How We Think About
The discovery of the so-called “God
particle” can help us think more
Christianly about science. By Paul Teel
When you saw this sum- mer’s headlines pro- claiming the scientific discovery of something nicknamed the “God particle,” perhaps you thought, “Here we go
again. More scientists out to undermine
religion.” But a closer
look can reveal a different and more positive story.
The discovery was
made at the Large
Hadron Collider near
Geneva, an underground circular particle accelerator 27
(part in France, part
in Switzerland) that speeds protons up to
almost the speed of light, and then arranges
for them to smash into each other. As they
break apart, the smaller particles that make
up protons can be detected for very small
amounts of time.
Think back to the science you learned
in school. Each atom was pictured as a
mini solar system, with electron “planets”
orbiting around a nucleus “sun” made of
protons and neutrons. Very likely you were
left with the impression protons, neutrons
and electrons were the smallest and most
basic ingredients of physical reality.
But the latest scientific understanding
is far more complicated than that. In fact,
there are currently thought to be about a
dozen subatomic particles with wonderful
and exotic names like gluon, quark, boson
This more complex understanding that
developed in the mid-20th century, known
as the Standard Model, was very productive.
It explained much of what was known about
physical reality and successfully predicted
many experimental results for decades.
There are currently
thought to be about
a dozen subatomic
particles with wonderful
and exotic names like
boson and neutrino.
importance of the search for the Higgs boson.
Ironically, because the Higgs boson
was notoriously difficult to find and had
frustrated physicists for decades, Lederman intended to call it a far more crass
name, a familiar curse that begins with
“God.” His publisher wouldn’t allow it,
however, and Lederman agreed to the
more polite name that eventually became
the title of his book.
Most physicists, I should note, are unhappy with this nickname. Not only do they
feel it is disrespectful of religion, but they
also dislike the scientifically inaccurate implication the Higgs boson creates anything or
is single-handedly responsible for sustaining