be assessed objectively to see whether or not that were true wholly independently of hurling epithets of hatred toward overweight people or other sorts of epithets. And yet the press doesn’t seem to understand this. The press doesn’t seem to understand what it would mean to have an objective assessment of Regnerus’ study. Instead, the articles that I read typically run anecdotal stories about homosexual couples which are intended to move the reader emotionally with feelings of sympathy or compassion. For example, a story about a lesbian who says “Don’t tell me that my children are disadvantaged by being raised in my home.” Indignation expressed there. Or the young person who says that he was raised in a homosexual home and he wouldn’t trade it for anything it was such a wonderful experience. Well, this kind of anecdotal evidence doesn’t refute a scientific study. This is like the person who insists that cigarette smoking is not linked to lung cancer by saying “Well, I had an uncle who smoked all his life and he never got cancer.” That kind of anecdotal story simply doesn’t disqualify a scientific investigation.[1] So I am hopeful that this scientific investigation can proceed and the results of Regnerus’ study can be considered on their own merits as scientific sociology either confirmed or repudiated by further studies. But there shouldn’t be any more of this kind of name calling and hate speech for the sake of political correctness.

The really big news though this week has not been of the social or political kind. It has been scientific. Apparently, the Higgs boson has been found at CERN. This has caused celebrations throughout the world among the scientific community and then also very grave warnings about the religious implications of this study. The great theological significance that comes from the discovery of the Higgs boson.

Now, what is the Higgs boson? The Higgs boson is the final particle to be detected that is postulated in the Standard Model of particle theory. According to the Standard Model of subatomic particles that govern three of the four forces of nature, namely the electromagnetic force, the strong force, and the weak force – according to this model which governs the particles and the dynamics of the particles related by these three forces of nature – there is an additional particle called the Higgs boson which, up to now, had yet to be found. It was predicted by the Standard Model but whereas we knew that photons exist, that neutrinos exist, that quarks exist, they had not yet confirmed the existence of the Higgs boson. Now apparently this particle has in fact been detected in the collider in Switzerland at CERN. Here is the story as it was reported by Reuters news service[2]:

Scientists at Europe's CERN research center have found a new subatomic particle, a basic building block of the universe, which appears to be the boson imagined and named half a century ago by theoretical physicist Peter Higgs.

“We have reached a milestone in our understanding of nature,” CERN director general Rolf Heuer told a gathering of scientists and the world's media near Geneva on Wednesday.

“The discovery of a particle consistent with the Higgs boson opens the way to more detailed studies, requiring larger statistics, which will pin down the new particle's properties, and is likely to shed light on other mysteries of our universe.”

Two independent studies of data produced by smashing proton particles together at CERN's Large Hadron Collider produced a convergent near-certainty on the existence of the new particle.

It is unclear that it is exactly the boson Higgs foresaw, which by bestowing mass on other matter helps explain the way the universe was ordered after the chaos of Big Bang.

But addressing scientists assembled in the CERN auditorium, Heuer posed them a question: “As a layman, I would say I think we have it. Would you agree?” A roar of applause said they did.

Higgs, now 83, from Edinburgh University was among six theorists who in the early 1960s proposed the existence of a mechanism by which matter in the universe gained mass.

By the way, on a personal note, two of those other physicists that are unnamed here were Robert Brout and François Englert of the Free University of Brussels. During the time that Jan and I lived in Brussels in Belgium, they were developing vacuum fluctuation models of the early universe and I was able to go into the Free University and had an opportunity to sit down with Englert and Brout and talk to them about their vacuum fluctuation models. They were very kind, very forthcoming; we had a wonderful discussion.[3] I had no idea at the time that I might have been talking with two future Nobel Prize winners if they should be so awarded the prize for their prediction of this boson. In any case, the article goes on to say,

Higgs himself argued that if there were an invisible field responsible for the process, it must be made up of particles.

