The 'God particle' is found
A recent announcement in the news has generated some extraordinary claims.
Possible sighting of the elusive ‘God particle’ caused one scientist, Michio Kaku, to state on CNN that it ‘takes us to the instant of creation itself’. Notorious atheist Peter Atkins claimed on the BBC that its discovery was ‘another nail in the coffin of religion’. Does this particle really have implications for faith in God? Is there reason for a Christian to be unsettled?
The particle is properly called a ‘Higgs boson’. Its existence was predicted in 1964 by Professor Peter Higgs at Edinburgh University. Scientists assumed it must exist because it explained why matter has ‘mass’. It is a bit like the way we predict the existence of all sorts of everyday things we cannot see. When a letter lands on the doormat we assume the existence of a sender even if we do not know who they are. There are many phenomena in the universe that lead scientists to predict the existence of other things we cannot yet observe. We will hear more and more about ‘Dark Matter’ in the years to come.
The connection between the Higgs boson and the Big Bang theory is an indirect one. It is part of what physicists call ‘the standard model’, which represents the current understanding of physics at the smallest scales. The standard model does not confirm or require the truth of the Big Bang theory. The two are, however, linked. Scientists who accept the Big Bang theory, and wish to understand what might have occurred immediately after it, need to understand how matter works when huge amounts of energy are present in a tiny space. Under such conditions, Higgs bosons come into play.
To track down this particle, the ‘Large Hadron Collider’ was built in Switzerland. Costing about $10 billion, it is essentially an 18-mile circular underground tunnel staffed by 3,000 people. The purpose of this vast machine is to simulate some conditions similar to those that existed soon after the Big Bang. This is done by accelerating hydrogen atoms close to the speed of light (that means traversing the tunnel at 11,000 times a second!), and then observing the energy released when atoms collide. Recent reports indicate that the Higgs boson particle has been observed, although some further work will be required before scientists can be sure that what they have observed really is the Higgs boson.
Not an explanation
But let us be clear what the ‘God particle’ actually is. Its existence has been assumed for over 40 years. It is part of the standard model for the Big Bang. It is a particle that explains why the universe has mass. It is a particle that existed during an early period after the Big Bang (creation). Its discovery gives confirmation to a lot of complex, theoretical physics.
What is the God particle not? It is not an explanation of where the universe came from. It is not a new theory about the universe. It offers nothing that contradicts what we read in Genesis, or indeed anywhere in Scripture. In fact, the very name ‘God particle’ is a hopeless misnomer. Coined by Leon Lederman, he intended it as a humorous reference to the difficulty of observing it. Professor Higgs was not keen on the nickname, but, unfortunately, it stuck. As a consequence some scientists and media outlets with an eye on publicity and profit use it for headline grabbing remarks about religion.
What should a Christian say in response to these headlines? Firstly, I think we should celebrate human achievement and discovery. The modern scientific worldview is founded on the biblical principles of Reformation Europe. All truth is God’s truth.
Secondly, we should be aware that rarely are facts allowed to speak for themselves. Scientists are not unlike politicians in sometimes putting a spin on their claims. Some atheists betray their own materialistic agenda in putting such a spin on the discovery of the Higgs boson.
Thirdly, we should emphasise that a scientific description of how something works does not contradict the theological description of why God made it. Paul wrote that in Christ, ‘all things were created; things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him’ (Colossians 1.16). Does the Higgs boson exist? I will listen to the explanations of those brilliant scientists in Switzerland. But to ask who made the Higgs boson and why, I will turn to Scripture for an answer.
Chris Sinkinson is pastor of Alderholt Chapel and lectures at Moorlands College.