Naming ‘the God Particle’

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July 10, 2012 Tags: Earth, Universe & Time

Today's entry was written by Faith Tucker. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Naming ‘the God Particle’

Note: Since the announcement last week that experimental confirmation of the long-sought Higgs boson may have been achieved, the discovery has been the topic of much discussion in both the science and popular press, not least because the Higgs particle has been widely referred to as "the God Particle." In today's post, Faith Tucker looks at this discovery to explore what overlap there might be between its scientific and its spiritual ramifications. Tomorrow, Gerald Cleaver gives a primer on what the Higgs is and does, and talks more about what its significance might be for the study of particle physics.

The image above describes an "event" (proton-proton collision) recorded in 2012 with the CMS detector at CERN's Large Hadron Collider. According to CERN, "the event shows characteristics expected from the decay of the SM Higgs boson to a pair of Z bosons, one of which subsequently decays to a pair of electrons (green lines and green towers) and the other Z decays to a pair of muons (red lines). The event could also be due to known standard model background processes. ATLAS Experiment © 2012 CERN

Judging from the flurry of headlines over the past week, one might be tempted to think that proof positive of God’s existence (or lack thereof) had just appeared out of a 27-km-tunnel buried beneath the Swiss-French border. This frenzy of news headlines and blog titles hailed the recent news that CERN’s Large Hadron Collider has discovered a brand new particle of a mass of 125-126 GeV, which is assumed to be the Higgs boson, or the so-called “God particle.” The discovery of the Higgs boson would certainly be a breakthrough for particle physics and cosmology, but would such a finding also radically redefine theology’s understanding of God or challenge the existence of such a deity? Is there actually any theological or religious significance in Higgs physics at all?

The short answer is “no,” which becomes apparent when one considers the widely-reported story of how it got named. In 1993, Nobel Laureate physicist Leon Lederman, along with science writer Dick Teresi, wrote a book detailing the history of particle physics starting with Pre-Socratic Greek philosophy Democritus and culminating with the hunt for the Higgs boson. Until this latest discovery, the Higgs boson was the elusive final missing piece of the puzzle known as the Standard Model—a collection of the fundamental particles that constitute our universe and the complex and mathematically-sophisticated relationships between them. Considering how incredibly difficult finding the Higgs boson was proving to be, Lederman wanted to name the book after that “goddamn particle,” according to some of his collaborators. His editor, however, would not allow it and so the name was shortened to “The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What is the Question?” And thus ‘the God particle’ was born, carrying with it more than enough social baggage for such a miniscule particle.

Particle physicist Dr. Zosia Krusberg (at right) is visiting assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Vassar College and thinks “the term ‘god particle’ is unfortunate. The Higgs boson is no more (or less) divine or spiritually significant than any other elementary particle within the standard model of particle physics.” It may be fundamental to explaining one of the most basic characteristics of the universe—namely the existence of matter and mass in addition to energy—but “it is no more (or less) important than any other physics principle underlying the Standard Model.”

Last week’s discovery was monumental in that it may have finally provided experimental evidence for the Higgs Mechanism and defined the specific energy of the resulting Higgs boson, but even this “breakthrough” for particle physics leaves many scientific questions unresolved. Finding the Higgs boson completes the Standard Model, but it does not do away with many other questions and shortcomings of the current state of particle physics, such as the constituent particles of dark matter, a quantum theory of gravity, and other “mathematically subtle problems.” Not to mention that there is still significant work to be done to determine the exact nature of this newly-found particle. According to Dr. Krusberg, this particle might behave just as the Standard Model predicts or it could instead be “a Higgs-like particle that will serve as a gateway into explorations of physics beyond the Standard Model." Krusberg continued, “And I guarantee that it is this latter scenario that most of us are hoping for: physicists love nothing more than discovering the shortcomings of their theories, since this is the first step toward more fundamental theories with even more predictive power!”

No, finding the Higgs boson does not answer all the questions of particle physics, much less lend insight into the existence (or not) of God. For that reason, Dr. Krusberg (like most physicists) bemoans the term ‘God particle’ and insists, “There really is nothing either literally or metaphorically god-like about the Higgs boson.” Indeed, one writer for the British journal The Guardian reached such a point of frustration about the name that he ran a competition for alternatives. The winner was “the champagne flute boson,” ostensibly because the bottom of a champagne bottle is an excellent and oft-used demonstration of the energy potential of the Higgs Mechanism. Or then again, perhaps it is simply because physicists thought that finally finding this shy particle would call for some of the bubbly.

