Big Bang and religion mixed in Cern debate

An image of data recorded at Cern during experiments is search of the Higgs boson (c) Cern The discovery of a "Higgs-like particle" preceded this religious and scientific meeting

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Some of Europe's most prominent scientists have opened a debate with philosophers and theologians over the origins of everything.

The event, in Geneva, Switzerland, is described as a search for "common ground" between religion and science over how the Universe began.

It will focus on the Big Bang theory.

The conference was called by Cern, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, in the wake of its Higgs boson discovery.

Cern is the home of the Large Hadron Collider, the world's largest particle accelerator, situated beneath the French-Swiss border region near Geneva.

Professor Jim Al-Khalili explains what the Higgs boson is and why its discovery is so important

The first speaker at the conference was Andrew Pinsent, research director of the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion at Oxford University.

He said that science risked "trying to turn society into a machine" if it did not engage with religion and philosophy.

"Science in isolation is great for producing stuff, but not so good for producing ideas," he told the BBC.

"Einstein began by asking the kinds of questions that a child would ask, like what would it be like to ride on a beam of light."

That, Dr Pinsent said, was what science should return to.

Prof Rolf Heuer, director of Cern, explained that the Higgs results provided a "deeper insight and understanding of the moments after the Big Bang".

Start Quote

We might find new ways of talking to each other about the beginning of the world”

End Quote Canon Dr Gary Wilton Meeting organiser

He added that he hoped, by the end of the conference, that delegates from very different backgrounds would be able to "start to discuss the origin of our Universe".

Co-organiser Canon Dr Gary Wilton, the Archbishop of Canterbury's representative in Brussels, said that the Higgs particle "raised lots of questions [about the origins of the Universe] that scientists alone can't answer".

"They need to explore them with theologians and philosophers," he added.

Heated debate

The organisers are expecting some disagreements during the three-day event.

For example, one of the speakers, Prof John Lennox from Oxford University, has been an outspoken critic of atheist scientists in the past.

Most recently, he took issue with Prof Stephen Hawking's assertion that God did not create the Universe.

In an article in the Daily Mail, he said that he was certain that Prof Hawking was wrong.

Prof Lennox wrote: "When Hawking argues, in support of his theory of spontaneous creation, that it was only necessary for 'the blue touch paper' to be lit to 'set the universe going', the question must be: where did this blue touch paper come from? And who lit it, if not God?"

Dr Wilton, though, said he was hopeful that "scientists, theologians and philosophers alike might gain fresh insights from each other's disciplines".

The Big Bang

"This is such an exciting conference," he told the BBC.

"It is the first time Cern has invited theologians and philosophers to debate with them.

"But by the end... we might find new ways of understanding our own positions.

"We might even find new ways of talking to each other about the beginning of the world."

The conference is being organised by Wilton Park, an agency of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    Almost no other issue provokes such vehemence on both sides as this. Its expression is similar to the "misfit" feelings linked to trauma so bad that the brain denies conscious access to the memory.
    It is good that there can be calm debate amongst those who use evidence above feelings.
    But why are so many people so extremely emotive on this issue?

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    science and religion pull in opposite direction. the very nature of big bang negates the notion of another being in whatever form being there. both fail to highlight is what existed b4 bang. if everything was created postbang, wot existed prior to, if a black hole, & indeed why so n not a white hole! was there even a hole 2 start with. if evolution's way why long gaps in new species n zero recent!

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    What's the point? Faith is word used to describe belief in something without reason to do so, science is belief in something because you do have a reason.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.


    There can be no common ground because spirituality & religion (any and all of them) cannot survive the truth.

    If science conclusively proves the existence of a god, then the underpinning tenet of faith is negated and religion itself becomes superfluous.

