Global news media are completely abuzz this week with the presumed discovery of the Higgs boson. Google returned more than 1 billion hits in a tenth of a second. It’s hardly an exaggeration to say that everyone is talking about it.
I’m not a particle physicist, not even a scientist, and I don’t play one on TV. Even with all of the media hype, I might have just skimmed this big story. Except for that uncanny nickname: the “God particle.” As a woman of faith, that did catch my attention.
I get a kick out of the irony here. How is it that one of the biggest scientific discoveries in a century is irrevocably linked to God in this way? Scientists weren’t looking for God and few, if any, would claim to have found Him in the Higgs boson. What they believe they have found is the cornerstone of physics, a building block for the standard formula, and something more than theory to make sense of things.
British physicist John Hill described the Higgs field as analogous to an unending, unbroken snowfield. A skier skims across the snow, relatively unhindered. Someone on snowshoes moves more slowly, somewhat burdened by the drag of the snow. Someone else in snow boots sinks deeply, encumbered most heavily. The snow is like the Higgs, affecting differently the particles passing through, which assume more or less mass in the process.
Scientists have known for a long time that mass is not equal; they’ve just not been able to prove why. Thus, the hype about the Higgs. What intrigues me most, however, was captured by John Heilprin of the Associated Press. Referring to the ecstatic CERN scientists, he said:
“They have a footprint and a shadow, and the only thing left is to see for themselves the elusive subatomic particle believed to give all matter in the universe size and shape. … The idea is much like gravity and Isaac Newton’s discovery: It was there all the time…” (June 3, 2012)
So there you have it. Despite this astronomically big news about a miniscule matter and, no doubt, a Nobel Prize pending, nothing much has changed. The world spins madly on — in its mostly orderly way — the same today as it did yesterday.
I’m still trying to get a handle on the Higgs boson. Physics theory and miles of particle-busting technology churning away beneath Geneva are overwhelming. Yet there is an undeniable coolness factor in the geek speak of the young scientists at work there. More importantly, in their voices I hear hope — convincingly great hope — in the unknown and as yet unsolved mysteries.
Me, too. We won’t find God in the Higgs boson. How disappointing if we did — reduced to a subatomic particle. But we will see His shadow and footprints all over this grand galaxy — if we’re looking for them. I’m looking!
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)