Evolution of a metaphor

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Leon Lederman (with Dick Teresi), The God Particle: If the Universe is the Answer, What is the Question?, 1993:

What, or who, is standing in our way, obstructing our search for the perfect T-shirt? […] Before we can complete the task begun by the ancient Greeks, we must consider the possibility that our quarry is laying false clues to confuse us. Sometimes, like a spy in a John le Carre novel, the experimenter must set a trap. He must force the culprit to expose himself.

Particle physicists are currently setting just such a trap. We're building a tunnel fifty-four miles in circumference that will contain the twin beam tubes of the Superconducting Super Collider, in which we hope to trap our villain.

And what a villain! The biggest of all time! There is, we believe, a wraithlike presence throughout the universe that is keeping us from understanding the true nature of matter. It's as if something, or someone, wants to prevent us from attaining the ultimate knowledge.

The invisible barrier that keeps us from knowing the truth is called the Higgs field. Its icy tentacles reach into every corner of the universe, and its scientific and philosophical implication raise large goose bumps on the skin of a physicist. The Higgs field works its black magic through — what else? — a particle. This particle goes by the name of the Higgs Boson. […] This boson is so central to the state of physics today, so crucial to our final understanding of the structure of matter, yet so elusive, that I have given it a nickname: the God Particle. Why God Particle? Two reasons. One, the publisher wouldn't let us call it the Goddamn Particle, though that might be a more appropriate title, given its villainous nature and the expense it is causing. And two, there is a connection, of sorts, to another book, a much older one…

Malcolm W. Browne, "Labs Close In on the 'God Particle'", NYT 8/10/1999:

Because of its presumably vital importance to universal existence, the Higgs boson was dubbed "The God Particle" in the title of a book by Dr. Leon Lederman, a Nobel laureate in physics. The godlike importance ascribed to the Higgs is based on the belief that its interactions endow all the constituents of matter with mass; it is the universal giver of heft.

Dennis Overbye, "Physicists Inch Closer to Proof of Elusive Particle", NYT 7/2/2012:

The boson is named for Peter Higgs of the University of Edinburgh, one of six physicists who envisioned a kind of cosmic molasses, now known as the Higgs field, that would impart mass to formerly massless particles trying to move through it like a celebrity trying to get to the bar.

The Superconducting Super Collider was cancelled in 1993 due to budget issues, though a large hole in the ground near Waxahachie TX remains as a monument to the ambitions of the times. Lederman and Teresi imagine a different outcome:

And the whole universe was of many languages, and of many speeches.

And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Waxahachie, and they dwelt there. And they said to one another, Go to, let us build a Giant Collider, whose collisions may reach back to the beginning of time. And they had superconducting magnets for bending, and proton had they for smashing.

And the Lord came down to see the accelerator, which the children of men builded. And the Lord said, Behold the people are unconfounding my confounding. And the Lord sighed and said, Go to, let us go down, and there give the the God Particle so that they may see how beautiful is the universe I have made.

That, of course, is an imitation of this.

And I wonder whether somewhere in the background was an idea like this one:

Update — from "Higgs boson is like … a Justin Bieber fan?", CNN 7/5/2012:

Martin Archer, a physicist at Imperial College in London, explains it differently: He compares the phenomenon to Justin Bieber in a crowd of teenage girls. If he tries to move through them, they slow him down, and his speed decreases the more they're attracted to him. "We think we have found these teenage girls," he told CNN Wednesday.

Similarly, if the universe is like a party, people who are relatively unknown will pass through the room quickly, while more popular people are slowed down by their friends, who correspond to Higgs bosons.



43 Comments

  1. X said,

    July 3, 2012 @ 2:28 am

    Hmm, I always thought it was the "God Particle" because although we had not yet seen direct evidence that it exists, nothing in the Standard Model of Particle Physics makes sense without its presence. It's the unseen keystone idea that makes the universe (of particle physics) work. This is how religious people think about God: obviously there's no evidence that there's actually a god, but they can't make sense of the world without believing that God is out there.

  2. Kevin said,

    July 3, 2012 @ 2:50 am

    I'm sure that the god that buried all these 'dinosaur' bones would also be amused by an (almost) impossible to find particle that seems fundamental to everything. It'll be even funnier when the particle turns out to exist but be insignificant.

