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 138.

    7 Minutes ago
    Adults should not have imaginary friends
    Yes, they should; imagination is our greatest gift.

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    my main concern is that in having this debate, CERN is wasting money, and the time of great scientific and philiosophical minds, who could be otherwise engaged in the pursuit of the answers to these questions

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    Our God told us how He created the World we don’t need any evidence?

    John, we have the evidence - you just don't want to believe it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    Adults should not have imaginary friends.

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    LINK TO THIS. Its Hawkins not Dawkins. Furthermore to this debate, there is no evidence whatsoever that can be given for God NOT existing. Science is about facts, religion apart from early genesis is a history book, and moral guide. For the 2 to meet, scientists need to put the 'con' back in to science. CONSCIENCE, we would all live in a far less troubled world. Believer in both science and God.

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    The ability to believe in and follow something/someone blindly is rooted in the primitive, reptilian, part of the brain. Along with aggression, the drive to reproduce and other basic drives. It's no surprise then, that if somebody's Faith, Nation, Political affiliation, Football team is challenged then it often leads to conflict.

    The quest for knowledge is a higher-brain function.

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    Lot of heat, but not very much light here as the debate seems to fall (predictably) into a Christian-vs.-atheist rut. The question is a lot bigger than that. It's really about you, who you are, and how do you face the challenge of being you: retreat into dogma or experience, adapt, learn and grow?

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    Yes many planets have been found, but where are the ones with life? To be honest i would like to send all the haters there as they are ruining this gift we have. Science? Nuclear bombs, Nuclear power plants that the waste lasts a million years. Find another planet and go there i will pay your ticket lol.

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    123. IToldYouSo. Yes, you are right. Living beings are so much more complex that non-living beings. So please explain to us how non-living beings came about, then explain where the life came from. I'm just tucking into some primordial soup and bread whilst waiting for the answer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    "What created God? And don't say he has always been there, that's meaningless."

    Maybe we are incapable of understanding. A cat probably doesn't understand trigonometry. We may be cleverer but just suppose that we are physically unable to understand a time without the universe. Time, God and existence are just words we created for our own brains to use to describe complex things.

  • Comment number 128.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    Belief in God is a matter of faith, not fact. Religion falls flat on its face when it insists that its holy book is the truth when it can be proven not to be eg the 7day creation.As long as facts are repressed in the name of religion, there can be no middleway between religion and science. At least scientists accept they can be wrong and will review their beliefs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    17 Minutes ago
    Anybody care to guess how long we're going to put up with the religious morons?
    so assuming you favour the scientific approach what evidence can you provide to support the hypthesis that followers of religion are morons? After you've defined what a moron is of course.

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    Whilst I myself do not believe in god, I wonder how atheists feel about the case for there being no such thing as free will? Does this challenge what you want to allow yourself to believe? I personally think the scientific evidence is compelling (that there is no free will) and it feels intuitive to me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    "So how come the incredible complexity of life appeared by chance?"

    You say that as if it cannot possibly have started just 'by chance'. The trouble is no one knows if all existence, not just life, is by chance or the result of some deity's whimsy/grand plan.

    Faith is a belief in something that cannot be proven. Science is a belief in a best guess.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    119. MNR

    Life, once the ball gets rolling is self-replicating and increases in complexity. Unfortunately Ferraris are not self-replicating. Even if two of them were parked next to each other and you played them some romantic music.

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    Science and spirituality are like oil and water and (should) serve entirely different purposes. The sooner the day comes when evolution takes it's course and the current set of stone age, gobbledegook religions are dead and gone, replaced with a sense of spirituality that deals purely with spiritual and not physical matters the better. Another couple of thousand years maybe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    2 Hours ago
    we know that Earth is not flat and was made AFTER The Sun and Stars not before like Genesis claims ( Gen 1:2 ,Gen 1:3)
    Yes, but at one time science did believe that the earth was flat. How do we know that what we believe now is any more accurate?

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    Science cannot prove or disprove the existence of God. Why is belief in God any less rational than atheism.
    My faith tells me that God is real, it is difficult to explain how I am certain of the existence of God, but I don't think it can be properly understood unless you have a similar kind of faith.

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    Dear "Behonest", you must have the answer, enlighten us. Do you think that you started out in a muddy puddle at the foot of some volcano a few million years back? If you were to go and park your car in a muddy puddle at the end of your street and come back in a few million years, would you expect to find a gleaming Ferrari? No. So how come the incredible complexity of life appeared by chance?


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