Saturday, July 21, 2012

God Particle

On July 4th, news outlets around the world buzzed with excitement about a remarkable scientific discovery. CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, announced the discovery of the long-sought subatomic particle called the Higgs boson (sometimes referred to as the "God particle.") Now I don’t claim to understand all this stuff; in fact, I’ve tried reading up on it, and I know I don’t understand all this stuff!  Apparently  discovering the Higgs boson is important because it would prove the existence of the Higgs field, which has something to do with how particles attain mass.  And I guess that’s a big deal.  I know how I attain mass, and that’s all that matters to me.  It’s losing mass that’s the mystery to me.  Anyway, I read someplace that the Higgs field hypothesis is the simplest of several proposed explanations for that phenomenon, which makes me feel pretty stupid since I literally can’t understand even the simplest of explanations.

The Higgs boson particle is the final missing ingredient in what's called the Standard Model of particle physics. This Standard Model supposedly explains how every visible thing in the universe was made. (Note that it doesn't explain Who made everything.) It also explains the forces acting between visible things.

Last December, the scientist and theologian Alister McGrath wrote a fine introduction to the Higgs boson particle. McGrath claims that physicists believed in the particle for years even though they couldn't see it. He wrote, “Some tell us that science is about what can be proved.  The wise tell us it is really about offering the best explanations of what we see, realising that these explanations often cannot be proved, and may sometimes lie beyond proof.  Science often proposes the existence of invisible (and often undetectable) entities – such as dark matter – to explain what can be seen.  The reason why the Higgs boson is taken so seriously in science is not because its existence has been proved, but because it makes so much sense of observations that its existence seems assured.  In other words, its power to explain is seen as an indicator of its truth.”

He then moves from scientist to theologian when he writes, “There’s an obvious and important parallel with the way religious believers think about God.  While some demand proof that God exists, most see this as unrealistic.  Believers argue that the existence of God gives the best framework for making sense of the world.  God is like a lens, which brings things into clearer focus.  As the Harvard psychologist William James pointed out years ago, religious faith is about inferring ‘the existence of an unseen order’ in which the ‘riddles of the natural order’ can be explained.”

One MIT physicist had this to say: "A more exotic version of the Higgs particle could be a bridge to understanding the 96 percent of the universe that remains obscure."  Check it out: for all of our advances in science, most of the universe remains a mystery to the human mind.  There are some who claim that science is a threat to faith; some who claim that science has rendered belief in God irrelevant and outdated, no longer necessary to understand the universe.  But, even given that 96% is just an estimate, it still leaves plenty of room for God. 

You don’t have to reject God to believe in science, and you certainly don’t have to reject science to believe in God.  You just have to reject the statements of those who, in their hubris, claim that understanding 4% of anything puts you in position to make claims about our ability to comprehend the other 96%, or the existence of a Who behind the what.

1 comment:

  1. The term "God Particle" came from the book "The God Particle / If the Universe is the Answer, What is the Question?," by Leon Lederman & Dick Teresi (first published in 1993 and reissued in 2006), which is in the bibliography of my free ebook on comparative mysticism.

    In his 2006 Preface Dr. Lederman, a Nobel laureate in physics, wrote:
    "Now as for the title, The God Particle, my coauthor, Dick Teresi, has agreed to accept the blame. I mentioned the phrase as a joke once in a speech, and he remembered it and used it as the working title of the book. The title ended up offending two groups: 1) those who believe in God and 2) those who do not. We were warmly received by those in the middle."