Thursday, July 5, 2012

God Particle Revisited

In recent years there have been numerous science writers who write using theological imagery. For example, secular geneticists gave the earliest humans names like chromosomal Adam or mitochondrial Eve. When the 1992 discovery of the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) provided stunning confirmation of the hot big bang creation event, George Smoot, secular scientist, made a statement with a distinctive theological ring, such as “If you’re religious, this is like looking at God.”

The startling news of the past few days and the apparent discovery of the last major piece of the puzzle in particle physics has been popularly named the God Particle after a book authored by Leon Lederman in 1993. Modern scientists like the publicity afforded by the trendy expression and enjoy the mystique this particle has evoked for decades. Some scientists, however, do not accept the clever name, and would prefer something more technical in keeping with their more sober view of physical, naturalistic reality. For the Christian, the discovery clearly signals yet another revelation, one of hundreds of designed features governing the workings of our magnificent cosmos and helps us place the Scriptural worldview in line with our personal worldview.

In September 2008 the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) came on line at the border of France and Switzerland. It had been under construction for roughly two decades at a cost of ten billion dollars. Problems plagued the collider shortly after the hyped start up date due to faulty electrical connections, but the unit was up and running again after a few months. Now comes word that there is virtual certainty that the elusive Higgs boson has been detected. It is a remarkable discovery unknown to most laypeople. But many of your neighbors could identify with this crucially ultimate discovery. Scientists had long sought for this discovery. It was finally found after many decades.

What could make the importance of this 2012 discovery come alive to our readers? Perhaps the awareness that a complex jigsaw puzzle would be judged a failure if just one missing piece could not be found. Let’s focus on some basics from the world of physics. (Most of our knowledge of exotic particle physics has been discovered since the 1960s. Those in high school or college before that time may not remember.) The most interesting exotic particles have been discovered since that time. The standard model was proposed in the 1970s and tested extensively in the 1980s.  The model was missing an important puzzle piece until the purported discovery of the Higgs boson, first proposed by 83-year old Peter Higgs in 1964. Higgs is rapidly gaining celebrity status.

During the 1960s the standard model was taking shape. Protons and neutrons were found to be composed of quarks. There are six “flavors” of quarks. Matter is also composed of six different “flavors” of leptons. The familiar electron is only one of the six leptons. Finally, there are force-carrying particles for the four universal forces. The standard model is a very successful theory of matter which accounts for many observations we make in our physical world. Particle physicists believe the Higgs boson is the hypothetical missing standard model “puzzle piece” that causes other particles to have mass. The Higgs boson has roughly the mass of a proton. One writer claimed the Higgs boson is associated with a field, called the Higgs field, theorized to pervade the entire universe. As other particles travel through this field, they acquire mass much as swimmers moving through a pool get wet, the thinking goes.

Two-and-a-half hours from where we live, the Batavia, IL Fermilab scientists who until recently manned the Tevatron accelelator had hoped to be the first to discover the Higgs boson before it went off line in 2011. The staff gathered at Fermilab one recent morning at to watch the announcement from Geneva. Scientist Patricia McBride stated “A lot of the techniques that are being used there were first tried out here.” American scientists were plagued by cost constraints over the years, but scientists from around the world are ebullient in their praises for scientific colleagues and enthusiastic about these discoveries. The Fermilab installation will participate in many new discoveries in future years. The discovery of the Higgs boson will trigger many new discoveries about the workings of God’s creation.

For many scientists, discovery about the truths of the physical creation takes a back seat to truths about the God of Creation. We need to respect professional scientists and the gifts they have notwithstanding they do not share the same reverence for the Creator. Their concerns are more along the lines of the fundamental characteristics of matter, energy, and forces of nature, and how they may best discover these realities. Also, what laws govern the operation of all things, living as well as non-living? Thousands of other questions drive scientists’ quest for knowledge in hundreds of specialized fields of investigation. They are fascinated with the unknowns and seek to convert the unknowns to the known. But there is rarely theological speculation within science, because the field of science is naturalistically framed.

The beauty and predictability of the matter from which our world is constructed declares the glory of God. Every discovery furthers our vision of the order with which our creator has endowed His world. Psalm 24:1, declares “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.”