“We know the goal is close,” said Fabiola Gianotti, a physicist representing one of two competing CERN teams searching for the elusive particle. “This is the nicest feeling.”
Rolf-Dieter Heuer, director general of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), home of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), said another year’s worth of data needs to be compiled before anyone can reach “a definitive answer on the Shakespearean question on the Higgs: To be or not to be?”
But the scientists in Geneva were leaning in one direction Tuesday: It will eventually be. The new results suggest that something roughly 125 times the mass of a proton is being created by collisions at the LHC. It’s not definitive, and that finding could prove to be a statistical fluke — hence the cautious words by the top scientists.
The Higgs is the most sought-after particle in physics, but no one’s ever seen one, even indirectly. Elaborate theories — the orthodoxies of modern particle physics — hang in the balance.
While the Higgs Boson is also called the ‘God particle’, its effect on religion will be small. As Brad Hirschfield wrote:
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
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.