By Cynthia Astle
One thing about being behind in your work: sometimes you get an unexpected blessing from the delay. This week’s blessing came in the March 14 news that scientists at the European supercollider CERN have confirmed the existence of the Higgs boson, the so-called “God particle” (a nickname that neither theologians or scientists prefer, by the way).
Armed with that kind of data, it becomes easier to assert the provable reality of God’s existence, as does this week’s “Darkwood Brew” guest, Dr. Owen Gingerich. Or does it?
Scientists prefer to talk about the Higgs boson as “a fundamental building block of the universe.” The nickname “the God particle” appeals to people because it’s a great metaphor for what the particle is supposed to do – “join everything and give it matter,” as Shoshana Davis of CBS News wrote March 15. According to this fun and informative cartoon on the NASA website, scientists are just now beginning to come up with a chart or table of the various particles – 12, so far – that they saw make up the physical universe. Confirming the existence of the Higgs boson helps to validate the Standard Model of Physics, formulated by several physicists in the mid-1960s and name in honor of British theoretical physicist Peter Higgs, discovered of two other bosons, W and Z.
Yet that work-in-progress chart offers simply a look at how many particles humans have been able to identify with the technology available to them at present. Even excited physicists such as Daniel Whiteson, shown in the above video, acknowledge that there’s still so much we don’t know about the sub-atomic building blocks of the universe that there could be another 100 or even a million “God particles.”
Don’t get me wrong. It’s awesome that we humans have gotten another glimpse into how God creates the material world. Please note the tense of that previous sentence. Unlike the spurious theories of “Intelligent Design,” the world wasn’t created once and then set to work like a clock. Scientific explorations like the hunt for the Higgs boson and the ongoing search for wonders in space testify to God’s continuous creation of the universe that we’re just beginning to unlock.
But to get back to this essay’s thesis: Wonderful as it is, the Higgs boson isn’t the only “God particle.” It may prove to be the force that gives mass to other particles, thus having a significant role to play, but those other particles are as godly as Higgs. We might call the Higgs boson a “hinge” particle on which protons and electrons and quarks swing to and fro, but each element in the Standard Model of Physics plays its part in “life, the universe and everything,” to quote from “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by the late, great Douglas Adams.
After all, it takes two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen to create water, and we know all forms of life discovered thus far require water. But WHY does it take water to create life? We don’t know, except to marvel that the intelligence beyond us – which we call God, Creator, Higher Power – creates life that way.
Think of it! Even though we’ve unlocked another great “how” in finding the Higgs boson, we humans are still unable to fathom the “why” of what we observe. Why is it necessary to have a particle that gives mass to energy? Clearly it’s vital, and yet energy could sizzle through eternity and never need to have mass. Only the acquisition of mass creates a material universe. So why bother?
Self-centered creatures that we are, we humans easily can imagine an anthropomorphic divine being playing with particles the way children play with chemistry sets, just to see what happens. Perhaps the scientists’ delight at discovering something as wonderful as a Higgs boson mirrors a Creator who fashions life simply for the sheer joy of the enterprise.
Cynthia B. Astle, OSL, is a certified spiritual director in Dallas, TX. Her website is Watermarked.