God in the Immanent Frame | Reflections on the latest PHD Comic and the Higgs Boson Field

I love PHD Comics. Jorge Cham does an excellent job of explaining complex topics–usually in the field of physics–through engaging comic book illustrations. Last year he published an animation that sought to describe the Higgs Boson field. The comic below tells the story of how he got it wrong and was corrected by a physicist.

I post this comic because it relates to my recent interaction with Charles Taylor’s book A Secular Age and the Immanent Frame. Taylor suggests that our current, Western, late-modern culture is dominated by the Immanent Frame: the belief that the only reality is that which can be observed empirically and rationally explained through mathematical equations. Physics and physicists have become the theologians of our era. This comic is a good example of how this plays out.

It seems to me that, according to this explanation, the Higgs Boson field is God. “In the beginning, the Higgs Boson field…”

The closed, Immanent Frame, as Taylor describes it, leaves humanity no better option than this. The question for the postmodern theologian–the one who is open to supra-rational reality, but not closed to the value of physics–is left with the task of making sense out of this. Is the Higgs Boson field a mathematical equivalent to Jesus’ description of the Holy Spirit during his clandestine conversation with the wise man named Nicodemus? Jesus said to Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.”

The modern rationalist would answer Jesus, “Actually, we do know what causes it, and where it comes from and where it goes. We call that meteorology.” Perhaps Jesus would sit down with the physicist and say, “Consider the Higgs Boson…”

No matter how much math we throw at it, mystery still abounds.

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