As the science versus faith battle continues, could the Higgs boson, otherwise known as the ‘God’ particle, be used as a weapon on either side?
‘The God particle! It’s been found! There’s proof! He lives!’
Er, well, not quite. It turns out that the Higgs boson – the so-called ‘God’ particle – is more to do with science than theology. But as the science vs faith debates continue, it could be used as a weapon in the armour of either side. There are good reasons for Christians to put it in their own armouries.
So what’s it all about? And how can non-scientists engage with the ideas? The Higgs boson was a hypothetical idea that helped physicists’ most fundamental basic theories about the world make sense. Now it is reported to have been ‘found’ – or observed – by a group of scientists. This could lead to greater understanding of why our world is as it is – why matter clumps together and weighs something. ‘We know that if we try to push a heavy object, like, for example, a grand piano, it takes a lot of effort to get it moving – it has mass and inertia,’ says Graham Swinerd, an astrophysicist at the University of Southampton, and a Christian. ‘The discovery of the Higgs particle helps us to understand this very fundamental characteristic of our everyday world.’
The Higgs boson was given its divine name by physicist Leon Lederman in his book about particle physics, The God Particle: If the Universe is the Answer, What is the Question? He said he called it that because it was so important to current theories in physics. Most scientists hate the name, because they say it gives the science more importance than it is worth. ‘The God particle is not a very good title,’ says Peter Bussey, an elementary particle physicist attached to the University of Glasgow, and a member of Christians in Science. ‘It is a very important particle – assuming it is what people assume it is, which we can’t take for granted.’
It’s a particle that often makes headlines. Even the Large Hadron Collider – the machine that detected the Higgs boson – has proved to be highly controversial. Before it started throwing sub-atomic particles at each other at extreme speeds, some said that turning it on could spark the end of the world, through creating a black hole or some other such strange event. A nuclear safety officer even tried to file a lawsuit in Hawaii to stop the Collider being turned on, although the judge said he had no jurisdiction over the events.
This Collider aims to replicate conditions that existed after the Big Bang – the current favoured scientific explanation for the beginning of the universe. The Higgs particle’s discovery could lead to new speculation as to how everything was created, because it is thought to have been important in the moments after the big explosion.
big explosion. Some claim an enhanced account of how the universe began means that the ‘God’ explanation would no longer be required. Lawrence M Krauss, a theoretical physicist at Arizona State University, said in Newsweek that the Higgs boson discovery will make faith redundant. ‘If we can describe the laws of nature back to the beginning of time without any supernatural shenanigans, it becomes clear that you don’t need God’, he was quoted as saying.
However, the question remains – why did the Big Bang start? Why did something come out of nothing? What caused the initial explosion? For many people, exploring this question leads to the explanation of a creator. There are many physicists and mathematicians who believe in both the Bible and the Big Bang. Bussey agrees and thinks that the Higgs boson discovery could enhance religious belief, if it affects it at all. ‘I don’t think it adds a lot to the religion/science debate,’ he says. ‘What you can certainly say is the universe is set up in a very clever way. If you wish to, you can say this is completely in accord with the idea of an intelligence behind it all. It goes along with statements of people like Cambridge physicist Paul Dirac who said that “God is a mathematician of a very high order.”
‘I would say that the Higgs mechanism...looks very clever. It confirms the idea of an intelligently thought out mathematical structure in the universe.’