The ‘God Particle’ and God

FABRICE COFFRINI AFP/GETTY IMAGES (FILES) A file photo taken on September 10, 2008 shows a European Organization for Nuclear Research … Continued

FABRICE COFFRINI

AFP/GETTY IMAGES

(FILES) A file photo taken on September 10, 2008 shows a European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) scientist looking at computer screens showing traces on the Atlas experiment of the first protons injected in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) during its switch-on operation at the CERN’s press center near Geneva. Physicists said on December 13, 2011 that they had narrowed the search for the elusive sub-atomic Higgs Boson particle that would confirm the way science describes the Universe. Experiments at Europe’s giant atom smasher have “reduced the window where scientists think they will find the Higgs boson,” also known as the God Particle, said Bruno Mansoulie, a researcher at the CERN.

There is big news in the world of particle physics Tuesday, assuming that one can have big news about the tiniest of things. Scientists have found signs of the Higgs Boson, otherwise known as the God Particle. It’s big news for the tiny particle.

So what’s the big deal? Without going into details better left for science, this discovery would explain how tiny elementary particles gain mass, and perhaps, point to the origins of the universe. While not exactly a theory of creation, finding the God Particle would bring us closer to a understanding of the fundamental processes that govern physical existence. Finding the particle would be groundbreaking, but it’s not exactly God.

I say not exactly because the story of the God Particle is both more and less like the story of God than people may realize. And in light of those similarities, a whole raft of religion/science debates could be launched.

In truth, the term ‘God Particle’ was coined more by marketing than by theologians or scientists. The name was coined by Leon Lederman, a Nobel-Prize-winning physicist, for the title of a book –
The God Particle: If The Universe Is The Answer, What Is The Question?

It’s a great title, and whether it actually boosted sales or not, it is far easier to sell God than a Higgs Boson. How many people know what
that
is? Of course the same can be said for God, which is where this story gets more interesting.

The God Particle does not threaten faith and doesn’t even claim to do what most people imagine when they hear the term: replace God. Having found the God Particle, scientists would be the first to admit that they story is not over – that this new piece of information will help explain many things and open doors to new and even more complex questions.

What would be interesting is if more believers in God took that approach to their own beliefs, imagining that when they find evidence for that which they believe, they experience both affirmation AND challenge – appreciate new answers AND new questions.

Whatever or whomever we place our faith in, should be big enough that new understandings inspire greater awe and wonder even as we understand them better. Neither science nor God is great because they remain mysterious, but because they remain endlessly engaging and inspiring.

Solving the riddle of the God Particle does not end the story of physics, and neither should finding one’s faith end the story of one’s understanding of God. If that had happened in the past, then none of today’s great traditions would have come into being.

Even if we restrict ourselves to the Abrahamic faiths, one can see how the search for God is an evolving process in which what counts as the “right answer” changes. The God of Adam and Eve seems to be a physical being whose footsteps can be heard in the garden. Over time that understanding gives way to one who may be present in physical form, but is not limited to that form. And eventually, there is, for many believers, a move to imagining a God who has no physical form at all.

The discovery of the God Particle will transform the world, just as each new understanding of God did. That same discovery though will also provoke new discoveries that may well make some of today’s look all wrong. Scientists fearlessly and faithfully embrace that reality and so must the faithful if we hope to follow in the footsteps of ancestors who in so doing brought new gifts to the world – gifts as great as the newly discovered God Particle.

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Brad Hirschfield
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  • MisterJ8

    CERN can’t say what’s going on. If they have truly discovered the Higgs boson, it’s going to be a tightly guarded secret by all the world governments involved. Until we figure out a way to use it for killing people, that is, in which case it will be a way to boost job creation!

  • peabody3000

    this article’s reasoning pattern reminds me of religion’s: making factually incomplete and therefore somewhat misleading statements, along with strange descriptions of how it ties into mystical beliefs in a way that defies any logical cognition. granted its difficult to capture the scientific part of this story accurately in such writing but the overall message is meaningless..

  • rob1099

    I guess when they say “God”, they mean the same biblical god who ordered the Isrealites to offer blood animal sacrifices in his honor. Please, let us not tread on these amazing discoveries.

  • mleger

    When someone speaks to God, it is called prayer.
    When someone says God spoke to them, we call it insanity.

  • Sajanas

    “What would be interesting is if more believers in God took that approach to their own beliefs, imagining that when they find evidence for that which they believe, they experience both affirmation AND challenge – appreciate new answers AND new questions. ”

    Plenty of believers do that, the problem is that when they investigate the evidence behind their faith, they find that there is precious little beyond the words in the Bible. Where’s the archaeology for Abraham, Moses, Joshua and the Kingdom of David and Solomon? Where is the corroborating evidence for the miracles of Jesus and Mohammad? Calling the Higgs Boson a “God Particle” is hyperbole, certainly, but if it is real, it will be verified more strenuously than any supernatural religious claim.

