Sunday, July 08, 2012

The Higgs Boson and the Soul of Mankind

My newest post for the Faithblender blog

All of mankind should be cheered by the remarkable discovery of the Higgs Boson particle. It stands as a remarkable advance in the field of quantum physics; scientists can now dream of even more remarkable achievements regarding dark matter and even traveling at the speed of light.

There is no doubt that man was meant to be a great discoverer and creator.  The Bible describes man as one who is created in the image of God, as one who is “just a little lower than angels”. Scientific advancement is part of humanity’s destiny, and discovery is part of our very nature. Yes, at times religious figures have treated science with hostility (think of the infamous Galileo controversy, and today’s battles over evolution); but those battles were clearly a mistake. Scientific discovery underlines humanity’s unique genius, abilities granted to the pinnacle of God’s creation. When the man of science unlocks another one of the cosmos’ mysteries, the man of faith is inspired as well.

But with this discovery comes concerns. How will we react to this discovery: Will our newfound scientific knowledge breed an arrogant attitude to all other forms of human exploration?

One religious philosopher who has paid careful attention to this issue is Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. In his classic essay “The Lonely Man of Faith”, Soloveitchik notes that man is both a scientist and a philosopher, able to dissect and define the material world, as well as puzzle over the existential. Soloveitchik explains man must ask more than one type of question to truly apprehend reality in its fullest. He writes that man must not only ask "How does the cosmos function?" but also "Why does the cosmos function at all?" and "What is its essence?"

Here, the concern with the discovery of the Higgs Boson, or any discovery, is the same. Will our success in the realm of the scientific distort our vision of reality? Will we lose sight of larger questions that science cannot answer?

At one point in the essay, Soloveitchik outlines what could go wrong when the man of science becomes consumed with his discoveries, and forgets the other dimensions of existence:

“His pride is almost boundless, his imagination arrogant, and he aspires to complete and absolute control of everything. Indeed, like the men of old, he is engaged in constructing a tower whose apex should pierce Heaven. He is intoxicated with his own adventures and victories and is bidding for unrestricted dominion.”

This scenario need not come to pass. We can take pride at in the discovery of the Higgs Boson, another landmark in the march of scientific progress. Let’s hope that mankind will show similar passion about charting the landscape of the human soul as well.

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