This is pretty exciting news if
a) You’re a science geek
b) You’re an intelligent adult whose interest in reality doesn’t end at the Jersey Shore.
So, there, I just made it easy for half (more?) of you to skip past this post.
Now, isn’t this a more intimate affair?
It’s hard to express why this is so cool, but the ‘possible’ discovery of the Higgs boson particle is one of those great moments in science that will go mostly ignored by the general populace because the background science is too complex and esoteric to fully appreciate. But regardless if you care or not, in ten years, the new knowledge we gain from this discovery will be shaping our world in ways you won’t understand (yes, including making your iPhone faster).
I am by no means an expert on physics, and certainly not capable of explaining the minutia in a thoroughly accurate way. I recommend the book Knocking on Heaven’s Door by Lisa Randall if you want a fairly accessible guide through the complex world of both particle physics (really small things) and cosmology (really big things).
If you’re sitting here, thinking, ‘Come on dawg, I’m not gonna read a book,’ then I’ll just try to give you my layman’s version of what this discovery means.
In physics, they have what is known as the Standard Model (SM). Essentially, this model explains a vast majority of what we know about the physical world (the Standard Model is sometimes inaccurately referred to as ‘The Theory of Everything’). The proof of a good scientific theory or model is that it allows us to make predictions that can later be verified. The theory of Natural Selection is just such a theory. The Standard Model fits this criteria, too. In fact, a great deal of the things physicists have discovered were predicted well before their discovery.
The Higgs boson is yet another of those predicted discoveries (a boson is a type of particle; for our purposes today, that’s all you need to know). This is one of the many things that differentiates science from the other forms of ‘knowledge.’ Scientific theories make predictions that can be tested. Religion and other pseudo-intellectual pursuits tell us nothing about what we will find.* They can only attempt to piece together a narrative out of the facts and events we already know.
What’s so special about the Higgs boson discovery? Well, imagine you have a nearly completed jigsaw puzzle but with one glaring missing piece right in the middle. You know the shape, you know the size, you even have a pretty good idea of what the image on the piece will look like, but you just can’t find it. That is the Higgs boson. (Granted, the Higgs boson isn’t actually the final piece in the puzzle, just a very important bridge piece.)
With this discovery, we are that much closer to seeing the whole picture. Pretty exciting day.
The ‘God’ in Physics
Scientific phenomenon get horrendous monikers. Hence, Higgs boson’s god-awful nickname, ‘the God Particle,’ a name that I’ve seen more than a few physicists bemoan. Unfortunately, the scientists making the discoveries are rarely the people presenting the information to the general public (this is actually both good and bad). Journalists and editors tend to latch onto eye-catching phrases rather than accurate descriptions, and so names like ‘the God Particle’ stick. (‘The Big Bang Theory’ is another one of those terrible names.)
People shouldn’t get too hung up on the name, though they will. Calling the Higgs boson the God Particle is not a theological statement. It doesn’t argue that there is a god, nor is it meant to mock the idea of a god. The discovery of this particle is neither a victory for the theists or the atheists. It is a victory for humanity, though. And while an atheist can rejoice in the knowledge that we are growing ever nearer a completely natural explanation of the universe, any scientifically literate theist can be happy that we are expanding our understanding of God’s creation (if that happens to be your persuasion).
My point being, even though I am an atheist and I can file this discovery away in my cabinet of non-theistic explanations of the natural order, it is a fool’s errand to try to use the discovery of the Higgs boson as an argument for the nonexistence of a deity. At the same time, it’s just as (if not more so) foolish to try to thrust a theological interpretation on this discovery.
God is an unprovable notion, unlike, say, the Higgs boson. Which is why the particle’s nickname is such a terrible misnomer.
So, let’s not call it the ‘God’ Particle. We might as well call it the ‘Bigfoot’ Particle. No, god doesn’t enter into the equation.
It’s the Higgs boson. It’s real. And it’s spectacular.
*Religion has prophets, but when a prophet gets something wrong, as they all invariably do on a regular basis, that’s just ignored.
2 thoughts on “The God Particle”
It may be worthy to mention that the unfortunate moniker “God particle” resulted from a publisher’s insistence. Leon Lederman apparently wanted it to call it the “goddamn particle” since the Higgs boson proved so difficult to find.
I actually do remember reading that somewhere. It’s an interesting little anecdote, and telling about the way that science reaches the masses.
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