Sarah was recently invited, along with two other scientists, to take part in a panel discussion for a group of mostly Christian students. After the main discussion, students were invited to submit questions via text message; there was very little time to address them, so only a few were answered. The questions were quite good, so over the next few weeks, Surak and Sarah will answer most of them here. All of the questions are listed in the Intro to this series.
How do you account for the Higgs boson particle?
The Higgs boson, which has been in the media quite a bit lately, is popularly referred to as the “God Particle.” Nobel laureate Leon Lederman explains the origin of the nickname in his book, The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?
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 Goddamn Particle, though that might be a more appropriate title, give 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 goes on to quote from the Bible, specifically Genesis 11:1-9, which describes the building of the Tower of Babel and what happens to man because of it. He draws a fascinating parallel between the unified language of man prior to the building of the tower and the unified ‘language’ of nature during a much earlier time in the universe. He expresses hope that, unlike the Babylonians, particle physicists will succeed in building up their tower so that they can know the mind of God.
The Higgs boson is predicted to exist by the Standard Model of particle physics—the prevailing theory governing the organization of subatomic particles—and it explains why most subatomic particles have mass. Physicist Peter Higgs, after whom the particle is named, described its properties in a scientific paper in 1966. The idea seemed so strange and complicated to the public that UK science minister, William Waldegrave, challenged physicists to explain, in a simplified way and in only one page, what the Higgs boson is and why physicists want to find it. The winning entries can be read here. There are also numerous short videos attempting to explain the Higgs boson in (somewhat) simplified terms (e.g. Minute Physics Part I, Part II, and Part III, and PHD Comics).
Now, almost half a century after Higgs’ initial publication, physicists are pretty sure they’ve found evidence for the elusive particle. As with any discovery in science, it will need to be verified several times by independent groups of scientists before it’s really accepted.
Within your field of study what has been the most remarkable observation that you have made that reinforces your faith?
That the universe is knowable, that it makes sense. As Einstein said, the most incomprehensible thing about the [universe] is that it is comprehensible. Over and over again in my work I see that the universe has an underlying order and logic to it. The only two explanations are: 1) against unimaginable odds, this orderly and logical universe arose purely by chance; or 2) the universe is a deliberate product of a vast Intellect. Explanation 2 strikes me as much more plausible than Explanation 1.
What’s the most remarkable, undeniable discovery you have used to prove or disprove the faiths of different persons?
The big bang. It shows that the first three words of the Bible are true and that the humanist belief in an eternal universe is false.