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Does The 'God Particle' Disprove God?

James

A simulated Higgs event, by CERN - Wikimedia Creative Commons (license)

A simulated Higgs event, by CERN - Wikimedia Creative Commons (license)

I've had a few friends ask me to comment on the recent discovery of the so-called "God particle." Apparently, some physicists are suggesting that this discovery disproves God's existence. Such a claim understandably makes open-minded religious believers concerned. But they needn't worry. The claim is all hype, and completely false. Despite its name, the God particle has nothing to do with God's existence. However, it is another confirmation of the elegant order (the Logos) underlying the universe. Christians should thus celebrate this discovery along with everyone else!

The God particle is actually called a Higgs boson, named after physicist Peter Higgs. He predicted the existence of this particle back in the 1960s. And it has taken this long to finally confirm it empirically. The Higgs boson received the nickname "God particle" from a 1993 book by Leon Lederman, who supposedly gave it the name because of its centrality to our understanding of matter and its stubborn elusiveness, not because it has anything to do with God's existence.

According to the Standard Model of particle physics, material objects have mass due to their interaction with an invisible field, called a Higgs field, that permeates all of space (think of a magnetic field that extends throughout the entire universe!). When things such as electrons, quarks, etc. interact with this field, it gives them mass, and a Higgs boson is temporarily formed (before it quickly decays into other particles). To confirm that such a field exists, scientists needed to observe a Higgs boson in action; and that's exactly what physicists at CERN believe they have done.

At most, what the discovery of this new particle means is that the Standard Model of particle physics -- which is the working model that most scientists have been utilizing and assuming to be accurate for the past 50 years or so -- is probably true. Particles have mass due to the Higgs field. That's it. No scary (or exciting, depending on how you look at it) implications that God doesn't exist. No reason for religious believers to worry. No reason for atheists to revel. As far as I can tell, neither the discovery of the "God particle," nor the Standard Model have any implications for God's existence whatsoever.

So, when physicists claim the discovery of the God particle somehow "disproves religion" -- such as Michio Kaku did in this interview on CNN -- they are simply making false, inaccurate statements. Such sloppy thinking seems to be part of a growing trend of willful ignorance among some physicists in regards to philosophy -- they claim philosophy is useless, and then frustratingly proceed to make philosophical blunder after philosophical blunder; horribly misrepresenting the implications of their science, just like Kaku did. I recently addressed this trend, and so did the New York Times. The worst part is that this willful ignorance sometimes leads to a misrepresentation of the facts themselves.[1]

The discovery of the Higgs boson is a wonderful achievement! It is a testimony to the elegant, rational order underlying the universe (the Logos, from which this blog gets part of its name) -- an order that our minds can mysteriously grasp to a surprising degree. This should give us a sense of awe, not only with the universe but with ourselves. The fact that we can use abstract thought to predict the existence of something we've never seen before, and then go out and find it, just shows that we truly are fearfully and wonderfully made! Religious believers and atheists alike should be celebrating this discovery together. It gives all of us, no matter what our beliefs, reason to pause and contemplate the mystery of our existence.

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Endnotes

1. Take Kaku for example. In the CNN interview, he continually suggests that the Higgs boson discovery can explain how the universe was created. Then, at approximately 1:35 in the video, he offers the following whopper, "The Higgs boson takes us to the instant of creation itself." No, it doesn't. The Higgs boson is a confirmation of the Standard Model, but the Standard Model doesn't even apply at the earliest moment of the universe. It is also an incomplete model -- it doesn't explain things like gravity and dark energy. Physicists need other models to account for those things. If you'd like to hear a more in depth critique of Kaku's statements, philosopher William Lane Craig has an excellent podcast addressing the issue.