On the other hand, some science writers and scientists can appreciate the ‘educational benefits’ of such a mysterious and controversial name because it attracts the attention of the general public and puts a relatable face on an extremely esoteric physics concept. Krusberg herself admits that “People are naturally drawn to the mysterious and the controversial, providing educators with great teaching opportunities.” But she worries about the larger social implications involved in “mixing the vernacular of physics and spirituality,” not least because such uncritical mixing can lead the non-scientific community to draw conclusions about the authority and reach of science that are not justified.

Understanding that the Higgs boson is not the literal stuff of God and that it does not prove or disprove God’s existence (as the name seems to suggest) extinguishes the fire under any sort of religious outcry. But this does not mean that its discovery is irrelevant to the discussion of science and faith, nor to the Christian community as a whole. As Dr. Krusberg remarks, “The recent discovery of [this] new boson at the LHC perfectly embodies the scientific process at its best (and thereby illustrates to the public why and how science works).” Scientific exploration of nature is not a fool-proof endeavor; healthy skepticism and accountability to a wide community of other researchers are absolutely critical to its success. But such evidence of the power and finesse of well-executed science as we saw last week is a testament to our ability to explore and understand the ‘how’ of the universe. God has equipped humanity with the desire, the intellectual abilities, and the collective will to recognize and explore the cosmic order and beauty of his creation. God has made our home knowable, and has given us the tools and capacities by which to know it.

At left, Cern researchers present their findings to a few hundred of their colleagues in Melbourne, Australia. Image © 2012 CERN

It is valuable, then, for the Christian community to understand and appreciate how science works, in part to recognize that there are many instances in which science and the church work in tandem in order to better understand and better serve the world. But I think there is something else we can draw from the story of the Higgs boson, too. The nickname ‘the God particle’ has touched nerves in religious communities because it implies that science has the ability to prove or disprove divine existence by physical means. Even though the physics community is by no means claiming insight into the divine, it is sometimes assumed by the religious community that scientists view their work as chipping away at God’s existence when they begin to understand something that was previously unknown, or known only “by faith” in esoteric theories and models.

And yet, regardless of motives or metaphysical interpretations, perhaps physicists' search for the Higgs boson is in fact an apt picture of our own search for God. How many times have we stared up at the starry ceiling in times of crisis and prayed fervently for some kind of sign from God to assure us of his presence? And how many times has that much-desired evidence appeared only in retrospect, when we look back to see God’s hand faithfully and elegantly working in ways inscrutable at the time? It took a community of physicists to discern the presence of the Higgs boson. But even so, they could only do so after the fact from the cascade of particle decays it sparked; they could not observe the particle itself directly. In a similar way, though we often do not see the working of God directly, “in the moment,” we still trust in his presence and providence, often depending on friends, family and the community of the church to help us see his hand in hindsight.

So while the discovery of the Higgs boson does not itself explain God, we rejoice at the subtle yet striking new insight we have into God’s creative genius via the Higgs boson and at the way God gives evidence of his faithfulness in the ordered creation itself. Perhaps, however, the greatest insight we can glean from this breakthrough is an analogy for the way God calls us to seek him and find him together, in the community of those who follow his son.

Tomorrow, Baylor University physicist Gerald Cleaver answers the question, "What is the Higgs boson?"




Faith Tucker graduated from Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA in 2011 with Bachelor's degrees in both Astronomy and Religion. At Whitman, she was a student leader of the campus's InterVarsity chapter and gave planetarium shows to students of all ages. Since graduating she has spent time working in astronomy education and public outreach at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD and is currently a Project Coordinator for the American Association for the Advancement of Science's program on the Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion.


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George Bernard Murphy - #71015

July 10th 2012

“It is valuable, then, for the Christian community to understand and appreciate how science works, in part to recognize that there are many instances in which science and the church work in tandem in order to better understand and better serve the world.”

This is a true statement.


George Bernard Murphy - #71016

July 10th 2012

So why won’t you look at the findings from the Apollo project?

