You might have noticed on the news this past week that there has been great excitement among particle physicists over the apparent confirmed observation of the famous Higgs boson. Scientists from all over the world followed live on the internet in the middle of the night when the announcement was made and were then seen drinking champagne and going crazy. Scientists don’t normally go crazy very often, so the average person would first of all probably assume that “these guys are nuts,” but then might think that “something big must have happened.”
As a fellow scientist, I feel for the excitement of of the discovery. However, as a bit of an outsider to the intricacies of particle physics, I am also sufficiently removed so as to be able to laugh just a little at the thought of a bunch of people in white coats going crazy over a “particle.”
With all that said, probably the number one reason that this discovery has received so much attention in the news is because the Higgs boson was previously given the nickname the “God Particle” (much to the disapproval of the scientific community). To the casual observer, one might think that this discovery has in some way proved that there is in fact no real “God” and that everything can now be explained as related to this “particle.” It’s an attention grabbing story, but it has nothing to do with the Higgs boson and how it got it’s nickname.
The Higgs boson is the last piece to be put in place completing what is known as the Standard Model in physics. It’s similar to what the Periodic Table of Elements is to Chemistry. For instance, if you have confirmed an element with 22 protons (Titanium) and also confirmed an element with 24 protons (Chromium), the “model” in Chemistry would speculate that there should be an element with 23 protons, even though you haven’t “seen” it yet. (fyi, Vanadium, atomic number 23, was in fact discovered in 1801). The reason that the Hiiggs got the nickname “God particle” was because all of the scientists agreed that it should exist, but no one could actually observe it. Test after test confirmed that, to fit the Model, the Higgs boson should in fact exist, it’s just that no one had been able to create an experiment that proved it.
Because of the fact that all the evidence confirmed the existence of the Higgs boson and yet it remained so hard to definitively observe and prove, some people compared this to the qualities of God. Hence the certain but mysterious Higgs became known as the “God particle.”
So what can the God particle tell us about God? Here’s the key for me. The whole process of “proving” the existence of the Higgs shows that science and faith really operate on systems that are a lot closer than people think. Look at the “scientific” process at work here. Because the physicists had such confidence in the Model they had proposed, they were convinced by the evidence that the Higgs boson existed, even though no one had been able to see or maybe ever would see it. One might say that they had “faith” in the existence of the Higgs boson. Science requires faith too!
Now some might object that “That’s not faith. They used sound reasoning and hard data to project the existence of the Hiiggs.” Exactly…and this is what faith does as well. Faith is not some random belief in something crazy that is illogical. Faith is reasonable. In the same way the physicists can make observations and apply their knowledge to form a model of physics, so we can learn about God and even arrive at enough certainty to posit a God-centered “Model” of the universe.
In the end, the Standard Model of physics was confirmed. The particle long-believed to exist has at last been “seen” and people in white coats everywhere are going crazy. If all this happens just for the discovery of a “particle,” imagine the joy when one day the God-centered model of the universe is confirmed and the long-believed to exist God is at last seen by all. People in white robes will indeed go crazy, and this time everyone will know why.