He and some of the others were at CERN to welcome news of what, to the embarrassment of many scientists, some commentators have labelled the “God particle”, for its role in turning the Big Bang into an ordered universe. Clearly overwhelmed, his eyes welling up, Higgs told the symposium of fellow researchers: “It is an incredible thing that it has happened in my lifetime.”

. . .

“It is very satisfying,” Higgs told Reuters. “For me personally it's just the confirmation of something I did 48 years ago,” he said of the achievement of the thousands who labored on the practical experimental work which had, finally, confirmed what he and others had described with mathematics.

“I had no expectation that I would still be alive when it happened,” he said of the speed with which they found evidence.

“For physics, in one way, it is the end of an era in that it completes the Standard Model,” he said of the basic theory physicists currently use to describe what they understand so far of a cosmos built from 12 fundamental particles and four forces.

. . .

Scientists struggling to explain the theory have likened Higgs particles to a throng of paparazzi photographers; the greater the "celebrity" of a passing particle, the more the Higgs bosons get in its way and slow it down, imparting it mass; but a particle such as a photon of light is of no interest to the paparazzi and passes through easily - a photon has no mass.

. . .

“The fact that both our teams have independently come to the same results is very powerful,” Oliver Buchmueller, a senior physicist on one of the research teams, told Reuters.

“We know it is a new boson. But we still have to prove definitively that it is the one that Higgs predicted.”

“If I were a betting man, I would bet that it is the Higgs. But we can't say that definitely yet. It is very much a smoking duck . . .”

Now that is a wonderful mixed metaphor, isn’t it?! I had never heard a better mixed metaphor than this one!

“It is very much like a smoking duck that walks and quacks like the Higgs. But we now have to open it up and look inside before we can say that it is indeed the Higgs.”

. . .

The Higgs theory explains how particles clumped together to form stars, planets and life itself. Without the Higgs boson, the universe would have remained a formless soup of particles shooting around at the speed of light, the theory goes.

It is the last undiscovered piece of the Standard Model that describes the fundamental m[1] W[2]

ake-up of the universe.

So I hope it is clear exactly what this particle – the Higgs boson – is. It is the Standard Model that governs particle physics with respect to these three forces – electromagnetism, strong force, and the weak force. It does not deal with gravity. So it isn’t a complete theory of nature in that sense in that gravity is left out. But it does govern three out of the four fundamental forces of nature. And the Higgs boson is simply the last of the particles postulated by the Standard Model to be discovered. Because it is so massive and because it decays so quickly, almost as immediately as it is formed, it takes enormously high energies to discover this thing and therefore it has taken decades, thousands and thousands of hours and probably millions of dollars in order to be able to detect this particle because it is so elusive.

I think you can see that in one sense this doesn’t really represent anything new. It simply confirms the Standard Model of particle physics that has been assumed to be correct all along. It is simply the discovery of the final particle that was predicted by the theory yet to be discovered.

So, as far as it goes, this is the model that scientists have been using in describing the particles governed by these three forces of nature.[4] Now, I say as far as it goes. That is an important qualifier because the Standard Model for particle physics only applies to the universe as it exists at its relatively low temperatures such as we have today. But as you trace the expansion of the universe back in time the universe becomes denser and denser and denser and as a result becomes hotter and hotter and hotter. Eventually you reach temperatures at which these forces can no longer exist as distinct forces. Rather, they all merge together. This will take you back, as you go back in time, to the so-called GUT era. That is an unlovely acronym for Grand Unified Theory. The goal of physicists is to find a Grand Unified Theory which will unite all of these distinct three forces into one force that will be a symmetrical condition of the universe. That even isn’t a completely theory of nature because prior to the GUT era comes the quantum Planck era – about 10-43 seconds after the Big Bang. Gravity then has to be incorporated into your theory to have a so-called Theory of Everything which will be a theory in which all of the four forces of nature are unified into a single force and that can take you right back to the very beginning of the universe.

