Sorry, Merriam-Webster—My Word of the Year: God

God is in the news much more than science. And He is also very popular on social media.

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Merriam-Webster’s has decided that the word for next year is…science.

That’s not so bad. I guess. I liked science growing up. Dissecting frogs was interesting (if smelly), but there were other subjects I liked better. Whenever people ask me if I’d like to give my body to Science after I die, I always say that I’d rather give my body to Social Studies.

And despite whatever stereotypes you may have about believers, I’m no anti-science fundamentalist. Yes, I believe in evolution–though I think God is the creator of the universe and had a hand in evolution. Well, more than a hand. I believe God guided it. Sue me.

And no, I don’t believe that science is opposed to religion. Both, as I see it, are in search of the truth. And frankly, the more science progresses, and deals with things like quantum physics, the more a lot of what scientists conjecture seem to be hypotheses that must be taken on…well, faith.

(MOREWhy There Are No Atheists at the Grand Canyon)

Last year’s Nobel Prize in Physics, for example, went to two men who believed that an electron can be in two places at once. That’s right: two places at one time.

If I said that about a saint—in which case it would be called “bi-location”—I’d get laughed at. If you say that in Physics you get a prize. But like I said, I’m still pro-science.

And it’s an eye-rolling phrase, but some of my best friends are scientists. One of them, a Jesuit brother, is an astrophysicist who works at the Vatican observatory. He specializes in meteorites. We don’t talk that much about meteorites since I know as much about meteorites as, well…I know very little about meteorites. (I even had to spell-check the word.)

So I like science. But I’d propose another word for the year: God. As much as science is in the news—global warming, comets and bi-locating electrons and all that—God is in the news even more.  Pope Francis—another Jesuit whom you may have heard of—is now the most popular person on Twitter or on Facebook or on the web, depending on what survey you have faith in.

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God is also mentioned quite frequently during the holidays. (Though perhaps not in the way that God should be: “Oh my GOD!  A new iPad!”) Plus, as much as we rely on science for big things like, food, medicine, transportation and the like, we rely on God for the even bigger thing: that is, life.

Now, some religions don’t like their followers using the word “God,” because the divine name is considered too holy for utterance. Many of my devout Jewish friends write “G-d.” And when Moses asks God for God’s name in the Book of Exodus, God says, “I am who I am.” Some Bible scholars think that this may means, “I am the source of all Being.” A kind of philosophical statement. But most say that God is actually asserting the right to God’s name. In other words, “None of your business.”

So none of us should toss around God’s name lightly. (That’s Commandment #2 by the way.)

Still, if it’s not too late, and if others don’t object, I propose “God” to Merriam-Webster’s as the word of the year. Because, the way I look at it: no God, no science.

Not to mention: no Merriam and no Webster.

8 comments
AlexBergman
AlexBergman

This is completely ridiculous. I and many other atheists would take great offense at the word of the year being "God", because I don't believe in one - why should the word of the year only apply to a certain group of people? Science applies to everyone. Keep YOUR religion out of MY life.

Duffman
Duffman

Keep at it. On day you might grow up. I've always thought that the reason they won't let women into the church is because once you reach a high enough level they admit it's all a scam to keep people in line and women woulnd't be able to keep that secret. Am I right, or have you not risen high enough?

dgdoesstuff
dgdoesstuff

I need to find another website to read. Time has fallen apart. Any recommendations? >.O

teviet
teviet

Another case of disingenuously blurring the line between faith and observation.  When a scientist says an electron is in two places at once, he isn't discussing an abstract philosophical concept, he is presenting a mathematical model that offers specific and testable predictions.

One thing this does show is that human intuition, on its own, is remarkably poor at deducing how the Universe works: we need rigorous observations and testable hypotheses in order to correct our misconceptions. Many comforting truths that resonate with us intuitively (such as, in this case, the definiteness of location of an object) have proven to be erroneous.  A single well-designed experiment can reveal more about how the Universe actually operates than a lifetime of philosophical contemplation.

LarsTrulane
LarsTrulane

@teviet OK. So can you explain in layman's terms or by using this mathematical model how the same electron can be in the same place at once?

teviet
teviet

@LarsTrulane @teviet Okay I'll take a shot at it: quantum mechanics 101.  Although we think of an electron (or any other particle) as a discrete object, it's actually a field that extends over space.  You can see this by firing electrons at a barrier with two small holes on it and a phosphor screen behind.  If electrons behaved like we naively expect particles to behave, each electron would pass through one hole or the other, and strike one of two spots on the screen.  Instead we see that the impact points are spread out in a distinctive wavy pattern, which can be described mathematically by an electron field that passes through both holes at the same time and interferes with itself on the other side.

And yet, the individual impacts on the screen still look like discrete events!  Although the electron field is continuous over space, it interacts with other things by exchanging discrete amounts of energy (called "quanta").  We say that an electron is something called a "quantized field", and we have mathematical formulae that accurately predict where these interactions are likely to occur and how much energy gets exchanged.  It is these discrete interactions that give the illusion of an electron being a precisely-located object rather than an extended field.

The mathematics is too much for a comment board, but you can find it any article on "electron diffraction" or "double-slit experiments".  (The Wikipedia article on double-slit experiments is particularly nice.)

None of this is particularly new: electron diffraction was observed back in 1927 (and earned its discoverers the Nobel prize ten years later).  The 2012 Nobel prizewinners referred to in this article didn't revolutionize our fundamental understanding of electrons or any other particle; they revolutionized experimental techniques to allow precise observation and measurement of these phenomena in larger objects such as atoms.