Scientists at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland, have announced the discovery of a Higgs particle, sometimes referred to as the “God Particle”. What does this mean for our understanding of faith? Has the secret of the universe been discovered in this odd particle? Is God now obsolete? Or has science gone too far and God’s judgment just around the corner? Questions like this have plagued people of faith for centuries.
First, let me try to describe, to the best of my layperson’s understanding, what a Higgs particle is and why it is called the “God Particle”. As I have mentioned in previous entries, sub-atomic particles have no mass until they are coupled with wave energy. For over 50 years, quantum physicists have theorized that this coupling occurs with an elusive particle named after Peter Higgs in 1964. The Higgs Particle (or more precisely, Higgs Boson) is extremely heavy for its size, exists in a dual material state (both matter and anti-matter) and lives for a very short time. Hence, it has been very hard to identify. Leon Lederman wrote a popular book on the particle, which he wanted to call “The Goddamn Particle” because it was so difficult to prove and billions had been spent on the quest. However, the publisher named the book “The God Particle” and its importance was elevated to theological proportions. The Higgs Boson may be the particle that catalyzes the coupling of wave energy and matter to give a particle mass, but it is not God.
People of faith need to be careful not to marry their belief in God to a certain understanding of science. Likewise, people of science need to be careful not to marry their understanding of how the universe works to the negation of the existence of God. String theory may provide a working theory of how gravitons transmit gravity between masses. Evolution may provide an explanation of how species adapt over eons of time. The Higgs Particle may give us an understanding of how sub-atomic particles develop mass. None of those discoveries negate the existence of God. All of those discoveries require us to expand our understanding of God from our little parochial god that we can understand and manipulate into something much more infinite and cosmological.
When the Roman Catholic Church censored Galileo, it was not because he was teaching an understanding of the solar system that was contrary to the Bible. Actually, the Bible has no description of how the solar system works. The Catholic hierarchy had married their understanding of God to an Aristotelian scientific worldview. We have long since forgotten about a terra centric universe, the composition of all matter from four primal elements, and other components of Aristotelian science. In doing so, we greatly expanded our understanding of God. Let’s not have to wait 500 years to allow discoveries in quantum mechanics to expand our understanding of God even further.
If you attend church (and I realize many of my readers do not) you should be aware that most churches are populated by people who, like myself, are over 50. The exception to that are certain highly emotionalized churches. If we want Christianity to exist in the next generation on anything but an emotional level, we need to embrace our rapidly changing world, its broadening approach to spirituality, and its scientific understanding. This is difficult since most churches are funded by people who, like myself, are over 50. but the challenge is ours to take on or ignore.