    Question for the gamblers out there: how long after the Higgs is confirmed to exist will the physicists find that the standard model still can't explain everything they think it should?

  3. D.O. said,

    July 3, 2012 @ 3:02 am

    Kevin, the answer is pretty simple. Physicists know very well that elusive Higgs is of a very minor importance compared to other things. To wit, grand unification, quantum gravity, dark energy, origins of fundamental constants. Now, this is all assuming that the Higgs does exist and behaves more or less as predicted. The interesting thing about Higgs is that it seems so accessible compared to what it will take experimentally to solve other mysteries (all of this conditioned on obvious possibility that tomorrow some genius will solve all the problems by some clever trick).

  4. X said,

    July 3, 2012 @ 3:04 am

    @Kevin: We're well aware that the Standard Model (which includes the Higgs, of course) does not account for all outstanding experimental results. For example: dark matter, gravitation and the cosmological acceleration. It would be pretty naive to think that any one major discovery is going to solve all your problems. Conversely, it would be pretty cynical to think that anything that doesn't solve all your problems cannot be a major discovery.

  5. Rubrick said,

    July 3, 2012 @ 3:24 am

    I'm one of those annoyed by this particular moniker, but I'll be appeased if they call its antiparticle the Dog Particle.

  6. K said,

    July 3, 2012 @ 5:39 am

    I thought it's often referred to as god particle because the publishers didn't like the slang word the researchers had for it, the "goddamn" particle, because it was so elusive?

    "As an atheist, Higgs is reported by Robert Evans of CNN to be displeased that the particle is nicknamed the "God particle"[14]. Higgs is afraid the term "might offend people who are religious".[15][16] This nickname for the Higgs boson is usually attributed to Leon Lederman, but it is actually the result of Lederman's publisher's censoring. Originally Lederman intended to call it "the goddamn particle", because of its elusiveness.[17]"

    [(myl) As explained, in greater detail, in the passage from Lederman's book quoted in the original post?]

  7. Andy Averill said,

    July 3, 2012 @ 5:50 am

    I read the line about the Godamn particle as a joke. Although I prefer the spelling goddam (as did Nina Simone).

  8. David L said,

    July 3, 2012 @ 6:39 am

    @Rubrick: The Higgs boson (like the photon and gauge bosons in general, if I remember correctly) has no antiparticle. To put it another way, an anti-Higgs would be the same as a Higgs.

    In this case, God really does equal dog. Deep, man.

  9. army1987 said,

    July 3, 2012 @ 7:38 am

    like the photon and gauge bosons in general, if I remember correctly

    Actually W+ and W- are antiparticles of each other. (Well, you can consider them to be complex linear combinations of W1 and W2 each of which is its own antiparticle, but…)

  10. David Bird said,

    July 3, 2012 @ 7:50 am

    "There is, we believe, a wrathlike presence throughout the universe that is keeping us from understanding the true nature of matter."

    Is the difficulty I have rising from this chair due to God's wrathlike particle or his wraithlike particle? It certainly feels like the former.

    [(myl) A happy typo…]

  11. KevinM said,

    July 3, 2012 @ 12:12 pm

    But not as good as the "Higgs Bosom." Or the "large hardon collider."

    [(myl) Indeed.]

  12. LDavidH said,

    July 3, 2012 @ 3:02 pm

    It's interesting that it's OK to make scathing comments about Christians; if I'd said similar things about atheists, I might not have made it past the moderator,
    The fact is, there are many of us who are keen on languages and logic, often fairly skeptical (like myself; I don't believe in weeping statues or bones performing miracles), who enjoy science, but who still find that the evidence points towards there being a God. I simply can't find any evidence that something – let alone a whole universe – can simply appear out of nothing; I don't have enough faith to accept that on Hawking's word. I understand that others prefer to interpret the existing evidence in another way; but let's at least be courteous to each other.
    (Or should that be "one another"?)

    [(myl) I don't believe that any comments have ever been rejected here for an excess of religion. And as far as I can see, no one has mentioned Christianity or Christians in discussing this post until you did — I presume that members of other Abrahamic religions are at least as likely to be offended by the (rather mild) religiously-tinted jokes in the comments, or by the somewhat Gnostic flavor of Leon Lederman's discussion of God as a "quarry [that] is laying false clues to confuse us".