  • SODDI

    Blood sacrifices and our foreskins!

  • SODDI

    How much money does professional sports suck out of the U.S. economy annually?

    Besides, they’re Euros, they can spend their money on anything they please – CERN, public health care, good roads…

    And we Americans get $7.7 trillion bailouts for bankers who then turn around and give each other $200 million bonuses, Jon Corzine ripping his own company off for $1.2 billion, and Justin Bieber.

    Now, what was too expensive again?

  • ccnl1

    The new understanding of god via a prayer:

    The Apostles’ Creed 2011: (updated by yours truly based on the studies of NT historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven?????

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
    Jerusalem.

    Said Jesus’ story was embellished and “mythicized” by
    many semi-fiction writers. A bodily resurrection and
    ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    Amen

  • Carstonio

    Hirschfield’s entry strikes me as vague, too many generalities and not enough specifics. He doesn’t define what he means by “an understanding of God,” as if he were talking about a concept and not a being. He seems to assume that the Higgs Boson has to have some significance for religion but isn’t sure how or why. If Hirschfield were a broadcast commentator, it would be easy to suggest that he’s simply using the notion of a “God particle” as a hook. Despite the information name for the particle, the idea that discovering it would have any relevance for the idea of gods makes many assumptions about such being, assumptions that we don’t have to make.

  • plattitudes

    When someone speaks to God, it is called prayer.
    When God speaks to someone, it is called revelation.

    If you call that person insane for saying that God spoke to them doesn’t mean He didn’t, just that you don’t believe it.

  • NotSalvadorDali

    Hey hey, Justin Bieber is Canadian, America can’t be blamed for him!

  • Secular1

    This article show Mr. Hirschfield’s penchant to blather about any and every subject, whether he has any clue of what it is. In fact this one he just makes up the subject to pen a few thousand words, when put together they are just a collection of inanities. It is beyond me to comprehend, to what useful purpose that he serves when he writes here on Washington Post. What he thinks is profound or prophetic is “Even if we restrict ourselves to the Abrahamic faiths, one can see how the search for God is an evolving process in which what counts as the “right answer” changes. The God of Adam and Eve seems to be a physical being whose footsteps can be heard in the garden. Over time that understanding gives way to one who may be present in physical form, but is not limited to that form. And eventually, there is, for many believers, a move to imagining a God who has no physical form at all. ”

    You scratch the surface and that collection of words in english language translate to. The ancients did not know what they were talking about, with regards to dog (sorry my dyslexia gets better of me). They kept up with the moving target and he wishes to perpetuate that shell game. He admits to the con game that it has always been when it comes to Sky Daddy conjecture. This conjecture has gone on for too long. This man needs to know that conjecture in of itself means nothing until it has been proven. Until then he and his ilk would do well to just shut up and do some hard work to show their conjecture is even provable, rather than filling the virtual tomes at Washington Post. I am glad that we are past the day that these inanities would be put in ink on paper. At least now we do not have to cut down trees and pollute the earth with ink printing thes inanities.

  • edbyronadams

    The Higgs boson is not a God particle any more than the rest of physical manifestations are particles of God. If the high energy physics researchers found the graviton and united the physics of the big and the small at last under the Unified Field or the Theory of Everything or whatever new name they want to give it, that might rival some notions of God. It isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

    Having gravity separated from the other fundamental forces of nature is something that has been true for a hundred years and now, as the scientists peel back the layers of the onion, the only thing they are finding is more onion, not God.

  • Sajanas

    A scientific theory of Everything wouldn’t rival God, it would be even worse, it would render It completely unnecessary, at least in the terms that people traditionally worship. And, to be honest, I know of very few people that get up every Sunday to worship the Ground of All Being, or the Equation that started the universe.

  • edbyronadams

    Don’t expect that unification any time soon. The schism in physics will last through our lifetimes as it has for a hundred years now. I suspect that when the Standard Model guys set their sights on the graviton, they will require a machine half the size on the earth to detect something so ephemeral that it will be unclear what they detected. They will find themselves in the same territory as the string theorists. Existence will remain a mystery. You can have faith in any number of things, including unification of basic science.

  • theFSM

    @plattitudes:

    If you call a person insane for saying that aliens abducted and probed him or her, doesn’t mean they didn’t, it just means that you don’t believe it.

    If you call a person insane for saying that he or she is a time-traveler from another dimension, doesn’t mean he’s not, it just means you don’t believe it.

    If you call a person insane for saying that he or she is the son of god, and the messiah, that doesn’t mean he’s not, it just means that you don’t believe him.

    I can keep going…