The theory of Higgs boson, also knows as the “God particle,” was first developed over sixty years ago, yet the first real discovery happened in 2012, using the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva. Put simply, the Higgs field gives particles mass, which allows for the formation of matter in the universe. In a way, the field determines characteristics of particles, making the discovery crucial in understanding both the Big Bang and the continual expansion of the universe. And while the name “God particle” is infamous and antagonised in the scientific community, it may be one of the causes of the general reaction to its discovery.
As with any crucial discovery in science, the religious community has had to respond to the Higgs boson, especially with the nickname “God’s particle” becoming so popular in the media. If some particle has fundamentally shaped everything around us and the whole universe, is that what God is? Six years ago, the Washington Post released an article addressing this debate, with a quote from a Vatican astronomer claiming that the discovery simply reveals the “personality” of God. Furthermore, one of the more popular creationist websites “Answers in Genesis” explains the Higgs Boson as merely the ‘way’ in which the God created the universe. These explanations reminded me of Jeremy Stolow’s description of the post-Reformation Christianity, which distanced “higher forms or contemplation” from then increasingly materialistic understanding of the natural world (13). As nature became more material, people had to become distanced from the “absolute, unknowable, sovereign creator” ( Stolow 13). The farther you are from God, the bigger his power seems, the less explanation is needed for his ways.
And as the people behind the Large Hadron Collider rejected the “God” in Higgs boson, the rest of the world became accustomed to it. Stolow also addresses the developing role of technology within the ‘material’ world, highlighting the common perception of “cooperation or conflict” in the way technology develops together with humanity (14). The Large Haldron Collider was presented as one of the biggest technological and scientific achievements in human history. In turn, its initial release was met with a lot of fear. Some conspiracy theories claimed that launching the Large Hadron Collider will cause a black hole to open, with videos like this one surfacing online. Even the European Court of Human Rights had to reject a protest complaint against its ignition due to similar fears .
The science behind the LHC and the Higgs boson is understandably very difficult for people outside the scientific community to understand. It seems almost natural that both the machine and the discovery gained a larger-than-life personality, gaining both magical and divine attributes in the world. The general reaction, however, was dismissed by both the scientific and religious communities. I wonder if the future of science may gain more “Godly” features with more all-encompassing discoveries awaiting.
Jeremy Stolow (Ed), Deus in Machina: Religion, Technology, and the Things in Between, Fordham University Press, New York, 2013, Introduction, pp. 1–22.