    If you have something anti-atheistical but relevant to contribute, feel free.]

  13. ohwilleke said,

    July 3, 2012 @ 3:06 pm

    FWIW, there is still some room to name Standard Model of particle physics particles (and there are some interesting stories to go with the ones we have, such as "Quark" which is derived from Finnegan's Wake, the "charm quark" which was early on called the "cunt quark" in jest, and the "bottom quark" which was early on called the "beauty quark.")

    For example, the weak force bosons, the W and the Z, are simply letters that don't officially stand for anything (W probably was coined to stand for "weak" and Z was probably chosen in large part because it is the next letter that isn't easily confused for something else (there were already X a subtype of composite particles made a quarks when it was discovered, and Y looks too much like Greek letter symbol for the photon which often appears in the same equations with the W and the Z) and in part to reflect its "zero" electrical charge.

    The Higgs boson will be the only particle in the Standard Model named after a person (unlike the six quarks: up, down, charm, strange, top and bottom; the six leptons: electrons, muons, taus, electron neutrinos, muon neutrinos, tau neutrinos, and the various other bosons: photons, gluons (eight kinds without distinct names), Ws and Zs). Even the Standard Model itself is not named after anyone. Perhaps this reflects the "big science" culture of high energy physics in which the lead researcher is a far less dominant personality and the number of key investigators is much larger, relative to other developments. There are half a dozen people associated with the Higgs, which would not singular, is a far smaller pool, and since it was first identified in a less populous theoretical context in a theoretical physics culture where credit and citations are everything, rather than an experimental physics context, decades earlier, there was time for name to stick before the experimentalists got their hands on it. If the experimentalists had found it before it was predicted, it might have been called the S boson (for "scalar", since it is the only fundamental boson with scalar spin and the letter isn't taken by anything important in the field and for electroweak "symmetry" breaking), or perhaps the "inertion" (for its role in interia) or "masson" (for its role in generating mass),

  14. Manuel Neuer said,

    July 3, 2012 @ 3:52 pm

    Physicists know very well that elusive Higgs is of a very minor importance compared to other things. To wit, grand unification, quantum gravity, dark energy, origins of fundamental constants. Now, this is all assuming that the Higgs does exist and behaves more or less as predicted.

  15. DFowley said,

    July 4, 2012 @ 12:22 am

    " I […] enjoy science, but […] still find that the evidence points towards there being a God."

    Please share.

    "I simply can't find any evidence that something – let alone a whole universe – can simply appear out of nothing…"

    Can you offer an alternative explanation for, say, the Cosmic microwave background radiation?

    "…I don't have enough faith to accept that on Hawking's word. I understand that others prefer to interpret the existing evidence in another way".

    And yet you have enough faith to believe in the existence of a deity and its work, even when there is no credible evidence of its existence, while at the same time you refuse to consider any alternative hypothesis even when credible evidence does exist.

    Imagine how far we as a species could have progressed under different circumstances.

  16. Dan Hemmens said,

    July 4, 2012 @ 3:15 am

    Question for the gamblers out there: how long after the Higgs is confirmed to exist will the physicists find that the standard model still can't explain everything they think it should?

    Several other people have already pointed this out, but you seem to have some major misunderstandings about the way scientific theories work. The Standard Model already explains everything we think it should, pretty much by definition. Locating the Higgs would simply confirm that the model works and is not in need of a major restructuring.

    You seem to be taking the (deeply unfortunate) "God Particle" label rather literally (to be fair, I suspect that this is mostly the fault of mainstream media coverage). Despite what the newspapers say, finding the Higgs Boson will not solve all the mysteries of Life, the Universe, and Everything, and no actual physicist believes that it will.

  17. Dan Hemmens said,

    July 4, 2012 @ 3:42 am

    It's interesting that it's OK to make scathing comments about Christians; if I'd said similar things about atheists, I might not have made it past the moderator

    Is the "scathing comment" you're objecting to the post at the start of this thread in which somebody compares belief in the Higgs Boson with belief in God? If so this seems bizarre – after all the vast majority of the scientific community agrees that the Higgs Boson is almost certainly real. Indeed I've heard Christians make pretty much the same analogy.

