A simulated Higgs boson event.

God and the God Particle

A simulated Higgs boson event.

This morning I read an article a friend sent me about the progress being made by CERN (the European Center for Nuclear Research) in their quest to discover the Higgs boson (the “God Particle”), a theoretical particle that physicists believe may explain why other particles have mass. The article explained that CERN scientists are excited to have had “tantalizing hints” of the Higgs boson’s existence this week.

The above sentences should sound strange to you, and not just because of the technobabble. It is important to understand that no one has ever seen the Higgs boson – like all fundamental particles, its existence must be inferred from its effects.  In fact, in the case of the Higgs boson there is really no experiment that can be done that guarantees that one should even be able to observe its effects more than a small part of the time.  That means the search at CERN is not just for something that hasn’t been seen, but for evidence of something that hasn’t been seen and may not even exist. Why spend millions of dollars and man-hours searching for evidence for something that may not exist in the first place?

The reason, physicists will tell us, is that we know that particles have mass, and the Higgs boson has been incorporated into the standard model to explain how particles have mass. This is not to say that the Standard Model was wrong, merely incomplete without the Higgs. It was not enough to simply say “Well, obviously mass exists, and the physical world will continue to work according to the laws of physics anyway.” There are “Higgless” models in particle physics that attempt to make do without the Higgs boson, but these remain less popular for a variety of reasons.

This sort of need for a theory to have a completion outside of the theory itself is not unique to physics. In mathematics there are examples of this need for “completion,” or entities outside a theory necessary to solve problems that exist within the theory. Consider the following simple example. Suppose you are working with simple equations using only positive and negative whole numbers. One such equation is 2x – 4 = 0, with the accompanying solution x = 2 (try it, it works). Some equations like this are nonsensical and have no solutions, kind of like the question “What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?” More importantly however, there are certain equations that do have solutions, but these solutions violate the set of rules we arbitrarily chose to play by.

For example, try an equation almost identical to the previous one: 2x – 3 = 0. The solution to this equation is x = 3/2, but 3/2 is not a whole number. This means the equation can be written with positive and negative whole numbers, but can’t be solved with them. In order to solve this equation then, we need to admit the existence of just one new number: 3/2. Problem solved, right?

Wrong. Maybe next time someone will come up with a new equation that can’t be solved using whole numbers or the number 3/2. The only real way to handle our dilemma is to allow not just 3/2, but all fractions in general as possible solutions. Thus the introduction of fractions helps solve problems that can be stated under one set of rules but not be solved under that same set of rules. Similarly, particles in the Standard Model can have descriptions that include mass, but without the Higgs boson there isn’t a good way of explaining where the mass came from to begin with. Rather than just posit as an experimental fact that each individual particle has mass, scientists allow for a totally new type of particle (like the totally new type of number above) to explain the mass of all the other particles.

Are you wondering what any of this has to do with Christianity? The connection is simple: The search for the God particle is very similar to the search for God. Like the Higgs boson, God can’t be seen with our eyes, but his effects in the world can be seen and his presence inferred. Like the Higgs boson is needed to explain mass, God is needed to an even greater extent to explain certain phenomena, such as the beginning of the universe, the origin of the fine-tuning seen in the laws of physics, the existence of objective moral values and duties, and the source of human reasoning. And like the existence of the Higgs boson, the existence of God is something worth both your primary consideration and an all-out search.

“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” ~ C.S. Lewis

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