Book preview – God, Stephen Hawking and the Multiverse: What Hawking said, and why it matters

globes multiple -73397_1920 Gerd Altmann pixabay copy
© Gerd Altmann, Pixabay

Paddling his canoe into the North Sea in 2002, John Darwin was undeniably alive. Six years later, as he sat in the back of a prison van, the same applied. It is his status in between these two events that is the more unusual (and less obvious) one. During that interven­ing period, as his struggling family would tearfully recount, he was really not in a good way at all – he was dead.

Although the wreckage of his canoe washed up the day after his death, Darwin’s body was never recovered. His adult sons were heartbroken at the loss of their father, but took a modicum of com­fort from knowing that their mother, Anne, had not quite lost everything. She received thousands of pounds of life insurance pay-outs, and the policy paid off her mortgage too. Even the darkest of clouds, it would seem, could still have a silvery lining. Continue reading

Guest Post: Believing the Unbelievable?

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Rocky Chang, Flickr, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

There are more things in heaven and on earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies

 Shakespeare

A common objection to Christianity is that it simply isn’t believable. The virgin birth, the resurrection, the feeding of the five thousand – it’s just all rather improbable isn’t it, if not downright impossible. The question I’m going to consider in this blog post is “Does the truth have to seem believable?”, looking at examples from modern science. Continue reading

Deeper Logic

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Atom orbitals, Michael Diederich, commons.wikimedia.org

It’s easy to get a bit sluggish over the Christmas period. To wake you up and start the New properly, here is the story of a scientist who has really thought about how his science and faith interact. In this interview extract, Oxford theoretical physicist Ard Louis shares two instances where his physics helped his faith to mature. What fascinated me most was that in this highly specialised – almost abstract – field of science, Louis can find a metaphor that helps him to understand and explain his faith.

When I was in my last year of high school I began to teach myself quantum mechanics (a mathematical theory that describes the physics of very small things). Quantum mechanics is an incredibly accurate and powerful theory. One of the really interesting things about it is that the concepts you can describe mathematically don’t always have parallels in our day-to-day life. Continue reading

Wishing away the Higgs Boson – Reflections of a PhD Student

CMS detector, Large Hadron Collider, by Square87, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

This post is the result of an interview with Anna Walker, a PhD student in Physics at University of Wisconsin-Madison. It’s interesting to hear the thoughts of someone at the very beginning of their career in science, and to see some familiar themes emerging.

A lot of people come into grad school thinking they’ve got everything figured out, but by the end of the first year you realise that you know nothing. I think it ought to be that way, especially in a field like physics.  I can make predictions and I can do experiments, but in the end I have to be humble about what I actually know.

There’s a sense of awe that hits me when I read through a paper or textbook and learn about the way the world works. I try to keep my eyes open so I can see ways in which the physics that I’m studying is actually bringing glory to God. If I’m jaded it’s very easy for me to lose that sense of childlike wonder at the universe and dismiss what I’m seeing as simply mechanistic.

I’m studying the interaction of atoms with each other and with light. The ultimate aim is to make measurements in different technological applications. For example, one of my fellow students is attempting to detect a foetal heartbeat by using atoms to measure changes in magnetic fields. I am developing a system that uses a tiny volume of rubidium vapour, the atoms of which are aligned and controlled with a laser in order to detect changes in magnetic fields. It’s precise and time-consuming work, but I really like tinkering with things and working with my hands.

At the moment I’m trying to create the right sort of magnetic field. It’s interesting because I’ve come up against several brick walls where I can’t seem to go any further. With all the circuits I’ve built before it’s been fairly well known how to deal with the problems, so it’s been exciting to go through the process of starting from the basics. In principle what I want to do should be possible, so it’s a matter of finding the best way to do it.

Of course physicists will recognise that we don’t know very much about the way the world is, but I find that a lot of them don’t think about that on a day-to-day basis. They’re thinking more along the lines of how much they actually do know. Scientists are always trying to get to that next level of understanding of the universe, and they think that if we go just one more step further we’ll understand why everything is the way it is. I find that ironic.

At the beginning of the last century, physicists thought they had everything figured out – but it was just the tip of the iceberg. The quantum mechanical revolution came along and changed everything. Now I think we’ve pushed the boundaries as far as we can with what we know, and there’s probably going to be another revolution of the quantum mechanical sort that will blow our minds and we’ll realise that we really had no idea what was going on. Take the Large Hadron Collider. I’m sure that part of every physicist wants there to be no Higgs Boson [the particle that the LHC is hoped will discover]. Either this particle has to be there or we have to revolutionise everything we know about physics. It would be exciting to witness that revolution.