So if we start at the beginning and go forward in time, as the universe begins everything is perfectly symmetrical. There are no distinct forces other than this single force that governs nature. But as the universe expands and it cools, the universe goes through a series of phase transitions in which these symmetries are broken. What happens first is that gravity comes out as a distinct force. So after the Planck era, gravity separates out as a distinct force and then you have the GUT era in which the other three forces are still in a symmetrical state. Then as the universe continues to expand and continues to cool that symmetry is also broken as the universe goes through more phase transitions and these three forces then separate out as distinct forces. And that brings us then to the physics governed by the Standard Model of the universe today.

In light of this, I think you can see how utterly irresponsible have been some of the statements by physicists in the popular press concerning the theological significance of this discovery. For example, in a CNN interview, Michio Kaku, the physicist, was asked by the CNN interviewer, “Does this discovery go to disprove religion?” And Kaku’s answer is “It is worse than that. This takes us back to the instance of creation, even beyond the Big Bang, and shows that you don’t need to have these supernatural entities.” Well, I think as you can see, the Standard Model doesn’t take you back to the instant of creation and the beginning of the universe. It doesn’t even take you back to the GUT era much less to the Theory of Everything. So these claims are simply scientifically irresponsible. They are simply false. This particle and the field that the Higgs particle sets up doesn’t even exist until the universe is cooled and expanded sufficiently in order for it to be possible. Similarly, when Lawrence Krauss goes on the air and says that this leads to a new theory of creation. That is simply false. The Standard Model is assumed by the Big Bang theory at least back to the GUT era. So how could the confirmation of this model do anything to suggest a new theory of creation?[5] It is simply confirmation of the model that scientists have been working with all along. So, in one sense, nothing has really changed. They just found the last particle that everyone assumed always existed and that is described in the Standard Model.

As for this appellation “the God particle,” this was coined by a physicist named Leon Lederman in 1993. He did not mean that this particle was some sort of a substitute for God or that it supplanted God or anything of that sort. Rather, Lederman had two reasons for calling the Higgs boson “the God particle” and they are rather amusing.

The first one is that, like God, the Higgs boson underlies every physical object that exists. If there weren’t any Higgs boson there wouldn’t be this Higgs field and so things moving through it wouldn’t have any masses. So there wouldn’t be any physical objects. In the same way that God conserves the universe in being, so the Higgs boson is a necessary precondition for the existence of every physical object. So in that sense it is a kind of a nice illustration of God’s conservation of the world in being which we studied earlier in our Doctrine of Creation.

The second reason he called it “the God particle” is because it is frustratingly difficult to detect! God isn’t obvious, is he? God isn’t visible to the five senses. You can’t see or touch or hear God. God is not available to the five senses. It is part and parcel of discussions of the problem of evil that often when we go through difficult times of suffering, God is frustratingly absent. We don’t see his hand at work. God is hidden and we wonder “Where is God in all of this?” The wonderful lesson, I think, of the Higgs boson is that just because you don’t see that this thing is at work doesn’t mean that it isn’t objectively there and still at work. In fact, its influence can be present and even pervasive even though it is not detectable to you. So similarly, when we go through difficult times of suffering and God seems absent, that doesn’t mean that he is absent any more than the absence of the evidence for the Higgs boson meant that it didn’t exist. God is still there. He is still active. He is still providentially in control even if in our situation we may not be able to see him at work.

So I actually like the title “the God particle” because I think that the Higgs boson is a very nice illustration of two of these central theological attributes of God, namely, God’s conservation of the world in being and, secondly, his hiddenness and yet objective existence even in times of suffering.[6]

[1] 5:11

[2] http://in.reuters.com/article/2012/07/04/us-science-higgs-idINBRE86008K20120704 (accessed September 29, 2013).

[3] 9:58

[4] 15:03

[5] 20:02

[6] Total Running Time: 23:16 (Copyright © 2012 William Lane Craig)