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 78.

    When they're done, they might as well hold another conference to find common ground between astronomy and astrology.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    The fundamental difference between Faith and Science is that Faith believes in an immutable absolute for which there is no proof, whereas Science always, always questions itself, and thereby improves upon the understanding of previous generations. The only thing that is truly Certain is Uncertainty itself. Faith cannot explain the universe any more than Science can but just thinks it can.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    God is a man made creation. Don't believe me, read some history.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    There are two opposites here which will never agree, science must always move onwards even if that is from looking and learning from the past, the god believers no matter which god are irretrievably locked into looking back into the past. Darwin, if he popped up now say in Iran or Pakistan how long would he live? In Pakistan they shoot schoolgirls in the head for trumped up secularism reason.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    Science and religion do not have to contradict each other. Science asks "how?", religion asks "why?". I am a Christian and a physics student, the Bible tells me that God created the Universe, science tells me the Universe started in a Big Bang. I see no contradiction if God started the Big Bang.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    Besides what is wrong with being a deeply religious non-believer -perhaps bordering on nihilism. Coming face to face with a world with no God and the stark frightening reality of being can be an existential freedom where 'one no longer lives in bad faith' (Sartre) by which this means the falsity,redundancy and futility of man's actions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    My favourite is the ancient Sumerian belief that the gods created the human race to do all the really grotty jobs that nobody else wanted.

    This not only explains why the universe exists, but also why it sucks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    61. Theophane

    Let's not beat around the burning bush, most of those writings are self-referential, while scientists come up with new ideas, inventing things like the Internet so you could make your post, and making life so wonderfully interesting that I can spend my evening typing all this instead of getting on with what I was going to do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    Still amazing how the universe can come from nothing, multiple universe's, big bangs, the quantum world all amazing that science can't explain or struggle to explain.

    I don't believe in religion it is man made, i believe there is a life after death n any god if there is one would give us freedom and never get involved in the direction life takes even if we kill ourselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    It will be just a match of personal prides and egos. No minds will be opened.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    Why on earth are scientists meeting with crazy people? Religious leaders hold far to much power. Its about time we grew up and accepted there is no evidence that God exists, if there was we would have had it laid out bare before us, rather than being told well I know it is true because I have faith. I have faith that David Cameron is an Alien shape shifting lizard, but doesn't make it true...

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    It has often been said ''That God is the mathematical architect of the Universe'. What we need is a mathematical proof that : 'Proves that a mathematical proof of the existence or non-existence of God is impossible'. There are 'theorems' (conjectures) in mathematics that are impossible to prove or disprove within its axiomatic system. Godel claimed to have constructed an existence proof.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    If god exists , then who created god ?
    I'll tell you . Mankind did , to explain away things that couldn't be understood at the time .

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    Of course you won't burn in hell for agreeing or disagreeing with me and you may define the word God as something that exists, the Universe in motion, perhaps, or Something that does not exist. The hells that exist, however, are the ones we make for ourselves and live in.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    This sounds like it has the potential to be a very exciting conference promoting a greater understanding between different minds and disciplines; I hope it lives up to this and we can have an opportunity to read/see the detail of the discussions. I'd be particularly keen to see a discussion between scientists and philosophers about the role of assumptions/presuppositions in their works.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    @55. David Horton
    Spirituality or enlightenment is very much backed up by advances in neuroscience. Religion is something else altogether and if God is anything other than simply 'the unfolding of reality' (which lets face it, people try to argue with every single day, whether religious or atheist) then I agree that the two sides will find little common ground.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    no scientist should even try to have a rational conversation with these nut cases.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    It's diverting to see scientists with superiority complexes. Taking Pope Benedict as just one example (innumerable Rabbis and other ministers of religion could also be cited). He can read and understand Ancient Greek and Biblical Hebrew, and is fluent in 6 modern European languages as well as Latin. His writings are of a breadth and calibre that find few equals in the whole of human history.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    This kind of dialogue--on large and small scales--should be occurring all over the world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    53. Surly Tapster


    What could be more scientific than referring to the "handbook" of a given religion and pointing out it's flaws, mistakes and gaffes. And if you hold up your hands and say "Well they're just stories, and not what religion is about, or what I currently believe." then what is your current hypothesis of what it's all about?


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