    If you're objecting to the observation that there is no direct evidence that God actually exists then I fear you're taking offense at an entirely uncontroversial statement. If there was hard evidence that God existed, everybody would be a Christian, save a few hardliners. Similarly if there was hard evidence that God *did not* exist everybody would be an atheist (again, save a few hardliners). What we have is a situation in which there is no real evidence one way or the other.

    Of course this might be a disagreement about the nature of "evidence".

  18. LDavidH said,

    July 4, 2012 @ 7:21 am

    @Dan Hemmens: Well, it was more the condescending tone of "how religious people think about God: obviously there's no evidence that there's actually a god, but they can't make sense of the world without believing that God is out there." and "the god that buried all these 'dinosaur' bones". But maybe I was reading too much into them?

    And yes, part of the disagreement has to do with the word "evidence"; to me, the very fact that we exist and can discuss the issue is a kind of evidence, but not everybody agrees with that.

    And I should maybe add that myl is of course correct in saying that "members of other Abrahamic religions are at least as likely to be offended"; thanks for that correction!

  19. Army1987 said,

    July 4, 2012 @ 7:42 am

    @ohwilleke:

    IIRC the Z boson was called that way because it was the last particle in the Standard Model to be hypothesized.

    "S boson" would have the problem that S is also used for the scattering matrix.

  20. Dan Hemmens said,

    July 4, 2012 @ 10:17 am

    Well, it was more the condescending tone of "how religious people think about God: obviously there's no evidence that there's actually a god, but they can't make sense of the world without believing that God is out there." and "the god that buried all these 'dinosaur' bones". But maybe I was reading too much into them?

    Ironically, I thought that the "god that buried all those 'dinosaur' bones" comment was from a genuine creationist – certainly they seem extremely dismissive of the idea that physicists might actually know stuff about the universe.

    And while I can see how the "how religious people think about God" line could come across as dismissive, I don't think the analogy is that bad – as I say, I've heard Christians make very similar analogies as a way of highlighting the reasonableness of belief in God. I can see that you could interpret "can't make sense of the world" as suggesting some kind of intellectual weakness, but in context it seems more like X was suggesting that, to religious people, God is a necessary component of a rigorous, self-consistent worldview.

  21. Sybil said,

    July 4, 2012 @ 10:52 am

    Goddam* particle may have been discovered:

    http://economistsview.typepad.com/economistsview/2012/07/a-new-particle-has-been-discovered-chances-are-it-is-the-higgs-boson.html

    Doesn't solve the molasses problem, dammit.

    *Also a fan of Ms. Simone.

  22. Sybil said,

    July 4, 2012 @ 10:59 am

    (I linked Mark Thoma's post rather than the original source because he has aggregated a lot of links… very kind for a non-physicist!)

  23. LDavidH said,

    July 4, 2012 @ 12:39 pm

    @Dan Hemmens: Well, if all X meant was that "to religious people, God is a necessary component of a rigorous, self-consistent worldview", then obviously s/he is right; although I still think there is a slightly condescending tone. (Tones are very difficult to deal with in writing, though – very easy to misunderstand!)

    As for genuine, serious creationists, they are definitely not "extremely dismissive of the idea that physicists might actually know stuff about the universe" – some of them *are* physicists! Yes, there's a lot of "unscientific creationism" out there, but don't think all creationists are unscientific (no serious creationist disbelieves in dinosaurs); they just interpret the existing evidence (there we go again!) in the light of a different set of assumptions from evolutionists.

  24. Mario Gomez said,

    July 4, 2012 @ 1:24 pm

    As for genuine, serious creationists, they are definitely not "extremely dismissive of the idea that physicists might actually know stuff about the universe" – some of them *are* physicists!

  25. Dan Hemmens said,

    July 4, 2012 @ 3:03 pm

    As for genuine, serious creationists, they are definitely not "extremely dismissive of the idea that physicists might actually know stuff about the universe" – some of them *are* physicists!

    Sorry, my poor use of language. I was using "creationist" to mean "Young-Earth creationist". Kevin's comment sounds like it was written by somebody who believes that the earth is 6000 years old.

  26. Circe said,

    July 4, 2012 @ 7:44 pm

    As for genuine, serious creationists, they are definitely not "extremely dismissive of the idea that physicists might actually know stuff about the universe" – some of them *are* physicists!

    Well, the most visible creationists do frequently indulge in claiming radio dating has to be flawed, in spite of all the physical evidence to the contrary.

