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 298.

    Please, will someone point to just ONE achievement arising from mythology (which is what all religions are based upon) matching even remotely the achievements of science? We don't need men in funny hats pontificating about imaginary entities, we can do without them. If we'd continued listening to them, we'd still be up to our necks in mediaeval mire.

  • rate this

    Comment number 297.

    I can say with absolute certainty that there is no god, and no one on earth has the ability to contradict me. God is faith based, you either believe or you don't, it can not be proven.

    But, I also think it is absolutely vital for society that people believe there is a greater purpose to life, even if it is human based.

  • rate this

    Comment number 296.

    A fun concept surrounding the Big Bang is what caused it, or what came before it. However, those concepts don't make any sense. There was no "before" the Big Bang as time requires the universe to exist, and that only existed after the Big Bang. It wasn't caused by anything either as the laws of causality don't apply outwith the universe. It simply happened because it happened, no reason.

  • rate this

    Comment number 295.


    Quite unlike a proportion of the "believers" whose absolute conviction, so offended by the absolute conviction of others, seeks to eliminate the source of that offence by any means.

    I need no lessons in morality from such a compromised source.

  • rate this

    Comment number 294.

    289. watershed "What grates is the apparent claim of some of faith to claim a "moral" qualification for partiticpation in certain public activities."

    Agreed. We could fill the expanding universe with the hypocrisy of many a religious leader. Unfortunately, many reasonable atheists & theists are feeling increasingly alienated by extremists on both sides. This is not conducive of healthy debate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 293.


    "If you're an Atheist? You're very busy counting Gods."

    I included my last sentence to avoid precisely this kind of nonsensical response.

    Answer the point.

  • rate this

    Comment number 292.

    285 whatisgoingon, religious fundies are another story! These Cern debates have piqued my curiosity. I am interested in hearing one between, say, an atheist evolutionary biologist and a Catholic cardinal (given that the Catholic church accepts evolution, even if they argue God is behind it). It's utterly boring to see Bible-thumpers and atheists who use the term "sky faery" continually go at it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 291.

    When two men of science disagree, they do not invoke the secular arm; they wait for further evidence to decide the issue, because, as men of science, they know that neither is infallible. But when two theologians differ, since there is no criteria to which either can appeal, there is nothing for it but mutual hatred and an open or covert appeal to force.

    - Bertrand Russell, Science vs Religion

  • rate this

    Comment number 290.

    Proverb; You may plan your life; but God has the last word!

    Enjoy meeting him!

  • rate this

    Comment number 289.


    Regarding anyone's religious belief as without foundation is not the same as disregarding the other qualities and beliefs that person may hold. Any one person will hold a range of beliefs, even though many of them are mutually exclusive.

    What grates is the apparent claim of some of faith to claim a "moral" qualification for partiticpation in certain public activities.

  • rate this

    Comment number 288.

    I don't know how these scientists out up with being so patronised and condescended to by people who wrap their ignorance in polysyllabic waffle and call it 'theology.' At least the scientists admit when they don't know something.

  • rate this

    Comment number 287.

    Every species need a support, be it spititual, political or drugs. I control my dog (it needs my guidance). We as humans, being on top of the commanding pyramid, cannot stand to be alone (responsabilty) and need something "above" us. In that we're just animals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 286.


    I don't believe in all the estimated 28,000,000 gods and you don't believe in 27,999,999. Not a great difference but it just means my atheism is a little more perfect than your own.

    If you're an Atheist? You're very busy counting Gods.

  • rate this

    Comment number 285.

    280 vicente,dont be annoyed,most would accept that science and rel may never ride the same wave,unfortunately most of the rel cmmts here i feel have been posted by "fundamentalists",those who will have nothing said against the book,folk can believe what they like,its when they give blinkered,rhetorical,desperate explanations that makes me see red

  • rate this

    Comment number 284.

    I do not need to know about creationism,or intelligent design as I do know the deference between them. Yet, let me say that I believe in alien lifeforms.

  • rate this

    Comment number 283.


    Oh dear, the old "first law of thermodynamics" card, beloved of creationists.

    It will be totally pointless to direct you to all the refutations of this ridiculous assertion. Any further exchange on this is as worthless as the claim itself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 282.

    Here we go again... Let's face it: some people believe in a loving God who created mankind, who gives meaning to their existence. A God who gives them a vision, purpose and value in life. Believers who know where they are coming from and where they are going to.
    Then you have people who believe they came from nothing and are going to nothing so all that's left is just to enjoy themselves on earth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 281.

    I would have thought that a theory of origins which violates the first law of thermodynamics is fair game for theologians and philosophers. Science, after all is a philosophy which rests on a theological foundation of a constant, intelligible universe. This conference is a great idea.

  • rate this

    Comment number 280.

    "251. watershed
    15TH OCTOBER 2012 - 23:32

    His theory was scientific not theological so what point are you making?"

    That a solid, scientific mind can exist with religious belief. I am not religious, but I am particularly annoyed by the strain of atheism that treats anyone with religious beliefs as completely irrational fundamentalists.

  • rate this

    Comment number 279.

    God said let there be light-BANG.
    God is spirit,he spoke into the material void and that is where the big bang came from.


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