Monday, 19 September 2011

When hadrons collide

Our favourite Archdruid, has brought to our attention some comments of Jeremy Hardy regarding the religious belief of scientists. You can read the post here

Indeed, in the spirit of re-enactment for which her community are so fond, I raise my indestructible mug of strong Brownian Motion (a nice beaker of tea) in her general direction, on my own and without the support of a community or even a tea light, because as everyone knows physicists never get invited to the right sort of parties.


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Her comments did get me thinking about my fellow Physicists. I'd have to agree, a sizable number are religious. However I am still puzzling as to why this is. It would be bad sicence indeed to probe the questions of ultimate smallness and beginnings of beginnings and to say, simply because our brains were fried, we can't understand this so it must be God wot done it. That would be bad science and bad theology.

My own view is that the aquisition of scientific knowledge involves rigourous discipline and hard study. One has to be a mental athlete and have a heightened awareness of the world around one, in order to really succeed. Therefore what the Physicist achieves is a merited reward, based on their study and their sensitivity towards the natural world. Knowledge of God involves grace, which is always an unmerited gift and involves the receiver at the very least acknowledging that he wishes to seek God. Hence the religious Physicist has not got his understanding and knowledge of the Divine from his study of Science. I'd suggest that it is his openness to religion that is a product of the rationality that his discipline has given him and the metaphysical questions he inevitably asks, BUT that his faith does not come from that source, it comes from the same source as everyone elses whether they be a scientist or not.

To paraphrase Fr Georges Lemaitre, religious physicists don't walk or play sport differently from anyone else, why should they do science differently from the non-believing scientist.

One final point and I'd be interested if any other Physicists can back me up on this. In my years of being in the company of male Physicists, I'm very struck by the fact they don't seem to age like other men, check out the age of Prof Brian Cox, if you don't believe me. Is Physics the elixr of youth, for the male of the species at any rate (the sample size for females being too small, and my lack of objectivity meaning I can't make any claims about them)? The boyish yet senior Physicist is not something I find all that charming, but I have to admit I do think it is an observable phenomenon worthy of further study.

11 comments:

Joe said...

Rita:

I do agree with most of your last paragraph (unsure about the lack of charm bit).

Unfortunately, it does not now happen as often as in the past, but a typical guess at my age used to take at least ten years off the reality.

Rita said...

I wasn't suggesting all male physicists were without charm....

Not all them are strange either...ha ha.

Joe said...

Rita: I was going to suggest that we were not a quark short of a meson either...

Archdruid Eileen said...

It appears to be true for Physical Chemists as well. Some kind of relativistic effect, I reckon.

Rita said...

Archdruid,

Do you think there is a research grant in this somewhere? ...or perhaps some sponsprship from L'Oreal?

Tom in Vegas said...

Broadening the circumference to encompass more than just physicists, I think a great deal of scientists still favor atheistic philosophies because, well, their peers do so as well. You have a greater insight into the social dynamics of operating within a cluster of scientists, but I genuinely believe that some scientists, whether physicists, biologists, neurologists, etc., adopt (non or anti)religious proclivities to blend harmoniously with their peers. The incendiary and quasi-misanthropic Richard Dawkins, being a sizable loudmouth, is an example of one of these individuals with enough influence to create an anti-religious environment within a portion of scientists/ academics.

Just an opinion.

Rita said...

Hi Tom,

You're right about those non-religious scientists who inevitably start to see their science as a religion in itself, believing it to promise more than it can deliver. They are victims of peer pressure, most definitely. Scientists hate to raise their head above the parapet and say anything that somebody they perceive to be more brainy than them may shoot down in flames.

Cettis Warbler said...

Funnily enough, my Mass-going friends consist of a mighty lot of physicists too.

How many religious biologists do we know?

Rita said...

I know as many Celtic supporting Protestants as I do religious Biologists. It is not a large number...

johnf said...

This physicist is aging quite rapidly.

Archdruid Eileen said...

Rita - bit late to the party, but I know a Celtic supporting Protestant. And I was in the Zoology dept at Oxford with at least one other Christian.