    Also, I would be interested in knowing an example of a person who according to you is a "serious" creationist who "interpret(s) the existing evidence (there we go again!) in the light of a different set of assumptions from evolutionists."

    If there was hard evidence that God existed, everybody would be a Christian, save a few hardliners. Similarly if there was hard evidence that God *did not* exist everybody would be an atheist (again, save a few hardliners). What we have is a situation in which there is no real evidence one way or the other.

    I think the situation is a bit different from that, in that there is about as much evidence for fairies as there is for any specific kind of gods/goddesses.

    I simply can't find any evidence that something – let alone a whole universe – can simply appear out of nothing;

    But as has often been asked, do you find a lot of evidence that an even more complicated entity than the Universe, capable of creating the Universe itself, could have appeared out of nothing? And then that entity would want people from different geographical areas on a small insignificant planet to follow different (often contradictory) rituals to appease it?

  27. Xmun said,

    July 4, 2012 @ 10:45 pm

    @Dab Hemmens: "If there was hard evidence that God existed, everybody would be a Christian, save a few hardliners."

    Dear me, that's going a bit far, isn't it? How do you know they wouldn't all be Muslims or believers in some other kind of theism?

  28. LDavidH said,

    July 5, 2012 @ 2:39 am

    @Circe: "I would be interested in knowing an example of a person who according to you is a "serious" creationist who "interpret(s) the existing evidence … in the light of a different set of assumptions from evolutionists." Look up Answers in Genesis, for example. The assumptions being, e.g. that there is a God and that the Bible is trustworthy. Nobody nowadays denies dinosaurs existed (so @Dan, a young-earth creationist would not have written what Kevin did), it's the dating that is contested.

    "do you find a lot of evidence that an even more complicated entity than the Universe, capable of creating the Universe itself, could have appeared out of nothing?" No – nobody believes God appeared out of nothing. Either God is eternal, or matter/energy is. I just find it more credible that an infinite, eternal God created matter, than that matter created itself.

    "that entity would want people from different geographical areas on a small insignificant planet to follow different (often contradictory) rituals to appease it?" No – again, nobody believes that. Christians believe Muslims, Jews, Hindus etc are wrong; Muslims believe Christians, Jews, Hindus etc are wrong, etc. etc. The Bible tells us God wants us to get to know him through Jesus, and that there is no other way. The Qur'an tells a different story, as does Buddha. Nobody believes they are all equally correct or acceptable, although many (like yourself) believe all are equally mistaken.

    And Earth is only insignificant from an evolutionary standpoint. From a biblical perspective, it is – or rather, we are – the focus of God's attention. Why – well, that's his problem. I don't even understand why my wife fell in love with me, so how am I to understand God's choices?

  29. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 5, 2012 @ 9:15 am

    @Circe: "Well, the most visible creationists do frequently indulge in claiming radio dating has to be flawed."

    Really? I heard "Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head", and my father listened to Stella Dallas and Portia Faces Life—doesn't everyone accept that that tells us something?

    @LDavidH: "'that entity would want people from different geographical areas on a small insignificant planet to follow different (often contradictory) rituals to appease it?' No – again, nobody believes that"

    I'll bet there are a few people who believe that. I sometimes see a bumper sticker that says, "God is too big to fit into any one religioh."

    "The Bible tells us God wants us to get to know him through Jesus, and that there is no other way."

    Well, the Christian version of the Bible.

    "The Qur'an tells a different story, as does Buddha. Nobody believes they are all equally correct or acceptable…"

    At one end, see Aldous Huxley's essay "The Perennial Philosophy". At the other, see Aleister Crowley, who I know only as popularized by Robert Anton Wilson in such books as Cosmic Trigger.

    (Yes, I realize all this is irrelevant to your main points.)

    In a desperate attempt to relate this to language, is there a word for the belief that worship of any god can be efficacious?

  30. Brett said,

    July 5, 2012 @ 11:09 am

    @ohwilleke: Your comment about only the Higgs being named after a person struck me as odd somehow, but I didn't think about it very carefully. (I was naturally much more interested in the actual news about the Higgs than about discussions of its name.) However, at lunch today, it finally occurred to me what was odd about what you said:

    There are a fair number of particle TYPES named after people: Dirac fermions, Majorana fermions, Proca bosons, Goldstone bosons. Indeed, Higgs bosons are also of this type; any theory with spontaneously broken gauge symmetry will have a A Higgs boson. What is unusual is that the particular example of this that is relevant to electroweak symmetry breaking has become known as THE Higgs boson. This just seems to be a product of the particular historical circumstances under which the Higgs theory was developed.

