by Johnson C. Philip
– The recent announcement that Peter Higgs and Francois Englert have been awarded the Noble Prize for the discovery of the so-called God Particle has created much commotion and discussion worldwide on God-particle. I counted not less than 5 million probable entries in the search engines today on this topic.
Critics and opponents of theism were quick to seize upon the news that the so-called God Particle has been discovered at CERN, Geneva and that as a result the proponents of this particle were awarded the Noble Prize in 2013. They then went on to claim that man has finally discovered the particle of all particles, the one that has given birth to the Universe – thus labelled the God Particle, according to them. They declared that the materialistic origin of the Universe has finally been proposed, discovered, confirmed, and even awarded the biggest recognition in Physics, and this has once and for all banished the idea of theism – whether it is personal theism of the Semitic religions or the impersonal theism of Hinduism.
This statement has been repeated so many times in one form or another, and the actual physics of Higgs Bosons (the scientific name of the particles) is so exotic, that most people have no way of examining the physics of it to determine whether there is any merit in these claims. As a result some are terrified into silence, whereas others simply withdraw into silence, not knowing what to say.
In this article I will try to explain the physics of it all in as simple words as possible before we discuss the scientific and theological implications of the discovery.
The Name ‘God Particle’: This particle was first proposed by Peter Higgs and Francois Englert when they were studying the masses of particles and the forces that bind particles. They proposed in 1964 that these phenomena are produced by another particle, and this particle was named Higg’s Boson. These two scientists were able to give an elaborate mathematical explanation about how this particle imparted different masses to different particles.
Since the theory looked good, they kept developing it at the theoretical level as always happens in physics. They also kept looking for this particle. Its properties were already worked out mathematically and therefore they thought that such a ‘well-known’ particle would be discovered very soon and that they would be able to identify this particle easily with the help of these already-predicted properties. However, it took more than forty years, tens of thousands of hours of experiments, and billions of dollars to detect the particle. They even started building a 100 kilometre circumference underground donut shaped machine in 1980 to detect this exotic particle. After sinking more than $2 billion, the American Congress scraped the project in 1993 due to the impossibility of building such a humungous machine with present technology.
In the light all this, many labelled it as the God-damned particle. Based upon this, a well-known physicist Leon Lederman tried to write a book with this name which the publishers declined. Finally he titled his book “The God Particle: If The Universe Is The Answer, Then What Is The Question”. It is this book which firmly planted the name ‘God-particle’ into the media. We need to remember that what he wanted to call it was the Goddamn Particle because even after four decades of intense theoretical studies and even after sinking billions of dollars, the particle remained elusive at the time that he wrote this book.
In other words, the name ‘God Particle’ has nothing to do with God, creation, or theism. The name is a result of an accidental use of a word that has stuck.
What Exactly Is Higgs Boson: Man has been studying the nature of matter from time immemorial. Democritus in Greece and Kanad in India were the first to propose that matter was made up of discrete atoms. The rise of the Protestant Movement in Europe gave a new impetus to the study of materials, and Dalton was the first modern scientist to propose a coherent and objective theory that said that matter is made up of atoms.
Further study of atoms made it clear that they are made up of electrons, protons and neutrons. Eventually they discovered many more particles. As a result, the question of what ‘binds’ them together arose. The number of particles discovered kept increasing alarmingly, and by 1934 their numbers rose to hundreds. It is at that time that Hideki Yukawa proposed that particles ‘bind’ to each other by ‘exchanging’ particles that were (subsequently) named as mesons. From here started what is known as the particle-exchange-based-force concept in physics. Suffice to say, without going into unnecessary details, that eventually almost every kind of phenomenon at atomic and sub-atomic level came to be explained by particle-exchange theories.
As they discovered more phenomena and properties in sub-atomic physics, they kept explaining it all in terms of exchange-theories. This approach offered great convenience to creating of mathematical ‘models’ that easily lent themselves to theoretical studies, predications, and computation. Thus eventually when questions like “what gives rise to the mass of particles” came up, the answer was sought in terms of exchange-theories. Peter Higgs and Francois Englert gave the answer in terms of another ‘particle’ (now known as Higg’s Boson) that created mass and many other as-yet unexplained phenomena. Surprisingly, their theory and mathematical computation was able to accurately predict many physical phenomena that were already known, and therefore it was a foregone conclusion that as-yet undiscovered Higgs Boson is real and that would also be discovered some day very soon.
However, it took them almost forty years to discover the so-called Goddamn particle that metamorphosed into everyday English vocabulary as God Particle, confusing the whole world.
The Christian Stand: While Colossians 2:8 which says “Be careful not to allow anyone to captivate you through an empty, deceitful philosophy that is according to human traditions and the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” does not speaks directly about physics, the principle intrinsic to this instruction is clear that Christians should not be quick to be disturbed by every wind of news, public opinion, or propaganda. Allow the hype to settle down so that truth might become clear. Also allow those who know how to examine rather than listen to the popular media, which is biased anyway against the Christian faith. Allow Christian apologists to examine the issue and offer objective explanation.
In the present case, the name God-particle is simply a misnomer created by various random combination of circumstances, which in turn was exploited by the media and rationalists to fight against the Christian faith. Higgs Boson has nothing to do with theism, and it no more destroys theism than the discovery of electron or proton destroys it.
[The author is an expert in quantum-nuclear physics, and is also a trained Christian apologist-theologican, based in India]