As I was trying to solve a “Hard” crossword puzzle, I came across this clue for a five-letter word: “Hadrons’ superiors”. Unable to figure it out, I looked up the answer, which was “atoms”. Atoms? I didn’t get it. So I did a search for “hadron” to find out who or what it was. Without realizing it, I had entered a portal into the realm of particle physics.
A hadron, as it turns out, is a composite particle made up of quarks. A quark is an elementary or fundamental particle, along with leptons, antiquarks and antileptons, called fermions. They are the matter and antimatter particles. Bosons are another kind of fundamental particle called “force particles”, which “mediate interactions among fermions”, whatever that means. Any particle made up of two or more of these elementary particles is called a composite particle, and that’s exactly what a hadron is.
Scientists used to think that the atom was the most elementary particle of matter, but they discovered the atom is made up of these even smaller building blocks. It’s all quite amazing. Scientists are continually finding ways to look deeper and closer into the heart of matter.
One would hope that their discoveries would help us all to better understand the reality we live in. But interestingly, the more questions science answers, the more new questions are created. Understanding reality has become a function of whatever theory seems most acceptable you. Without pretending to understand it, I offer this paragraph from Wikipedia’s article on the elementary particle (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elementary_particle):
Around 1980, an elementary particle’s status as indeed elementary—an ultimate constituent of substance—was mostly discarded for a more practical outlook, embodied in particle physics’ Standard Model, science’s most experimentally successful theory. Many elaborations upon and theories beyond the Standard Model, including the extremely popular string theory, double the number of elementary particles by hypothesizing that each known particle associates with a “shadow” partner far more massive, although all such superpartners remain undiscovered. Meanwhile, an elementary boson mediating gravitation—the graviton—is generally presumed, but remains hypothetical.
In other words, despite all the knowledge gained through scientific study, our understanding of the physical universe we live in (our reality) is still basically a mystery. One of the questions string theory introduces is how many dimensions there are. My generation was told space has three dimensions and time was the fourth. In 1969 I heard the 5th Dimension sing the Age of Aquarius, and I mistakenly thought my consciousness was expanding. (C’mon, lighten up!)
But string theory concludes there are ten or even more dimensions to reality. At first glance, such a theory is mind-boggling, especially to someone raised on mid-twentieth century conceptualizations. However, when I consider that my idea of reality includes God, heaven and supernatural matters beyond a simple four-dimensional explanation, maybe science is onto something.
It’s hard to read the Bible without thinking there are dimensions to reality we simply do not understand. Where is heaven, if not in another dimension? Where are the “heavenly places” of Ephesians 6:12 and Hebrews 9:11-12? What did Paul mean in 2 Corinthians 12:2 by “caught up to the third heaven…whether in the body or out of the body”? Supernatural phenomena, such as miracles and angels or even the omniscience and omnipresence of God become easier to grasp as realities when you see them as functions of other dimensions we don’t understand.
Despite the greatest efforts of our finest minds, the mystery of what reality is persists. There is no unanimity in the field of ontology (the study of the nature of being). Just think about that for a moment. Those who study the nature of existence don’t even agree on what existence is! Similarly, there isn’t even agreement on the theory of knowledge (epistemology), as to what we can know or how we can know it. What this boils down to is that people see what they want to see and believe what they want to believe.
Our ability to live well isn’t as dependent upon our understanding of reality as it is our beliefs about reality. What we believe fills in the empty spaces in what we can know. If you are driving down a road and a tree has fallen, blocking your way, it’s not going to make any difference how well you understand the sub-atomic structure of the tree. Solving the problem of getting around the obstacle remains.
The scenario of a fallen tree in your way includes many more considerations. Perhaps it means you should turn back. Perhaps you are frustrated by the delay. Perhaps you see this as an opportunity to examine your purposes. Should you focus on yourself or help someone else, whose way is also blocked? Perhaps you are reminded to be thankful that this tree didn’t fall when you would have been driving on that very spot. Or you might even relish the challenge of the situation. The “reality” of the situation is partly the tree and partly you. Your part is what you believe.
It’s tempting to focus on the tree and miss the forest — just like it’s tempting to focus on a hadron, or even a quark. But they’re only tiny specks in the big picture. And to me, the big picture points to God. Assembling all those parts together is like solving a puzzle. What do we see when the puzzle is solved? In Romans 1:19 it says, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.”
The big picture is that we can see the universe God created and recognize his handiwork in it, just like we can recognize a painting by Rembrandt, a building by Frank Lloyd Wright, a book by Hemingway or music by our favorite composer. Creation points to the Creator. Particle physics points to something greater than tiny particles — not just to a solved puzzle, but to the Maker of the puzzle.
“For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:16a, 17