There is big news in the world of particle physics Tuesday, assuming that one can have big news about the tiniest of things. Scientists have found signs of the Higgs Boson, otherwise known as the God Particle. It’s big news for the tiny particle.
So what’s the big deal? Without going into details better left for science, this discovery would explain how tiny elementary particles gain mass, and perhaps, point to the origins of the universe. While not exactly a theory of creation, finding the God Particle would bring us closer to a understanding of the fundamental processes that govern physical existence. Finding the particle would be groundbreaking, but it’s not exactly God.
I say not exactly because the story of the God Particle is both more and less like the story of God than people may realize. And in light of those similarities, a whole raft of religion/science debates could be launched.
In truth, the term ‘God Particle’ was coined more by marketing than by theologians or scientists. The name was coined by Leon Lederman, a Nobel-Prize-winning physicist, for the title of a book -- The God Particle: If The Universe Is The Answer, What Is The Question?
It’s a great title, and whether it actually boosted sales or not, it is far easier to sell God than a Higgs Boson. How many people know what that is? Of course the same can be said for God, which is where this story gets more interesting.
The God Particle does not threaten faith and doesn’t even claim to do what most people imagine when they hear the term: replace God. Having found the God Particle, scientists would be the first to admit that they story is not over - that this new piece of information will help explain many things and open doors to new and even more complex questions.
What would be interesting is if more believers in God took that approach to their own beliefs, imagining that when they find evidence for that which they believe, they experience both affirmation AND challenge - appreciate new answers AND new questions.
Whatever or whomever we place our faith in, should be big enough that new understandings inspire greater awe and wonder even as we understand them better. Neither science nor God is great because they remain mysterious, but because they remain endlessly engaging and inspiring.
Solving the riddle of the God Particle does not end the story of physics, and neither should finding one’s faith end the story of one’s understanding of God. If that had happened in the past, then none of today’s great traditions would have come into being.
Even if we restrict ourselves to the Abrahamic faiths, one can see how the search for God is an evolving process in which what counts as the “right answer” changes. The God of Adam and Eve seems to be a physical being whose footsteps can be heard in the garden. Over time that understanding gives way to one who may be present in physical form, but is not limited to that form. And eventually, there is, for many believers, a move to imagining a God who has no physical form at all.
The discovery of the God Particle will transform the world, just as each new understanding of God did. That same discovery though will also provoke new discoveries that may well make some of today’s look all wrong. Scientists fearlessly and faithfully embrace that reality and so must the faithful if we hope to follow in the footsteps of ancestors who in so doing brought new gifts to the world - gifts as great as the newly discovered God Particle.