Is “God Particle” the right term for massive mystery in physics?
One of the most brilliant simplifications I’ve ever come across is the term “the God Particle.” Physicists think this subatomic speck of matter, if it is ever found, could explain the mysterious code at the origin of the physical world. To know this would be to “know the mind of God,” as Einstein wanted to do. The Nobel Prize winning physicist Leon Lederman wrote a book with that name 15 years ago that was so interesting that even a physics klutz like myself (I almost failed it in high school…) read and enjoyed it.
It turns out, though, that the physicist who launched the hunt for this elusive particle doesn’t like its nickname. “It embarrasses me,” Peter Higgs said in Geneva this week at a news conference our correspondent Robert Evans attended. “Although I am not a believer myself, it’s a misuse of terminology that might offend some people.”
Higgs, now 78, first proposed a theory of the particle officially knows as the Higgs boson 40 years ago. CERN, the giant nuclear research centre at the French-Swiss border near Geneva, is building a vast underground particle collider to try to find it. “The likelihood is that the particle will show up pretty quickly … I’m more than 90 percent certain that it will,” Higgs said after visiting the collider due to start working early next year.
So the term “the God particle” may be coming to the religion blogosphere pretty soon. Instead of doing the homework and writing the essay, I’ll let others explain what it is — here are some good examples at National Geographic and Wired and a cartoon here.
Lederman, by the way, also seemed of two minds about calling the Higgs boson the “God particle.”
As he put it in his book:
“This boson is so central to the state of physics today, so crucial to our final understanding of the structure of matter, yet so elusive, that I have given it a nickname: the God Particle. Why God Particle? Two reasons. One, the publisher wouldn’t let us call it the Goddam Particle, though that might be a more appropriate title, given its villainous nature and the expense it is causing. And two, there is a connection, of sorts, to another book, a much older one…
Lederman then goes on to quote Genesis 11:1-9 , the Tower of Babel story about mankind dispersing. Finding the God Particle, he says, would be like undoing the confusion that followed.
Even if the physicists have qualms, I think the term “God Particle” is so expressive that I’m glad Higgs didn’t get his way. I know there are those out there who don’t agree, who do and who don’t say. There are also deep implications for science and religion. Still, some things are just so awesome that a reasonable comparison with the divine seems to me like a good way to put something so hard to understand into perspective.
Do you think it’s offensive?