Does the Recent Discovery of the Higgs Particle Remove the Need for God?
No, as a Christian particle physicist, the discovery of the Higgs boson particle does not make God less necessary to me. In fact, I have been looking forward to this discovery for some time, having worked as an experimental particle physicist for around 9 years. In fact, I was looking forward to a career at the Superconducting Super Collider being built near Waxahachie, Texas in the early 1990's. Although disappointed at the decision to cancel that project, I have still eagerly followed the news as the European Center for Nuclear Physics (CERN) has finally closed in on its discovery. This particle has been anticipated by particle physicists since it provides a reasonable answer to the question of why particles have any mass. Since the standard model can work only if particles have no intrinsic mass, particles somehow generate mass through interacting with a field we call the Higgs field, named after Peter Higgs, a British theoretical physicist. Associated with every field is a particle, thus the Higgs boson. Through many experimental constraints, the expected mass of the Higgs boson had to be over 100 giga electron volts per c^2, something too massive for Fermilab to discover first in the waning period of the Tevatron collider data taking. Since there have been many wild claims about what this means ever since former Fermilab director Leon Lederman famously called the Higgs boson "the God particle" in his 1993 book
, it certainly calls for a thoughtful response.
Explanations for the behavior of fundamental particles can be expected to have a physical basis, understandable in terms of basic laws and principles of nature. I am a strong believer that a natural explanation does not preclude God's divine hand. Just as God used human authors to record Scripture, God seems to have used laws of physics to accomplish creating the heavens and earth. Both believers and nonbelievers tend to make the mistake of assuming that if a natural explanation exists, then God must not have had anything to do with it. I strongly disagree with this premise, noting that the tools of God are not limited to supernatural means. Paul told the Athenians "for in Him we live and move and exist" Acts 17:28. As such, we do not seek things that are scientifically inexplicable as proof of God's hand. It is not necessary. The hand of God is seen in the remarkable orderly and elegant world we live in. He is actively involved, but apparently in subtle ways that are not accessible to empirical verification. Does that trouble me as a believer? No, I find it more reassuring that God made an orderly world that is comprehensible, rather than to be pressed to find gaps in our understanding as the place where we seek Him. While we cannot prove God's existence, as one who has experienced God personally, I do not need proof. I came to know Him by faith, just as Hebrews 11:6 tells us. The Jews who demanded a miraculous sign from Jesus were denied their request, beyond the sign of His resurrection. Likewise, those who demand empirical evidence for God's existence will be reminded of the resurrection, but not given proof beyond that. The key is faith, a choice each of us must make in response to God.
So is the Higgs boson "the God particle"? I think this term is highly inappropriate, since it is just a particle associated with a field that enables particles to generate mass. It is not responsible for creating the universe or the particles and fields within our universe. It helps to solve one outstanding puzzle of the standard model of particles and fields, but it does not answer ultimate questions of origins. Regardless of the claims of scientists like Leon Lederman, Victor Stengel and Richard Dawkins, the existence of our universe still poses questions that beg for answers that lie beyond the universe itself. As a Christian, I find compelling reasons to believe that the God of the Bible carefully planned and created the universe. The first verse of the Bible is as compelling as ever. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth". The discovery of the Higgs boson does not in any way change this.
Dr. Steven Ball
Professor of Physics