    Most of the other named particle types describe broad classes of particles, either with many well known-exemplars or with none currently known. The Higgs case is unusual in that, at least in terms of the fundamental standard model fields, it is the unique* example of its type. Perhaps if a fundamental massive spin-1 boson were discovered, it would be referred to as THE Proca boson as well, since there are no other examples of that particle type.

    *The low-energy Higgs mechanism seen in superconductors is sufficiently different that I would have a hard time calling a Cooper pair a "Higgs boson" (although "Higgs excitation" is not so problematic).

  31. Circe said,

    July 5, 2012 @ 2:44 pm

    Look up Answers in Genesis, for example. The assumptions being, e.g. that there is a God and that the Bible is trustworthy. Nobody nowadays denies dinosaurs existed (so @Dan, a young-earth creationist would not have written what Kevin did), it's the dating that is contested.

    Ah, the good old Answers to Genesis. I am sorry, but if that is your notion of a "serious" creationist, then there is no point arguing with you anymore. The assumption that the Bible (or for that matter any religious book) is a trustworthy historical document has taken so many beatings across history that I find it hard people can still claim such a thing with a straight face. Since we are on a linguistics blog, The Tower of Babel comes to mind.

    @ Jerry Friedman:

    Well, LDavidH himself posted Answers in Genesis as an example of "serious" creationism. Their main forte seems to be asserting that Radio active dating is flawed. Though at some level they probably do realize that radio dating is the least of their problems. They first have to explain the Sumerians.

  32. Circe said,

    July 5, 2012 @ 3:57 pm

    @Brett: Regarding particles named after people, there is also the small point that the classes "bosons" and "fermions" are themselves named after people, but that usage has become so crystallized that we don't even capitalize the name anymore.

  33. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 5, 2012 @ 5:30 pm

    @Circe: I say "radioisotope dating". Your "radio dating" was immediately comprehensible, but I thought the possibility of other meanings was funny.

    On the subject, I took LDavidH's use of "serious" to mean that the creationists in question weren't joking; they were "genuine" (as he said). You seem to have taken it in another sense, maybe M-W's "excessive or impressive in quality, quantity, extent, or degree ".

  34. Circe said,

    July 5, 2012 @ 6:23 pm

    @Jerry Friedman: Oh, now I get your joke about the radio plays! Sorry for being so slow on the uptake, and for the somewhat imprecise terminology.

    As for "serious", yes, I did take LDavidH to mean "impressive in quality", as you say. Though I must say that sometimes, I am rather tempted to believe that the folks at Answers in Genesis are just a bunch of rather "serious" (in both senses of the word) parodists , and are thereby not "serious" (in the first of your two senses) creationists.

  35. LDavidH said,

    July 6, 2012 @ 5:08 pm

    I wasn't going to carry on a theological debate on a linguistics blog, but I can't help myself. The Bible has *not* been disproved as a historically reliable document (the main argument against it seems to be that it contains miracles, which is only an argument if you have already decided they can't happen, which isn't scientific). There are thousands of serious (in the sense of taking scientific evidence seriously and interacting with opponents) theologians, scientists, doctors etc who base their lives on it. Most of the Bible's historical statements have been proved correct; and since neither evolution nor the spontaneous appearance of everything out of nothing have been scientifically proved (sorry, but they haven't), the two explanations of our existence stand side by side as alternatives. Personally, I find the God hypothesis more credible (and backed up by personal experience).
    And I can assure you that the folks at AiG are not parodists! (And why should the Sumerians be a problem? I have to check that out.)

  36. Circe said,

    July 6, 2012 @ 9:21 pm

    The Bible has *not* been disproved as a historically reliable document (the main argument against it seems to be that it contains miracles, which is only an argument if you have already decided they can't happen, which isn't scientific).