It showed that the earth did not always rotate. DOES THIS IMPACT THE YEC FOLK’S DEFINITION OF A “DAY”

 I REALLY DON’T  KNOW THE ANSWER TO THAT QUESTION but it should not be ignored.


wesseldawn - #71020

July 10th 2012

I would like to read this, do you have a link?


George Bernard Murphy - #71028

July 11th 2012

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m8P5ujNwEwM

This is pretty good.

There is also a big book edited by Robin Canup and others, with a lot of Math which is over my head.


George Bernard Murphy - #71029

July 11th 2012

Well Mr. Wesseldawn I just reviewed that video from youtube and i see that Robin fails to say that the impact STARTED the earth rotating.

She has several other videos here she DOES say that. And it is true. 

This rotation when added to the magma circulation described earlier [when the dry land appeared] ,..... gave the earth a magnetic pole.

 So the two events described first in genesis,.[gathering the dry land and moving continents, which we know today is one of the effects of plate tectonics,].... and rotation,.... gave us the magnetosphere which deflects solar particles  AND ALLOWS US TO FORM AN ATMOSPHERE.

MARS WHICH HAS NO POLES AND NO PROTECTIVE MAGNETOSPHERE,.. HAS NO ATMOSPHERE AND NO WATER.


wesseldawn - #71045

July 11th 2012

I have been a member on a science blog for some time and I never heard this fact about the impact starting the earth’s rotation - and of course it makes perfect sense.


wesseldawn - #71043

July 11th 2012

I had heard of this theory some time ago that the moon was actually comprised of debris from the earth, because of a collision with a meteor! And of course the simulations prove it! I wonder if moons of other planets are formed this same way?

Thanks for the link. I plan to watch all of the videos.


George Bernard Murphy - #71063

July 12th 2012

Mr Wesseldawn that is the ENTIRETY  OF WHAT THEY LEARNED ROM THE MOON PROJECT IN THE ‘70S

But it was years before they came to the correct conclusions. Actually it was 1984 at an astronomy meeting in Kona Hawaii and itis now called “the Kona concensus”

 The definitive book on the was written by Dana McKenzie and is called “The Big Splat”


Francis - #71019

July 10th 2012

I sure hope the Higgs boson was worth 30 years and $10 billion.


wesseldawn - #71047

July 11th 2012

Me too!


wesseldawn - #71021

July 10th 2012

“The nickname ‘the God particle’ has touched nerves in religious communities because it implies that science has the ability to prove or disprove divine existence by physical means.”

Not that I think that the existence of God hinges upon the discovery of the Higgs Boson but it made me think that if the Bible didn’t exist to tell us about God, would we still believe in God? If the very basis of our belief hinges upon the scriptures but they didn’t exist, what basis would we have for our belief?

Noah had the ark, the ancient Israelites had the parting of the Red Sea, the cloud by day to shield them and the fire by night to warm them - but aside from the scriptures, when has anyone in this or any generation since, seen miracles like that? Makes me wonder why the miracles stopped!


psacramento - #71034

July 11th 2012

As Christ said, Even if his followers were to be silent, the rocks would proclaim Him (paraphrasing).

We have the Bible but if we didn’t I have no doubts that God would find a way, as He did BEFORE His Words were put “on paper”.

The bible is liek a finger pointing the way to God and while it is great to have that finger, that finger is NOT God but simply one of His many tools that He uses to reveal Himself to Us.

The others being Christ, the Holy Spirit and the Universe we live in.


George Bernard Murphy - #71038

July 11th 2012

GOOD POINT!


wesseldawn - #71046

July 11th 2012

It doesn’t make sense that rocks would proclaim Him! Have you ever seen rocks do this!!

This cannot be speaking about rocks on earth? It has to be speaking of the clefts of the rocks wherein Moses was hid when the presence of God passed by him. But then Moses was not on the earth when he had that experience as he was standing on holy ground.  The earth is not holy, only where God dwells is holy ground. Therefore, for sure Moses was not on the earth. Therefore, the rocks in this instance on those in Paradise.

I was simply asking that if there was no Bible, on what would be base our faith. Christ? - He is not here. The Holy Spirit? (do you have any idea how many different branches there are to Christianity?  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Christian_denominations) So which one is hearing the Holy Spirit correctly because they all believe that with equal sincerity.

I believe in the Bible because I can read it, but what of those people that have never had access to a Bible now and throughout the centuries?


