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 98.

    @86 'A scientist will change beliefs when presented with contrary evidence,'
    I'm not defending religion but that statement's simply not true.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    "who lit it, if not God?"

    Ockham has demostrated centuries ago that introducing unncecessary entities, being of which can be neither proved or disproved - is a nonsence.

    How can proposing an existence of a Supreme Being (wood for Jesus' cross exisiting on million of other planets inhabited by species without arms&legs to be nailed to the tree) change what's is there or isn't there?

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    @91 religon has nothing to do with science and how do you know there is a god lol?

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    I believe it was Roger Bacon who said something to the effect that scientific investigation was not to make the universe smaller, but to make the human mind grow to understand it. If you haven't stared at something in wonder and humility, I think you're missing the point.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    Put 100 scientists in a room and you'll get one answer for the value of G Newtons constant plus or minus a bit.
    Put 100 theologians in room you get one hundred values for a God.
    Put one economist in a room you get one thousand answers.
    Who would you choose ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    This is rubbish!! I hope the majority at Cern publicly distance themselves from this nonsense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    83. Fairsfair

    Your understanding of the Big Bang theory must be very unique then. It neither prevents us existing in a material form or from having conscious thought. If you have read somewhere or watched some creationist youtube video from across the pond then you may have been misinformed, and deliberately so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    “Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind." The two go hand in hand, and as God gave us all a brain, start using it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    You all sound as though there are only 3 religions out there. Open your eyes people and look at the wider picture. How can 3 religions who all disagree with each other be correct.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    Re 15 - One aspect of the Bible is very accurate, that being its insight into human nature. Even if religion is not your bag some of the writers were pretty clued up about what makes mankind tick. Surely you can't deny that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    IToldYouSo, 71;

    Theology is no more 'self-referential' than any other discipline, and it is the Grandfather of all other disciplines. The great European universities all started out as centres for theological enquiry - Western civilisation is built on this. So i could just as easily claim that scientific advances in the west owe their existence to theology.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    Its an interesting approach. Scientists by the nature of their discipline are required in their research to exclude non physical phenomena. However, at the boundaries of the research there is plenty of shifting ground that allows a more philosophical argument to be engaged.

    This may draw more people into the world of science and draw scientists to explore a world beyond scientific boundaries.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    What's the difference between science and religion? It's how they adapt to new information. A scientist will change beliefs when presented with contrary evidence. News of the accelerating expansion of the Universe overturned a lot of theories and was greeted with great enthusiasm!

    Religion always twists new facts to fit existing beliefs, and never admits the possibility of being wrong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    and who created god just goes on and on and on

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    The chap in the BBC article claims that "science is not so good at producing ideas". Maybe instead of a debate these people could receive an education. Finding a middle ground implies that there are two clashing, equally probable ideologies or world-views. This isn't the case, there is simply observations/reason/logic/facts versus a load of uninformed superstitious nonsense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    If the Big Bang theory is correct, then the theory of Evolution is incorrect. They are contradictory. If the Big Bang theory is correct, then we do not exist as we think we exist. We are merely unconscious collections of energy and we do not do Science. Either, we are 'real' human beings and our science is bad or the science is good and we do not exist. Separately, God is not the same as Religion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    Atheists and believers in a god are no different, both rely on faith since non can prove their claims.

    This is where science steps in and nobody can be considered a true scientist if their mind is closed and already made up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    74. DannySpud

    What is a poor scientist to do? Every time he/she presents a paper for peer review after covering several whiteboards with formulas he/she has sweated over for moths and years - and then some religious bod stands up and snidely remarks "God did that".

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    @ Scottishgit. God Particle was used as an explanation other than God not that God created it.

    Also religion has always played catch up with science (after persecuting scientists) when theories are discovered to be correct. Copernicus is a good example.

    As for people beliving religion created morals and laws is incorrect.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    It will be lots of arguments of you are wrong I am right from all sides. Facts won't come in to it. The only victims of this will be truth, united thoughts, reasonable thinking and tolerance of opposing views as already evident in the BBC comments.


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