The particle, whose scientific name is the Higgs boson, derives its popular name from the title of the 1993 book, God Particle, by atheist physicist Leon Lederman. However, “a closer consideration of the function and properties of the Higgs boson is very enlightening from a theistic perspective,” Bruce Gordon, associate professor of the history and philosophy of science at Houston Baptist University, told Baptist Press in an email interview.
“In direct opposition to Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg’s remark that ‘the more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it seems pointless,’ we can only recommend the more obvious and rational view that the greater our comprehension of the universe, the more we should be given to doxology: The heavens declare the glory of God and the sky above proclaims His handiwork (Psalm 19:1),” said Gordon, who also is a senior fellow at the Discovery
Institute, a Seattle-based think tank that plays a leading role in the Intelligent Design movement, which argues that the universe is the product of intelligence rather than blind chance.
Most physicists dislike the term “God particle” and do not use it even in popular scientific literature. They say the term was a marketing ploy for Lederman’s book rather than a helpful scientific descriptor of the Higgs boson.
Theoretical physicists Peter Higgs, 84, and Francois Englert, 80, were announced as this year’s Nobel Prize winners in physics Oct. 8 for proposing the existence of the Higgs boson nearly 50 years ago. When the particle was finally discovered last year at the world’s most powerful particle accelerator in Switzerland, it vindicated their theory. The two scientists will split a prize of $1.2 million to be awarded in Stockholm Dec. 10.
(A boson is one of the two classes of known particles. Bosons are distinguished from fermions based on the type of spin they have. Generally fermions make up matter while bosons transmit forces that hold matter together.)
Higgs, of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and Englert, of the Université Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium, were among a handful of physicists in the early 1960s seeking to explain the origin of mass by positing a force field that fills all space and produces resistance to objects moving through it. The field, they said, acts like a cosmic molasses, sticking to particles as they move and giving them mass. The Higgs boson is the interacting mechanism of the Higgs field. The more interactions a moving particle has with Higgs bosons, the more massive it is.
The Higgs boson was the last missing ingredient in a set of equations known as the Standard Model that explains how particles interact. It took half a century to discover the Higgs boson because it exists as matter for less than a billionth of a billionth of a second and disappears in ways that make it look like other types of particles.
If the Higgs field did not exist, particles would be massless and move at the speed of light. Atoms would not exist either, and the universe would be lifeless.
“Along with a handful of other fundamental forces and laws” like gravity and electromagnetism, “the Higgs mechanism is necessary for the existence of life,” Gordon said. “Without it, we wouldn’t be here.”
The Higgs boson is significant for the Intelligent Design movement because its mass and interaction strength are fine-tuned to accommodate the existence of life, which points to the particle’s being the product of a rational creator rather than an undirected natural process. If the subatomic Higgs boson had even five times its measured mass, it would render life impossible, Gordon said.
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