Protons & Proto-Inquiry

Hearing about the successful 'firing' of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) today in Europe sort of excited me. After reading the BBC's article about the experiment's focus—and listening to the embedded live audio clip—I was even more intrigued. From the way the news agencies were reporting, it sounds like some novel, revolutionary knowledge about sub-atomic particles is an almost certain probability. "We will be able to see deeper into matter than ever before," said one physicist from the University of Liverpool. "We will be looking at what the Universe was made of billionths of a second after the Big Bang. That is amazing, that really is fantastic." (BBC)

As a Catholic, I am very open to the role of scientific research in man's fullest manifestation of himself. After all, as Aristotle tells us, "All men by nature desire to know." What is science other than a systematized basis for coming to know things? If the desire to know is fundamentally natural, it should be treated as are other natural desires; the desires for sleep, food and sex, to name a few. The bottom line: nature is good, and so are the desires it engenders. But, as Aristotle also tells us, "Virtue is in the middle." In other words, extremely impulsive acts—as well as extremely restrictive acts—cannot be a form of virtue, and thereby are deficient in truly articulating human nature in its fullest sense. Just as the appetites for food and sex need to be enjoyed in moderation and within their proper context (viz. hunger and marriage), so too does the desire to know need to be understood within the context of humility in the face of God's infinitude.

All too often, something surfaces in the news that has some group labeling the Catholic Church as being restrictive of 'academic freedom,' 'scientific innovation' or something of the like. Just as often, they cite the locus of such an apparent dilemma in the person of the Roman Pontiff, who so often defends the Church's positions on issues which do not change, despite popular culture's conceptions thereof. But here's something to consider: If I had to make a guess, I bet Pope Benedict XVI was just as excited as me when he turned on his television and caught word of the LHC's successful trial run. Although the pope and I disagree with the prospect of the Big Bang as a viable cause for the universe coming into being, the idea of coming to know more about the world in which we live is nevertheless exciting. The key, I think, is realizing the true beauty of scientific discovery in light of the truths of revelation, which we profess and adhere to as Catholics.

So long as our gaze remains fixed upon the fundamental questions, all the scientific knowledge and learning in the world won't become a problem for us. It is only when we let knowledge control us to the point of acting impulsively that something truly sub-human is occurring. "All men by nature desire to know," indeed. But nature is not the end of man. God is the end of man, and we must continuously realize that all the knowledge in the world is limited to just that—the world. Knowledge of the divine is, however, Wisdom, and transcends both our capacity to understand as well as our capacity to live on this earth. Someday we will die, and someday we will encounter Truth in himself. That seems to me an incredibly fulfilling prospect!

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    # by Zach - September 11, 2008 at 11:06 AM

    This science is very exciting - have you seen Stephen Barr's rundown of it at First Things? He's on the front page today. (also, I think his book Modern Physics and Ancient Faith is an excellent read on this topic)

    An unrelated comment - great site you have here!

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    # by Andrew Haines - September 12, 2008 at 1:53 PM

    Zach,

    Thanks for the acclaim. I'm hoping to keep the site more up-to-date and attract a few more readers... any suggestions?

    As for the science thing, I have not read the book you recommended (and doubt that I'll have much time in the midst of my assigned readings and projects), but obviously the issue of interplay between faith and science is becoming critically central to being a student in the modern era. I'll keep the suggestion of that book in mind...

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    # by Anonymous - September 13, 2008 at 1:51 PM

    Keep the site up to date by always talking about the Faith and our Lord working in the World. He is always relevant and will always appeal to the human heart.

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    # by Andrew Haines - September 13, 2008 at 3:21 PM

    I completely agree. Thanks for the suggestion!