‘’God particle” discovery ignites debate over science and religion

The Higgs boson is perhaps better known by its sexier nickname: the “God particle.” But in fact, many scientists, including … Continued

The Higgs boson is perhaps better known by its sexier nickname: the “God particle.”

But in fact, many scientists, including the physicist for whom it is named, dislike the term.

In 1993 when American physicist Leon Lederman was writing a book on the Higgs boson, he dubbed it “the goddamn particle.” An editor suggested “the God particle” instead.

One thing is clear: The July 4 discovery that marked a new chapter in scientific knowledge also reignited debate over the universe’s origins — and the validity of religious faith as scientific knowledge expands.

The Higgs boson explains why particles have mass — and in turn why we exist. Without the boson, the universe would have no physical matter, only energy.

The cosmological implications are hotly debated. Can God fit in a scientific story of creation?

The answer is “no” for Lawrence M. Krauss, an Arizona State University theoretical physicist. He argued in Newsweek that the Higgs boson discovery “posits a new story of our creation” independent of religious belief.

“Humans, with their remarkable tools and their remarkable brains, may have just taken a giant step toward replacing metaphysical speculation with empirically verifiable knowledge,” he wrote.

With enough data, physics would make God obsolete, he said. “If we can describe the laws of nature back to the beginning of time without any supernatural shenanigans, it becomes clear that you don’t need God.”

Religious believers see things differently.

Vatican astronomer Guy Consolmagno argued in a Washington Post column that scientifically deduced universal laws expose “the personality” of God. “The mysteries revealed by modern science are a constant reminder that reality is bigger than our day-to-day lives,” he wrote.

Alternative medicine guru Deepak Chopra said in a YouTube video that the boson hints at a divine interconnectedness of all things.

“It only strengthens the notion that the universe comes out of a nothingness which is everything,” he said.

This much is true: Higgs bosons — which permeate the universe — help us understand how something comes from nothing.

The awe we feel with this heady topic causes even nonreligious people to use religious language, said Philip Clayton, dean of Claremont School of Theology and a researcher of science and religion.

“Humans are really fascinated with what we know scientifically and what lies right at the boundaries of what we can know,” he said.

Albert Einstein’s quip that God “doesn’t play dice with the world” is a metaphor to help explain our quest for order in a world that seems chaotic, Clayton said.

Such metaphorical language helps to explain the world at the particle level where physical laws such as gravity break down, and physicists rely on abstractions to describe how particles interact.

Clayton said discussing whether the discovery “disproves religion or supports creation” misses the point. “The fans and the foes of religion … are overreaching on both sides. The quest for the Higgs boson, and its ultimate discovery, neither proves nor disproves God,” he wrote in a Huffington Post column.

But Krauss says science isn’t trying to disprove God. Rather, data only have to offer an explanation for the universe that would make a divine creator redundant. When English physicist Peter Higgs proposed the Higgs boson in 1964, it helped codify an incomplete model of the universe. This model was shown accurate through experimentation culminating in July 4’s discovery.

Krauss said further experimentation will lead toward a “unified theory” of the universe that accounts for everything from quarks to galaxies.

“That’s the difference between science and religion,” he said. “We don’t require the universe to be what we want — we force our beliefs to conform to the evidence of reality.”

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Religion News Service LLC.

  • Joe Smith

    Ok this is a discussion that Rick Perry and Sarah Palin have when they don’t drink in front of one another right?

    Higgs is possibly the most eloquent equation yet expressed. Like quantum and particle physics before it, this is the next portal in critical thinking–it is not about me, you, or some supernatural idea nor opinion. It is not about truth, right, nor wrong. It is physics. The only thing that is mysterious about it is just why it is so threatening to anybody, let alone the crowd that claims to be secure in their self-proclaimed discovery and ownership of the one true god. One would think that if they were that sure about this god thing they would be that much happier to be closer to understanding it/him/whatever.

  • RetiredOfficer

    Nice piece. You probably made little sense to the folk preferring rituals, but for the normal epiphenomenalist, who understand that “things” are really not attached to the mind, it’s a good argument. HB represents the starting point of the further exploration into nature of matter – its coming and going.

  • AgentFoxMulder

    I haven’t noticed any theists expressing concerns about or feeling threatened by HB.

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