Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Large Hadron Collider

This was intended to be a response to the comments on the article posted here:

However, I think I got it in too late and a few hours later it said that no new comments were being accepted. However, I'll put it here, because I think it's pretty good.

I am so disappointed with the quality of comments overall here. Most of them are just attacks on one group or another, and can be deeply offensive. I for one can understand both sides of this well. I am a possible physics major at the Colorado School of Mines, with extensive reading on particle and relativistic physics and quantum mechanics, and I am also a Christian who believes in a literal 6-day creation. Do the two perfectly fit each other? No. But they're not enemies by nature and it certainly isn't worth attacking each other over.

Believe it or not, there are a few scientific theories out there put out by creationists. Are they perfect? No. They have issues and will need to be revised.

However, that is the nature of science. Science strives to understand the universe through coming up with models to describe observations. If something doesn't fit an established theory, it could be wrong or need an update. Our theories fall in the same boat.

And by the way, everyone, a theory is not junk. In normal life we say things like "Well, my theory is that she won't show up on time". This is not what science means when it talks about theories. In science a theory describes a wide range of phenomena consistently. They are not flimsy things. Plate tectonics is a theory, and I hope that most would agree that it explains earthquakes pretty well. Gravity (as defined by Einstein) is also a theory. The last I checked it still worked.

To those who are labeled as Christian freaks: Evolution is a theory too. I believe that it has some major flaws, but it is still a theory, not a joke. We will do better by addressing its issues and having equally sound theories of our own than by just attacking it and calling its proponents wicked or athiests.

To the scientists: Please don't just assume that the Christians are quacks. Many are and believe just because their parents did. But that's not all of us. Some of us really can think for ourselves and see the evidence to support a different model.

Now, to the issue at hand, which used to be the Large Hadron Collider. As I mentioned, science operates off of theories which describe many things well most of the time. There is indeed a theory involved here. We're not just playing around with a lot of energy. The standard model and various other "less-established" theories, (String theory is one that has been mentioned earlier here. It is also one that can be considered to not be a true theory at this time.), have been consulted numerous times I'm sure to make sure this is safe.

Now you may be wondering, "If we already have a theory and know exactly what's going to happen, then why do it? And if we don't know what's going to happen, then couldn't we destroy ourselves?". That's a valid question, and the scientifically-informed need to be more tactful and polite in answering it.

There are multiple theories/variations involved, and they all differ from each other in some ways. However, overall they will be reasonably similar, just as Einstein's theory of gravity is more accurate than Newton's but will look almost identical in many cases. All of these theories will say that this is safe, but the experiments are still valuable because they will provide specific data to help determine which theories are more accurate in these cases.

The black hole question is one that has kept coming up. If we accidentally create a black hole, how do the scientists know we won't all die? First of all, let's be honest. They don't. Science cannot, by definition, EVER prove anything. If new evidence comes in it may have to modify its theory. So if we die, then the theory would need to be modified. However, the fact that similar circumstances happen frequently in nature and the fact that the theories are usually quite accurate, suggest that we won't die.

Second, if the theories are right, only a tiny black hole would be created. These are not the monsters you see in the universe eating stars. At small scales (and even large over enough time if I remember correctly), black holes do actually die. So called Hawking radiation is actually sent out of a black hole and over time can cause it to evaporate. With really really really tiny black holes like the ones that "might" be produced here, that would happen really fast.

Even if it didn't evaporate, it's been suggested that it would probably go through the earth. Someone seemed nervous at the idea of a black hole going to the center of the earth. That's not what we're talking about. It would literally travel right through the earth (like go from Switzerland through the middle to ....what? South America?) and then out the other side. In fact, this is happening all the time. As part of nuclear fusion (which probably did "not" create the universe and is understood), the sun sends out lots of small particles called "neutrinos". They have little to no mass (I think they recently found they do have a small mass.) and can travel in huge numbers right through solid matter without any problems. There are some (trillions I think) going through you right now without any problems. If a black hole were to do the same, it wouldn't bother me. They really are too tiny to worry about for a long, long time (billions of years) if ever.

There is a lot of energy involved, but it's not nearly the amount that most scientists think was unleashed in the big bang. Think about it: a fundamental assumption in science is that energy cannot be created or destroyed. Since we are using only a small fraction of the energy in the universe, we cannot create another big bang. We can, however, find out how matter behaves under conditions relatively similar to those proposed by the big bang.

In summary, scientists are not just playing with a lot of energy trying to recreate the big bang with no idea what will happen. No, they really have a pretty good idea what will happen. It's the details that will matter, in destroying or modifying theories. Perhaps an accidental discovery will be made. I'm glad the fear of an accidental discovery hasn't halted the rest of science. We have "enough" of an idea of what will happen that the odds are good that anything accidental would be useful, not cataclysmic.

Please, please, please, everyone, quit the religion/science attacks. They're not helping and just make both sides look stupid to the other.

Christian freaks like me: You're not converting anyone by citing the Bible. It's unltimately their choice to accept or reject God, and is where the earth came from "really" the issue here? I agree it's important, but not to the point that we make enemies from the ones we want to see the light. There is still some science and useful benefit from this, even if one goal of many involved scientists is to have more insight into the big bang. There are other things we can learn from the LHC. If nothing else, isn't having a deeper understanding of God's universe a commendable goal?

Science lovers (also like me): Try to give the Christians a break. Some of us may in fact be misinformed or even wrong, but either your theories or ours can be thrown out if the wrong new evidence comes into play.

I'll be looking forward to seeing results come out of the LHC starting in two days! Hope it works and that it will give helpful results for years to come!

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