Science gives us good reason to believe
The discovery of the celebrated Higgs boson is not a death knell to faith
Published 07 July 2012 | Rob James
I would be the first to admit that I am no theoretical physicist, but even I could appreciate the sense of exhilaration and satisfaction that followed the announcement that scientists have finally found “the God particle”.
I am talking of course, about the celebrated Higgs boson, that elusive particle that seems to confer mass on all others. Predicted in the 1960s, “The Higgs” (or something very much like it) has finally been located, thanks to the sterling efforts of a group of physicists working at the Large Hadron Collider in CERN.
It must have been particularly satisfying for Professor Higgs, now aged 83, who is said to have brushed a tear from his cheek as they confirmed the existence of a particle he first proposed nearly 50 years ago. He could barely control his delight as reporters talked of “an astonishing achievement that has triggered a cascade of superlatives”.
It came as no surprise then to hear that his success has prompted fellow scientist Stephen Hawking to suggest he should be given the Nobel Prize.
There has inevitably been much discussion as to what this will mean for the future of physics, but it is worth asking what it means for those of us who have put our trust in a Creator God too. Has this latest discovery delivered a death blow to faith? Is this the way all faith ends – not with a bang but with an elusive particle?
Far from it! In fact I find it easier to make the case for God today than when I came to faith in the early 1970s. For if the truth be known (and this seems hidden from many of our contemporaries), we live in a universe that seems to have been created with us in mind. It is incredibly fine-tuned. As Fred Hoyle, himself an atheist, once said, “A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as chemistry and biology and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature."
Or, as someone else pithily observed, it’s as if the universe was expecting our arrival.
Thankfully the puzzling and seemingly paradoxical findings of quantum physics have created a genuine sense of humility within the scientific community. This was clearly evident in the reaction to the CERN announcement. As one theoretical physicist told the BBC :“The standard model is a little bit like a room. It doesn’t have any windows. We can’t see what physics lies beyond the standard model although we’re pretty certain there is something there. But there is a door to this room. That door is labelled Higgs Boson. We’re going to be looking beyond the standard model.”
Who knows where this door might lead? Will we discover extra dimensions? Will we confirm string theory or will we find evidence for the competing theory of everything known as super-symmetry? Only time will tell, and I guess we’re talking in timescales that may well exceed our lifetimes. But such a sense of agnosticism and humility offers us a genuine opportunity to engage with those who seem to think that “we know it all”, and can exclude God from the picture. As Jonathon Langley writes in the current edition of “Engage”, a proper historical perspective on science “should serve as a caution against arrogance, an argument against taking too seriously anyone who declares our understanding of the meaning that lies behind the material world nonsense, based on the assumption that science has proven that it is impossible.”
Far from excluding the seemingly impossible then, quantum physics seems to encourage us to believe in it. As J S Haldane one put it “The universe is not only queerer than we imagine, it is queerer than we can imagine”. But then, who could ever understand the mind of God let alone the complexity of the world He created?
More news from the Comment