Francis - #71022

July 10th 2012

Dr. Zosia Krusberg models the Standard Model very nicely. I wish all models were as captivating.

 


Francis - #71023

July 10th 2012

“If the very basis of our belief hinges upon the scriptures but they didn’t exist, what basis would we have for our belief?”

Romans 1:20.


George Bernard Murphy - #71039

July 11th 2012

WELL I THINK TH CREATION STORY COULD HAVE BEEN DERIVED FROM SCIENCE but only in the past 200 years. 

The fact that the bible DID exist and has existed for 2500 years and ONLY NOW we have the science to prove it is true proves that it is from GOD!

OUR RELIGION CANNOT BE A PRODUCT OF HUMAN THOUGHT.

AND,.... NO OTHER RELIGION HAS A CREATION STORY THAT IS AS SCIENTIFICALLY ACCURATE AS OUR!

Doesn’t that make you feel good!


Dunemeister - #71040

July 11th 2012

My heart cannot rejoice in what my mind rejects as false. (I heard that somewhere…)


wesseldawn - #71102

July 14th 2012

It’s a true statement!

For sure the heart cannot get into something that the mind rejects! Sometimes however, the mind is given wrong information so then the heart is wrongly directed.

I like science because it explains our world and the cosmos. I like the Bible for the same reasons. My heart can get into both the Bible and science as I don’t find them to be at odds with each other.


wesseldawn - #71049

July 11th 2012

There are many variations of the Bible but the Bible itself has not been around for 2500 years!! The compilation only began at the council of Nicaea around 325AD.

http://www.tertullian.org/rpearse/nicaea.html

Scientifically accurate?  Which creation story are you speaking of? How do you explain Adam and Eve?

 


George Bernard Murphy - #71053

July 11th 2012

Genesis 1 is a pretty good summary of the facts of cosmology.

 GEnesis 2 is a summary of the out-of Africa  episode and cultural changes of the Upper Paleolithic revolution.

A lot reflects climate changes associated with rising  sea levels as ice melted at the end of the Younger Dryas period of glaciation.

 BTW THERE IS A MATERNAL EVE.

 Every human can be traced back to one single female.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #71064

July 12th 2012

wesseldawn,

The website that you gave for a reference is attrocious.  Yes, it is true that the NT, not the Bible, was put into final form at this important meeting.  As is most clear it is put together very carefully with the original 4 gospels, Luke’s history of the early Church, the letters of Paul and other early Church leaders and John’s Revelation.

The main task of the Council was to agree upon a creed to settle the Arian controversy, from which came the Nicean Creed and the basis of our understanding of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The Council determined that Jesus Christ was fully God as well as fully human. 

The person who appears to be most important in formulating this concept and upholding it was Athanasius of Alexandria, one of the greatest Christian theologians.  In the West he does not get much notice.  The struggle against Arian legalism was very stressful to the Church and continues to go on in various forms today.          


wesseldawn - #71048

July 11th 2012

What are the invisible things of him that are clearly seen? What does it mean?

 


Francis - #71052

July 11th 2012

“What are the invisible things of him that are clearly seen? What does it mean?”

Some Bible verses can be confusing or ambiguous to even a sane reader’s understanding.  Even more so for the less-sane and more-sinful.

“speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, beware lest you be carried away with the error of lawless men and lose your own stability.” 2 Peter 3:16-17

 “while evil men and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceivers and deceived.
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing FROM WHOM you learned it” 2:Tim 3: 13-14

“Knowing from whom you learned it.” Peter and Paul are saying we not only need teachers, we need the right teachers. One should consider not only who his teacher is, but should ask on what basis should this teacher be trusted as truth-teller.

In some cases, it might not even matter. Because although many other Bible verses can be quite easily understood, some folks won’t get it, or maybe pretend they don’t get it. Even with the best teaching. Even some “Christians”.  

“holding the form of religion but denying the power of it. Avoid such people.
 For among them are those who make their way into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and swayed by various impulses,
who will listen to anybody and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth.”
2 Tim 3:5-7


wesseldawn - #71092

July 14th 2012

These are the usual verses that people throw out when they don’t have an answer but if you yourself can’t explain it, how do you expect others to learn?

“And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” (2 Tim. 2:2) 

“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine.” (2 Tim. 4:2)

“Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.” (Titus 1:9)

“But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1)

 


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