Thinking About The “God Particle”

Jan 5th, 2019 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

Basic to any understanding of physics is the concept of mass.  Why do particles of nature have mass?  This is obviously a fundamental question of physics but one that is inscrutably difficult to answer.  For four decades now, physics has worked from what is known as the Standard Model of physics—an explanation that relies on 17 fundamental particles of matter and three physical forces.  But this model requires the existence of a force that, so to speak, keeps everything together.  That is the importance of the “God particle,” the so-called Higgs Boson, named after an Edinburgh University physicist of 50 years ago—Peter Higgs.  In 2011, scientists concluded that they have confirmed the existence of the Higgs Boson from experiments done at CERN, using its Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a 17-mile round particle accelerator in Switzerland.  Physicists have gotten essentially identical results from two experiments attached to the LHC.  Why is this so important?  Among other things, the existence of the Higgs Boson, if indeed it does exist, confirms the incredible structure, order and predictability of the universe.  Indeed, The Economist argues that “one of the most extraordinary things about the universe is this predictability—that it is possible to write down equations which describe what is seen, and extrapolate from them to the unseen.  Newton was able to go from the behavior of bodies falling to Earth to the mechanism that holds planets in orbit.  James Clerk Maxwell’s equations on electromagnetism, derived in the mid-19th century, predicted the existence of radio waves.  The atom bomb began with Einstein’s famous equation, E=mc2 , which was a result derived by asking how objects would behave when traveling near the speed of light.”  Because of the symmetry and order of the universe, some are calling the Higgs Boson the “God particle.”

The physical universe is indeed a wonder.  Columnist Michael Gerson writes that “Not only does the universe unexpectedly correspond to mathematical theories, it is self-organizing—from biology to astrophysics—in unlikely ways.  The physical constants of the universe seem finely tuned for the emergence of complexity and life.  Slightly modify the strength of gravity, or the chemistry of carbon, or the ratio of the mass of protons and electrons, and biological systems become impossible.”  For this reason, I would argue that theism (a belief in God) explains a universe finely tuned for life and accessible to human reason.  And, as Gerson stipulates, “It accounts for the cosmic coincidences.  And a theistic universe, unlike the alternatives, also makes sense of free will and moral responsibility.”  The potential of the Higgs Boson discovery is that it confirms this order and predictability of the universe, which should in turn lead us to a sense of awe and wonder.  Of course, the typical scientist would disagree, but it does seem to me that the study of God’s world should lead to a greater sense of wonder and worship.

Therefore, permit me three comments about the connection between studying God’s world and worship from God’s written Word:

  1. Psalm 19 is a majestic psalm of worship written by King David. As he looks into the heavens, he proclaims that “the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.   There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.  Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”  The study of God’s physical world reveals wonders that lead to worship.  Often, however, modern science is numb to wonder.  The study of physics need not stand in opposition to faith and theology.  In fact, the two are inextricably linked in a matrix of worship and awe of God’s creative power and grace.  He made a universe that is “just right” for us, His image bearers.
  2. Romans 1:18-32 details in a convincing manner what humanity has done with God’s revelation of Himself in His physical world: [Humanity] has “suppressed the truth in unrighteousness, since what is known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world God’s invisible attributes—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.  For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds, and animals and reptiles.”  In short, the case for theism from creation is compelling and complete.  God’s physical world is evidence that He exists.  But humanity has suppressed that obvious truth and sought other explanations.  If the Higgs Boson does indeed exist and is proven so, this is another piece of evidence for the order, design and predictability of God’s world and therefore of His existence.
  3. Finally, in Colossians 1:15-20 is found one of the most powerful paragraphs proving the deity of Jesus Christ in Scripture. The Apostle Paul is writing to a small church seemingly overwhelmed by a heretical threat from false teachers who were teaching some incipient form of Gnosticism, namely that Jesus was an angel or some other created being.  Paul meets the challenge of this error by declaring that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.”  As Jesus declared in John 14:6-9, to see Him is to see God:  “He that has seen me has seen the Father.”  The term “firstborn” is prototokos in Greek, which has everything to do with Christ’s position in God’s created order and nothing to do with His origin.  In other words, Jesus has a rank of authority and sovereignty over the physical world for three reasons:  (1)  Because He created everything (1:16); there is nothing that exists that He did not create; (2)  “He is before all things” (1:17a).  How do you speak of Jesus in relation to time?  You cannot use the past tense, or the future tense, because Jesus simply “is!”  Many times in the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks of Himself as simply, “I am.”  In other words, Jesus is the self-existent, self-sufficient One of the universe; He is eternal.  (3)  “And in Him all things hold together.”  In other words, Jesus is the cosmic glue of the universe.  He ultimately holds all the planets, galaxies and stars of this universe together in majestic harmony and order.  He also holds all the subparticles of matter together, including the Higgs Boson.

In short, the study of modern physics is awesome and truly mind-boggling.  But, it should lead to worship, awe and recognition of the majestic glory of God revealed in His physical universe.  In one of his last books, God and the Astronomers, Robert Jastrow wrote in the book’s last chapter of a group of scientists climbing this enormous mountain (of truth?) and when they reach the peak and peer over, they see a group of theologians.  In other words, modern science and theology are seeking the same thing—truth about the physical world.  The Higgs Boson, the “God particle,” is just another confirmation of the fact that science and theology are asking the same questions.  Theology concludes that this is another proof for God’s existence; science rejects that conclusion and, therefore, has no reason for wonder, awe or worship—and that is profoundly sad!

See Michael Gerson in the Washington Post (16 December 2011) and The Economist (17 December 2011), p. 18.

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