    No, the main argument against it is that it has contradictions, both with itself, and with other sources. The argument is perfectly Bayesian. Physical experience suggests that it is highly unlikely that miracles can occur, and therefore it would require much more than a book (which is mostly composed of fairy tales) to overturn that belief. Specially when the miracles in question are supposed to be rather grandiose, but were somehow still "missed" by other sources of the time.

    Most of the Bible's historical statements have been proved correct;

    Like? The Exodus? Tower of Babel? Noah's Flood?

    ..the two explanations of our existence stand side by side as alternatives.

    Taking for granted, for a moment, that somehow the Bible's tales are more reliable than tentative rational explanations based on observed facts, why only two? What happened to the Rigveda? The Greek Gods? When did you "disprove" them? Have you taken care that the same "disproof" does not apply to your own favorite mythology?

  37. LDavidH said,

    July 7, 2012 @ 5:22 am

    Obviously "it is highly unlikely that miracles can occur" – that's why they're called miracles! They don't just occur, they are caused by God. But as I believe there is a God – more specifically, that the God who revealed himself in Jesus does exist – I don't have a problem with miracles.
    And there is atually no real contradiction between "the Bible's tales" and "observed facts", only between interpretations of facts. There is plenty of factual evidence for a global flood; no scientific evidence at all that matter could create itself; etc etc. It's a matter of what assumptions you start with: atheistic or theistic.

    There's no real point in continuing this discussion here. If you are prepared to honestly investigate the issues, there are lots of serious, science-based information available online (e.g. at Answers in Genesis). And if you're not interested in checking out all the facts, including the ones that don't fit with your worldview (which is what I have had to do all the time – I went through Swedish state education where evolution and "religion = myth" were taken for granted), then I won't be able to persuade you.
    But be warned: God can still find you, however hard you try to hide! :-)

  38. LDavidH said,

    July 7, 2012 @ 5:26 am

    Oh, let me just add that the book "The Case for Christ" by Lee Strobel is a good starting point, as it starts with Jesus and the reliability of the New Testament, rather than starting off with the flood etc.

  39. Circe said,

    July 7, 2012 @ 2:22 pm

    LDavidH: As you say, there is no real point in continuing in the discussion here, firstly since this is a linguistics blog, and secondly since all your arguments hinge upon things like "you haven't found God yet" and secondary references to the tired old beaten arguments of organizations like AiG. I noticed that you carefully (wilfuly?) ignored my question about specific inaccuracies in the Bible and its status vis-a-vis the other other mythologies. You also somehow seem to hold the mistaken view that if only I just went through what passes for science at AiG (I have, at least partially) I would be convinced of the "Truth", which I can assert by personal experience, is false.

    Since you ended with a veiled warning to me, perhaps so so should I. Be warned, (Krishna|Thor|Zeus|Quatzlcoatl|Cthulu|Parbrahma|Hera|Aphrodite|Freja|Allah) can still find you, however hard you try to hide! :)

  40. Sili said,

    July 7, 2012 @ 3:58 pm

    If there was hard evidence that God existed, everybody would be a Christian, save a few hardliners.

    Really? I think that if we prove Baal real, being a Christian would be a pretty stupid choice.

  41. Sili said,

    July 7, 2012 @ 4:09 pm

    Oh, let me just add that the book "The Case for Christ" by Lee Strobel is a good starting point, as it starts with Jesus and the reliability of the New Testament, rather than starting off with the flood etc.

    See. That's the problem. You're not supposed to start at the conclusion.

    Depending on what you mean by "The New Testament", I'd very much content that "reliability" bit as well.

    Just out of curiosity, if the Bible is historically reliable, why does the Book of Daniel try to deceive the reader into thinking that it's been written some four hundred years before it actually was?

    (I'm sorry for getting into yet another argument about religion here in the comments. I understand why Pullum prefers to keep the comments closed.)

  42. Sili said,

    July 7, 2012 @ 4:11 pm

    Since you ended with a veiled warning to me, perhaps so so should I.

    I missed that.

    May you and yours be eaten first, Circe. Or at least right after our esteemed hosts.

  43. Treesong said,

    September 22, 2014 @ 9:42 am

    I'm coming into this a couple of years late, but I have to say:

    – The (currently) observable universe seems to have had a beginning, but there are a number of models in which it's just one little bubble in an infinite universe that has always existed.
    – Sili, the point of worshiping the Elder Gods is that you will (hopefully) be eaten last.

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