    If science conclusively proves the non-existence of a god, then faith will be subsumed by reason and religions become superfluous.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    If God does exist then there shouldn't be any contradiction between nature and a true religion. The true religion ought to provide at least some scientific truth as well. This is what Professor Abdus Salaam believed (one of the scientists who predicted the Higgs Bosun). He was a practising Ahmadi Muslim and really did believe in God. The debate is a great initiative - they need to invite us!

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Many of the anti-religious sentiments posted here are decidedly, er, unscientific - apparently based on made-up hypotheses (non-evidenced fabrications) of what religious people believe. When Dawkins first started his crusade (word used advisedly), I thought: There goes a man who protests too much. I get the same feeling from reading comments here. Like orphans shouting 'There is no Mum! No Dad!'

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    Oops, post 46 was meant as a reply to post 43 from suffolk123.

    And for people mentioning the Big Bang, there are now other competing theories which allow for a Universe with no beginning or end.

    Some of these were presented in the programme "Horizon: What Happened Before the Big Bang"

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    out of nothing came something
    this proves it
    thecode has been
    breathe deep and aspire
    release the kundalini maharesh yogi and the beetles
    if u believe in one u will be all as one if u beleive in all all will be as one
    love is all all u need is love

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    We homosapians are simply an accident of nature, which given the odds of being repeated elsewhere are a trillion times greater than winning the state lottery or something like that! It's doubtful we'll survive beyond a coupla million years....Some find this very hard to accept and cling to the thought of a higher entity...whatever! But humans are scared when that light starts to blink!

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    46. "A story for entertainment purposes only?"

    I believe it's a story a bit like Kipling's "just so" stories, to answer the questions "why do snakes have no legs", "why is childbirth painful" and "why are men more important than women." The latter clearly rubbish, the first two it gives no more scientific explanation than Kipling properly explains how the elephant got its trunk.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Great idea.Opening free debate and working together is always the best way forward.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    We will never be able to prove or disprove the existence of God, we will never be able prove everything about the origins of the universe. There will always be the question of "What came before that?" whether referring to God or the Big Bang. I know what i believe, i believe in science. I'm bored of being told i'm going to burn in hell by religious people because i don't agree with them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.


    A story for entertainment purposes only? Or to warn against seeking knowledge through a metaphor? You hardly need to read between the lines- "tree of knowledge" is pretty self-explanatory.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    does an existential debate now make any difference in the scheme of things ? be here and now tim leary and richard alpert

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    If the universe started with a BIG BANG, what was the bang's origin and of what material was it made.
    Beware, for HIM up there, may be watching you and laughing HIS socks off.
    We are dealing with expensively arrived at theories only and would probably get more BANG for our buck, if the money was used to investigate new energy sources, other than useless windmills. of course.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    42. "So Adam and Eve were cast out of Paradise for apple scrumping and not for eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge?"

    The story of Adam and Eve is just that in my view - a story. I do not believe it is supposed to be taken literally. Some of my fellow Christians would disagree with me, but many wouldn't.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    37. grannieval

    "No religion that I know of prevents anyone seeking knowledge"

    So Adam and Eve were cast out of Paradise for apple scrumping and not for eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge?

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    #35 thats just a coincedence in the space time continium
    not everything that counts can be measured and not everything that can measured counts,
    when all the mysteries are solved then we will not exist and will that be succcess or a fail?
    or will we just chillax
    or if we chillax now and meditate will the mystery be revealed?
    any pondering put on a postcard to ourselves address to the future

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Atheists & fundementalists make same mistake of taking myths literally. The universal energy out of which bosons, muons, are made is bound to Natural Law, the one Word, Logos, or Logic which Science seeks, interestingly includes Man's Minds & is symbolized there sometimes by the Lord God as that Logic part for Man includes agape and is symbolized personifically by the Lord Jesus Christ.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Scientists should not seek to find out what god has or hasn't done, or try to prove or disprove the bible or any other religious text. Instead their role (whether they have religion or none) is to study and question life, the universe and everything with an open mind and the truth will be revealed whatever it may be. Personal beliefs shouldn't come into it.


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