This is my 1000th post. When I began this blog back in 2005, I saw it as a a means of continuing the weekly writing that I had been doing as the lay pastor at Walker Valley and Tompkins Corners. I did not imagine that I would delve into the areas where faith and science overlap; yet the 3rd piece that I posted “Isn’t This the 21st Century?” was exactly that.
As I begin what I hope is the next 1000 blogs, I hope to do more in this area for I fear that there are those in the two separate spheres who would seek to diminish the influence of the other at a time when both faith and science are needed.
And Jesus said “Seek the truth and the truth will set you free.”
Pilate would later ask, “What is the truth?”
Thomas would later, if you will, say that he would only know the truth when he himself saw the evidence.
It is a core statement in my teaching that the curious creature in the universe is a five-year old. Powered by some, as yet unknown force, the five-year-old embarks on a fascinating discovery of the world around them. And each discovery is accompanied by some of the most singularly powerful questions ever uttered by mankind, “why?”
Theirs is a search for the truth in its purest form, with no motive other than discovery. And yet, by the time these young children are seventeen or eighteen and have completed some twelve years of schooling, the drive, the inquisitiveness has all but disappeared.
Can it be that our educational system and society in general have driven it out of them? Can it be, even more so today, with our demand for accountability and its reliance on testing that we have eliminated curiosity as part of our soul?
Fortunately, not everyone has lost this desire; otherwise the announcement two weeks ago that the existence of the Higgs boson was confirmed might have never taken place.
There are some, of course, who look at what it cost and suggest that it was money foolishly wasted; that the extraordinary large sum of money spent could have been spent on something more worthwhile. But what is the true cost of basic research? And if there are only a limited amount of funds available, what must be taken so that something else can gain?
This argument always seems to focus on the limited amount of money spent on non-military items as if money spent on weapons and war are far more important than health, food, and peace.
The United States was thinking of building what was called the Superconducting Super Collider (or SSC for short) that would have preceded the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland where the work to find the Higgs boson was accomplished. But the funding for the SSC was never approved by Congress because it was felt 1) the money could be better spent on other projects such as the International Space Station, 2) more but smaller projects could be funded, and/or 3) it was just another pork barrel project designed to enhance the reputation of one or two Congressman and Senators at the expense of the rest of the country.
Whatever the reason, the failure to the build the SSC in America was as much a failure of the imagination of the people of this country as it was a reaction to the expenditure of funds for a project with no tangible outcome.
Our history in science tells us that unless there is some immediate and profitable outcome for a project, it is unlikely to receive the appropriate funding. If it does receive funding, then the funding lasts as long as the perceived outcome remains true; once the outcome has been accomplished, the funding disappears. (See any discussion on the nature of science and math education in this country after 1957 – “Liberal Arts and Science Education in the 21st Century”)
We once looked up into the skies and wondered about the moon and the planets and the stars. Now, we simply look up, perhaps wondering if we will ever go back.
We have arrived in the 21st century hoping that someone will be able to tell us the truth because we are unable to discover it ourselves. Education is no longer about thinking and applying knowledge to situations but simply memorizing trivia and writing it all down on a test at the end of the year.
Our students know a lot of “stuff” but very little about what to do with it our use it. They can tell you why Mendeleev was able to predict the existence of gallium and germanium but not predict the existence of neon or argon. They can solve problems that are in the back of the book but are incapable of solving new ones. And quite honestly, most teachers are unwilling to ask such questions because they are not part of the accountability-based curriculum that so dominates our schools today.
I am becoming more and more convinced that there are many in the world today who see the ability to freely think and be creative to their own personal power and position. They are quite happy with the way things are right now. Why else would education be so denigrated today?
And if we cannot answer questions about the unknown, can we answer questions about ourselves?
One of the suppositions of behind the search for the Higgs boson was that it represented the situation moments after the “Big Bang.” Its presence in our model of particle physics is critical to explaining why things have mass but do little to explain why there was a beginning in the first place. In fact, no part of current cosmology that offers an answer to that question at all.
There are some who will tell you that such postulations about the beginning of the universe are meaningless; the earth and universe were created by God from a formless void and in a period of six days gave us the earth and inhabitants in its present form.
I will accept that the universe was created out of some formless void but not much else of that story, though not for the reasons you might think.
I go back to the beginning and to that inquisitive and talkative five-year-old who pestered his parents with what seem to be never-ending questions of why.
Why am I here mommy?
How did I get here daddy?
Why is the sky blue?
What is that twinkling light in the sky?
Ours has been a continuing search for the truth. Some three thousand years ago, the parents of such an inquisitive child told their child a story, a true story about a God who created them and loved them. It was a story told to a child but told in such a way as to help the child find God for themselves. It was never intended to be the only story.
The discovery of the Higgs boson should remind us that we have been seeking the truth for as long as we could ask questions. It should also remind us that each time we answer one questions, two more questions get asked.