The announcement of the discovery of proof for the existence of the Higgs boson or ‘God particle’ on July 4th, 2012 at CERN in Geneva Switzerland is on par with discovering that the earth is not the center of the universe, the periodic table, and the discovery of electrons (which is why you can read this on a computer). This particle, theorized years ago, is significant because it confirms that the Standard Model of physics is correct. The ramifications of this discovery are yet to be determined, but one thing is for sure: this is a game changer!
I am not a physicist, nor am I particularly “science savvy.” With disclaimers out of the way, though, I think it is important for people to understand the theological and philosophical implications of the “God Particle” or the Higgs boson Particle.
What is it?
You might think of this as a kindergarten explanation of theoretical physics. The Higgs boson particle is a sub-atomic unit called “boson” that was theorized in 1964 by Peter Higgs to explain how the subatomic particles that make up atoms are slowed down (why they need slowing is an explanation I will leave to people smarter than I) and why all matter in the universe has mass.
Why is it called the God Particle?
The Higgs boson particle is referred to as “the God Particle” after a book by physicist Leon Lederman. The name stuck in pop-culture as the name for the elusive particle. The particle is elusive because of its size and difficult to detect. It has cost billions and billions of dollars to gamble on the possibility that we might discover it. Some people have latched on to the name because they believe that, if discovered (as it has been), it would explain how the universe could come to be without God as part of the equation by giving further explanation for how a ‘Big Bang’ may have occurred (among other things).
Does this explain away God?
In short, no. The discovery is neither theological nor philosophical in nature and so it cannot speak to the existence of God. So, to say anything of God’s existence would be, for the most part, outside the scope of scientific inquiry (in other words, speaking on theological and philosophical issues is not the goal of science). The discovery confirms the theory used to explain how the universe is structured (which I am not knowledgeable enough to express just how hugely important this is). But, this discovery does not explain why the universe exists. The discovery cannot account for why there is something rather than nothing nor can it explain from where the something that exists (the universe) came.
Science is extremely important and essential to our functioning as human beings. The goal of science is to observe and describe the physical world. However, when a scientist makes claims about whether there is a God or not, they are doing work outside their field of expertise with intellectual tools they may have not learned to properly wield. Many vocal scientists have expressed naturalistic views that assume that the physical world is all there is (so, no God among other things). Naturalism is a philosophical view of reality, not a scientific discovery. Other vocal scientists have expressed an atheistic view that claims that there is no God. This is a theological decision, not a scientific discovery. I should note that there are many professing Christian scientists as well. The problem with a scientist who expresses theological or philosophical views in context of a legitimate scientific discovery is that they are misusing their expertise to speak outside their field of competency. So, they may be good scientists,
but not good philosophers or theologians.
So, should Christians disregard the “God Particle?”
Quite the opposite. Christians should celebrate and affirm this extremely important discovery. While the discovery is not theological or philosophical in nature, it tells us something of how the universe is ordered. The theological and philosophical implications for an ordered universe are also hugely significant. If the universe is ordered (as this discovery continues to affirm), then we would be justified in believing that something ordered it that way. It seems obvious that no human could order the universe. So, whatever ordered the universe must be greater (by a lot) than humans. Discoveries like this lead us to the foundational idea that there must be a greater being, which we call God. And, while this neither confirms nor denies the existence of God (nor can Christians claim Jesus is that God through this discovery), the Higgs boson, or God particle, affirms an ordered universe.