Thought for the Day - Bishop Tom Butler

Good morning. The Large Hadron Collider at Geneva will shortly be reactivated and the scientists seem confident that this year the elusive Higgs Boson, the predicted building block in the impressive edifice of fundamental physics will be located, or perhaps not. The best description I’ve read of the Higgs boson comes from what Richard Jacobson, a physicist at Geneva is reported to have said. This is how he describes the quest, “It’s annoying. It’s like a missing shoe. You have one and you know the other is there somewhere. You just can’t find it” Well, hopefully this year they will find it, for if not, it’s back to square one.

Like most people I find it virtually impossible to get my mind around the truths of quantum physics. I’m told that mathematically it’s a world of simplicity and beauty but I guess that my maths isn’t up to it, and the description of quantum physics in the non-mathematical world is totally counter intuitive. Perhaps I shouldn’t be too disturbed at this for Niels Bohr, one its early pioneers put it this way, “Those who aren’t shocked when they first come across quantum theory can’t possibly have understood it.”

Basically the quantum world seems to be a world of probability rather than certainty, a world of both/and where fundamental entities are both particles and waves, and are located both here and there at the same moment in time. It’s difficult to comprehend, but paradoxically it’s made some of the traditional problems of the nature of God easier to understand. I was introduced to Theology before I was introduced to quantum physics, and like all people preparing for ministry I spent many exhausting hours in the library and seminar room wrestling with the fact that the early councils of the Church insisted that the Christian faith is fundamentally a world of both/and. Jesus Christ is both human and divine, fully human, totally divine yet one person. God is both/and, both a Trinity and a Unity, three in one, one in three.

It’s a world of utter paradox - understandings which emerged in the early church through the encounter of Greek philosophy, with the down to earth pragmatism of the Jewish bible, plus the experience of Christian living. I found this both/and faith world difficult to grasp – surely this paradox couldn’t be right. But now quantum physics tells us that the world itself is paradox. The fundamental nature of existence is both/and and hopefully we’ll soon have the Higgs Boson to give the theory the stamp of approval. If we must live with paradox in Physics, and it seems that we must, then surely we can live with a bit of it in Theology, with or without missing shoes.

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