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Monday, 9 July 2012

Higgs Boson - God Particle?

What is the Higgs Boson?
Over the 20th century, physicists discovered a whole zoo of elementary particles and a few forces along the way: particles such as electrons, protons, neutrons, neutrinos, along with some very exotic elementary particles that lasted for a moment in time, plus the forces of electromagnetism, weak force and strong force.

Now, the human mind is not happy with a disparate set of forces and particles. Something within us believes that there must be order and simplicity (where does this come from, I wonder?) and so physicists began to develop a "model" - a consistent theory - which would explain how all these particles and forces relate to each other. What emerged in the 60s and 70s was "The Standard Model", depicted in terms of the particles and force carriers - see diagram.

Everyday stable stuff around us is constructed from the first generation of matter ("I" in the diagram), with protons and neutrons made up of up and down quarks.

Unfortunately, the maths of the Standard Model, did not allow matter to have mass - a wee problem, considering our daily experience requires mass be accepted as a reality.

In stepped Peter Higgs, a clever Englishman who suggested a way out the mathematical quagmire of the early Standard Model. He suggested that if the whole universe was bathed in a field (the Higgs field) then particles could acquire mass as they passed through and interacted with this field. The maths worked too.

If the field existed then an accompanying particle, the Higgs boson, should also exist, albeit for a tiny fraction of a second. The problem was that this particle was so heavy (read energetic from e=mc2) that it would require very high energy collisions to reveal it. The kinds of machines capable of accelerating particles to such high energies were pipe dreams in the 60s.

But not any more. The Large Hadron Collider on the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva, is up to the job. It accelerates stuff like protons up to very high speeds, crashes them into each other and has unbelievable detectors watching out for the fragments.

And on the 4th of July, they discovered (or rather announced) they had pretty certain found the Higgs boson.

So, all the find does is confirm the Standard Model - and initiate more research. 

Independence Day for Atheists? "God particle" jazz
Was the 4th of July independence day for atheists? Not one bit. The title "God particle" is media hype and rejected by the people who know most. It does not confirm or deny the existence of God, or any such thing.

The significance?
What might be the significance of this find? I can think of four:

1) It demonstrates the amazing ingenuity of human beings, made as they are in the image of God. Ingenuity not only to develop the Standard Model, but ingenuity to build the LHC and execute the experiments. It demonstrates once more the chasm between man and beast, a chasm made by the image of God which rests upon humans, alone.

2) It demonstrates the creativity and curiosity of mankind too: we want to know more. Did you know that chimps are neophobic - they don't like new stuff? That's why they stick with sticks and don't turn them into spears or bows and arrows. But we, being made in the image of the infinitely creative God, are always interested in the creatively new, always pressing forward and onwards.

3) All the complex mathematics and technology is yet another demonstration of the folly of evolutionary theory. Why on earth would such wonderful minds, capable of mathematics, have been selected by nature, when  chimp chumps get along quite well without them?  What was the selective pressure for maths (or art, or music, etc.)? It's actually a little dangerous to divert attention away from survival to culture, and stupid to possesses a mind that can think twice about what to do if a lion is attacking you - far better stick with a brain which has only one instinctive response - run.

4) It demonstrates a first step towards an impossible goal. We will, I suggest, never understand nature at its base. This is because to understand nature at its base is to understand God. At the moment The Standard Model (which deals with the small) can't integrate with Relativity theories (which deal with the big). No-one knows how to bridge this gap and integrate them into a Theory of Everything. New theories are being proposed (string, brane, supersymmetry) but these are so devilishly complex that only a handful of souls know much about them.

It could turn out - as it has so often before - that The Standard Model is a simplified version of a more complex approximation to reality, which in turn (onion.....) is a simplified version of ultimate reality, beyond the reach of the mind of man.

(Example: Kepler's experimental equations for planet motion turned out to be a crude approximation of Newton's fuller laws of planetary motion, which in turn are a simplified version of Einstein's relativity theory.)

I find myself marvelling at and worshipping the God who has created such amazing complexity and beauty, both in the universe around us and in the human beings he created for his glory.

Surely we see a whisper of Him who is the Word; we see something, in the words of Jonathan Edwards, of the sweet effulgence of the glory of the Son in the elementary particles and forces of His majestic world.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Roy. This is very helpful. I thought of you all during Wimbledon! I assume Luke was pleased.